The Secret of Raising Good Kids (Hint: Don’t Think Bad)
Judy Stone, one of the all-time great teachers, and I were in charge of 48 seventh and eighth graders for their lunch/recess period one day in March several years ago. Judy called us all together and said: “There are three rules: no running, no throwing balls and no jumping off the stage.” (We were in an old, newly acquired parish hall that had not yet been fitted out for children.) For 45 minutes there was no bad behavior, but we spent the rest of our time together adjudicating whether what we had just observed was “running” or a fast walk, “jumping” or a giant step. Was that projectile that went flying past us a “ball” or a wad of duct tape? Continue reading
“I Just Want Him to be Happy”
Several years ago the mother of a 5th and 2nd grader came in to talk. She was in the early stages of a divorce and was having a lot of trouble with fifth grader John. About fifteen minutes into her descriptions of unpleasant incidents she said with tears just behind her eyes: “I only want him to be happy.”
“That is probably not a realistic objective right now,” I said.
It was the right thing to say. It was understandable that John was unhappy, and he had a perfect right to be unhappy. His parents were going through a divorce, for heaven’s sake.
But my statement has general validity, too. Continue reading
Between poverty and impoverished pedagogy there is a high correlation. Quality of education goes down with income. Wealthier children go to better schools, and children who grow up in poverty have a very high probability of getting a bad education. We all know this.
Then we adults make the standard mistake of turning correlation into causation, Continue reading
Late in the fall two middle school teachers came to my office with a dilemma: “We don’t want to be guilty of grade inflation, but the grading system isn’t fair. Sara, for instance, works really hard. She always does her homework and participates in class. She is actually a great student, but she is math-phobic. She keeps failing her tests. We don’t know what to do.”
I asked, “Well, you say she is a great student. What does that look like? What does ‘participates in class’ look like?”
“She’s just great at working with others.”
“Yes, but what does that look like? If we can describe it we can measure it, if we can measure it, we can grade it.”
“Well, she builds on other people’s ideas…” Continue reading
How to Exercise Authority
Of the 20 schools I visited last fall, two stand out. Any parent would know in the first five minutes of each visit what I knew: I want my child in school A, and I will fight like hell to keep my child out of school B. One was a place of education and one felt like a prison. I will call one The Learning Academy and the other Brand X.
In The Learning Academy all kids were on a mission, they seemed lit from within with the joy of learning. In two hours I saw no bored or unhappy students, and they were all engaged in challenging academic work. Each classroom exuded creativity—in every corner of every classroom.
In Brand X I saw three students Continue reading
Great vs. Excellent
Last week when I wrote that trying to be a “superior parent” is crazy, I seem to have been like the little boy who said: “The emperor has no clothes.” The idea that if children get only the three things they need (love, respect as a decision maker, and accurate feedback) they will turn out just fine hasn’t been said much. Once said, however, almost everyone nodded, cheered, or breathed a sigh of relief. Striving to be “The Best Parent I Can Be” is driving parents crazy.
What about our children? Should they be striving “to be the best they can be?” Continue reading
Years ago, I was standing in the back yard of my uncle’s house talking to my cousin. “I feel like I messed up my kids,” I said.
“Oh, Ricky, Don’t you know? We all mess up our kids. It’s all set up that way.”
I was an educator, who by then had known about a thousand parents, and was experienced enough to know that she was right. However for me, the Dad, I needed to be reminded that there is no way to do the job of parenting “right.”
Since then I have seen about three thousand more parents in all situations, and I still know that she was right. Three of my four children have children, and I watch with admiration how they raise my five grandchildren. I also watch the “mistakes” they are making, and I am smart enough to keep my mouth shut. Anyway, just look at them. They are terrific. My cousin was right.
So when Amy Chua came out in the Wall Street Journal ten days ago claiming that Chinese mothers are “Superior,” Continue reading
When two players on the same team both “go for the ball,” one of them is often “out of position.” When a parent says, “We had a little trouble with our homework last night,” someone is out of position. Continue reading
Martha believes that good parenting includes paying attention to her children and praising them. It is important for their self-esteem. Mary disagrees. She tells the story of how, at the age of 19, after dropping out of college her daughter said: “Everyone says I’m smart, but I don’t feel it.” She blames her habit of praising her.
What do you think? What do you do? Is Praise good for children, or is it bad?
And now, we are
into a new year.
The Story of The Three Little Girls has generated a great deal of conversation (on and off line) about the role parents play in getting their children to take responsibility. More than one parent has talked to me about the difficulty of trying to be fair and listen to both sides of a conflict.
While it is true that each party in a conflict usually bears some responsibility, our job as parents and educators is to teach children how to take full responsibility for their actions. Otherwise, they can give themselves a pass, and not do the hard work of learning new behavior. They can’t control what other people do, but they can gain mastery of self.
I like to use a trip to the principal’s office as a place where students can learn those new behaviors and develop their social skills. When a student is sent to my office for disrespectful behavior the conversation often goes something like this:
“Why are you here?”
“I don’t know. Mr. Soandso sent me. It’s not fair.”
“Well, what did you do?”
“Well, Mr. Soandso…”
“Wait, I don’t want the whole story, I just want to know what you did that caused you to be here.”
“No. First you say ‘I’ and then there is a verb.”
“I threw the ball over the fence.”
“That doesn’t sound bad enough for you to be sent here. Why would Mr. Soandso send you here?”
“Because he told me to put it away in the ball bin.”
“Well, that makes sense. Do you think that makes sense?”
“Don’t go there yet. First I want you to tell me what was wrong with that and then what you are going to do about it.”
“He said it was disrespectful.”
“Well, do you agree?”
…and so on until he gets it.
I don’t allow the conversation to drift to the faults of the other party. I don’t concern myself with what is fair or unfair. I simply insist that the student identify the part he played and then take full responsibility for his behavior. That’s a teachable moment.