Chrstmas Spirit

Chrstmas Spirit
My wife and kids having a little holiday fun

Friday, December 31, 2010

Guilty Mom Complex

Hello to all!!!  Pardon me while I catch my breath.  I happened to look at my stats before deciding to write this blog and discovered you made Wednesday's blog (Sowing Seeds) the top hit blog I have ever written.  Remember the contest involving 200 hits?  You actually did it!  Couple that with the fact that the month of December had more total hits by far than my first two months combined and what you have left is---a speechless blogger.  OK, not completely speechless; but you get my drift.  Thank you for reading my blog and passing it along to other parents!  Now, let's get down to business.

Speechless (film)Promise I found this movie poster AFTER writing I was "speechless"

As a lot of us know, Friday's are saved for questions from parents and today I have a chosen a difficult one.  A mom I'll call "Barb" asks, "How can I not feel guilty as a mom because I can't do it all?"  Barb is married, works full time, and has 3 children.   She feels she never has the time to accomplish all the things she wants to do in her professional and personal life.

Barb's story and general question is all too familiar for a lot of us- not just moms. Some of us struggle to put in the time needed at work with the time wanted at home.  Keeping the house clean, maintaining a social life, and spending quality time with our children/spouse is hard.  Oh, I almost forgot that some of us would like to do more volunteer work in our places of worship or communities.  The burden can feel very heavy at times.   

The first thing I want Barb to know is "doing it all" is a myth.  Seriously, how many people does anyone know who can really "do it all?"  I can't think of one.  While I'll admit some of us do a better job than others, no one is perfect. 

Placing pressure on yourself to do it all is an exercise in futility.  I do believe though placing a little pressure on yourself is a good thing so let's redirect that pressure into something a bit more manageable.

For example, let's say you don't think you are spending enough time with the kids.  I would challenge you to know exactly how much time you DO spend with your kids.  If you would like more time, here are some ideas.

1.  Pull your kid out of school during your lunch break.  If this idea doesn't appeal to you, how about eating lunch at their school?  Clear it with teachers if you pull your kid out of school so you can figure out the best time to do it (as not to interfere with quizzes- tests).

2  Another idea is to schedule kids similar to meetings at work.  Many of us have a calender which is typically full.  Block out time purposely to know what you are going to do with your kids and how long it's going to take.  Unless there's an unavoidable crisis at work, don't reschedule your kids.  Take this as seriously as you do any other meeting or you may not be as likely to follow through. 

3.  Keep your kids involved in activities with you at home.  Instead of you making dinner for the family- let the family work together to make the dinner.  This creates more family time and saves you from having to do it all.

I could go over countless problems overworked and overstressed moms and dads have like Barb; but here's another piece of advice that may help.  On a piece of paper, prioritize what is important to you right now, what can wait, and what you can delegate.

For example, my wife and I are having a New Years Eve party.  The problem is I am raising and educating my kids, marketing a book, and writing this blog.  I don't have time to do (above and beyond) cleaning.  Regardless, I wrote a small list this morning of simple things I could do while the kids were occupied.  

At 12:00, I decided to bake the boys a pizza for lunch. The plan was to clean some things while it was baking and while they were eating.  Sound easy enough?

Well, it was easy until I glanced over and saw my oven on fire!  Although I didn't write it down, I knew the priority was to drop the cleaning supplies and put the fire out.  I am thankful I caught the problem in time.  My house is fine and no one was hurt.  Thinking about this story, here is my question.  What fires are going on in your life that have to be extinguished?  It's simply called prioritizing.  When you stretch yourself too thin, you'll feel like you've accomplished little and the fires will still roar on.  

Here's a final thought to illustrate the point.  There were only two things I really focused on as an elementary school teacher in the public schools- reading and math.  If everything else in the day didn't go well, I could accept that.  I didn't have the same attitude about weekly faculty meetings, didn't care about the state (of Kentucky) and what they do to teachers in bottom tier schools with low test scores, and didn't care about what other teachers gossiped. 

When children can read and perform math problems, they can do almost anything academically. But if kids can't do those two things, they won't make it in the classroom or in life.  Low reading and math skills were the fires I tried to put out every day.

To Barb and all of my guilt filled moms and dads: please lighten up a bit, prioritize what's important, and have a fantastic 2011.  Now, if you don't mind, I have some cleaning that needs to be done.    

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sowing Seeds

Buckle up early for this blog because I'm jumping in head first!

The kids I've worked with in my life have looked up to me the same way your kids look up to you.  It didn't matter if it was St. Josephs Children's Home, as a public school teacher, or my own kids.  Being the authority figure and acting like the authority figure are two different things though.  For example, a teacher may BE the authority figure the kids are supposed to look up to; but if they don't ACT like the authority figure, respect over time is lost.

The reason I made this distinctions is because we, as authority figures, have a golden opportunity with our kids.  As long as they respect us, they will take our words and actions to be meaningful and trusted.  Because of this simple fact, here's the plan.  Let's encourage kids to achieve heights they never thought they could. 

Children victimized by the United Kingdom's Ch...
Kids are looking to us right now for help!
At  St. Joseph's Children's Home, we worked a lot on behavior because that was a major factor in getting a child ready to be in a  foster home or better yet- adopted.   Because kids there looked up to me (along with many other super house parents) I used to praise them to no end for good behavior.  The various forms of praise from me were the seeds sown.  On the flip side, I didn't baby them when they behaved poorly.  I had a clear goal of where I wanted them behaviorally even if they had lost some hope for ever being adopted. For some children, the goal was achieved but I worked tirelessly for years in order for that dream to be realized by all.

Another example could be found when I was teaching.  In the classroom, kids would sometimes tell me they couldn't read.  Those were fighting words in my classroom.  I would go out of my way over time to prove to them they COULD read but they needed to practice to get better.  Since I was the authority figure, I could sow those seeds within a child and eventually have them reading at a higher level over time.

Don't get me wrong.  Sowing seeds doesn't always work.  But, it's not my job to know when this tactic will work and when it won't.  It's my job to command the respect of children so when I sow the seeds, they have a chance of "sprouting."

Here's an example of a time your humble blogger apparently failed.  This story occurred on a picturesque fall day.  My son, Cameron, and I were driving to one of his tennis lessons. I remember pumping him up saying things like "let's really concentrate today" and "hit the ball like your coach taught you."  I also threw in "you can beat those kids even if they are a little older."  In my own mind, I sounded like General Patton pumping up the troops.  In other words, the seeds were clearly sown and greatness was sure to follow.  It was at this point that Cameron exclaimed out of the blue, "Look daddy, there's a bird in that nest!"

For the record, Cameron played fine that day.  Regardless, I'm not sure anything I said registered at the time;  but that's not the point.  I tried to do what I could to encourage Cameron to play his best tennis. 

It's not only your choice when to sow the seeds; but what seeds are to be sown and how often.  Though my tennis example with Cameron may prove it doesn't always work, I will guarantee there are many times it does. In order to get the best out of kids, they have to have confidence.  Though parents sowing seeds is not the entire equation for a child to excel, it's certainly an important step.

On a final note, any parent who has a child's respect can also fall victim to sowing negative seeds.  If, for example, I told my children they were ugly, dumb, inferior to others, or not very good at something, they would completely believe me.  All parents should watch their words very carefully because the consequences are potentially devastating.  I once heard long ago, "don't be the parent who thinks they know how the book ends before the final chapter is even written." Even if your child isn't the best at something (and whose child is) it's still important to make them feel good about themselves and what they are doing. 

We want our children to be happy.  We want the best for them. Together, let's sow seeds to give our kids every chance to achieve these things.

My next blog will be this Friday, I have several interesting parenting questions to choose from. If you have a parenting question, it can be sent to

Take care of yourselves and your families and please don't forget to pass this along to other parents!!!     

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Bottom Side of Normal

Hope everyone has recovered from their Christmas weekend.  I am excited to be back with you!  Over the holidays, I acquired some new followers from near and abroad and want to welcome all of you.  The lessons I hope you take today can be implemented where ever you live no matter where your child goes to school. 

Today's blog is part two of what I started last Monday called An Educational Opportunity.  Basically, I said to use some of the time off with your kids to gain an educational edge.  I also talked about interpreting grades beyond the letter (A-B-C-D-F)  If you haven't seen it already, I'd encourage you to look at it.  The goal is for you, the parent, to look beyond your child's grade and concentrate on the intricacies.  What makes his/her grades so high or low?  What could have been done better?  A specific way for me to explain this is to focus on my three year old, Luke.    

Luke is one happy and fun loving kid.  He's the child you may find in the grocery store hollering, "Merry Christmas" to everyone he passes.  Another example of his spirit could be found at Christmas Mass.  He was a bit slow in his responses (understandably) and when the congregation said, "Amen," he would holler it a second too late.  People would turn and laugh which was a bit embarrassing; but funny as well.

The main problem with Luke is he has a speech delay and was recently tested for a second time.  My wife and I found out he scored on the bottom side of the normal spectrum.   At first glance, that may seem pretty disappointing, right?

For those of you who have regularly seen this blog, you know about my oldest child's educational achievements.  Details can be found on earlier blogs (October15th and October-18th editions) but he has tested in the top 1% nationally in reading and math.  One may think I may be disappointed Luke is not following in the footsteps of his brother.  One may also think my prior education blogs may not be as valid because I can't produce the same result with a different kid thus far.   But wait. Before making any assumptions, did you remember my advice of looking beyond the initial grade?  Of course you did and that's why you'll keep reading!

Here's more of the story.  Luke had fluid in his ears for what could have been months.  Lauren and I didn't take him to the doctor because we didn't know it existed.  He didn't get ear aches like his brother so there was not  a reason to be alarmed. If it would have been treated, the speech problems would have been much less severe.

The first time Luke took the speech test, he was so low, he couldn't even complete it.  To go from that to the bottom side of normal was a huge leap.  Obviously, I'm very excited about the results.  I'm also extremely confident in my abilities to teach and I feel Luke and I are off to the races (educationally speaking).

Because this blog is partially meant to teach, let's attempt to apply Luke's circumstances to your kids.  When your child receives a grade in any subject, knowing the back story is as important as the grade.  Let's say, for example, your child went from a "B" last year in math to a "C" on their last report card.  The key to helping as a parent is to pinpoint the subtle changes.  Were his/her study habits different?  Was there something taught last year that wasn't retained in your child's mind this year?  If I asked, could you adequately explain the problems to a simple guy like me?

Now, let's flip the scenario.  Let's say your kid went from a (C+) to an (A-).  The same basic rules apply.  Pinpoint the positive changes and capitalize on the success.  Did your child study harder?  Did you give them more of your time/encouragement? Did the teacher have a positive impact?  What were the factors of change? A leader teach is able to help this student wi...Image via Wikipedia

I certainly can't go over all the grading scenarios in education.  But, as a former teacher, I know this.  The grade in any class should stem from an overall body of work.  There are reasons some children succeed and others don't do as well. When you find and attack those reasons, you should expect better report cards.

On a side note, if your kid is already doing exceedingly well, why not challenge the teacher to provide more difficult material? True learning only occurs when additional knowledge is gathered and retained by the student.  In other words, it's possible for a kid to get an "A" in a class and not learn much.

If you enjoyed The Bottom Side of Normal, please consider sending it to a parent who would enjoy it.  That gesture would mean so much to me.  To those of you who have ever passed along my material, thank you!

This Wednesday, I am back with a behavior blog.  The title will be Sowing Seeds.  It's a tactic I've used for years with good results.  Can't wait to tell you all about it.      

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lasting Impressions (The Story of Grant)

Quick housekeeping note:  The $50 check is in the mail to St. Joseph Children's Home.  Thanks to all who competed in my "hits" contest. 

Today's behavior blog is about a high school senior in Louisville. KY.  I don't want to embarrass him in any way so I'll call him "Grant" and not tell you where he goes to school.  Grant is from a high school in Louisville, KY. which overall is not doing very well.  By that I mean under 50% of the students who graduate are considered ready for college.  He's a nice guy but not someone who I regularly talk to.  Last week though he sat beside me while my son was playing tennis and instantly engaged me.  Grant is a clean cut African American of average size. I can tell you in all honesty I learned a lot more from him than he did from me in the 45 minutes we talked.

The reason you are going to "meet" Grant is because he's someone who I believe is going places in life and has some interesting insights.  I'll tell you several things about him in this blog but it's his behaviors and attitudes about his high school surroundings that struck me the most.   If your child isn't going to the best school in the world or if they are underachieving for whatever reason, they might be able to learn from Grant as well.

One of the things that got my attention about Grant was that he scored a 30 on his ACT's (out of 36).  I went to one of the best private high schools in the state of Kentucky and I didn't do as well as Grant.  How in the world did he do so much better than me and most everyone I know?  What were the secrets?

When asking Grant about his success, he said he had a fear of letting himself down.  Grant does not settle for mediocrity.  For example, on the morning of his ACT, he wasn't able to eat breakfast.  He's convinced he can do better by making that one adjustment. 

Grant spoke quite a bit about his family.  It's worth noting his "healthy fear" of his father.  His mother and grandmother were also spoken of highly. Grant's family also seems important in the respect that he has older cousins he looks up to.  They aren't able to get together as much as he would like but he could call any of them and they would be right there for him. 

Success in the classroom is really important to Grant as well.  He said when he enters a classroom, it's "go time."  I normally expect this type of talk from athletes before a contest.  Hearing that phrase from a student was interesting to me.  Grant also talked about "separating work from play."  I had the impression he goofed off on occasion in the hallway at his school.  In the classroom though, it was all business.  Finally, he said he liked "to have his mind stimulated."  That implies to me that Grant has some engaging teachers who are able to accomplish this.  He even mentioned a philosophy teacher with tatoos but always dressed well.  According to Grant, this particular teacher "makes me think."

When asking Grant about the problems at his school, he had some interesting insights as well.  He talked about the environment at school.  Specifically, if you were in the wrong environment at school, that could be trouble.  The right environment I assumed would lead to greater success.  He also said that he "liked to learn from all."   He actually thought the environment held greater weight on the subject of problems at his school versus the parents of the students or the school itself.  Though Grant and I don't see completely eye to eye on this issue, the fact is he is in the trenches every day. 

Grant doesn't know where he wants to go to college yet but he wants to "go somewhere I'll blossom- not just grow."  What do you think the odds are Grant will accomplish this goal?  I'm betting the odds are high.

Grant strikes me as the kind of person who dictates his environment versus letting the environment dictate him.  While I realize all of our children are not going to be exactly like Grant, that's OK.  Cameron (my six year old) is far too young to learn all the lessons Grant could teach him.  Regardless, the one lesson I want Cameron to work on is separating work from play at school.  It's a goal that he can accomplish (for his age) and one that will serve him well over time.

Grant is an inspiring young man to me.  I believe we, as parents, can learn from Grant and apply his positive lessons to our children.  Although it wasn't his intent, I believe Grant made me a better parent today.  For that, I thank him. 

There will not be a question/answer blog this Friday.  It's Christmas Eve and I am going to spend all the time I can with my family. I will check in again Monday with an education blog.  Until then, Merry Christmas to you and all you love.    



Monday, December 20, 2010

An Educational Opportunity

Happy Monday to all of you.  For some of us, our kids are on Christmas break.  This is the perfect time to think about what is really going on with their education and how you, as parents, can separate your children from the pack a little bit. 

At this point, you have been able to digest the report cards of your kids and get a handle on their strengths and weaknesses.  My questions to you are how did they do in their classes, how do you know, and how can you help?  The best way I can explain these is to use my child Cameron as an example. 

1.  How did Cameron do?  Cameron is in a Catholic school which uses the traditional way of grading. (A-B-C-D-F)  For those of you who do not have a traditional form of grading, your job may be a bit more difficult.  Cameron received straight A's.  For those of you who have kept up with this blog, that would not come as a surprise.  (He reads and works on math skills typical of a third grader with me).  I was a lot more pleased with Science, Social Studies, and Religion grades because we don't work on those subjects as consistently.

2.  How do I know how Cameron did?  This is a trick question for me and maybe some of you concerning your kids as well.  I should be pleased with the grades. Straight A's is the best he can do--- or is it? 

In Cameron's case, he didn't actually learn anything in reading or math because he already knew the material.  Therefore, an "A" isn't a big deal.  I knew this would happen and I'm not upset at all.  Here's the point.  If your child had to work hard to receive whatever the report card said, you should be pleased.  But what if the class is moving slowly academically or your child has superior skills to the class/grade level?  Is an "A" as big a deal?  This is an important distinction which leads to the next point.

3. How can I help?  In Cameron's case, we go over every wrong answer he receives at school or at home.  I have the attitude more of a caring teacher than of a tough parent in these cases.  What's important to me is the knowledge- not the grade.  I want to give Cameron every chance of understanding what is being taught.  In my opinion, this attitude places less stress on my child while accomplishing the overall point of school which, of course, is learning.

Now that we have these points established, why do you think I am writing this blog now?  The kids aren't in school.  Well, here's why.  This time period is your golden opportunity as it is mine.  Over the next couple of weeks, we have the chance to really dig in and help with our children's education.  "Daddy School" (the boys education with me) doesn't end when schools are out.  I'll typically set aside some time with the entire point of working with Cameron and Luke (my 3 year old) on their academics. Of course, my boys aren't working on Christmas day or even on the weekends.  What we do though is work during the week directly at their skill level- not grade level. 
Social Studies classroom at Port Charlotte Hig...Image via Wikipedia
How can a parent take advantage of this???
What may surprise you is how much you can accomplish in a short period of time.  Working with Cameron will take me 30-45 minutes daily (the latter if he is intensely focused).  This still gives him the rest of the day to play and enjoy his time off from school.  This extra amount of time allows us to bond and for him to grow as a student.  Being a student shouldn't be confined to 187 school days.  In one way or another, we all should be lifelong learners. 

With your children, you have three choices.  The first is to forge ahead with your child's education no matter what the report card said. If, for example, they are good readers; help them practice to become better with more difficult material.  

The second is to target skills in a subject where your child is having difficulty.  Let's say, for example, your kid worked hard and received a "C" in math.  This is a perfect time to go over the material in which the child struggled and possibly show him/her some upcoming material that may be a bit tricky.  If you do this, there is an opportunity to receive a better grade on the next report card.

The final choice you have is to do nothing.  Let me be extremely honest with you.  Parents who do not create extra opportunities for their children to learn are going to have a hard time keeping up with the kids who have proactive parents.  I'm not judging anyone but it's a fact.  To use a sports analogy, it would be like someone off the street trying to throw a football as accurately as an NFL quarterback.  Odds are pretty low of this happening. Parents and kids who put the time in are going to be better equipped when the subject material becomes more challenging. 

My contention is the extra amount of time you place in your child's education will pay off substantially for those who take advantage of it.  There are a lot of desks empty across America right now.  Will you take advantage or will you let this opportunity pass you by?  The choice is yours. 

My next blog will be written on Wednesday.  I hope between now and then you'll think about this blog and make whatever choice you feel is best for your family.  All the best!!!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Appreciating Christmas and Contest Results

Good Friday to all of you!  Today, I want to share with you a topic a new business associate sent to me.  She is hoping to help me gain some media publicity and I am very thankful.  There are certain people (and you know who you are) who I haven't met but would really like to see me succeed with this blog/book.  But something funny happened along the  way.  The more I wrote on this topic, the stronger I felt about the my answer to the question.  For all the parents who worry about their kids receiving the true meaning of Christmas, this blog is for you.  Also, the end of the blog includes the contest results along with the winner. First, here's the question I was asked to answer.     

 Santa Claus with a little girlImage via Wikipedi 
PARENTING: Teaching Kids to Appreciate What They Have during the Holidays --
I'm writing a post about how the nature of Christmas has turned into "buy, buy, get, get." This is not a religious piece, but more about how we can teach our children to appreciate what they do get. As parents, we often feel our children will be upset if they don't get the newest, most expensive toy. How can we teach them to appreciate what they do get? How, as parents, can we give our children a holiday without the stress of feeling as though we need to break the bank?

The following was my reply:

I was forwarded an inquiry by you from a business associate concerning Christmas.  Specifically, what can we do at Christmas so....

1. Kids feel appreciative for what they get.
2. We, as parents, don't feel as though we need to break the bank.
3. We, as parents, don't feel upset if our children don't get the latest greatest toy.

First, this is a situation mistaken as a Christmas problem.  The truth is, for many of us, it is a year long problem.  It is only in this nature that I can adequately answer the questions.

First, kids should be taught to show appreciation with the words "please and thank you" consistently.  These are basic manners that should not be set aside at Christmas.  As parents, we have to understand there is such promotion/excitement over this one day that kids are overloaded with emotion as it is.  It is our responsibility to remind them of such basic courtesies. 

Appreciation can not be instilled on this one day alone.  Therefore, if a parent hasn't taught lessons on being appreciative all year; this would be a hard day to get the message across. Regardless, a parent should still try their best.  The goal may be to start now in order for their children to gain a better appreciation towards Christmas next year.

As far as parents feeling as though we need to break the bank, this is only true if WE don't remember the meaning of Christmas.  Granted, it's a season of giving- but not a season for going bankrupt or paying a Visa card interest bill until April 2011.  We should give gifts within our means.  If the child has been taught how to appreciate what they get and we remember the meaning of Christmas, there won't be a problem.  If, as parents, we aren't happy with finances at Christmas and our ability to give, that is a separate money problem; not a Christmas problem. 

Therefore, there's no need to feel upset if our children do not have the latest greatest toy.  Not to be too religious; but there is a reason for Christmas. We celebrate in different ways around the world; but focusing on the reason for Christmas is the best anecdote for one's misgivings about not having a $300 Xbox with a $50 game. 

All the best,

Clayton Thomas

I've always said one of the basic tenants of this blog is to make parents merely think.  Whether you agree/disagree with this blog is not too important to me.  What is important though is once you think about the tenants of today's blog, you have an even better understanding of your own decisions concerning your family.  When that happens, you would have to be considered (in my eyes at least) a better parent even if you think I am full of it.  On that note, let's get to the contest. If you are not familiar with the contest, my previous blog explains everything.

I have some good news and a touch of bad news.  Which do you want to hear first?  I knew it!  You want the bad news first so we can end the blog on a positive note.  Great minds think alike!!!

The bad news is we didn't reach 200 hits.  Trust me when I say I was pulling for you and I worked/promoted hard to help you.  200 hits would have been a big jump from my previous high admittedly.  There is a saying that goes something like "sometimes when you reach for the stars, you may only hit the moon."  We did achieve 159 hits (as of this writing) which was the most thus far for one blog.  This represents over a 20% increase versus the previous high.   Remember when I said my original goal was 100 hits in one month?  We have far exceeded original expectations.  Also, barely halfway into the month of December, this blog has been "hit" more than either of the previous two months.  (The blog was started in October 2010)   

On to the good news: The winner of the contest is (drum roll please) me.  This means I am donating $50 to St. Joseph Children's Home in Louisville, KY.  If you are not familiar with this organization, they take in children who have been removed from their natural families due to severe abuse/neglect.  The job of the organization is to place the kids in position to be adopted or transition into foster care.  This takes a lot of time/ work based on where the child is mentally and the emotional scarring involved.  This is where I learned most of my skills with children.  Subsequently working in a classroom for seven years, raising two great children, and writing this blog are easy because of the opportunity St. Joseph's gave to me.  

One of my bucket list goals is to repay every dime St. Joseph's ever compensated me.  The knowledge I received concerning how to work with kids was more than enough payment.  I am not rich and I have a family to feed/college to pay for/ retirement/ etc... but the money they will receive based on this contest is a very small step towards the goal.  

I want to thank everyone for reading this blog and participating in the contest.  There will be lots more fun in the blogs ahead.  Please pass this blog along to others you feel would enjoy the message and I will check in again Monday.   

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Season of Giving

If you read Monday's blog, you know today's behavior blog is all about how I get kids to do things.  Part of this answer is inspired by the blog I wrote October 27th called Motivation.  I go into details about when you motivate a kid, you can get them to do nearly anything.  If you haven't read it, it would be worth your time.  I'm going to go into a bit more detail; then I am going to see if the tactics used with my kids will work on you as well.

My favorite ways to get the behavior I want from children are praise, encouragement, and general affection ((i.e. hugs, pats on the back, and kisses (for my kids)).  I also use rewards and consequences to my advantage.  Rewards don't have to be extravagant.  But they do need to motivate the kid to perform the same behavior I am looking for.  Consequences does not mean I have to give spankings.  Sometimes raising my voice a bit or placing a favorite toy in time out is all that is needed.  (An evil eye tends to work as well).  The point of consequences are to give the message, "I don't want to see that behavior any longer."

When I do these things effectively, I reduce noise, frustration, and time outs.  No one is perfect and I'm not claiming my house always resembles a sense of calmness.  But, people who know my children could tell you that even when they misbehave, it is usually short lived.  These same tactics were used in the classroom and St. Joseph Children's Home.  My departments/classrooms were typically quieter than others but always fun and engaging.  That's the way I'd like your children to view home as well.

Now to try an experiment with you.  Most people who visit this blog regularly know I have three purposes.  One is to promote general ideas of a yet to be published book called Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures.   A second motivation is this blog gives me the opportunity to help others and/or to make a great child/parent even better.  Finally, (this is the least known by people) I do it for my kids.  I want them to view me as a person who tried to make a difference.  When I have to talk about parenting issues three times a week, it makes me be a better parent because I'm forced to remember my roots.  My son, Cameron, is also inspired by this blog just like he was when I wrote the book.  For example, I've shown him a map of all the places in the world this blog has been read and you should see how his jaw drops.  It's priceless!   

Here's my experiment.  I hope you find my blog inspires and gives down to earth opinions.  The behavior I am looking for from you is to be excited/motivated over what I am trying to do with this blog.  Because I love to motivate to garner excitement; here's what's going to happen.

I am going to run a contest.  If you decide to participate and win, you will be able to choose one of two prizes.  The first prize choice is a $25 gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse.  It's one of my favorite restaurants so I hope you enjoy. 

Outback Steakhouse logoImage via WikipediaWould doubling the money help?  OK!  The other prize you can choose is a $50 donation to the charity of your choice.  Hopefully, I will learn between now and then how to do it in your name.  Wouldn't it feel good to give your favorite charity some extra cheer before the holidays?  If you are ready to compete, here are the ways of entering the drawing.

WASHINGTON - MARCH 26:  A smiley face was draw...Image by Getty Images via @daylife1.  I would like more friends on Google Connect which is located on the right side of the screen.  If you sign up, you will be entered.  For the 12 people, excluding my wife, who are already there, you will be automatically entered.

2.  The second way is to leave a comment at the bottom of this post.  Now that the box is set for anyone to use, I'd like to know what you think of my motivation ideas.  An alternative would be for you to add your own ideas on how you motivate your kids to behave.  One comment=one entry to the contest.

3.  Finally, I would like to receive even more parenting questions for the Friday free for all blog.  You can email them to  Leaving a question will grant another entry. 

Obviously, one person has a total of three chances to win the contest.  But, if you know me, there's a catch.  I said we were competing, right?  I want to play as well but I'm not going to be in the drawing.  Here's the idea.  The most amount of hits I have received on one blog is 122 achieved this past Monday.  While I appreciate this to no ends, I bet if you tell more of your friends about this contest, I can raise even more awareness.  Everyone likes to eat and many have a favorite charity. 

I win the contest if this blog receives less than 200 hits.  Not to worry though.  If I win, I will be choosing the charity option.  A $50 check will be written to St. Joseph Children's Home.  Without this organization, I wouldn't be the parent I am today and you wouldn't be reading this blog.  Based on this condition, I will feel like a winner no matter what. 

My wife told me when she and her siblings were little, they would wrestle their father. The catch was they could never win until they all worked together.  The 200 hits idea means you have to work with your fellow readers to beat me.  Tell a friend, a family member, or a person you work with.  I'm sure if you work together, someone is going to eat well or give a gift to a worthwhile cause.

Here are some random things I want to clarify before the contest begins.

1.  If you have a common name like Brian or Kim, you had better include the last three letters of your last name to be entered.  If you don't do this, I could have winners with the same name and be forced to draw again.

2.  I am not high tech.  I've said before my parenting skills are much better than my computer skills.  There won't be a live broadcast of the drawing.  You'll have to trust that I am playing this game honestly and fairly. Many of my friends will enter I am sure.  If someone I know wins, that's the way it goes. If you can't trust me to run an honest contest, please do not play.

3.  The contest ends Friday before I post the free for all blog.  Depending on how many entries I have, there is a possibility the winner won't be announced until the published Monday blog.  Ideally, I'd like to get the contest over with as quickly as possible so the recipient can have the prize before Christmas.

4.  If you win and choose the charity option, it must be an obvious charity I can easily verify. For example, I won't have questions if you choose The American Red Cross.  Contrarily, if you choose The Society of Charity Cheats; there may be a problem.  Again, if you do not like these rules, do not enter the contest.  I am not cutting a check unless things are clearly on the up and up.

5.  On the day I announce the winner, you have a week to pick your prize and send me contact information (especially if you want the Outback Steakhouse gift card)  the winner will be able to email me.  If the winner does not respond, another name will be drawn.

6.  Finally, I am sure I haven't thought of everything.  Let's be honest- there are probably certain ways this contest can be manipulated/ruined for all who participate by means I haven't anticipated.  If that's the case, I can't run another contest like this.  Please play fairly and honestly.  I want someone to win the gift certificate, donate to a charity of their choice, or give to St. Joseph Children's Home. 

Check back in Friday so I can update you on the contest and enjoy my free for all topic. 

I wish everyone the best of luck!!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Who Do You Blame?

Welcome to the Monday edition of the parenting blog.  Today's topic is who is to blame for today's educational condition.  I think a lot of us would agree that our public schools, in general, aren't getting the results we'd like to see.  Those of us who can place our children in private schools are going to do so unless the public school around your home is an exception to the rule.  My question is simple but the answer may be complicated. Why can't our public schools compete more closely with the private schools? 

The Courier Journal (my local newspaper) ran an interesting article yesterday from the Associated Press. According to the Associated Press-Stanford University poll, 68% percent of adults believed parents should receive "heavy blame" for what's wrong with the US educational system.  The other answers that could have been chosen were teachers, school administrators, the government, and teacher's unions.  What also struck me as interesting was moms were more likely than dads (72%-61%) to say parents were at fault. Questions and results for this poll are available at

In 1999, I interviewed for my first teaching position.  One of the questions I received from the panel was "what would you do if an irate parent came into your classroom and started using profanity."  The reason this story comes to mind is even before I was hired; parents were being posed as a potential problem.  For the record, a parent never pulled that on me.  But, it must have happened to someone or it would have been unlikely a question like that would have been asked. 

Looking at the list of possibilities on the survey, there is a lot of blame to go around in my opinion.  Here's a brief analysis as to why.

1.  Parents- They set the tone before a child ever enters a classroom.  Trust me.  It doesn't take long for me to figure out which parents work with their children academically and who doesn't.  Also, parents can either work with a teacher, be non-committal, or work against a teacher.  I can say with certainty that if the attitude is anything but the first option, a child is more likely going to have problems in school.

Here's a shocking statistic.  According to Attendance Counts which is an advocacy group, 1 in 10 kindergarten and first grade students misses a month of school every year.  This would obviously be an example of working against a teacher.  The most consistent manner parents worked against me was not following through with homework.  Every time one kid did their homework and another didn't; it only widened the achievement gap.

2.  Teachers- The problem with teachers (especially new ones) is they are on an island.  What I mean is there is not a great deal of support.  I didn't understand how bad it was until my son attended kindergarten at a private school.  The teachers really had their act together from day 1 because they worked so closely together.  When my oldest son transferred to his current school, I saw the exact same thing.  My child's teachers implement school wide discipline rules (which actually have bite ), the same homework, tests, and classwork.  I was a good disciplinarian in the classroom so behavior wasn't an issue; but I sometimes wonder how much better my teaching skills would have been if I worked in the private school environment- especially early in my career.

3. School Administrators- This is a bit tricky for me.  As far as principals go, they didn't have nearly as much power as an outsider may assume.  Not only that; but they didn't have a union to fall back on.  Principals I worked with did as they were told because they could be easily replaced.  I honestly question how many original ideas my principals implemented in their respective schools. I could even make an argument I had more autonomy than they had because of my union.  This may not be the best example but it's almost like blaming a private in the armed services for following through with an order from a commander.  For example, how can I blame a principal for making us teach material they would have tweaked/changed if they could have?  When materials are bought by a school district, they are expected to be used.  Because test scores were low, administrators didn't have a leg to stand on.  They were yes men/women.    

Analyzing higher administration, they choose a lot of programs which were different than the way most people reading this blog learned.  There was a lot of pressure to try something different because children were falling behind 10/20 years ago.  They abandoned subjects such as cursive handwriting and phonics.  They were replaced by word walls and inventive spelling (spelling the way a word sounds versus the true spelling).

One of the math programs I was required to teach was called Investigations.  Manipulatives were used to solve problems as opposed to writing problems with a pencil and paper.  It seemed to me that problems occurred when students took standardized tests because--wait for it---the tests used pencil and paper.  Also, because the students didn't have the manipulatives at home, assigning homework was pretty difficult.

4. The government- I didn't mind the federal government when I was a teacher.  President Bill Clinton helped pass legislation that dropped class sizes from 24 to 18 students at Title 1 schools.  This enabled me to key in better on struggling students.  I also had good assistants working with me which was a real help.  When I transferred to a non-title one school, my class size shot back up and my assistant help was very limited.  In theory, I was working with more skilled students.  Truthfully, this wasn't always the case. 

When No Child Left Behind was implemented in 2001, pipe dreams took the place of realistic expectations at the federal level. I believe overall test scores from schools across the country back up this opinion.  Children continue to be left behind (by federal standards) at an alarming rate.  For those interested in the goals and progress, I found this study interesting.     
On a state wide level ( I reside in Kentucky), there was a lot of pressure to bring test scores up.  There were small pockets of success but most of it was a complete failure.  I mentioned in an earlier blog that our state wide test was dropped.  The reason given was money. The truth is a lot of schools were not even close to achieving the required goals.  There was going to be egg on the face of many officials if they didn't discontinue the test.

5. Teacher's unions- The biggest knock on them from what I've heard and read over the years is they won't get rid of bad teachers.  This is indeed the case.  But there is a reason.  Union members pay dues which include legal services if there is a  need.  Of course, this rarely happens. But if, for instance, a school got rid of a teacher because they stunk at teaching and the union didn't fight for that teacher, they could be sued by the teacher.  If a teacher is totally inept, they can be potentially transferred but letting them go is probably not going to happen unless there's a case of abuse.  This is especially true if a teacher has tenure.  I received tenure after my third year as best I remember.  Had I proven enough at that point to be virtually untouchable?  You make the call.    

So there you have it.  Who or what do you want to blame?  Do you like the list or is there something else that hasn't been mentioned.  I'd love to know what you think and now that my comment box is working, you will have your chance.  Do you agree with the moms and dads surveyed in this poll that parents are to receive "heavy blame" for what's wrong with the US educational system?

I hope you come back Wednesday to read my behavior blog.  I want to show you how I can influence the behavior of children to get the results I want.  The way I am going to attempt this is by influencing YOUR behavior.  We'll see how I do.  It should be a lot of fun!

All the best,


Friday, December 10, 2010

The Story of Susan and Anne

Today's free for all blog is one I have really looked forward to writing.  It's about a woman in West Virgina who I'll call Susan.  For all my new followers, I don't like to give a lot of identifying information about my readers because I respect their privacy.  Keeping identifying information private will lead other parents to trust me with their delicate situations.  One person's question could help many other people with the same problem.  It's for this reason if you send me a parenting question, I will handle it with great care.   

Susan, in essence, had many questions.  If I had to sum up her questions, it might read, "what am I supposed to do with this child?"  Susan has a daughter named "Anne" who was a real mess.  Anne is 4 years old but has got temper tantrums down to an art.  She had a "potty" mouth, liked to throw things, hollered, scratched, and be generally unpleasant when things didn't go her way.  To make matters worse, Susan had a mother who would tend to meddle and compromise Susan's authority.  Also, Susan is in school studying the social sciences. I certainly applaud her but it is an added stress.  Also, Susan does have a partner named "Alan" but I don't know if he is a live in boyfriend, if they are engaged, etc...

The first time I chatted with Susan on the phone, she was a bit rattled.  She explained so many different problems that I would have needed a notebook handy to remember everything.  She gave me the impression that little was going right with her child and she was at her wits end.  What Susan didn't quite realize is that she had three things going for her.  Before reading on, if you are having troubles with your child, try to grasp good things that are going on.  It can potentially make your problems seem more manageable.  Here are the three good things I believed Susan had. 

1.  Alan seemed to be a real help.  From what little I know, he seemed to be really trying to make a positive difference for Susan and Anne.  For example, I know he's employed and I know he tries to be involved with discipline.  

2.  Susan had an open mind.  Those who think they know everything can not be helped.  Though I am the author of a parenting book and blog, I'm not above listening and learning new things.  Susan was an excellent listener as well.  She listened to my reasoning, subsequently asked for clarification, and challenged me for new ideas.  I know Susan had looked for help from others as well.  She seemed to be taking everyone's advice while trying to make the best decisions for her family.  That's a winning strategy.

3.  Susan had me to lean on for help.  I'm not bragging but I'd been through every war Susan was fighting.  In the areas Susan was having problems, I am, shall we say, "battle tested."  It's a product of working with 400+ kids. When any parent is having problems, there needs to be a mentor/partner to lean on.  It's been my experience that the hardest battle a person will ever fight in parenting is the one they fight alone.

I decided the best way to help Susan was to give general pointers but really attack one problem hard instead of attacking all the problems at once.  The problem I attacked was bedtime.  Susan didn't have any kind of solid routine with Anne.  I may use bedtimes in a future blog so I don't want to harp on it now.  I will say that having a bedtime routine has many advantages.  I explained Luke's bedtime routine to Susan and told her to use the ideas she was comfortable with.  Basically, Luke takes a bath, puts on his PJ's, brushes his teeth (with parental help), reads a story (with both parents- separately), and goes to bed with the book previously read and his aquarium turned on.  The process starts around 6:30pm and ends between 7:15pm-7:30pm.

At last check, Susan didn't copy my routine exactly; but that was never the point.  The point is she needed to start HER routine and stick with it.  What happened though over time was amazing.  I only worked hard on night time behavior but things started to change during the day as well.  For example, the last time I heard from Susan, Anne hadn't even had a time out in previous three days.  The tantrums had also ceased.  This could have been because the child was getting enough sleep or maybe Susan felt more empowered/confident during the day and the child reacted in a positive way. I don't honestly care about the reason for the turnaround.  What I do care about is that the family can look at each other as less of a trouble and more of a treasure.

One overriding theme I heard from Susan was how she had "mistakes" in raising Anne in the past.  For example, over a period of time, Susan placed Anne's grandmother in the role of a parent as opposed to letting her be the grandmother.  The way I see it, grandparents have already had their turn being day to day moms and dads.  Though I'm never opposed to grandparents helping/being involved, they should not be leaned on to the point of making them the unofficial parent.  I am guilty of doing this when Cameron was younger. It led to problems with my mom.  Like Susan, I originally thought the ensuing problems were the fault of my mom.  When I analyzed the situation more carefully; I realized the fault was mine for placing my mother in that position.

Susan seemed to me to have a complex over her past mistakes.  I felt like having this complex was compromising her ability to be an effective parent today.  No matter what mistakes she had made, it was time to get over it, deal with today, learn from the past, and most importantly; move on.  Though I can't say definitively that's what happened, her actions seemed to suggest it.  There's an old saying that you can't cry over spilled milk and I, for one, believe it.

Over time, Susan may have more problems with Anne.  Everyone else with children will as well.  But I believe she is up for the challenge and may prove to be a parent other children would be envious to have.  I wish her continued success and I hope all of my readers can learn something positive from Susan's story.

On Monday, I will be writing an education blog.  I have several different topics to cover but will take the weekend to decide which I will attack next.

Finally,  I know I may sound like a broken record but I would appreciate my readers who found Susan's story of value to pass it along to other parents. This blog is growing and you are the reason.   Many thanks!!!   


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Building for the Future

Today's behavior blog is going to be a little different.  Instead of talking about what has worked for me and my children in the past, I want to talk about the future.

Building relationships with children not only pays dividends now; but for an indefinite time when it comes to behavior.  Once the relationships are built; it's also easier to motivate, encourage,and discipline children.  I also want to create memories for Cameron and Luke that will last forever.  This evening, I will be taking another step.

Though Cameron doesn't know it yet; he is going to have an after school surprise.  Tonight, I am going to take him to see the University of Kentucky Wildcats versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball game.  This will be a huge treat and I can't wait to see the reaction on his face when he finds out. 

We won't get home until extremely late so the odds are he is going to miss school Thursday as well.  If you've read my prior blogs, you may think I have officially lost my mind.  What about routines?  What about education?  What about perfect attendance?

I have 5th row seats and could have taken anybody to this game.  I chose Cameron because of all he's done and all the dividends it will pay.  He's more than earned the right to break free of the routine for one evening.  I'm not worried  about him missing school because he's approximately two years above grade level.  As far as perfect attendance, that was never my goal.  My goal is for Cameron to be as bright as possible and look back on his childhood with the fondest of memories.   

I think we can agree that Cameron will have a super time with me at the game.  These "moment builders" will pay off as they always have.  Because I occasionally take him to these surprise events; do you realize how easy it is for me to get him to sit down and do extra homework?  It's one thing for me to "force" him to do it but it's another for him to have full cooperation.  Part of the reason he works so hard for me is because of what I do for him.  He loves and trusts me.  Cameron knows there will be times I am hard on him; but there are also times he will have rewards out of the blue.  That's one of my tricks:  I keep him guessing.

Knowing me, I probably won't tell him at all.  One of my favorite ploys is to tell him to "go get ready" out of the blue.  When he asks, "for what?" I give him a small smirk and repeat my direction.  I doubt if he will find out where he is going until he sees the marquee in front of the stadium.

When the night is done and both of us recover, Cameron will go back to his routines.  We will continue to build his mind and body to the best of our abilities.  For one night though, he'll have a large Sprite, a tub of popcorn, and yell with all he's got, "Go Big Blue."

With all the discipline and structure for children this blog provides, I want you to know there's nothing wrong with doing things out of the ordinary.  I'd encourage all of you to do something a bit different with your kids over the next few days.  If you can surprise them with the event, that's even better!  Check your local newspaper.  There's always something going on.

Can't wait for you to check in for a free for all Friday.  I have a story about a parent who asked me a question about her out of control child.  Little did I know how a few minutes of my time would impact a person I''ll probably never meet.  With all the success/curiosity this blog has generated, one mom's story continues to make this journey incredibly worthwhile.

All the best!!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Reading Between the Lines (Part 2)

Finally, it is here.  This blog is about three weeks late.  I hope the quality of material will make up for the lost time. I also want to welcome my new Facebook and Twitter followers.  Shockingly, my little blog has been viewed in 8 different countries.  I hope I have written something that has made a difference.  I also want to thank people who have shared this blog on Facebook and Twitter.  The tabs are on the right hand side of the page for those who would like to do this.  Thank you for your support!   

On November 8th, I wrote an important blog that was called Reading Between the Lines.  When you have a chance, take a look at it again because it contained the details of what I did to help Cameron skyrocket his reading.  The blog today takes a more detailed look;  but here were the three basic points.
1.  I used a library consistently.
2.  I subscribed to a newspaper.
3.  I strategically placed books in my home.

Today, I want to go into some more specific details of what I did and my mindset.  Although I am going to refer to Cameron in this blog; the same strategies are being used with my three year old Luke.  The difference is Cameron's reading and math have already tested in the top 1% in the country in his age group.  It's not fair for me to refer to Luke until he is old enough to be tested.

The first thing you need to know is all of my strategies were done purposefully.  As a former teacher, I always set up my classroom before the kids walked in.  As a stay at home dad, it's kind of the same mind set.  The hard part is coming up with the plan.  Implementing it is pretty easy.  There may be reasons you won't think my reading strategies will work in your home.  I challenge you though to think of why they might.

1.  Cameron's bedroom is one of the real keys to his reading success.  The reason is he has four things in it- a bed, a dresser, some stuffed animals, and a shelf full of books.  The bedroom is a place for rest in my mind.  It's the place in the house a child should always be able to really relax with their thoughts.  TV's, video games, and toys distract the relaxation I am looking for.  Cameron has plenty of toys; but they are in the playroom.

Cameron, like most kids, doesn't always want to go to bed immediately at bedtime.  This is what the books are for.  During the summer and on weekends, he doesn't have to go to sleep.  He can read until he passes out for all I care.  Admittedly, there have been nights Cameron has been up later than I'd like.  On most nights though, he reads for a few minutes and goes to sleep on his own.  Not only do we not have bedtime problems; we are actually allowing him to practice a vital skill.  In his mind, he thinks he is getting away with something when he reads and stays up a bit later.  In my mind, it was planned all along. 

2.  I learned his interests and brought books into my home based on them.  Cameron has always had a fascination with garbage trucks.  What kind of books do you think periodically pop up in our home?  You probably guessed it-  books on garbage trucks.  I read to him and sometimes he would read them to me.  If he wants quality reading time with me, he can always have it.  I've bought garbage truck books and I've checked out plenty from the library.  The point is I had him reading interesting things to foster more reading.  

Now that he is good at reading, he likes doing it alone.  This is a key point.  Kids don't want to read by themselves until they have the confidence TOOOOOOOO read by themselves.  My general mindset on this point is I want reading to be fun and as easy as possible.  As long as I am providing interesting material and my time( if he chooses), I can accomplish these goals.   

3.  I realize from my teaching days that reading and decoding are two different things.  Decoding means you can say words from a page.  Reading is not only saying these words; but "knowing what the heck you are talking about."  I actually told this to elementary kids in my classroom every year.  It may have not been the most professional way of saying it; but I got the message across.  When Cameron reads to me, I like to ask probing questions on what he just read.  I don't do it all the time because a kid should sometimes read just for fun and fluency (reading as clearly as you talk).  Regardless, it's fun to do at times and a parent can quickly determine whether the reading material is too hard. 

No matter which strategies you choose or whether you have other ones; the important thing is that a reading culture is created.  Once that culture is in full gear, good results will follow.

Finally, my shameless plug.  Please pass this blog along to those who would like their children's reading skills to improve.  It would be very appreciated.   

All the best and I hope to see you back Wednesday for my behavior blog. 



Friday, December 3, 2010

Teacher Troubles (The Power of an Inquisitive Mom)

Happy Friday to all of you.  Today's free for all topic stemmed from a friend (Susan) who asked me what to do when the teacher of a child is the problem.

Susan's child (Nate) is a first grader who goes to a well respected public school in Louisville, KY.  Unfortunately, Susan didn't feel Nate's teacher was meeting her son's needs.  Susan does not receive much homework from Nate's teacher which bothers her.  Ideas for homework are substandard to Susan as well.  For example, a homework assignment recommended was to play Hangman.  Another was to read 15 minutes. The in class work was not up to par as well.  What Susan was looking for was either a change of teachers or for Nate's teacher to improve. 

Susan was kind enough to send me all the email correspondence with Nate's teacher and it was lengthy.  Susan strikes me as the kind of mom who wants the best for her kid.  What sets her apart though with other mom's I have worked with is she is so inquisitive.  I left teaching 4 years ago and Susan asked me such detailed questions that it took me a while to remember the answers.  Luckily, most of the questions were through email which gave me ample time to think.

Sharing each of Susan's questions is not what I am looking for in this blog.  Trust me, they were so detailed that it wouldn't benefit the general population who is reading this.  Regardless, here are some thoughts to consider when there is a problem with a teacher.  These general ideas were what I passed along to Susan. 

First, realize that not all teachers are equal in ability.  Don't take it for granted that your child has a good teacher.  (Obviously, Susan was on top of this)  If I were to come to your home, how would you prove to me whether your child's teacher was good or not?  What evidence would you provide?  What are the teacher's strengths and weaknesses?  If you do not know these answers, odds are you also do not know whether your child's teacher is really good or not.  Therefore, the first part of the equation is for you, the parent, to have an opinion backed up with indisputable facts.

Second,  many problems can be dealt with quickly through communication.  Sometimes, teachers don't know there is a problem until you bring it up.  Keep in mind that very few teachers will ever think of themselves as the problem.  There is also not any sense in being angry or confrontational with the teacher.  Simply present your case in a clear manner whether the problem is with academics or with another student.  Make sure you are so clear that there is little room for rebuttal. With Susan, I told her to pretend she was an attorney and her case had to be "air tight."

Here's a quick story to illustrate the point.  Once, I had an angry parent confront me because her child was "picked on" by another student.  She went on a mini tirade for about 3-5 minutes and I didn't say a word.  I am human though and I was a bit angry/amused because I knew something she didn't.  When she was finished, I looked at her and detailed all that really happened.  It was her son that started the problem and had I not been at the right place at the right time, her child could have been suspended.  I was professional but blunt and I did not use my coddling voice.  When I was finished speaking, mom turned and left with her child extremely embarrassed.  She gave the child a small tongue lashing for not telling her the whole story- all the way down the hall.  Had she only been somewhat professional to me, she would have learned the same story unfortunately; but may have been a little less embarrassed.  On a side note, I was at fault as well because I should have sent a note to the parent detailing what had happened.

Third, if a problem with a teacher isn't resolved to your satisfaction, you have to go to the principal.  If it's an academic problem, the principal most likely already knows.  Still, it helps them to know that you know.  It keeps their feet to the fire a bit.  Principals do not have tenure like teachers and unless your points have holes in them, they are going to be inclined to listen.  Also, all principals want the best academic environment possible.  It's best for the kids first of all and it looks good if the principal wants to advance in their career.  As long as you are making good points, you are most likely going to get a fair shake.

Realize that principals are overwhelmed as well.  They are seldom sitting back in a Lazy Boy chair in their office.  They have a lot on their plate so please be patient while you are waiting for your problem to be resolved.  But don't be too patient.  There's nothing wrong with follow up calls and emails to ensure that your needs are being addressed.      

Finally, understand that, as a parent, you are the straw that stirs the drink.  I am speaking mainly of academic problems when I make this point.  If you are in a school with a poor teacher and a lackluster administration, you have got to work hard to make sure your child doesn't fall behind.  This is the real lesson I want you to learn from Susan.  There is little chance Nate will fall behind despite the circumstances in class because Susan won't allow it. She has her finger on the pulse and will go to whatever means she needs to in order to ensure Nate's ultimate success.   

Please have a great weekend with your kids and check back in Monday for my educational blog.  The long awaited 2nd part of Cameron's reading success will be outlined.  The goal is to make the details so clear; you can implement them with your child.  

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Makes a Child Happy

Well, it's official.  I have achieved over 1,000 hits on this blog.  I can't thank everyone enough for reading this.  I truly appreciate your time and hope you have benefited by something I have written.   The rules stay the same.  Judge this blog by its merits.  If you like it, please promote it to your friends and neighbors.  Many people struggle with kids or just want to get a better handle on them.  Topics like the one today may go a long way in achieving the goal.  If the blog isn't good enough in your mind, don't pass it along and I will try harder next time.  Today, I want to talk about the happiness of children.

This may seem like a pretty simplistic subject.  From my perspective, it is not.  Many of my readers may already have happy children. Have you ever thought why?  Today's blog is going to focus on what makes children happy and what you can possibly adjust if your child isn't happy.  At times, there are quick fixes.  Other times, there is a structural gap.  When I was a teacher, I would sometimes be warned by parents how much the kids "didn't like school" or what a "handful they would be."  What was amazing though is I don't remember anyone being consistently unhappy.  Maybe I had the touch or maybe it was something more.  

Even kids at St. Joseph Children's Home were happy the far majority of the time.  This may be surprising to some of you because of their circumstances.  After all, they were stripped from their natural homes initially by child care workers with police involvement, stripped from their homes permanently by the courts, and placed in a home full or strangers with no hope of returning to their families.  Could you imagine being in their shoes?  Heck, I worked there and couldn't imagine it.  What do you think your happiness level would have been if placed under the same circumstances?

The truth is most of my days working there were very pleasant.  The kids looked a lot like yours.  They went to school, played sports, and liked to have fun.  Although they missed their families from time to time; most of the kids kept smiles on their faces and were a great joy to be around.  When studying happiness in children- these kids had little to be happy about- or did they? 

After some deep reflection, I've determined a child's happiness is crucial to overall development and the good news is it's not that hard to facilitate as a parent.  I really believe almost all children want to be happy.  They may get upset with something you did.  They may show sadness over something that happened at school.  They may even act out of control when they are mad.  But deep down, children want to be happy.  With the diverse population I have worked with, here are four common themes to happiness.  I am sure you will be able to think of more things that make children happy in your home; but these things really stand out to me over the test of time.  They are not written in any particular order.

1.  Consistency- Kids didn't always like what I did and some would get mad at me;  but I was consistent.  When other kids messed up, I didn't show favoritism or excuse behaviors.  Therefore, when "Joe" saw me consequence "Bob" in a similar way, Joe felt better in the long run.  The opposite was true as well.  When Joe saw me give praise to Bob, he knew if he repeated those actions, he would get praise as well.  Though I am using boys names, girls were treated the same way. When kids of mine knew what to "give" to receive the reaction they were looking for; it really helped their overall happiness.

2.  Routines- Kids I have worked with loved their routines.  This could mean the bedtime routine of me reading a story or even the after school routine with homework.  Occasionally, when I broke a routine, it was special but it didn't last long.  I believe the lack of consistent routines causes confusion which can lead to a degree of unhappiness.  Have you ever noticed in your child's school how "routine" everything is?  This is generally by design.  How you implement any given routine is up to you; but they are crucial, in my mind, for overall happiness.   

3.  Advocacy- Children I worked with knew I was on their side.  When kids had problems at St. Joseph's, in school, or with other kids or teachers, they knew they could turn to me for a fair shake. I didn't always give them what they wanted but they always had my ear and knew I would go to bat for them.  This created a form of stability which all kids are desperate to have.  I wrote about this in more detail in my book and recently had an episode with Cameron at his school I may write about in a future blog.  For now, know that you can not advocate enough for your child. 

4.  Expressed Love- This may be the last point but it is certainly not the least.  I told kids at St. Joseph's, in my classrooms, and in my home that I loved them and I meant it every time.  When kids feel genuinely loved, they will move mountains.  No matter what was going on when I wasn't around, things changed when I walked in a room.  I can't tell you how many times certain kids at St. Joseph's would look mad as hell- a shift change would occur- I would walk in and their demeanor turned completely around.  There were others in my classrooms who would be happy all day; then their mood would turn when it was time to go home.  It's not that I walked on water; but I tried to give them the core thing all of us long for.  That's how powerful this point is.  Expressed love is like the warmth of a blanket, a roaring fire, and a mug of hot chocolate after coming in from playing in the snow.  If you remember none of the other points I have made, you had better remember this one for your child to experience true happiness.

This Friday- the free for all blog will be a question from a parent whose child was having trouble in school with a teacher.  I'll let you know some details and the course of action laid out.  I hope it will help anyone who is having similar problems.  There will also be some tips those of you who do not currently have problems should store away. You never know when a problem will occur.

All the best to you and your family!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Win or Go Home

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving.  Now that the turkey has settled in, it's time to get back to business.  I want to apologize to readers in advance for those expecting the second part of my reading blog (Reading Between the Lines).  Specifically, what I did to explode Cameron's reading.  The only reason I keep putting it off is because of the developments in the Jefferson County Public School system.  I promise I will get to it (possibly next Monday) and I hope it will be worth the wait.

The latest news is that after 3 1/2 years, the Jefferson County Board of Education by a 5-2 vote has decided not to renew Dr. Sheldon Berman's contract.  I have several teachers as friends on Facebook and not one seemed overly disappointed about it.  What is interesting though is the former educators I have talked to have expressed some skepticism over the decision.

The reason this should be important to readers in my area and far away is due to the fact that every school district has educational problems.  Our district is in quite a bit of turmoil and now we have decided on a course of action by not renewing our superintendent's contract.  Knowledge of the victories achieved and the mistakes made can help all of us have better schools. 

The Board of Education members gave a couple of reasons not to renew the contract.  One was our busing problem.  Kids are bused all over the city to promote diversity in the classroom.  While a noble goal; the practical application was terrible.  Kids had long bus rides passing many public schools along the way to get to their school.  Also, parents who may have participated in the classrooms were left out because schools were too far away.   Although some parents received their first choice with schools; many didn't and that really caused a disconnect between parents and Dr. Berman's policy. 

The second thing that really hurt Dr. Berman was student achievement.  Recent Courier Journal articles chronicled lower performing schools- specifically that 6 out of the 10 bottom high schools in Kentucky could be located in Jefferson County for the last two years.  It should be noted that the Board of Education gave Dr. Berman generally high marks on his job performance each year before the decision not to renew his contract was passed.  That struck me as very interesting.  

If you have kept up with my education blogs; you may get the impression that I am happy with this latest development.  Dr. Berman and I disagree on certain issues and now he is gone.  I should be thrilled, right?  NOT SO FAST!

Here's a few questions which should be considered.  Anytime a superintendent is brought in, what should we expect?  This is a very important question.  I have a feeling many people would expect a leader to bring in initiatives which would lead to strong student achievement.  Also, how strong does the achievement need to be before giving the superintendent a passing score?  This is a bit murkier issue.  Finally, how much time should a superintendent receive before deciding whether his initiatives worked?

First, in taking the initiative point. Dr. Berman led a charge for "freshman academies."  This may turn out to be one of his finer achievements.  Only time will tell.  In essence, the academies are for incoming high school to receive extra help in catching up academically to their peers.  Though I don't know how effective they will be, I will admit the general concept seems interesting to me.  Also, if these academies prove effective, I am sure they will be implemented in greater numbers throughout the county.  If other counties in Kentucky see their success, it is possible they will implement them as well.  So here's my question.  Do you know how many of these children who went through these academies also went through standardized exit testing by the state?  As far as I can tell, the answer would be 0.  That's because even if these academies were implemented on Dr. Berman's first day, the kids would only be seniors today and have not taken the exiting tests.  

Point 2: The strength of achievement goes along with point one to a certain extent.  When a kid is behind in their academics; how much time should be allotted before they catch up? This is a question to which I have no answer.  I do know the problem is one our entire nation is facing; not just Jefferson County.

For example, when I was a teacher, I tried my best to assess where the children were as quickly as possible and build them academically in my time with them.  Regardless, there were kids who didn't progress as much as I would have liked.  There were some children who came in my class far behind and left far behind as well despite my best efforts.  Does this mean I wasn't a good teacher overall?  Should I have been let go?  Perhaps, but I'll bet you won't find an honest teacher who can't claim the exact same situation in their classroom.

If I could have given more time to my lower performers, I would have.  But I had at least 24 kids to teach with 24+ parents watching me.  These parents expected me to teach their students as well.  I also had a curriculum guide mandated by the state I had to stick to. The guide included all subject matter each student was going to be tested on- not just the lowest performing.  The schools counted on me to teach all kids and I did my best to fulfill that obligation.

Relating this point to Dr. Berman, leadership comes from the top down just like in my little classroom.  Dr. Berman is the leader of almost 100,000 students while I was the leader of 24.  Isn't it conceivable that despite his best efforts, many children were not going to reach proficiency in three years?  His predecessor was superintendent for 14 years and couldn't accomplish the goal.  As a matter of fact, he was never close.  I also wonder how many superintendents have taken failing districts the size of ours and has turned them around in a mere 3 1/2 years.

Initiatives take time and tweaking.  There isn't a magic pill that turns a lower performing student into a high achiever.  To be a high achiever in the school system, it takes a skilled educators, a solid backing of parents/community, and an internal drive by the child.  If any of these things are lacking,  the odds of a kid being a high achieving proficient student are not as probable. Even a superintendent will not change this. 

Finally, on the question of time a superintendent should receive.  This is completely subjective on my part but I believe the magic number may be 6-8 years.  In that time, the community knows whether the initiatives in place are working, whether they need to be tweaked, and whether the superintendent is flexible enough to successfully adjust to problems along the way. 

The problem we may face now in Jefferson County is a qualified candidate who may be gun shy about applying due to the fate of Dr. Berman.  Lots of lesser qualified people may apply because of the money involved (Dr. Berman received around $273,000 per year) but how many of these people have a proven direction with a diverse population as large as ours?  Any candidate would have to really think about the job they currently have.  They would also have to face the possibility that they could be jobless in the next four years. Superintendent jobs aren't exactly easy to come by.

I will leave you with this thought to consider.  No matter where you live, there will be challenges in the educational system.  My hope is our next superintendent will raise the scores of all children to have a more literate society.  Regardless, I will play a small role by raising my children with the love and determination in being the best students they can be.  The power of solving all educational challenges is in our hands.

All the best to you and your families and I will write my next behavior blog Wednesday.  

Friday, November 19, 2010

When Styles Collide

Welcome to free for all Friday.  Thanks to all who have sent parenting questions to me.  Today is your day so all questions can be placed in the comments box or through Facebook.

Today's parenting question focuses on "How should parents handle kids when their parenting styles are different?"  The writer also asked me to address when one parent is more protective and the other less so.  Finally, the writer made it clear that the partner's style was not inferior- only different.

My initial response to that is "welcome to most parents' lives."  I've very seldom seen two parents with the exact same style.  Understand you are not alone.  Many people have raised terrific kids although their styles weren't the same and you can too.

When two people have a child, they have to give up a certain amount of control to their partner.  They are not going to like everything their partner does each day for 18 years with the child.  The same rules apply to me.  I have written a book on parenting and I am writing this blog.  Regardless, I have to give up a degree of control to my wife because she is an equal partner.  Sometimes it drives me nuts when I see Lauren doing something that goes against what I was taught during my professional experiences; but that's the way it goes. I'm certain some of the things I do drive her nuts as well; but I digress. 

I hope we can agree on my control argument to advance the conversation.  Let's deal with the "protective " angle.  The hypothetical scenario I'll give will be a kid who wants to extend his/her curfew from 9:00pm to 11:00pm.  This is a big jump and your partner is for it and you are against it.  Your partner may think the child has earned the privilege while you are not quite ready to let go that much.  The guideline for me is both parents better agree/compromise before a change is made.  If this doesn't happen, we could be going from "philosophies of raising kids" to "marital conflict."  This is not a marriage blog but if one partner tries to overrule the other without talking about it- look out! 

Differing parenting styles can usually be worked out through basic communication.  The ball can be dropped though because some parents tend to hold their feelings in while others may lash out at inappropriate times.     

While addressing the protective angle/parenting styles, I'd strongly encourage talking things out with your partner BEFORE a problem occurs with the kid.  Lauren and I have done this many times and it helps us know where the other is coming from with our opinions.  I hate to admit this but the way conversations are typically started stems from others misery.  Examples are discussing Dear Abby columns, watching the show Supernanny, or talking about a situation that happened at work.  Lauren and I are to the point that we know what the other will say over 90% of the time.  That high % took time, patience, and a lot of conversing.     

When I was at St. Joseph Children's Home, many house parents had to work together.  I typically present the place as a great atmosphere to work because it usually was for me.  Nevertheless, there were problems among house parents.  We were taught by our management that problems are to be addressed away from the kids.  I agree with this philosophy and applied while teaching and in my home.  I want my kids to concentrate on being good people, strong students, and sports legends.  (OK I made the last one up)  On three separate occasions, I walked in on a house parent argument in a large walk in closet.  As quickly as I walked in, I walked out and the kids never knew.  It wasn't a comfortable shift on those days but we did the best we could.    I applaud my coworkers for handling their problems professionally out of the earshot of children.   

Like minds can disagree and that's OK.  To me, it comes down to stability and the way I want it presented to my kids.  If Cameron and Luke are focused on disagreements Lauren and I are having versus what I want them to concentrate on; that's a problem.  In general, kids can get their cages rattled easily and if they see mom and dad are having problems; you can bet it will come out at a future time and place. I've seen this scenario in the classroom many times with students so I will avoid all the drama with my own children.   

I mentioned before that I have to give up a degree of control to my wife.  That doesn't mean I completely bite my tongue.  Lauren always knows if I disagree with something she has done.  But one thing I will not do is call her out in front of the kids.  It would diminish her authority which is a huge mistake.  If I choose to diminish her authority in front of Cameron and Luke, odds are they will try to diminish her authority as well.  This is especially true as the boys get older and bigger.

I hope everyone has a fabulous weekend and Thanksgiving.  Cameron is off school next week so my goal is to have more fun with both boys than they can stand.  This means I will not be writing any parenting blogs next week.  My next parenting blog will focus on teaching Cameron circumference after eating our Thanksgiving meals.  (Ha Ha)

My next blog will be posted Monday November 29th.