Start as You Mean to Go

Since before my children were born, I have always known what kind of relationship I wanted to have with them. I have always dreamed of a day when my children would be grown and we would speak to one another as equals, as friends. I have this image of us sitting at a cozy table in a trendy café, chatting easily with one another about anything and everything. What’s more is that I have been sharing this image with them for as long as I can remember.


“Perhaps we’re in the Old Port of Montreal…or maybe we’re on Dobson Street in Vancouver…” I’ll suggest. Now that they’re older, they like to make suggestions of their own and they’ll name cities and countries from around the globe. It has become our dream.


Why did I choose to tell them about this dream from the time they were little? I believe that in sharing my dream of our beautiful, loving, lifelong relationship, I am setting up the conditions under which it may flourish and become a reality. I tell them that as much as I love being their mother, it isn’t easy having to make difficult decisions. It is never my wish to disappoint them. But right now, it is my job to be their parent, not their friend. But one day…one magnificent, glorious day…though I will always be their mother and I will always want to look out for them…they will be adults and we can have a friendship wherein I respect their choices and offer advice only if it is requested.
I don’t pretend to know that this dream will come true. I am well placed to know that life can throw all kinds of twists and turns at us. What I know for certain though is that I stand a much better chance at achieving this dream if I consciously work at it in the present moment. Rare are the dreams that come true just by chance.

Dear Teachers & Parents: Let’s Walk the Talk

Parent-Teacher Interviews are just a few days away – here are some useful strategies based in kindness and compassion to help us have meaningful and productive meetings.


For Teachers & Parents: Perhaps we could all be a little more humble.IMG_20141010_092243

International Kindness Week has just passed and parent-teacher interviews are upon us. Is it just a coincidence that they occur around the same time of year? Perhaps whoever picked the date was trying to send a message to the most influential people in our children’s lives…What a perfect opportunity to remind ourselves that we should be kind to our fellow human beings, especially our child’s teacher, or alternatively, or students’ parents.


Why so many conflicts?


There are plenty of reasons why parents and teachers get stressed out during interviews, but I believe we can boil it down to one thing: fear of failure. I truly think it’s that simple. It may be the parents who are worried they aren’t doing a good enough job at home, or the teacher who is worried she isn’t effectively…

View original post 1,162 more words

Dear Teachers: First Day Impressions Matter

There is something magical and exciting about starting fresh each fall with a new group of students. The first day of class is always exciting and nerve-wracking. I have yet to sleep soundly the night before I meet my new students. First impressions matter. I am not talking about the impressions that they will make on me. I am an adult, so I know better than to take any of their potentially challenging behaviors to heart. I realize that by the time they arrive in my care, they already have dozens of preconceived ideas, feelings, emotions and behaviors in relation to school. For all the anxiety I feel, I can only imagine what some of them are going through.

For all of these reasons and more, I greet my students with an open-hearted smile and make eye contact with each and every one of them as they choose a seat. Once they are seated and I have their attention, I begin my introductory speech, “Welcome to grade three! I can only imagine how each of you is feeling. Many of you are excited; others are nervous. Some of you love school and are thrilled to be back, others may not be very happy about being here. I can understand that. My ultimate mission is to make each and every one of you feel excited about school. Absolutely everybody has a special gift or talent to share with the world.

“Now, there may be someone here thinking, ‘She doesn’t mean me, though.’ Yes, I do! Everyone, especially you! You may not have discovered your gift yet, but I promise you, you have one, if not several. This year, each day will be filled with new opportunities to discover our strengths and our talents. School is not always easy, but the challenges can be fun if we choose to look at them that way. You must always feel safe to ask your questions. You are in a space that tolerates nothing less than 100% respect, kindness, and open-mindedness. It is by being a risk-taker that each of you will grow in your learning.

“I’m sure you know of teachers who believe in being very serious with their students. They don’t smile or tell jokes for at least the first month or two of the school year. I suppose they believe this is the best way to show the students who is in charge. Maybe that works for them but I do not see things that way. To me, every day is a gift for which we ought to be grateful. We will be spending five days a week together, morning until afternoon. As far as I’m concerned that makes us a family, and when I’m with my family, I like to feel happy, joyful and relaxed. I will greet you every day with a smile. I will exercise patience and I will use humor to help guide you in your learning. I wish I could say I never lose my patience. I wish I could say I never raise my voice. The fact is, I’m human and I have emotions, too, just like you. No matter what though, I promise you to always be my best, even if my best is not always the same from one day to the next, and I ask the same of you. When I make a mistake, I will apologize for it. Pobody’s nerfect, right? (pause) Get it? PO-body’s NER-fect?”

I always give them a moment for the play on words to sink in. Eventually, as comprehension dawns on a handful of children, they spontaneously volunteer their understanding to the rest of the group. “Ooooooh, Nobody’s perfect! Hahaha!” I love this moment so much. The joke may not be that funny, but the intention is understood. As laughter and smiles spread throughout the room, the positive energy that is connecting us to one another is palpable. This talk sets a precedence and a standard for the year. My message is clear: I care about being a caring teacher, and I care about them feeling comfortable in this space. Moreover, they see that laughter is not only welcome in our class, it’s a must.

To wrap everything up before moving on to our next activity, I tell them, “I am so looking forward to getting to know each and every one of you. I sincerely believe that each of you has been brought into my life for a reason. In fact, we are all in each other’s lives for a reason. We will all have things to learn from one another this year, of that I am certain. I see it as a privilege to be given the chance to be your teacher and I promise I will teach you to the best of my ability. All I ask in return is that you promise to be your best as learners, which means showing up to class with an open mind. I am really excited about this year!”

In case you haven’t noticed, I am really proud of this speech and I think I have good reason to be. For one, it has taken me years to refine the balance between being caring and having a loving approach, and being firm and setting high expectations for both myself and the students. I am 100% convinced that this is the healthiest route to take with children. We should not be waiting for children to show us respect before they gain it from us. We ought to offer and demonstrate respect to them so that they have a proper example of what it looks like. We need to stop assuming that children should know better. Maybe they don’t. Certainly, we are all able to conjure up images of adults being rude and even mean to children. If the majority of the adults in a child’s life have been better at preaching than teaching (i.e. do as I say, not as I do), then be grateful that you have the opportunity to be the best role model yet for this child. What an amazing privilege. Consider the place you will hold in that child’s heart knowing that you may have been the first adult to truly connect with him in a kind, loving, and respectful way.

One of the most effective ways to nip problems in the bud is to not really expect any in the first place. Instead, we must focus our energy on letting the children know what kind of behavior is expected. The beauty lies in the fact that whatever we expect of them is exactly what they can expect of us. As we set limits for ourselves, we simultaneously set them for all the other people involved in this ten month journey.

I will leave you with this parting thought:

The more we resist the child who stands before us, the more likely we will struggle indefinitely with her, whereas the better we become at accepting a child as he is, the more likely we will be able to effect positive change in his life.

“What if Screaming is all I Know?”

I had several potential titles, a couple of which were: Why Are so Many Kids Growing up in Angry Homes? and Stressed out Adults=Stressed out Kids. This post is based on the idea that Our Classroom Ought to Feel Like an Extended Family, and though I still hold this belief close to my heart, I have needed to re-frame my philosophy in light of certain discoveries… which brings us full-circle to the reason for the chosen title.


Each new school year, on the very first day of class, I pitch my philosophy to my students. “Since we will be together nearly six hours a day, five days a week, for ten months, that makes us a family,” I begin, “Therefore, I expect us to treat one another as such.”


The first year I implemented this philosophy, it took me until March to realize why I was having trouble making it take hold the way I had hoped and imagined it would. In my mind, reminding the students that we should treat one another as a family ought to have motivated them to be kinder to one another.


Anytime I would overhear unkind words or witness mean actions amongst my students, I would say, “We are a family. We should be kind to each other. Try again. Make it right.” While many of my students reacted positively to this philosophy by either changing their tone of voice or by demonstrating greater respect towards their peers, with certain students, not only did their behavior not improve, but I even sensed a heightened level of agitation.


I finally understood the underlying problem when one afternoon, seven months into the school year, ten-year old Fred blurted out, “Miss Kathleen, what if screaming and yelling in a family is all you know?” His words hit me like a ton of bricks. Our eyes locked, and in that moment he knew he had just taught me an important lesson. The whole class fell silent, and Fred continued, “I have never heard my parents work out a problem without screaming at each other…I hate it!” His last words caught in his throat as he choked back his tears. His passionate confession echoed throughout the classroom.


“It’s the same thing in my home…” called out one of his peers.


“I feel you man,” offered another.


Suddenly, whatever issue it was that had prompted Fred’s outburst no longer seemed to matter. We had delved into a much deeper level of conversation, one that had to be handled delicately and compassionately. It is not for me to judge such a statement. Every family has their own story, their own baggage, their own set of values. Each family is on its own journey. Fred’s statement may have been true, but it was not my place to probe. Was the family under enormous stress? Had someone lost a job? Was the marriage suffering? The answers to any of these questions were none of my business. (Fred would perhaps decide to confide in me, but if so, it would need to be his own initiative. I’ll elaborate on why I feel this is important in a subsequent chapter). Ideally, my response needed to be phrased in such a way that acknowledged his statement as his truth and supported him on his journey without talking against his parents in any way since I could not pretend to know or understand the whole situation. I needed to resist making assumptions.


I allowed for a few moments to gather my thoughts in order to respond to Fred with the utmost respect and empathy possible. If we were to break it down into steps, the process would look something like this:


Empathetic thoughts:


I needed to acknowledge his feelings without speaking against his parents. “Fred,” I said, “Clearly the arguing you hear in your home is very upsetting to you. I am sorry that’s your reality. For me, growing up, my parents never argued in front of me. I should have realized that when I’ve been saying ‘We must treat each other as a family,’ that experience is very different for each of us.”


Motivation to intervene/respond:


I needed to recognize that this claim, while true in Fred’s eyes, could very well have another dimension to it of which I was completely unaware. I needed to focus on reassuring Fred that in our classroom he should not have to deal with screaming and yelling. That that is a professional responsibility I take very seriously. (That is not to say that I never lose my patience or raise my voice. Any parent who has been pushed to the edge by his one child can surely comprehend that a group of 20-30 students can have a way of pushing anyone to the brink. Having said that, I am careful with my words, even as I lose my patience. No form of verbal abuse is ever acceptable.)


“I don’t think I have to tell you how strongly I feel about speaking to one another kindly. I can’t change what goes on at home for you, Fred, or any of you for that matter. The point I’ve been trying to make since August, is that there is always a way to solve our problems using kindness and respect. I should have realized that it can be different for each of you at home and that if you have not had this modeled for you, that it would be that much harder for you to know how to fix your problems peacefully.”



This is a delicate situation. While in my heart I wish that children could be spared from certain stressful realities of home life, I must acknowledge that this is out of my control. My responsibility towards my students is restricted to the relationship we create with one another, within the four walls of our classroom.

“Boys and girls, can I ask you something? When I’ve been saying, ‘We should feel like a family and treat each other as such’, have you understood what I’ve meant?”


“For sure, Miss Kathleen. We know that it has to do with getting along,” offered one student.


“It’s just that sometimes I find we get along better in the classroom than I do with my own family at home,” said another student.


“We’re really glad this is what you teach us, Miss Kathleen!” chimed in a handful of children.


Action & Desired Outcome:


The action I needed to take was abundantly clear. I had to continue insisting on these family values that I hold so dear, as the students were clearly showing their appreciation for this approach. However, there was a need for me to reframe it, so that I could be more sensitive to the variety of realities my students experienced outside of the classroom.


“I guess for some of you, screaming is just normal in your home,” I remarked.


“Oh ya!”, “You bet!”, “No kidding!” several students called out.


“Judging by what you’re telling me though, you would prefer to live with less of that type of behavior and you are glad I insist on speaking to each other kindly in the classroom. My goal has always been to develop our skills of communicating effectively with one another to solve our problems. If ever you find yourself teaching these lessons to your family and inspiring positive change in your home, that would be so wonderful.”


“I doubt it, Miss Kathleen,” interrupted Fred.


“Fair enough, Fred. That’s probably too much responsibility for a ten-year old, isn’t it? Can we at least use our experience in this classroom as proof that it’s possible to live peacefully with others, and that when conflicts arise, we can often solve them without yelling? It can allow you to dream of one day raising your own family in a peaceful environment. Do you like that idea?”


“That works for me,” replied Fred. Several more students spoke up to say they liked that idea as well. While I dare not claim that conversation was some kind of miracle that changed their behavior for the rest of year and that no more arguments or confrontations ever broke out again, it was certainly a significant moment for many of us in the class. My relationship with Fred, for one, took on a whole new dimension. He clearly felt a sense of relief that someone understood him on a whole new level, and while naturally conflicts still arose, it was clear that he desired a positive change in his life.


I no longer take the philosophy of treating one another as a family for granted. These days when I introduce the idea to my students, we discuss what that could mean and how we want it to look. When the children list less desirable aspects of family life, such as yelling, fighting, and rudeness, I ask them if they want it to include these as part of our classroom agreements on how we ought to treat one another. The resounding “No way!” that these eight-year-olds cry out is something to which we all should be paying closer attention.


Nowadays, I still believe that our classroom ought to feel like an extended family, but I emphasize the idea that we must create and/or reinforce the habit of treating each other the way we wish to be treated, anywhere and everywhere we go, because it always feels good to be treated with kindness.I find myself asking my students if they think it is possible to live harmoniously with one another, and we talk about what makes it challenging and how we can deal with those challenges. Fred’s bravery in speaking his mind and in sharing something so personal created a ripple effect that is ongoing to this day.

And the day came, when the risk it took to remain tightly closed in a bud, was more painful than the risk it took to bloom. This is the element of freedom.

– Anais Nin & Alicia Keys


How do we explain our need to feel respected by others? Is there something in the human condition or is it the conditioning of and by society that causes us to feel wounded when we sense someone has disrespected us? Is it a global phenomenon? Most importantly, how often do we mistake someone’s actions for disrespect when in fact it had nothing to do with us in the first place?


Our interpretation of any given situation is just that, an interpretation. It can be so easy to feel disrespected when in fact the person’s actions had very little to do with us. This is directly correlated to the idea presented in Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements that nothing is personal; everything is merely a reflection of the other person’s reality.


Experience has taught me that using the word “kind” instead of “respect” accomplishes at least two things. For one, it is difficult to argue with the word kind, it’s definition being so clear. Respect on the other hand can be vague and can even put a person on the defensive, “I didn’t do it on purpose!”


On top of that, when delivering a message with the word respect, it is easy to take on a tone of command or superiority which is rarely conducive to defusing a situation. On the flip side, try saying, “Be kind!!!!” in a bossy way. The results are quite ridiculous. I promise you, it’s true. I’ve tried. (You should try it too, right now…that’s if you’re not riding the bus or something. That could be embarrassing…)


Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a principal, or a childcare provider, the use of the word “kind” in place of “respect” helps to build social skills by giving children clear actions to take in order to solve their problems. It avoids the possibility of accusing children of having poor character and instead empowers them by providing them with opportunities to be seen as kind.


Remember, children innately want to be seen as good. They want to belong. The children we see today who resist this are the ones who have been neglected one way or another. That is not intended as an accusatory statement. I am not trying to make anyone feel guilty. I firmly believe however that children will only regularly seek out negative attention when experience has taught them that that is what is easier to get. For these kids, any attention is good attention. It’s our (professional) obligation to guide them compassionately, thereby helping them to reconnect to their true self. We are all born loving. Just some of us do not have the privilege of it being reinforced properly or effectively.


I am not suggesting that we stop teaching about respect. What I am suggesting is that we make kindness the first stepping stone or building block on a child’s journey to learning how to be respectful. Let’s stop being indignant towards children who seem to lack respect, and give them the concrete tools for being respectful, which ultimately comes down to acts of kindness and practicing empathy. Let’s remember that their brains, their spirits, their hearts, and their souls are still developing, all the way through the primary years and beyond. Let’s accompany them on their journey in a heart-felt way, rather than a judgmental way. By placing our attention first and foremost on kindness, we naturally instill respectful behavior in them.


The bottom line is this: Ask yourself when have you been the most motivated to do your best? Hands down I am certain that when you are treated with kindness, you feel respected by the person for whom you are working, and you are willing to go above and beyond. Children are no different. In fact, what I love about kids is that they are less likely to “fake it” for anyone. Their honesty and generosity are worth a pound in gold when we honor them and challenge them authentically. Let’s give what we wish to receive.


Kindly yours,


Kathleen Murray


Dear Teachers & Parents: Let’s Walk the Talk

For Teachers & Parents: Perhaps we could all be a little more humble.IMG_20141010_092243

International Kindness Week has just passed and parent-teacher interviews are upon us. Is it just a coincidence that they occur around the same time of year? Perhaps whoever picked the date was trying to send a message to the most influential people in our children’s lives…What a perfect opportunity to remind ourselves that we should be kind to our fellow human beings, especially our child’s teacher, or alternatively, or students’ parents.


Why so many conflicts?


There are plenty of reasons why parents and teachers get stressed out during interviews, but I believe we can boil it down to one thing: fear of failure. I truly think it’s that simple. It may be the parents who are worried they aren’t doing a good enough job at home, or the teacher who is worried she isn’t effectively getting through to the child despite her various attempts. Perhaps the parents fear the teacher is not a good fit for their child, or the teacher fears the parents are not doing enough to support their child. One thing is for certain: the moment someone starts playing the blame game, fear is involved, and unless the presence of fear is used wisely, it will be destructive.


Being aware of our fears is healthy and essential for our survival. Fear calls us to action. The challenge lies in getting all the adults involved to implement empathy, compassion and kindness in order to best serve the child.


What does being humble do for me?


The choice to be humble is the singular, most powerful discovery I have made in recent years as a teacher and a parent. It suddenly dawned on me that I did not need to have all of the answers. I realized that after years of trying to please everyone that I was actually setting myself up to fail. Today my approach is more simple. I humbly acknowledge that we all have different views on the best way of doing things. And thank goodness for that! How boring and rigid this world would be if we all had one singular perspective on how things should be done. Approaching teacher-parent meetings with a humble mind has been an exceptionally liberating experience for me and I wish everyone could discover it for themselves, if they haven’t already.


What does being humble and kind sound like during a parent-teacher interview?


It sounds like…


  • Parents and teachers agreeing to the fact that they both have a challenging yet beautifully rewarding responsibility: that of guiding children to be their best.


  • Teachers acknowledging the fact that nobody knows the child better than the parent. (The last thing you want to do as a teacher is is to try to sound like an expert on the child when you have had him in your class for all of 10 weeks!)


  • Parents and teachers reminding each other that kids will be kids and no matter how much we love them, they can and will bend the truth at times to get what they want (and avoid getting in trouble). Therefore, the adults agree to politely ask the right questions to better understand a troubling situation before taking the word of a child over that of an adult. Which leads us to…


  • Parents asking for insight into what the teacher has observed in class and accepting the information as truth because they understand that it does not serve a teacher to invent stories. (While the perspective can be discussed if doesn’t sound quite right, arguing over details of what an adult has seen is wasted energy. Spending time on trying to understand why the child is behaving in a particular way is far more productive.)


  • Teachers and parents alike being confident enough to admit they do not have all the answers and agreeing to work together to find solutions, all the while recognizing that what works well in the classroom environment may not be appropriate for a home environment, and vice versa.


  • Teachers and parents being willing to try to new techniques and strategies, recognizing that the goal is to better serve the child. (For example, it might be appropriate to let the child stand at his desk.)


  • Teachers listening to parental concerns with an open mind, resisting the urge to defend their practices and instead being willing to entertain the idea that perhaps their approach could be better adapted to the child, given the circumstances. (For instance, some students may not be obliged to write in cursive given their particular difficulties with fine motor skills.)


  • Teachers genuinely asking parents to tell them about what they find works best for their child. (Perhaps music helps their child to focus better while working in which case headphones and a personal device in the classroom could be a great idea.)


  • Parents and teachers alike agreeing to the fact that fair does not mean equal. (This translates to setting goals with children that focus on improving their skills without comparing themselves to others.)


  • Parents and teachers reminding themselves (and perhaps each other) that above all else, it is the adults who must set an example for the child, knowing full-well that a child knows when something is amiss and will use it to their full advantage if given the chance.


And finally, kindness coupled with the art of being humble sounds like… 

  • Parents and teachers thanking one another for their time and their willingness to listen to each other.

 So there you have it! Everything you have ever needed to know about how to engage in a meaningful parent-teacher meeting and leave feeling you have taken something positive from the experience that will serve the child…


Okay, I know I’ve made it sound easy, but here’s the thing…in a way it is. We cannot control what someone else will say or do, but we can absolutely control ourselves. By internalizing these beliefs, you set yourself up with the tools necessary to steer a conversation in the right direction. We must give what we wish to receive.

If you are feeling the least bit nervous or anxious about an upcoming meeting, then by all means go ahead and print this article to have it with you during the interview. If at any point you no longer know how to remain in a state of humbleness or kindness, take out this article and make it a point of discussion. You can even highlight the points that resonate most with you to help get you back on track. Or if you prefer, write yourself notes on how you will address your issues of concern.


Is the voice in your head saying, “No way would I pull out an article or notes during an interview! I would feel so silly.” Ahhhhh…there is that voice of fear, hanging around, wreaking havoc and holding you back from using a strategy that could make the difference between walking out of an interview feeling successful or leaving the meeting feeling discouraged, or worse, angry and frustrated. The practice of putting our pride aside and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable may not be one we are accustomed to, but I assure you, the benefits are immeasurable, especially when we realize the results of these types of interactions will have a direct impact on the child. Personally, when I sense a conversation going off track, I like to drop well-known quotes as a means of defusing a situation and realigning our attention to what matters most. I will leave you with one of my favorites. I believe it sums things up quite succinctly.


The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. – Socrates