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…

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Raising Siblings to Get Along Like Cats & Dogs


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.


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.”


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

School’s Almost Out!

One of my recent posts  had to do with questioning the assumptions that give us a dramatic emotional response. So it seems appropriate that we talk about the end of the school year.

It’s a time of year when although we feel like we should get to chill and slow things down, the pace actually picks up as we race against the clock. Simultaneously, challenging behaviors tend to worsen.

A few years ago, in the month of June, a child whispered in my ear, “I’m really sad school is ending…”

I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I was truly caught off guard by this confession. How had it never occurred to me that for some kids, summer is not a time of fun in the sun?

I asked this young girl to tell me why she felt that way. She explained that her parents would be working all summer. They were not able to get any vacation time. Plus, she was not looking forward to going back to the same day camp where she had been the previous summer. Her camp leader had been really strict, border-line mean.

This little girl had been sulky in my class for nearly a week. I had tried to reach out to her, but she would just shrug her shoulders and tell me she was tired.

I wonder now if the reason she had held back from admitting the truth was because I had been trying to set a tone of celebration in the class. She was not able to identify with that and I was therefore inadvertently alienating her. I had assumed that all of the kids were looking forward to the summer. Let’s be clear, I’m pretty sure all kids WANT to look forward to the summer, it’s just that sadly, that’s not the case.

The message I wish to deliver to teachers is this: As unfavorable behaviors escalate in the classroom, question your assumptions about why this is the case. If you have a tendency to sound like you’re looking forward to the end, try to remember that some kids may be hurting. They may need to hear you say how much you are going to miss them, ALL of them. Take the ones who have challenged you the most aside and let them know that you would like nothing more than to create happy memories of these last few weeks of school. Acknowledge that you have had your ups and downs together, but tell them how these challenges have only made you love them more. Let them know that you see their goodness, and that you believe in them. Ironic though it may seem, some of our most challenging students really look forward to school. Many kids will be saying goodbye to their friends for the entire summer. Do not underestimate how attached the children have become to you as their teacher, either.

My message for parents is this: you may not be in a position where vacation is an option, but perhaps a heart-to-heart with your child on why that’s the case could really help them to see how fortunate they are nonetheless. We have a tendency to compare ourselves to those who have it “better” than us, but we neglect to see the billions of people in the world who have it much tougher than us. Teach your child to count her blessings. Then, sit down as a family, pull out the calendar and pencil in things like: go for a walk in the forest, play tennis or basketball at the local courts, go for ice cream, hang out in the backyard or at the park, go for a bike ride through the neighborhood, visit our cousins, have a friend sleep-over… You get the idea. What kids want more than anything is to know that they will have time to kick back with their family and friends.

One more thing: if your child complains that her camp leader is mean, please listen and react. So long as the camp organizers do not get feedback, they have no reason to intervene. Do not be aggressive in your intervention (I have a post on my blog entitled “Kindness is…” that’s worth checking out), but do intervene.

That little girl taught me to ask the kids questions about their summer activities and I was shocked and saddened at how many of them had negative feelings about their camp counsellors. That just seems crazy to me! It does not have to be this way.


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Homework is Yours and Yours Alone

When did “parental homework support” become an essential element of a child’s education? From an empathetic standpoint, I can think of endless scenarios wherein expecting home support would be completely unreasonable. From illiterate parents, to those who work 12 hour days just to put a roof over their heads and food in the fridge, expecting parents to have the skills and time required to help their child with their school work can be a totally unfair expectation and can actually set a child up for failure.


It is not uncommon to hear exasperated parents expressing their frustrations. “When I was a kid, I did my homework by myself. Nowadays we’re expected to sit with our child every night. Half the time I don’t even know how to help! It’s so different from when we were in school.”


On the flip side, I doubt if I could find a single teacher who has never lived through the frustration of giving an assignment, only to wind up chasing after the student to get it done, or worse, realizing that it was done by the parent. When something is broken we either fix it or we throw it out. Some schools have been doing away with homework in light of all the problems it can create. That solution is deeply flawed. It is paramount to throwing the baby out with the bath water. We need to change how and what we do by holding on to the essential and trimming away the superfluous. Less is more.


Am I saying therefore that we need to stop expecting parents to help their kids with their homework, you ask? Yes. That is exactly what I am saying. Stop expecting it. Set your students up for success by only giving them work that they ought to be able to complete on their own at home. Essentially, this means that homework should be about practicing skills that have already been appropriately taught in school or studying material that has already been properly introduced. Resources must be provided that supply support and explicit explanations. (Ideally, these would be web-based, but a hard copy must be provided to all students who do not have Internet access.) If students unwittingly go home practicing the wrong thing, there is more damage than good being done. And teachers, please realize that if the majority of your students need a tutor in order to understand their homework, there is definitely a problem, and it isn’t the students. You can give work that requires support if you know a child has the support available to her, but otherwise, you need to be the one offering alternative resources. Again, if most of the kids need help, then it probably shouldn’t be homework.

Teachers, we must focus and insist on quality over quantity. We do not serve our students when we send them home feeling stressed about the work they need to get done for school the next day. And please do not tell me that your hands are tied because of curriculum demands. It’s time that policy makers start seeing real test results, not the results of what we have managed to jam down the throats of our students. Let’s get back to being teachers. The power of our unity will speak volumes when together we start putting the child first. Positive social change begins with us, the real people on the front lines. I can guarantee you this: kids who have time to consolidate their knowledge come back to school the next day ready to give it their all.


Does this mean parents should just throw in the towel on assisting their kids, even if they are struggling? Not at all. Parents have every right to set their own expectations for their children. They get to establish after-school routines that suit their family, and by all means, they can be as involved in the homework process as they would like to be. (Teachers, if you do not want parents doing your students’ projects, than don’t send projects home. Have them done in class. If there is no time to complete them in class, maybe they are not an essential element of the curriculum to begin with, or maybe something else needs to be done away with.)


Ideally, every parent would check in with their kids regularly to see how they are doing and if they can offer any assistance to their child. It may sound like I am contradicting myself, but I assure you, I am not. Listen carefully: parents ought to be free to set their own expectations for their children (this may even include additional homework of their choosing); as a teacher, I cannot, and should not, be trying to control what goes on outside of my classroom. I am happy to make suggestions and provide support, but it is not up to me to to be trying to monitor what goes on in each student’s home. That is an unfair expectation, and ultimately can result in stress and frustration for the students, parents and teachers alike.


Here’s the thing. The phrase “lack of at home support” is actually a form of pity and therefore it serves no one. It tells a child, “Maybe if your parents did a better job at caring for you, you wouldn’t be having such a hard time.” That kind of message, no matter how hidden it may be, does not go unheard, and it can only cause damage.


My approach to homework acknowledges the various realities with which children are faced (which is what empathy truly looks like), and empowers them. They learn from me that, “Your homework is yours and yours alone. You are responsible for it. How much time you spend studying and practicing your skills will be obvious in how you perform in class. You do not get to blame your parents if you did not take time for your homework. You know how to think for yourself. Nobody knows better than you exactly what you need to get done, and you are old enough to choose to do your work.”


By the way, none of the homework I give is ever graded, not directly anyways. Of course, I collect stencils, do spot-checks, and verify the websites that I use with them which track each student’s progress (guaranteeing that they are only ever reinforcing the right behaviors). No two kids need to study or practice anything the exact same way for the exact same period of time. I know whether or not my students are working hard enough at home based on their contributions to class discussions, and their performance on quizzes and tests. That is more than enough to hold them accountable.


Independence and responsibility are two things that seem to be lacking in children today. Well, who’s fault is that? If we keep robbing children of opportunities to develop these skills, how can we fault them when they fail to meet to our expectations? We need to recognize the role we have been playing and make the necessary adjustments.


Here’s the bottom line: Teachers, stop worrying about home support and stop expecting it. Instead, let’s focus on fostering a sense of pride and independence within each student. Children are so much more resilient than we give them credit for. As researcher Brené Brown said, “We are wired for struggle”. Those who (seem to) lack support at home do not need our pity, they need to be shown their own strength. Only part of their journey has been chosen for them by the parents to whom they were born, the rest is up to them.


No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery. And you shall lead a life uncommon.  – Jewel


postscript: Many schools have introduced the flipped classroom approach which is pure brilliance if all your students have access to the Internet either at home in an after-school program. Essentially, their homework is to view a video of the next day’s lesson. The video is either prerecorded by the teacher or provided by various excellent websites who have committed themselves to this endeavor. There are numerous benefits to this approach such as: students can pause, rewind, and view the video as often as necessary, children have the opportunity to discuss the material with their peers before bringing their questions to the teacher, the teacher no longer needs to ‘lecture’ and can focus his attention on supporting his students’ comprehension, and the work is done in class where the teacher is present to offer support. It’s genius. Understandably, there are socioeconomic factors which can prevent schools from going this route for now, but the future holds infinite possibilities for finding solutions to this aspect of the dilemma.


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


It Takes a Village (based on a true story)


To empathize is to civilize. To civilize is to empathize. – Jeremy Rifkin

Do you believe it takes a village to raise a child? Your answer to this one question could very well determine whether or not you are ready to embrace the philosophy I am proposing. Examples abound around the world of societies who truly put this belief into practice. While I believe our society used to embrace this philosophy, we seem to have drifted away from this form of co-existence. Before we look at home and school environments, let’s take a moment to consider our behavior as a society in public spaces.


Consider the following circumstances. Imagine you are in a grocery store when a child starts pitching a fit. What goes through your mind? Do you immediately feel sorry for them? Or do you immediately start judging them? Although I have never outwardly passed judgement on a parent (at least I don’t think I have, selective memory perhaps!), I know in the past I have been guilty of being impatient in situations like these. Thoughts such as, “Children aren’t being taught how to behave these days!” or “What was that mother thinking bringing her child to the store when he’s clearly exhausted!” would go through my head.


Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to judge others than it is to empathize? To put ourselves in each other’s shoes takes time and effort. It means you have to hold back from jumping to conclusions and actually think about what that person might be going through. Add to that the fact that judging others can make us feel better about ourselves and it’s no wonder that we are amazed when we actually witness people doing the right thing even if they think nobody is watching. The truth I have come to realize is that many parents feel overwhelmed and at a loss as to how to react to their children at times and many of them are too proud to admit it. There is so much pressure in today’s society to be the perfect parent and very little space for allowing ourselves to ask for help when we need it. It all boils down to pride and it is getting in the way of living a more loving life. It is not for nothing that pride is often considered the worst of the seven deadly sins. It is our pride that leads us to judge ourselves as better than others. While drawing conclusions about what we would or would not do in any given situation can serve us, we rarely judge others with the pure intent to learn from the situation ourselves. The act of being judgemental feeds our sense-of-self, our ego, our pride and in most cases it does not serve the one being judged. We have all heard the expression, “Don’t kick me when I’m down.” and yet that is exactly what we are doing when we judge a stranger.


Now let’s imagine the same scenario with a twist. As you witness a child having a melt-down in the grocery store, the mother turns to you and says, “Any suggestions? I have no idea what to do!” I can’t help but think that you would be less harsh in your judgements. By appealing to you for help, she has openly admitted that she does not have all the answers to parenting. Well how about that. This is what “it takes a village to raise a child” looks like. Here is someone who is willing to put herself out there. How often have we actually witnessed this kind of behavior though? Unfortunately we don’t see it very often, but the more people who get on board with openly admitting to being imperfect, the more often these instances may occur.


What would a full-blown village mentality look like though? Let’s take this same grocery store scenario. It bears mentioning that this is a true story. It was 4pm on a late weekday afternoon when I ran into the grocery store to grab something for supper. As I rushed through the store, anxious to get what I needed, a little girl, no-older than four, launched into a fit. “I want Daddy!” she began screaming repeatedly at the top of her lungs. The mother spoke quietly with her daughter, asking her to stop, telling her they were almost done. This did nothing to discourage her daughter’s rant. “I want Daddy! I want Daddy!” she continued, tears now streaming down her face. The mother wasted no time getting the things she needed, dragging her child along with her as gently as possible, given the circumstances. I discretely observed the pair, fascinated by the mother’s outward air of calm. At no point did she lash out at her child, and after a few failed attempts to calm her down, she let her know in a quiet voice that they were almost done. She amazed me. To this day I wonder what was really going on? Had the dad gone away for business? Had the parents split-up? Was the little girl angry at her mom and trying to hurt her by demanding to have her father? Had the little girl missed her nap and so she was simply exhausted and completely beyond herself given the time of day? Either way, the mother’s resistance to engage in her child’s meltdown was something to behold. My guess would be that either she had mastered the art of hiding her emotions internally or, and I wish the latter to be true, she had mastered the art of empathy and compassion and we were witnessing it being put into action.


On that particular late-afternoon, we were an usual group of people. I say this because it was the first time that I ever witnessed such kindness and generosity of spirit from all the people in this mother’s vicinity. Not one person displayed impatience towards the child’s screaming. Surrounding this mother, an air of compassion blossomed. As she made her way to the self-check-out cash, I watched an older couple exchange a sympathetic look that said, “Oh my…remember those days?” The lady standing behind me in line at the cash smiled and said to me, “A mother’s job is never easy.” But best of all, was the cashier who spoke to me saying, “Poor thing, that little girl is really having a tough time, isn’t she?” Wow. I was so proud of us, this group of strangers thrown together and yet somehow connected on the same wave-length of empathy and compassion. Never have I seen so many strangers gathered in one place without at least one feeling the need to judge the situation in a negative light. It was beautiful. The question is: why is this so rare?


I cannot even count the number of times that I have witnessed judgemental stares in a shopping mall or a grocery store. It’s true that more and more parents seem scared to discipline their child in public, but why do we think that is? I get the sense that we are damned if we do or damned if we don’t. We are so busy worrying about what other people will think, that we forget to simply do what feels right. When fear of being judged is our motivator, we are doomed to fail! The next time you find yourself in this situation, I invite you to try something new. For one, resist judging the parent’s actions. It is none of your business and you have no idea what they have been through so far that day. If the opportunity presents itself, make a simple compassionate comment such as, “We’ve all had days like this before.” And to the stranger who is voicing a complaint you could say, “It’s people like you who make it hard for the mom to know what to do! Mind your business!” Just kidding! That may be what you are thinking, but instead of addressing the one doing the judging, how about saying something kind to the parent so that the “judger” can overhear you, followed by a kind smile aimed at the “judger”, eye contact and all. If you feel the need to say something, I recommend something to the effect of “A smile can go a long way.” or “I’m on a mission to build a kinder world. You’re welcome to join me.” Alright, I may have gone a little off-track here. It’s just to prove to you that I am on this journey to being a kinder and more empathic person, too. I’m modeling that we may have thoughts that are unkind, but that does not mean we should act on them, and if we give ourselves a moment to think before we act, our heart can take over for our ego and beautiful things can happen…


What am I trying to say? I’m saying that before we even talk about the relationship between home and school, we need to look at our everyday interactions with strangers. What are we doing to take care of one another? We need to be able to handle these everyday situations with basic kindness and grace. Why? At the end of the day, we are all human. We will all make mistakes and they will not always be in the privacy of our own home. If we cannot find compassion for a mother struggling to get groceries done with a toddler in tow, how can we expect to find empathy for the teacher who loses her patience with her students, or the parent who berates his child in front of the teacher, or the child who is rude to his mother in the midst of a family gathering. We must learn to be less insecure, less fearful of what others will think, and allow our hearts to lead in the place of our pride, if we expect to teach our kids the necessary life lessons for today’s world.