Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

Parenthood: Week 120 – I See The Moon . . .

“Fine, we can read Goodnight Moon.”

That wasn’t what Ollie wanted, he literally wanted to go outside and say goodnight to the moon. It seemed like a request to read a book as many of our books feature a moon, including one book where a bear tries to give a hat to the moon and is somehow successful.

We got Buffy’s leash on and as a family we went out to our front yard to look for the moon. We walked around until we found a clearing between the tree branches and saw the moon shining brightly in the night sky. Ollie pointed up at the moon with amazement.

I explained how the moon was very big but because it was far away it was so small. Ollie responded “moon small, moon big.” We stood there in silence, Ollie in Diana’s arms, and me standing next to Ollie with Buffy at my side. After a moment of silence, Diana sang “I See The Moon.”

The entire time Diana sang, Ollie gazed up at the moon, his eyes wide with amazement with a calm and peaceful look on his face. When Diana finished singing, he whispered “again,” and Diana softly kissed Ollie’s cheek and began singing again.  We stood there for another moment of silence and then went back inside.

The next evening, Ollie request to see the moon but it was overcast when Diana took him outside to try to find it. The following evening, Ollie got to say goodnight to the moon again with his babysitter. Then last night, the night of the supermoon lunar eclipse, Ollie, Diana, Buffy and I went out and gazed upon the most brilliant full moon I have ever seen in my entire life.

I don’t know how Ollie got the idea in his head to go outside and say goodnight to the moon. I’m not really a star-gazer and neither is Diana. But in this simple request, he got us to stop what we were doing, slow down and appreciate one of the most amazing sights in the history of human civilization.

Diana and I understand being obsessive. We both geek out about things all of the time, so we appreciate when Ollie wants to read the same book over and over. There is something different about wanting to see the moon every night. It feels organic, earthly and spiritual at the same time. We try not to have Ollie watch more than a half an hour of television a day, but I’d have no problem if he some day wanted to spend an hour gazing at the stars.

Ollie has brought a lot of beautiful experiences into our lives and I would have never went outside to see that supermoon if it wasn't for Ollie.  I don't know how he knew that it was important for us to go outside to see this cosmic event, but somehow he did.  For this moment we shared gazing at the moon, I will forever be grateful to him.  

There is magic in my son.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Year 6: Week 4 – Group Therapy Sessions

“Okay, that’s it, everyone out!”
A couple times this week, the atmosphere during a lesson got so tense that I just had to pause, and kick everyone out of the classroom and find another spot in the school for a group therapy session.

Even though I’m in my tenth year of teaching, things don’t always run smoothly in class and last week was an example of this. Now it’s not that I have horrible kids this year. I actually have some really awesome students that I’m really enjoying working with. The reason I feel I needed to stop my lessons and spend a significant sit-down, is that some of my classes have challenging group chemistry and I want to prevent little annoyances from developing into major issues later in the year.

It’s really hard to steer a lesson back on track that has completely gone off the rails. Sometimes the best way to clear the air is to get out of the classroom and have a talk in the hallway or in another place in the school. During the three times I did this last week, this strategy had the desired effect.

The change of space had an immediately refocused my classes. Physically getting them into a new space relieved tension and allowed my students to take a step back. Also the transition gave me a couple minutes to think and prioritize my kids’ feelings my own curricular goals.

With my younger kids, I lectured them and gave a couple kids a chance to have input. I told them that they were powerful and that kids their age have the potential to change their classroom, the school and society as a whole. I told them that I firmly believed that they wanted things to run well in the classroom and that distracting individuals were acting not out of malice. They just didn’t understand how a mistimed joke derailed the class. I told them that I would continue to give them choices in class as that is sign of respect to them. However I added the caveat that if they made poor choices I would take this freedom away and treat them like a younger student. I would believe in their positive potential until they showed me otherwise.

My 8th graders were a different story. I sat my students around a large conference table and I let them go at each other. I made sure that no one interrupted each other and I ensured that everyone got their voice heard. I forced my students to rephrase what other people said before they got to express their own opinions and after letting them get their feelings out in the open, I reiterated common positive themes that were evident, though sometimes buried, within the discussion.

In all of the situations, stopping the class, taking them to another space, pretty much meant that I had to give up on getting anything else done in my lesson. This was frustrating but the following lessons all went really well.

It’s not always the right call to stop a lesson and take the kids to another space in the school for a discussion. But sometimes it’s the only thing that can really clear the air.

In our desire to get music learned, sometimes we ignore social and emotional problems in the classroom. While addressing these issues can hinder curricular progress in the long term, you will get more done in the long run. Even if you don’t, your kids will feel better about the process because you took the time to validate their feelings and help them learns how to be better human beings.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

Parenthood: Week 119 – The Drop-Off

Dropping off your infant or toddler to daycare/school is not a good time. It’s one of the many parenting things that you “do ‘cause you gotta’, not ‘cause you wanna’” (this probably isn’t a phrase people say that often, but I’m trying to make it stick.

Last year when Ollie was at a daycare, Diana did almost all of the drop-offs. She dealt with Ollie crying when she left, the chaos of parents swarming around the entrance of the school and trying to handle request from teachers and administrators  while trying to help Ollie transition.

Diana handled these drop offs really well and it was hard but she managed it well with few complaints.

Drop-offs is a rare situation when you have to really push your kid to do something in a short time-frame so that you can leave and take care of your own business. More often than not, you can go at a kid’s pace, but when it comes to getting them to school, there’s a schedule and it can be a real challenge making things happen.

It all starts with getting your kid up before he or she wants to and attempting to manage your own morning routine while attending to your kid. Our solution that we have found that works is getting up really early so that we can be done with our stuff before Ollie gets up.

Ollie doesn’t understand that if he moves slowly in the morning it has repercussions. He has a concept of time but doesn’t know how to read a clock. Yes, he’s two and he’s fast becoming a little boy, but in many ways, he’s still a little baby, whose has instincts push him into our arms for cuddles.

This year is different. I’m doing about half of the drop-offs and pick-ups. It’s been going pretty well, but it’s a challenge. The teachers wisely instructed us to not make a big deal when you say goodbye, to make sure to say goodbye and to not take it personally when your kid seems indifferent when you leave. Now all of these things are tough. I want to give Ollie a big hug to make sure that he knows that he is loved, sometimes it would be easier to sneak away and it’s a little heartbreaking when he walks right into the classroom and the teacher has to instruct Ollie to respond to my goodbye and he says “bye daddy” without turning around.

All of these challenges pale in comparison to having to peel your nervous and clingy child off your body and walk away as he cries, screaming for you as you walk away. Ollie has only given me one of these goodbyes and it was horrible.  I've only got a little taste of this and I know I'll get more in the future.  

Leaving an unhappy child behind is one of the most difficult things a parent has to do.  It take incredible strength to put on a happy face while your child is crying when deep down inside all you want to do is take your kid home when you know that you can't.  Even though you know its probably true that your kid calmed down right after you left, this fact doesn't change the feeling of heartache, sadness, and guilt when you turn around and walk away.

Logic helps but the heart feels what it will.  All we can do is remind ourselves that it is love that makes it hard to say goodbye, that even time apart can be meaningful, and that we are not alone in our struggle to let go.  

Friday, September 18, 2015

Year 6: Week 3 – 5th Grade Boys

How do you know deal with challenging 5th grade boys?

Boys have always been more of a challenge for me to deal with than girls. When I first started teaching 5th graders, I felt really lost knowing how to handle the more difficult boys. These are the guys who are talking at the wrong time, not buying into what you are teaching and in general making the class more difficult to teach.

In figuring out what to do with these boys, I’ve definitely made some missteps. The thing that led to these mistakes was my perception of these boys as a problem instead of as people. That’s where the most important thing we always need to remember with our most challenging students. They aren’t the enemy, they aren’t a problem to fix, these are people. They might be annoying and aggravating people but they are people and they are just kids.

Fix the good/bad balance 
If the only interactions you have with a kid are calling them out or redirecting them, your words and actions will have little meaningful effect. Every negative interaction with a student needs to be balanced out with a positive one. If that means you find that kid are recess or lunch, to just chat, than make it happen. Effective classroom management is all about positive relationships with students.

It’s really hard sometimes to find those positive moments, but it’s critical. If you work at this, something else even more important will happen, you will learn to like that student as a person. Without finding something you genuinely like about kid nothing you will do with that student will be effective.

Validate, Validate, Validate 
If a kid is bored in class, that’s fine. If a kid hates the activity that is happening in class, okay. If a kid thinks you are a poo-head, well, that’s his opinion. Just because you validate a feeling doesn’t mean you have to accept a behavior. A kid can be bored in class, but they cannot express that boredom by interrupting other students’ work. Drawing a line between the validity of their thoughts and feelings and their unacceptable and disruption actions helps students understand that you are working with them, not against them.

There's a concern that by validating negative feelings you are accepting negativity, but as long as your validation is based in your belief in them, then these negatives can be turned positive. For example, “Clearly you are bored, this stuff is too easy for you because you are one of the smartest people in the class, but stop interrupting me when I’m talking."  Or “Okay, you don’t like me. I would rather that you did, but this is how you feel and I respect that. Regardless, we need to work together. You are capable and smart and have something to offer. I accept how you feel about me, so I’m going to put that aside and focus on the great stuff you have to offer the class.”

Take What You Can Get 
A couple years ago, I had a 5th grader who hated music. Whenever we sang a song, he would make loud animal sounds or sing purposely off-key. I met with him in lunch, tried to get him to sing in a nice way, but he refused. When his homeroom teacher suggested that I stop trying to get him to sing and just focus on him not being disruptive, the “everyone can sing”-music teacher part of me was offended. By the end of the year, whenever the class would sing, he would quietly mouth along or simply stand there.  This was progress, not musical progress, but important growth.  When I stopped fighting him to sing, and focused on him not being disruptive our relationship also improved.

5th grade boys can act annoying, but they can be even more awesome than you think. They have the enthusiasms of 3rd graders with the beginning of the abstract thinking of middle schools students. They are funny, challenging, empathetic, and really do want to learn and be challenged.

These boys are trying to figure out their way through the world just like the rest of us.  Sometimes the things they try on for size, don't fit, so we need to help them.  Even if they seem to be going into a weird space, never question their intentions.  Because in order for them to grow to believe in themselves, they need us to believe in them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

Parenthood: Week 118 – The First Day Of School

One year ago, Ollie started daycare, and just this past week, Ollie went to his first day of toddler school.

We didn’t have a horrible experience at daycare, but we wanted something more for our son.  At daycare, Ollie had some good caretakers and made some good friends but it was clear that their priority was keeping him alive with a secondary goal of teaching him something in the process.

Last spring we researched schools and decided on a Montessori school for Ollie. Montessori schools have a constructivist teaching philosophy that approaches play as a child’s work, where teachers carefully structure environments to facilitate kid’s growth and success. I went to Montessori school for preschool and kindergarten and I credit a lot of my adult success to my early childhood experiences with the Montessori approach to education.

The school had a structured “phase in” week to help the kids and parents kids get acclimated. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Ollie was at the school for an hour and half. On Thursday Ollie was there until noon and on Friday he was there the entire day. The first two days the kids are accompanied by their parent. On Thursday the parents are “on-call” and on Friday the kids are on their own.

Diana and I really liked this developmentally approach to the beginning of the school year; the only problem with this is that we were both working. We asked my mom for help and she graciously came into town to help us for the week.

Here was our plan: I would go with my mom on Tuesday, Diana would go with my mom on Wednesday and my mom would handle Thursday and Friday by herself.

Tuesday morning was tough. Ollie was being picky about what he wanted to eat for breakfast and he didn’t seem very interested in getting moving. When we finally got to school, he wanted to walk down the sidewalk and cross the street holding my mom’s hand, which was promising. Once we got into school grounds he wanted to be held.

The teachers had told us that it was important to have Ollie try to walk in the doors himself. He agreed to try to do this if we held his hand and bravely he walked right in and then asked to be held again. I picked him up and walked down the stairs to his classroom. My mom helped him change his shoes as I hung up his stuff in his cubby.

My mom entered the classroom and with a smile, she turned around and reached out to Ollie. He walked up to the doorway, and paused. He looked up to my mom’s smile, found resolves in her presence and walked right into the classroom.

I followed Ollie in and watched as he walked right into the center of the room. Ollie picked it up an activity off a shelf, put it on a table and immediately went to work.

That was when it hit me.

Watching him go to work with such confidence made me so proud of him.  In that moment I realized that my little boy really wasn’t a baby anymore, he was a little man. I felt tears of pride and joy well-up as he switched to another activity, not feeling any need to check-in with me, doing the work and participating in the learning that we brought him there to do.

Wednesday went well with Diana and my mom. Thursday, he had a melt-down and one of the teachers called my mom to help but by the time she came back, Ollie was doing fine engaged with a snack. On Friday, Ollie’s first full day, he took a good nap and every time my mom checked-in on him throughout the day, he was doing great.

I know that things are going to go in waves. Sometimes he will love going to school and sometimes he will appear to hate school. I know that we have meltdowns in the future and there will be tears for  Diana or me when drop him off. But I know that he is going to a good place and I know that Ollie has it in him to enjoy his time at school.

My little guy is growing up and it's difficult and wonderful all at the same time.  But it's happening and you don't have a choice.  So you hang onto memories without dwelling on them and you plan for challenges in the future without driving past the little moments of joy that make kids worth parenting.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Year 6: Week 2 - Peer Pressure

When I was in middle school we had a lesson about peer pressure. The discussion was about how peer pressure led people to make bad decisions. For example, someone would urge another person to do drugs and in that way, we should be aware and work against peer pressure.

This attached strong negative connotation to the term “peer pressure” in my brain, but in my years as a teacher, I’ve come to realize that peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing.

It’s nice when classmates quiet each other down for you as a teacher. In band class, I’ve noticed that sometimes kids will correct mistakes because of what other students are doing. This is all good. It’s actually fantastic when these things happen. It shows that other students care about the group agenda and helping each other learn.

There are problems with peer pressure in a classroom, even with a positive motivation behind the pressure. Sometimes these suggestions to quite down actually create more disruption than if I just gave the kid who was talking a look. And in band class, sometimes I would rather that the kid work through a mistake and figure it out than simply be told what to do by a peer.

Bigger than these two issues is the possibly toxic situation when someone who doesn’t want to receive this kind of peer pressure is being told what to do by his or her classmates. I witnessed a class slowly start to come apart while I moved through the lessons.  Students were getting frustrated at an individual who wouldn’t come along with the lesson and this individual didn't want others telling him what to do.

I’m fine with kids being frustrated with me as a teacher. Sometimes it actually makes kids bond together better, but kids getting frustrated at each other in a rest of a class versus an individual conflict creates a detrimental classroom environment.

I did my best to diffuse the situation and remind my students of what is “my job” and “their job.”  Basically, I was told the kids that I needed them to stop doing any kind of peer pressure (without using that term), and let their thoughts and reactions stay in their brain.  I told them that I valued that they wanted things in the class to go a certain way and that I would work with them to express these thoughts in a productive way later in the year. 

In this beginning part of the year when so many kids are trying on different social roles and persona, peer influence and peer pressure is a tricky thing to address.   It' something we all need to be aware of as teachers, and let it help move the class along, but only to a point because without conscientious attention, it could go bad fast.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Monday, September 7, 2015

Parenthood: Week 117 - Stalling For Buffy & Showertime

Ollie has had a hard time going to sleep at night this week. This may have to do with the fact that both Diana and me have recently started work and/or the natural evolution of his sleep patterns. On top of this, Ollie has learned how to stall.

One night last week, he tried everything. First he wanted “mommy hugs,” and then “daddy hugs.” There was the issue of socks. He asked to use the potty, for a drink of water and a diaper change. In between all of these requests, we left him alone in his crib where he persisted in asking for things for almost an hour.

Then he started screaming “BUUUUFFYYYYYYY!”

I walked in and saw him standing up in his crib smiling as he asked “Buffy huggle?” I turned around and saw Buffy standing in the doorway. I replied, “Okay, fine, Buffy huggle and then you go to sleep, okay?” Ollie reached his arms out in agreement.

I picked Buffy up and brought her close to Ollie. He reached around her head with his arms and leaned his head down onto her mane. After a couple seconds Ollie said with satisfaction “all done” and calmly lay himself down in his crib and went to sleep.


Giving Ollie a bath has always felt like a chore to me. When Diana gives Ollie a bath, she gives him time to play and gets into it.  I’m much more business like and I just get the job done. So it’s no surprise that Ollie often requests to take baths with Diana.

Last week, we were having one of those nights with Ollie. Dinner with Ollie didn’t go very well, I was tired and stressed from work. I really wanted to not have to do anything but that wasn’t a choice. So when Diana asked “Do you want to do the dishes or give Ollie a bath?” I initially leaned toward the dishes, but after not having a very positive experience with Ollie that evening, I wanted to turn it around so I chose the bath.

Now I had tried taking a shower with Ollie before. It didn’t go very well. It was before he could stand and I ended up holding him the entire time, which didn’t really work. But now Ollie is a toddler and he loves the splash pad so, I figured why not give it a try. Anyways I could get my shower done in the process and save some time.

Ollie was initially skeptical about the shower as I explained to him what we were going to do instead of a bath. But once Ollie saw me turn on the shower, he got really excited.  I lifted Ollie into the bathtub and I joined him watching him squeal in joy as the water rained down on him.

We had a great time. He watched me shampoo my hair and he tried to do his own. We got soapy together and watched “bubbles go bye-bye” as we rinsed.  I got a sense of joy and pride when washing Ollie when he was an infant but it wasn’t fun.  Something about the kneeling at the side of the tub thing wasn’t really all that fun for me either. I could put on a show for Ollie and he would have fun but it didn’t do much for me.

Taking a shower with Ollie was fun for Ollie and me. Instead of me doing something for Ollie, we were doing something together, working through processes and bonding over the simple joy of getting clean.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Year 6: Week 1 - Ollie-Bear On The Loose

Our first week of school was kind of weird. We had teacher meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Today on Friday we had our first day of school, which will be immediately followed by a three-day weekend. So I’m not going to talk about teaching, because I didn’t really do that much teaching this week. Instead I’m going to talk about something that reflects the soul of my school.

During the teacher meetings this week and last week when I was in school doing preparation work, I brought Ollie to school. I hired one of my former students who is a current high school student at my school babysitter to watch Ollie. We were struggling to find childcare and one of the other teachers suggested this as an option.

I was initially concerned because most of our babysitters we had hired previously were older but I figured that I was going to be in the building anyways, so if something happened, I was around.  My school has playground, art supplies, a library and plenty of space for Ollie to explore so we decided to give this a try.

And it went really well.

The babysitter did a great job. She let Ollie take the lead exploring the school and she knew exactly how to keep Ollie from being too clingy when he happened to see me in the hallways. It was really beautiful to hear Ollie’s laughter echo down the hallway as the babysitter joyfully followed him around the school.

The other part of this experience that was really touching was how much other faculty and administrators welcomed and played with Ollie. For the past week, people at my school have been coming up to me telling me about their interactions with Ollie, when he was being babysat in the building.  Some of this is “I saw him and he’s really cute,” but the majority of these recollections include stories of people talking to him, reading him stories, and playing with him.

I witnessed this when I was walking down the hallway and I saw two teachers with the babysitter playing with Ollie, reading books to his.  This was clearly more than a one-minute walk by greeting. It was really touching that people were going beyond simply being welcoming to Ollie to interacting with him and getting to know him.

Part of this has to do with the fact that people who work in schools generally like kids, but I think it’s more than that.  Ollie is very sensitive to his surroundings.  If there's a place where something doesn't feel right, he can be clingy.  However, if Ollie feels that he is safe and comfortable like he feels at my school, he really opens up.

Earlier this week I was carrying Ollie out of the school after busy morning of fun with his babysitter.  I saw a group of middle school field hockey players collecting in the entrance of the school.  Ollie was tired but when I told him, "hey Ollie, look, there's a bunch of girlies," he perked up, jumped out of my arms and ran towards them.  Before I knew it he was enveloped into the center of a crowd of twenty girls, giggling as they said talked to him.

A school that embraces my son, is an expression of my school's values, and the meaning and joy of being a community.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015