Chrstmas Spirit

Chrstmas Spirit
My wife and kids having a little holiday fun

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.   

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures (Consequences)

Happy Wednesday!  I hope you like the new look of the blog.  My computer skills are not up to par with my parenting skills.  The consequence of this fact is it takes me a lot longer to do the simplest of things.  Regardless, I like the way it turned out.  Also, please take a second to answer the education poll about grading.  It will be discussed in a future education blog.

The term consequences seems to me to have a bad rap when it comes to kids.  They usually come when the kid has messed up one time too many for the parent to handle.  Some parents may think of grounding a child or giving a time out as a good consequence.  While this may be true, what I would like for you to think about is a broader definition for the word.  How can consequences be more effectively used to your advantage?

Sometimes, consequences don't come directly from us at all.  For example, a couple of days ago, my three year old Luke decided to run on the couch.  Before I turned around to correct him, he fell and bumped his head.  That's a natural consequence.  I would argue they are the most effective kind.

Consequences do not have to be negative; nor should they presented in that way.  They are merely the results of actions.  They can be positive or negative.  When Cameron does a good job on his "daddy" school work; he gets to tell me the positive comment to write on the top of his paper.  One of his favorites is "Great job, Cameron."  He usually has to remind me that he wants the exclamation mark at the end of the comment to read, "Great Job, Cameron!"  The exclamation mark is very important to him.  That is a positive consequence.

Last night, my wife Lauren reminded me of a house parent I worked at St. Joseph Children's Home named Judy.  If Judy could start a game show for kids, it may be called "Choose Your Consequence."  She seldom gave children a consequence immediately.  When a child was misbehaving, she may tell the child that if they continued, they may go to their room. If they discontinued the negative behavior, they could stay with the group.  Judy would tend to leave the power in the hands of the child and it was effective many times.  The child was given time to think what they were doing, understand the consequence, and react accordingly.

I went downstairs last night to let Lauren and Cameron finish their nightly routine before I placed Cameron to bed.  No sooner than I hit the bottom stair, I heard Cameron start complaining.  He wanted to do a "trick" on the stairs and Lauren said, "no."  Of course, Cameron tested by walking toward the stairs. 

Lauren handled the situation similar to how Judy would have handled it.  She said, "if you go down the stairs, I will not read to you and you will go straight to bed."  Incidentally, this was said in a calm tone.  Cameron begrudgingly went to his room.  There have been many times in the past where he could not resist and perform the undesired action.  Of course, Lauren would carry through with the consequence.  Cameron would get mad and, sooner or later, I would get involved.      
Last night was different.  I was proud of my wife for how she handled the situation and proud of Cameron for thinking things through.  After they shut Cameron's door to read, I'm sure they had a nice time together.  Cameron received a positive consequence for following directions. 

This Friday's blog was inspired by one of my readers.  The question focused on how two parents should raise children when their parenting styles are completely different.  This happened many times at St. Joseph Children's Home and I'll tell you how it was handled, what I learned, and what pitfalls to avoid.

All the best to you and your families!  Please continue passing this blog along to others who would enjoy it. Now there is an option on the right hand side of the screen to share the blog on Facebook or Tweeting it. The "About Me" section has been tweaked as well.

Considering the blog is only a month old, I couldn't be more pleased with how the word has spread.

Thanks again!!!   

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures (High School Hangovers Part 2)

If you caught Friday's blog, you read about our failing high schools in Jefferson County.  The same situation is happening at schools across the country.  I wanted to shed some light on how this happens and some possible solutions.

By the time a child reaches high school, they have had about 9 years of schooling (including kindergarten).  But each kid does not have the same experiences going through school.  For some, they had excellent teachers and home support.  They may have had some tough moments.  But usually they made it through without too much trouble.  But other kids had a completely different experience.  They may have come into kindergarten behind, had poor teachers, and lacked the support at home.

Perhaps the easiest way I can explain this is to picture a 100 yard dash.  The starting line represents the start of a grade.  The finish line would represent the end of the grade.  All teachers have approximately 9 months to get the kids from start to finish.  The "race" would restart at the beginning of every school year.

The problem is no matter what grade we are talking about; many children never begin on the starting line.  Some kids start ahead of the line because they had a good support system.  Other kids may have to start 10 yards behind the line.  Consequently, they have to run 110 yards to finish the race for that school year.  Depending on how many kids are in this situation, the teacher has a tough job.  How do you catch kids up while not ignoring the kids who are ahead?

When I was a teacher I was encouraged to match the kids who were ahead of the pack with those who were behind.  The problem with this scenario was how to challenge the kids who are ahead.  I never met the parent who was comfortable sending their child to school to be a glorified assistant teacher.

Year in and year out, the same scenario happens and that is why kids are left behind.  Eventually, embarrassing high school scores come out just like last week.  I would be much more critical of high schools if I knew all students were at the same "starting line"  when entering.  The truth is by the time seniors take these tests, they very well can be on a sophomore/junior level.

It has been my experience that the quicker kids catch up, the more likely they will be to do well in later years. Superintendent Sheldon Berman has started academies to assist high school freshman at certain schools in catching up.  While I agree, in principal, tho these academies, I'd like to see a more concerted effort in elementary schools.

One thing we did when I taught at Bates Elementary was track each child's progress.  Our principal would be highly involved in seeing where a kid was falling behind and charting a course on how to catch the child up.    The only negative to this was we'd still have to move a kid to the next grade even if we weren't able to accomplish our goals.  I'd like all elementary schools to have the option of holding children back one time (preferably kindergarten or first grade) to see if they can catch up.

Before I go, I'd like to thank you again for taking the time to read my blog and passing it along to other parents.  What I'd like to do is transition free for all Friday's to a day for you- my readers.  Please send me parenting questions/topics you would like addressed.  They can be real or hypothetical.  I do not use real names or identifying information. You can send these questions in the comments box or through Facebook.

Please catch Wednesday's behavior blog.  The topic will be consequences.

Take care and have a super day!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures (High School Hangovers)

Hello to all!  This week has given us some somber news about some high schools in our district.  For my out of town readers, the following is why it so important to keep your finger on the pulse where your child goes to school.  The following horror story is real and it is widespread.  Many of our kids have had bad teachers we've had to deal with but the blog today is going to focus on thousands of high school kids.  I may sound like a broken record but the more a parent involves themselves in their child's education, the better off the child will be. 

The news is 6 of the bottom 10 high schools in Kentucky are located in Jefferson County (where I reside).  To make this a bit more personable, we are talking about approximately 6,500 students that go to these schools.  Last year was the exact same story.  This is a 2 year total of approximately 13,000 students.  On average, only about 1/3 of the students scored proficient in reading and math.  This is nothing short of an embarrassment.  Because the bottom 6 of the 10  performing schools were scored as such last year, they were ineligible to make this year's list.  Money is rolling in but I haven't found the data to see how it's being spent or if improvements have been made. 

The test was based on reading and math which are the centerpieces of education.  According to Superintendent Sheldon Berman, "Each of these schools is making significant gains in other important areas, but the state is only looking at one measurement when determining this particular list."  My question is what the heck is more important than reading and math? Cultural diversity?  Culinary Arts?  Music?  There was even a protest/pity part at Fern Creek high school Wednesday night which was attended by teachers, Dr. Berman, and the Jefferson County Public Schools teacher's union.  High Schools and the district are having their feet held to the fire and of course- it burns!  They complained at Fern Creek about the test and how they want more local control. Berman also complained how the test is overly simplistic.  (Give me a minute while I shake my head) 

In my opinion, there is a hierarchy of skills that need to be taught.  Reading and math are at the top of the list.  If a child can not read and perform math problems on a proficient level- little else matters.  Am I too simplistic?  Put another way, if a child could only read and work math problems on grade level, that would still be much better than what we are seeing.

Berman was on Mandy Connell's radio program this morning and said, "proficiency is well above grade level."  He could be right though I never had that impression while I was teaching.  In my classrooms though, I didn't think the goal of proficiency was out of reach because of its high standard.  With every class, I tried to assess the ability level of the students; then bust my behind to have them achieve as much as they could during the 9 months they were in my classroom.  There were times when students hit proficiency and others who fell woefully short.  No matter where they landed on the spectrum, they were automatically moved up a grade.  This was a district policy.   
In the real world when companies/employees under perform, there are severe prices to pay.  Companies can go under and employees can lose their jobs.  In the educational world, things are different.  We are not used to being directly accountable. For example, if one of my students didn't achieve a certain standard, I was never called out on it to explain why.  This is why we are seeing a backlash from some educators and why we may be seeing more over time.  

In education, it's very easy to "pass the buck" somewhere else.  It happened during my teaching days and it is no different now.  I could blame lots of people if my class under performed.  For example, I could blame the administration for giving me the lowest kids- I could blame the parents- or I could blame the kids for being lazy.  Having to take direct responsibility for failure is not something teachers/schools are used to.  I want to make clear that when a kid is failing to live up to standards in high school, the blame has to be passed all the way down the line.  One of my arguments on Monday's blog will be how you can't totally blame the high schools for under performing kids; but you have to start somewhere.    

In my opinion, there are only two acceptable public high schools in Louisville- Male and Manuel.  About 82% of Manuel graduates are ready for college.  About 64% at Male High School are prepared.  Evey other school in the area is under 50%.  The lowest schools hovered around 4%.  I am measuring this by ACT's and how prepared these kids are when going to college.  I found some interesting numbers comparing districts in Kentucky. 

According to, the Jefferson County school district is ranked 132nd out of 149 counties.  Here's the interesting twist.  According to the Pritchard Committee, KY ranks 32nd on it's education index out of 50 states.  This is a marked improvement from 1992 where Kentucky ranked 43rd.  Only one other state rose out of the bottom 10 during the same time period which was North Carolina.  This tells me that other districts in the state are making our state ranking improve even while Jefferson County is pulling them down.  I don't want you to think I am completely comparing apples to apples with these numbers.  But there is some correlation.  Considering the latest news on the high schools- when will the excuses end?  I want to see Jefferson County do well.  I worked with a lot of teachers/administrators who are trying to make this happen and I feel for all of them.   

Because of these scores, Jefferson County is now eligible to receive $100 million in federal school improvement funds over the next two years to help improve all of its lowest performing schools.  Depending on how the money is spent, this could be a real help but it is no guarantee.  Hopefully, the money will be used to bring in more reading and math specialist which, in turn, could lower the student/teacher ratio. If you have regularly kept up with this blog, you know how I feel about significantly lowering the student-teacher ratio.  Though you may not sense it in this blog, I actually have a lot of confidence in Dr. Berman.  He seems to be a very bright man who's very invested into the success of Jefferson County.  Regardless, standards have to be met and at present; they are not.     

There was a principal in Jefferson County years ago I talked to years ago about public versus private education.  I remember she said, "send him (Cameron) to a public school and save your money."  The more I dig into the numbers, the more I realize what a crippling move that would have been to my child's education.  I have worked so hard for too long.  It's to the point I would rather deliver pizzas than pull him out of his private school.

Private school tuition can be steep.  I bet there are a number of parents who would send their kids to public schools if they had any faith in the overall quality of education.  If you live in an area where the public educational system is strong, be thankful.        

Though my tantrum has now ended (for now), the troubles have not for so many.  Thousands of kids have been "left behind" and thousands more will follow.  I hope Monday's blog will shed some light on how this happens and what can be done to turn things around.  

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures (The Happy Meal Ban)

The city of San Francisco has announced a ban on toys in Happy Meals starting in December 2010.  According to Supervisor Eric Mar they are, "Part of the movement that is moving forward the agenda of food justice."  Though the measure will be vetoed by the mayor, there are enough votes to override the veto. 

Although I've known the general story for a while, I was interested last week when my wife placed a comment on her Facebook page saying that she didn't think the ban would work in terms of sales.  What really drew my interest were the replies.  There were a lot of people who were passionate about this issue.

The goal of this blog is to have parents think; not push an ideological agenda.  Therefore, many angles of the debate won't be covered here.  What will be covered though is the one word that really sticks out to me when thinking about this issue.  That word is control.

The truth is we all have kids who ask/push for things.  Some kids want that shiny toy in the store.  Some want the latest X-Box game.  Others want the Happy Meal.  The fact that kids want things should not be surprising.  Kids should have the freedom to ask for anything they want.  But it's our job as parents to exert control and enact that dirty little word we all understand: NO.  Those of us who can use that word when needed should not worry about our kids getting obese from Happy Meals.

I swear my children can read my mind at times because my 3 year old provided a perfect example yesterday for this blog.  We were in Kroger and when we passed aisle 3, he started asking for chocolate.  I told him no and he did what a lot of 3 year olds do: kept asking.  If you remember nothing else from this blog, please store this next point into your memory: Children know it doesn't matter how many times a parent says the answer "no."  It only takes one "yes" to get what they want.

I was hoping as we kept walking around the store, he would forget.  That wasn't the case.  When we got close to the checkout line, his requests became more animated.  I stopped the cart, looked into his eyes, and said, "I know you want chocolate and I - said-  no." The issue was over at that point.  Even my three year old knew it because he stopped asking.  

I have a different mentality than some parents.  After all, I've been through battles in public settings with children at St. Joseph Children's Home and on field trips as a teacher. Public confrontations with children do not bother me.  I had a cart full of groceries, a bum ankle from an injury two weeks ago, and my son who wouldn't let the chocolate idea go.  Regardless, I didn't flinch.

What happens sometimes in these situations is parents do flinch.  It would have been easier to give in based on the circumstances.  I've seen firsthand what happens over time when parents give in to the whims of children after making their initial decision.  Certain house parents at St. Joseph's could be worn down over time.  These same house parents were the ones who consistently struggled managing the kids.  

To summarize, I understand eating Happy Meals can add pounds and jeopardize health.  I also know McDonald's along with a host of other companies market products to my child.  But, I also know that I am a parent with the power of control.  That single power trumps all.

On Friday, there will be a special edition of the education blog.  I will focus on a recent story about high schools in Louisville, KY.  Even if you are one of my out of state readers, check back in.  The issue being faced is similar to ones you'll find in your district as well.    

All the best to you and your families!

The beginning paragraph was paraphrased from the following source.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures (Reading Between the Lines)

Good morning to all.  Today's blog is on reading.  This is the most important subject in education and it's an essential skill for all children.  The importance of reading can not be understated.  I also believe in the following saying: All readers may not be leaders; but all leaders are readers. 

One complaint that is common in our educational system is kids do not read on grade level.  I found this to be true for between 50% and 75% of my class depending on the year.  The first thing you should know is from my experiences, schools/teachers are working their hearts out to teach reading.  Unfortunately, they don't produce the results we'd like to see.  Schools generally block an hour to an hour and a half on various reading skills alone.  This does not even incorporate reading in other disciplines such as math or science.  I'm not sure what more we can expect teachers to do based on the current school model.

Regular readers of this blog know I don't like to completely depend on the school system.  It's not that teachers are unqualified.  It's certainly not the amount of money given to schools.  It's simply due to the teacher/student ratio.  The job has always been too enormous for teachers when they don't have solid parental help.

If you know someone who has a child who struggles with reading, the following will give parents part of the story with my own children.  I'd strongly encourage my readers to pass it along.

If you are new to the blog, here's some insight about my kids.  My oldest son has tested in the top 1% nationally in reading on two different tests.  My youngest son is behind with his speech because it was discovered he had fluid in his ears.  It's estimated by doctors he may have not been able to hear well for months.  Regardless, the fluid is clear now and his speech along with his reading have skyrocketed.  Because he is three, he hasn't been formally tested.  Based on what I've seen, by the time his reading is tested; the results should be very positive.  The following three ideas have been implemented with great success.   
First, I used my library.  This option alone, if used properly, can skyrocket test scores for most kids.  The librarians are trained well and can lead you in the right direction to find books suitable for your child- no matter their level.  Obviously, it's free.  There's very few excuses to not regularly visit a library.  What should also be obvious is if other children are regularly using a library and your child is not; it would be equivalent to running a race and giving the competition a significant head start.  Why would you do that?

Second, I subscribe to a newspaper.  I hide the front page if it's not suitable for children and read the rest every morning.  It's critical my kids catch me reading. They look up to me and all I do (and don't do).  If I didn't read, they could catch on and follow in my footsteps.  Though a newspaper subscription may not be essential; children had better catch you reading if you expect them to take it seriously. 

Third, books are strategically located in my home.  Books can be located in the playroom, in their bathrooms, in the dining room, and in their bedrooms.  No matter where they are, my boys have access to books and don't have to work at all to find them.  In my opinion, books are as essential to knowledge as food is to nourishment.    

Next Monday, my plan is to give you another look inside my home to see how reading is promoted.  For now, please consider the three suggestions given carefully.  I wish you the best!

Also, Wednesday's behavior blog will focus on San Francisco's banning of the Happy Meal toys.  Both sides will be presented and discussed.  In the end, it seems to come down to one word---No, I am not giving it away yet!!!   See you Wednesday.   

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures (Tomorrow is a New Day)

Hello again to a free for all Friday.  Reviewing some of my blogs, I've determined my kids look a bit too perfect.  Don't get me wrong- I LOVE my kids just like you love yours; but they (like me) are far from perfect.  Before I move any further, I'd like for you to think about a time your child really messed up.  Think about the anger involved and maybe the words that were said.  Finally, think about whether you'd react the same way if you could replay that event.   

Maybe Cameron realized this past Tuesday that this would be my topic today.  Being the generous kid he is, maybe he thought, "Hey, I'll show dad some great misbehavior so he'll have something to write about on Friday."  It was one misstep after another on his part.  Who knows?  Maybe I made some errors I haven't identified yet.  Regardless, after I placed Cameron to bed, my final thought while leaving his room was tomorrow is a new day.

Tuesday started great.  We had a good morning and he was in good spirits when I picked him up from school.  Unfortunately, on the way home, he had a nose bleed.  This has happened so many times, he handles the problem effortlessly.  By the time we got home, the blood had stopped so I sent him to his room to change into his play clothes.

Luke likes to go with Cameron to his room to play while Cameron changes.  They horse around but I don't mind.  I like to let Cameron blow off some steam before doing his homework and having "daddy school."  (If you are new to this blog, daddy school is when I give him short assignments which meets his intellectual ability).  This day was a bit different.  From downstairs, I heard Luke scream and cry.  I ran up to Cameron's room to identify the problem.  I'm not exactly sure what happened but neither child appeared innocent.  I left with Luke and told both of them they had to do better if they wanted to continue playing in Cameron's room.

After Cameron changed his clothes, he took a lot longer with his assignments than usual.  He seemed distracted.  Cameron even missed two of his math problems from his first grade book.  This was unusual because he is working on third grade course work with me.  We have a rule in our house.  The rule is "we can only miss problems in which we don't know the answer.  We DON'T miss problems we know.  I gave him my "you better straighten up" look and asked him to concentrate.  The rest of his work was good. 

After daddy school was complete, I gave the boys time to play.  Cameron loves pretending he is a football player and runs from one end of the house to the other.  Not only does he play but commentates as well.  Familiar phrases are "oh my gosh it's a pick 6" (interception returned for a touchdown to my non-football fans).  Another phrase he loves as he runs is "he-could-go-all-the-way."

Normally he does a nice job playing with Luke but the football game Tuesday ended a bit differently.  Instead of incorporating Luke, he would throw the ball high over Luke's head and catch it himself.  Unfortunately, on his last throw, he hit a picture on the wall that fell and smashed into lots of little pieces.  Granted, this was an accident, but he had already shown some odd behaviors.  I had enough.  I raised my voice (which I seldom do) and said, "SIT DOWN while I clean up this mess".  

Even when Lauren came home from work, he started getting a bit mouthy to her.  He had to be reminded an early bedtime would be in his future if he continued.  The rest of the evening went well.

Before bedtime, I went into Cameron's room to read when I received my next surprise. There was partially dried blood on an area of his floor.  Apparently, his nose bleed started again while he was in his room changing his clothes. I must have overlooked it when I took Luke away earlier in the afternoon.  I looked at Cameron in disbelief.  Normally, he would have tried to clean the mess or at least told me.  I really wanted the night to be over with this kid.  Instead, I was looking for stain remover hoping to get the blood off the carpet.     

When I finally put him to bed, I told him I hoped he "got all the misbehavior out" because he would be on a zero tolerance policy the next day.  He understands this to mean there will be no warnings for misbehavior- only consequences.  Cameron does not like the zero tolerance policy.  For the record, the rest of the week has been great.

I don't know why Cameron had a poor afternoon/evening but I do know this.  The greatest children I've worked with have all had times that weren't too pretty.  Sometimes these situations are easily explained but other times they are not.   I would have been more concerned about underlying problems if I saw a pattern emerging.  Since this wasn't the case, I chalked it up to a bad day.

Rest assured that Cameron will have more bad evenings just like your children.  We don't know when it is going to happen or the circumstances- only that it is coming.  When it does, my advice is simple.  Deal with the problems accordingly.  But please remember that no matter how bad it gets- tomorrow is a new day. 

Have a fabulous weekend!  I'll check back in Monday for an education blog.  We are going to focus on reading and what it really entails.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures (A Quiet Effect of Bullying)

About two weeks ago, I reconnected with a girl I had not seen since grade school.  One thing she said which really struck me was my mom seemed so "sweet" and I seemed so "sad."  I don't dispute her claim. But I was shocked that was her memory of me after 20+ years.  

The reason I seemed so sad back then was because I was miserable.  General sadness was my best attempt to fake it.  The primary reason was bullying.  Every once in a while, bullying is brought into the national conscience because it drives someone to their death.  In my book Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures, I use Phoebe Prince as an example.  Prince made national news because bullying helped lead to her suicide.  Over time, the topic subsides until the problem claims another victim. 

I would argue that the problems and effects of bullying are more quiet on a day to day nature.  This is something that concerns me greatly.  One of the many consequences is sadness/depression.  Don't get me wrong.  This blog is not meant to be a pity party because I was "sad."  The problem of bullying is too difficult for anyone to quantify but I'll tell you what it did to me and let you make your own conclusions.

True bullying started for me by, of all people, a football coach in third grade.  It carried on in some way, shape, or form until high school.  By the time I made it to high school, I was a mess.  I didn't have any self confidence. My grades were average to below average.  It wasn't until years later I considered myself intelligent.  The fact is I had to work harder than some others in high school because certain building blocks of education I should have had in elementary school weren't present. 

In grade school, I was always worried about what was "next" instead of the lessons in front of me.  When would I have another problem in school?  When would I have another fight on my hands?  Would I find pornography in my yard when I returned home? Would there be another egg to clean off my bedroom window?  I can safely say when I was more worried about factors outside the course work in school than the work itself; it reflected in my overall learning.  I don't think I realized how much intelligence I had until I completed my Masters program with a 3.7 grade point average.  Turns out I wasn't as dumb as many had perceived- including me.    

Although schools have a big part to play in solving the problem, my regular readers know I don't like to rely solely on any school.  There are too many kids and too few adult eyes.  My advice to parents has two simple parts.

1.  Teach your child about bullying before they enter a classroom.  Some parents stink at teaching manners to their kids and your children should be well aware.  Children without good manners are excellent bullies because they don't know any better.  It's also a good idea to create pretend bullying situations at home and then discuss how they can be handled. Bullying takes on different forms the older a child gets.  Therefore, if you do this before 2nd grade and expect that lesson to last through high school, odds of success are minimal.

Also, if you wait to teach your child their lesson when the bullying occurs, you run some risks.  Perhaps the biggest one is the damage accomplished before you get wind of the problem.  To use a boxing analogy, I'd rather teach a boxer how to punch before a fight than after he steps in the ring with a trained professional .  I'm not saying that you have to teach your kids how to fight.  That is your decision.  But, I want kids prepared for problems they may face in school.  As a former teacher, I promise it can help limit the overall effectiveness of the bully.     

2.  The other thing you can do is keep your finger on the pulse.  When you see mood swings in your child, that's a warning.  Some of us attribute mood swings to hormones or "kids just growing up."  I'll argue that while those factors are in play; there's usually more to it.  Dig deep enough in your child and you may discover the underlying problem.  Once a problem is discovered, it can be attacked with vigor. 

I'm sorry if I left out a lot of aspects of bullying.  It simply can't be covered in one blog.  I wrote an entire chapter for my book and I'm still not sure if I did enough.

I wish you and your family the best.  I hope your child never goes through what so many others have. More importantly, if they do, I hope you can help provide the tools to give them the support they need.  If you have further questions, please post a comment here or contact me through Facebook. 

Friday's blog is a free for all.  There have been some hot Facebook topics and I have several ideas on my own.  No matter if your child is throwing a tantrum, staying in trouble, or looking like a treasure; give an extra hug and tell why you love them.   


Monday, November 1, 2010

Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures (The Cycle of Prosperity)

Before I get today's education blog started, I want to thank everyone again for viewing my little blog.  A couple of weeks ago, I read somewhere there was an estimated 50,000,000 blogs on the net.  That's a lot of blogs looking for eyes.  Over the weekend, I received my 500th hit.  Thinking back on my original goal, I would have been tickled to have received this many hits by February (100 hits per month)  To think it has happened in my first month is humbling.  I hope I have accomplished my goal of making all parents who read this THINK.  Agreeing or disagreeing with me isn't important.  What is important is that you are thinking about being the best parent you can. 

Today's education blog is focused on the cycle of prosperity.  What's this?  It's a term I coined in my mind to battle another notion we have all heard of which is the cycle of poverty.  This is when poor uneducated parents have poor uneducated children.  It may lead to some being on welfare while others may wind up in prison.  The cycle of poverty is real and it is a threat to all of us.  Regardless, it seems to me there is a certain point where excuses have to placed to the side and parents have to be called to act for the good of their children.  In my opinion, the government/schools can only place a band-aid on the cycle.  The cycle has to be changed at home.

I learned this lesson well while I taught at Portland Elementary.  A lot of stereotypes I had about education (especially the money involved), the roles of teachers, and parents were completely destroyed.  Without going into detail about my stereotypes; this is the place which introduced me to the cycle of prosperity.

Before I go further, let me attempt to define the cycle of prosperity:

(Part 1) The cycle of prosperity starts with an attitude that today is a new day and it is going to be a good one.  It continues with going to work and taking pride in whatever the person does.  If a person doesn't have a job they want; it is a determination to keep working to get a better one.  Finances, though very important, only define their possessions; not who they are and not what their kids can become through hard work.    

(Part 2) Because this is a cycle, these parents are modeling positive attitudes (from part 1) to their children daily.  No matter their income level; they are determined for their children to have an equal or better life than what they have.  They recognize education is the key to all success. Although schools are a part of education; these parents keep a "finger on the pulse" and do all they can at home.

When I was at Portland Elementary, some of my brightest kids had poorer African American parents.  I didn't question why this was the case.  I was happy that children were learning and having fun.  Looking back on it, there was an important common thread between these smart kids.  The thread was their parents.  One of the mothers, for example, worked at a gas station.  Although it was never directly said, it was heavily implied her child was never going to work at one.  The kid was bright, attentive, and great to be around.  This mom was working in the cycle of prosperity despite her circumstances.  I had a lot of moms and dads who had this same attitude and their children seemed to be going in the same place---UP!
I had plenty of other parents who didn't live in this cycle of prosperity.  Their kids didn't turn in homework, didn't have the needed focus in the classroom, and a few parents came to conferences seeming a bit "high" if you feel my drift.  That is, if they came at all. 

The parents at Portland Elementary taught me a valuable lesson about the cycle of prosperity.  I hope any reader who sees this understands the importance of it.  What you do as a parent directly affects your child-positively or negatively.  No matter your income, you have the general tools needed to help your kids succeed and possibly accomplish more than you have ever dreamed.  You alone determine whether to live in the cycle of poverty or the cycle of prosperity.  The choice is yours.  The good news it can be changed as soon as--NOW. 

Let me leave you with a story I hope illustrates my point a bit further.  I had a 1st grade child I'll call Betsy.  She came from a relatively poor family and for several months was a bottom 5 student in my class.  Regardless of her rank in my class, Betsy kept trying.  She was attentive and a good listener.  Her mother also did her part at home and never complained.  In short, Betsy and her mother were involved in the cycle of prosperity. 

I taught a split 1st/2nd grade which meant I had Betsy for second grade as well.  By the time, Betsy left the second grade, she was one of the top students in my class.  The change didn't happen overnight but it did happen.  To use a basketball analogy, it would be like a team being down by 10 points in the first half and win the game by 20.  One could claim I was the difference but I would dispute that.  Though I worked very hard with all my students; she wasn't a "teacher's pet" in the least.  Betsy was a golden example of how hard work really pays off. 
I wonder if there is a "Betsy" you know.  If so, give him/her all the encouragement you can.  You never know if they'll turn out to be a top student.

Please join me again Wednesday for my weekly behavior blog.
All the best to your family!!!