I’m stupid.

If you’ve ever heard a child call himself “stupid” or you’ve witnessed a child burst into tears because the work is too hard, then you have caught a glimpse of the illness that exists in our society and school system. How is it possible for a child of only eight or nine years of age to have such a negative view of himself? Why, instead of approaching a  new challenge with confidence would a child feel anxiety? What are we doing wrong?

 

Some children are naturally more confident or more anxious than others, that’s true. But I firmly believe that when parents and teachers empathize with the child, by trying to understand where the frustration or lack of confidence is coming from, we can build that child up and significantly reduce anxiety levels.

Teachers, the time has come for us to readjust our expectations, not only of ourselves, but of our students and their parents. We need to step back and reevaluate our beliefs and practices. No matter what we dream or imagine for a child, it is not for us to impose our beliefs on them. While parents and teachers ought to expose children to the endless possibilities this amazing world has to offer, children must feel free to dream their own dreams and explore their curiosities.

The standards I set in my classroom are high. Yet, no two students share the exact same set of expectations. Not exactly anyways. Every single one of them is expected to give her best. This best will vary from one day to the next. It will vary from one subject area to another. It will even vary throughout the day depending on fatigue, hunger, motivation, engagement, distraction…

Let go of control.  Give children the chance to lead the way in their understanding as much as possible. The act of accepting what is is liberating.

For example, if a student tells me, “I hate writing!”

My response is simply, “That’s okay, you’re allowed to not enjoy writing.”

While I do ask them to rid their vocabulary of the word hate in relation to writing (or anything else for that matter), I do not require them to see themselves as writers.

“You do not see yourself as a writer?”, I say, “That’s okay. Tell me, how do you see yourself? What do you love to do? Do you have dream for your future?”, I implore.

I have yet to meet a student who tells me of a dream for which I cannot find at least one example of how knowing how to write won’t help him to live his dream to the fullest. I find a way to give them a purpose for knowing how to communicate effectively in the written form. I do not insist that they become writers.

The school system is designed to make kids think they have to excel in math, and reading, and writing, and science…This structure does not take into account multiple intelligences. This system does not encourage children to celebrate their uniqueness. We talk about these things, but at the end of the day, we all have to write the same test if we plan to get ahead and be the top of our class…What does it matter to me if the renovators who just updated my kitchen enjoy reading science-fiction or writing poetry? I sure hope they know how to read a ruler and use a drill though!  When will we all realize that mastering the basics is essential and the rest can be guided through curiosity, passion, interest and ability? Shouldn’t each child be treated and taught as the unique human being that she is?

The most amazing things happen when we let go of telling children to “try harder” and instead tell them, “It’s okay if you don’t get it right now. It’s also okay if you don’t enjoy this. You don’t need to. Together we’ll try to find ways to help you succeed enough that we both know you will have the skills necessary to achieve your dreams. That’s the big picture. That’s what matters most.”
What I’ve discovered is that when we talk to kids about their dreams, they light up. When we take the pressure off of them to perform to our expectations, they start setting their own goals, in relationship to their own dreams. (This of course, secretly, is our expectation, but they don’t need to know that!) When children know that we only wish to see progress, not perfection, they proudly tell us about their achievements and often, if not always, excel beyond our greatest expectations.

Photo credit goes to Anthony J. D’Angelo at https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/

Original photo credit: Katie Phillips

The Return.

The Christmas Break has drawn to an end and it’s back to the juggling act of the school and work routine. Teachers, parents and children alike may be less than enthusiastic about getting the “machine” running again. In light of this reality, might I suggest the most basic of resolutions for the New Year?

 

What if we were to focus on being grateful? Our beliefs shape our reality and likewise, what we choose to put our attention upon feeds our spirit, for better or for worse.  By focusing on being grateful,  your return to the work and school routine will surely get off to a smooth start. This includes the self-talk that goes through our mind as we assess our situation. It takes a mere couple of seconds to send a kind message to our ourselves but the impact of these messages can have a lasting positive effect on our day, and by default, our positive sense of well-being can uplift those around us. Sounds good in theory right, but what would that look like?

 

  • When you’re bemoaning the fact that it’s back to packing lunches for yourself (and the kids), be grateful that you have food with which to fuel your body and feed your family.

 

  • When you force yourself (and the kids) to go to bed earlier, be grateful for the extra time you have had together as a family, for having a bed in which to lie down and a pillow to rest your head upon.

 

  • When the alarm goes off in the morning, be grateful for having a warm home in which to awake.

 

  • Whatever lovely winter weather greets you as you step outside, be grateful that you have clothes to protect you from the seasonal elements.

 

  • When you are sitting in traffic just trying to get yourself to work, be grateful that you have a form of transportation that allows you to arrive safely to your destination. If that’s not enough, place your attention on something that brings you joy. For instance, the longer you’re stuck in traffic, the more Adele and Ed Sheeran songs you get to sing (now you know what I’m doing as I line up to cross the Mercier Bridge.)

 

This next part is specifically for teachers:

 

  • When you greet your students, keep in mind that they may not have had two full weeks of rest. Not everyone necessarily had “Happy Holidays”. There may have been lots of running around visiting relatives and friends, and may have been more stressful than joyful. Think about the family drama that you witnessed during the holidays and consider the fact that your students may have lived through the same kind of events, if not worse. Take time to be grateful for one another and be sure to celebrate your reunion as a group.

 

Back to parents:

 

  • When your kids come home tired, remember that they need to have a safe place to release their fatigue. Be grateful for being together again and for having a home in which to rest and be ourselves. Moreover, be grateful for the opportunity to set up the conditions within which you can allow your children and yourself time and space to let off some steam. That might look like alone time in their bedrooms, or a nice, big hug to release endorphins in the body, bringing about a sense of calm.

 

  • When you’re rushing to get dinner on the table, be grateful for the meal you are about to share with each other.

 

  • When it’s time to take showers and brush your teeth and get into pajamas, be grateful for…yup…you guessed it…hot water, personal hygiene products, warm clothing, etc.

 

Have you got the hang of this yet? The moment you find yourself ready to complain or feel sorry for yourself, find something for which you are grateful. There are billions of people in this world who have less than you. The situation we are all well aware of with the Syrian Refugees ought to be enough to sober us up and allow us to find dozens, if not hundreds, of things for which we can be grateful in our daily lives. Happy New Year, Happy Thoughts.

 

If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished? – Rumi

Photo credit goes to BK from Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/

Original Photo Credit goes to https://pixabay.com/en/niagara-cases-water-waterfall-218591/

 

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.

Raising Siblings to Get Along Like Cats & Dogs

LETTING GO

My girls had reached the age where I was ready to grant them the freedom to leave the home without adult supervision. We have tennis courts within a five-minute walk from our home. The girls had asked if they could walk there together and I agreed. Not twenty minutes later they were already back. Mikella needed to use the washroom.

“I’m going to go ahead since you have your scooter, okay? I’ll wait for you at the corner,” Yasmine told her, and off she went.

I figured I’d watch Mikella head off around the bend to meet up with her sister which proved to be a wise decision since she returned only a few minutes later.

“I can’t find her!” she told me, clearly nervous about having been left alone. I joined her in her search for Yasmine, consciously filtering my thoughts. “Don’t worry, I’m sure Yasmine is fine,” I told myself. Lo and behold, there she was waiting at the other corner…the one down the street. The girls had not realized that there were in fact two corners along the path to the tennis courts. Yasmine had assumed Mikella would feel comfortable enough to meet at the corner that required them to cross the street, not the first one that seemed inconsequential to her. While one child was busy feeling scared and abandoned, the other was feeling irritated and defensive. This was a perfect opportunity to focus their attention on the bigger picture.

“Girls, it was just a misunderstanding,” I explained, “There’s no need to place blame. What matters most is that each of you was trying to do the right thing. Mikella, you cared about being safe and making sure your sister was with you, and likewise, Yasmine, you were waiting for your sister, and even though it was taking a really long time, you didn’t give up and leave. You kept waiting, knowing that she was counting on you to be at the corner. The love and care you have just shown to one another is precious. We all misunderstand each other sometimes. Now we know. Now it’s clear. Off you go and enjoy yourselves.” And that’s just what they did. Yasmine’s defensiveness melted away, having been shown that her feelings were connected to her instinctive, loving need to protect her sister. Mikella felt reassured of her sister’s love, since at first the lack of her presence at her perceived meeting point had made her feel abandoned and unimportant.

How many variations of this conversation could we imagine instead? And how different would the outcomes have been? If I had not had the wherewithal to stay calm and see the forest for the trees, the situation could have degenerated very quickly. If I had allowed fear to take the reins I may have said things like, “Yasmine, how could you go ahead of your sister like that!?” or “What were you thinking? I was counting on you!” or even, “Clearly neither of you are ready to be trusted on your own!” How destructive would comments (or judgements) such as these have been?

We don’t just raise individual children. We raise siblings. We are constantly creating our family life which means finding the balance between respecting the individual and fostering mutual kindness and respect. This balancing act is alive and ever-changing. When we don’t like the road we’re on, we can change the course. It’s easier than we may think. It requires an investment of time and energy, but it is time and energy well-spent, I promise.

It is up to us to coach our children in how to get along. We cannot be confused when our kids do not live together harmoniously if we have not been modeling it and explicitly showing them how to replace their competitive or simply hurtful actions (often based in ego and insecurity) with more loving ones. We can coach them to see themselves in a different light. We have the opportunity to guide their understanding of family life. They should not be the ones setting the boundaries (or lack thereof), that is our job as parents. The following scripts have been very helpful in our home.

THE ROLE OF THE OLDER SIBLING

Here as a version of the message our eldest child, Yasmine, has been receiving over the years:

“Being the older sibling means you get to be first at all kinds of things. You will be the first to learn to ride a bike, the first to walk to the corner store by yourself, and the first to learn to drive a car. With these advantages come responsibilities. You will be asked to look out for your younger sibling, whether it’s to accompany her on her first bike ride or to join her on her first walk to the park. The love and attention you offer your younger sister will come back to you ten-fold. She will admire you in a way you can only begin to imagine. She may not always show it, but your approval, encouragement and support means the world to her. Your sister struggles to be ‘just as good’ as you. You will never know what it is to be the youngest in the family. You must show her understanding and compassion as she tries to keep pace with you. For every one thing you admire in her, she admires ten more things about you. That is the reality of having the eyes of a younger sibling watching you every step of the way. The words you speak to her have more power than you can truly comprehend. Be mindful of how you treat her. It is a privilege to be the oldest. It is the place your soul chose for you and it is not to be taken lightly. You are such a wonderful older sister and it’s obvious to us that your soul chose the perfect place for you.”

THE ROLE OF THE YOUNGER SIBLING

And now here is a version of the message Mikella, our second and youngest child, has been receiving over the years:

“Being in second place means you often have the impression of needing to be more patient, although in fact the opposite is often true. You will have to sit by and watch your older sibling do things for which you are not yet old enough and it may feel unfair and you may feel jealous, yet, chances are, given the fact that you have an older sibling to look out for you, you will enjoy these experiences at a younger age than she ever did. While Yasmine was eight years old before she could ride her bike around the block on her own, you got to enjoy that freedom from the age of six since she was out there with you. The fact that you are not the first child means that we as parents have already learned a few lessons ourselves, and we may be less worried and strict about things like eating candy, watching television or going to bed late. Even though you feel frustrated sometimes at watching her do things that you simply cannot yet do, you must remind yourself that your soul chose to be the youngest in the family. This is the place in which you are meant to be. We are grateful that your soul chose us to be your family. We had to wait a few years for you to arrive and are we ever glad you did!”

The bottom line is this: It is not normal for siblings to fight constantly. It may be a common occurrence in many homes but that does not mean it needs to be that way. As parents we can, and should, require more of them. Home is where we hang our heart. Every moment of every day is an opportunity to make new memories. What kind are we making? If you wish to improve the energy in your home, then it’s time that you do something about it. Change your beliefs, change your reality. This is why we explicitly talk to our children about their roles in the family through the lens of their soul. Like this, they see how choices have actually been made for them by their very own spirit (rather than dictated to them by us, the parents.) A reminder such as, “This is the only sister/brother you will ever have, you need to take care of each other,” can go a long way in guiding your children on the path of being lifelong friends.

Photo credit goes to b1ue5ky from http://www.flickr.com