Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The 200 Item Clothing Challenge.

As someone with ADHD,  I am always interested in ways to reduce unwanted distractions in my life.   A few years ago I started reading about people who had taken something called the "100 item challenge".  This is for folks who really want to live with the smallest possible amount of stuff.  They basically reduce everything they own down to 100 items.  Now, I knew that was not going to be for me, but it did get me thinking.

I ended up thinking about all of this the next time I decided to clean out my closet - which I do a couple times a year - and I piled everything on the bed.  There was a lot of stuff.  Then I decided to empty my dresser, the coat rack, and my shoe organizers.  Then I added purses, scarves, and belts.  It actually made me feel kind-of gross.  Most of the stuff I didn't even wear. 

I started thinking about the 100 item challenge, and wondered if I could get this pile down to that.  It occurred to me that not so long ago average people lived with much less to wear and survived without being arrested for indecency.  Maybe I could too.  So I thought about what would be in the average woman's wardrobe 100 years ago.  I needed a 5-6 outfits for work.  I needed something to wear for weddings and funerals.  I needed stuff to wear at home. and of course I needed sleepwear and underwear.

Well, I decided to do the 100 item challenge for that season and was able to get the pile down to 100 items.  Because I wasn't truly trusting of this new system yet, I put everything left into plastic tubs and stored it.  And yes, I counted the number of items.  It actually totalled in at 85.

Doing this turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done in my life.  Seriously. 

Suddenly I not only could get all of the laundry done in two reasonable sized loads, I had to do it each week so I would have enough to wear.  Choosing clothing in the morning was easy, because there wasn't that much of a decision to make.  Since I had my favorite clothes, and nothing worn out, ripped or stained, I was happy with what I had on every day.  My closet stayed neater.

The next time closet-cleaning time came around, I did three things.  First of all, I added in the rest of the clothes I wanted to have to complete a year-round cycle and stay under 200 items.  At this point I was confident that I could live with this amount of clothing, so secondly I bagged up everything else and took it to Goodwill.  Thirdly, I took anything that was worn and stained out of the current collection and worked on replacing it.  I have been using that routine every since.

Now because I have fewer clothes and therefore wear them out sooner, I do buy new stuff just about every season.  Because I'm not buying a lot, I do buy decent quality items.  I also tend to buy things I can wash, since I don't really have time for items to be at the dry cleaner.  Finally, I buy a lot of mix and match skirts, pants and tops and only have a few dresses.  Because I do a lot of mix and match, I tend to buy from just a few stores so that all of the colors go together.  This cuts down on my clothes shopping, which I do not generally like anyway.

If you like fashion and it's your hobby, this might not be something for you.  But if you like to look good with a minimum of fuss and bother, you might want to consider this challenge.  It's made a really difference in my ADHD life.  Maybe it can in yours.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

My Child Just Started Kindergarten and It's NOT Going Well!

You guys were all ready.  New clothes, supplies, snacks, were all set.  He knew all his numbers and letters, and was even starting to read a few words.  This was gonna be awesome.  A picture in front of the house on the first day and she got on the bus or your dropped him off in the first carpool.  All smiles and expectations.

Then you got the first email from the teacher.

She's not behaving.  He's not finishing his work.  She can't sit still during circle time.  His Kindergarten screening found some possible learning issues.  You aren't sure whom this teacher is writing about, because it's not YOUR kid!  There were no problems in preschool, you know she's smart, she's never hit another child before!  Why does he cry everyday when I drop him off?

First of all, I'm sorry things are not going well.  Like the bride caught outdoors in a cloudburst during the vows, this is a major event that has not lived up to expectations.  It stinks.  If this is your first child, it stinks even worse because this is probably the first time expectation has not matched reality.  Been there, done that.  So did my parents.  So has just about every parent on the planet.  It's not easy, but you will survive.

The issue at hand is trying to figure out what is going on, and taking steps to improve the situation.  Those steps may need to be taken at home, or at school.  Most likely they will need to be taken both places.  Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1.  "What previous experience has my child had with a large group of children?"
  How big were the preschool classes?  Did she even go to preschool?  Classrooms with upwards of 20+ children can be noisy places with a lot of activity that may be confusing.  That might be part of the issue.

2.  "How are the expectations for behavior at school the same or different from those at home?"
  Does school expect your child to be more self-controlled without several reminders? Does the school have higher expectations for things like sitting still and being kind to others?  If so, and you want your child to meet those expectations at school, you will need to change them at home to match.  Are the expectations lower?  That can cause confusion.  In that case you may need to explain why standards are higher at home.

3.  "How much emphasis have I placed on my child excelling?" 
Be honest with yourself.  Are your expectations for behavior or academic achievement too high for your child right now?  Are they too high for any five-year-old?  No matter what you say to your child, they know what your expectations are.  They also know when they aren't meeting them.  Sadly, it's not unusual for a young child who is struggling to tell me that they aren't "doing good."  They will not be able to tell me what that means, but they know they have a problem.

4.  "Is my child ready for Kindergarten?"
  Some five-year-old aren't, either academically or socially.  This link can help answer that question: http://school.familyeducation.com/kindergarten/school-readiness/38491.html.  Like every other aspect of school, Kindergarten has changed dramatically in the last few decades.  Teachers expect children to come in the first day ready to learn.  School can be stressful for a child who is not ready, and their school career begins on a negative note.  It is OK to give them the gift of an extra year.

So now you have answered all of those questions, and there still doesn't seem to be any reason why your child is having difficulty.  Here is what you should now ask of the school:
  • If your child is having behavior issues you should request a meeting with the teacher and the principal as soon as possible.  At that meeting you should request an observation, and ask what will happen long term.  You should also request that the school provides some sort of brief daily behavior report via paper, text or email. That way you are hearing about good days and minor issues as well as serious ones.  Your school counselor should meet with your child to see if they can help. The counselor can also see if you need some extra professional help outside of school.
  • If your child seems anxious, you should ask to meet with the teacher to see if they have suggestions. They might have observed situations that seem to trigger the anxiety. When separation is an issue, the teacher might have suggestions on how to improve the transition. If the anxiety doesn't not start to ease off after the first few weeks of school, or seems to get worse, you should also consult the school counselor.
  • If your child is having trouble managing the academic material, your first step is to request a meeting with the teacher.  Even a child who can write numbers and words at home may still have a learning issue that a parent cannot see.  Most schools do some sort of screening for incoming Kindergarten students.  You should let the teacher know in advance that you would like to review that screening along with seeing examples of you child's work.  If the data provided seems to indicate that your child is having difficulty, you should ask if the school has a student support team or student assistance team.  This process usually provides a child with research-based strategies to improve learning.
    Often children are having difficulty in more than one of these areas.  For example, anxiety can contribute to poor academic performance.  Likewise, a child who feels frustrated with academics can act out.  It's important to make sure that your meetings with school personnel take all issues and factors into account.  School personnel need to collect the correct data in all areas. That data must present the most complete picture of what is happening with the child.

Now that we have spoken about what you should request from the school, here are some things that you need to do:

1. Take a breath.  I will guarantee you that your child is not the only one in a group of 25 that is having difficulty.  This bump in the road, as much as it stinks, does not mean you are a bad parent.  It does mean you have to adjust your expectations for this school year.  With your consistent effort, things will get better.

2.  Do not refer to the child as "bad".  The behavior is inappropriate, not the child.  Children who see themselves as "bad" have a very hard time finding incentive or the possibility to change.  Please do not do this.  Period.

3.  Listen to your child, then check with the teacher or principal.   Five-year-olds love attention.  They figure out pretty quickly how to tell a story that will give them just that - whether it's telling Mom that they are bullied, or telling the teacher that they didn't eat breakfast. (And they tell us all sorts of interesting things........)  Sometimes they are not lying deliberately.  They have a fuzzy idea of the difference between fantasy and reality.  They also have a fuzzy idea of time. They can combine something that happened in the morning with something that happened in the afternoon into one event.  This to say that as a parent you have to trust, but verify.  BTW, even if they have an 8th grade vocabulary, they still have a fuzzy sense of reality and time.  It's kind-of like even though they have an 8th grade vocabulary, they are still only 3 feet tall.  So please do not mistake advanced speech for advanced development.  They are two different things.

4.  Reward positive behavior.
  Yep, deliberately kicking a classmate should have a negative consequence at home.  Those of us at school actually count on that.  I don't care whether the child was provoked or not.  On the other hand, disrupting circle time maybe doesn't have a consequence, but sitting still has a reward.  "You did your job well today, so you get to take a walk with Mom or Dad" or extra LEGO time, etc.  Research has demonstrated time and time again that rewarding positive behavior has more of an effect than punishing negative behavior.  This tends to be true when the negative behavior is not too serious.  Behaviors best managed through positive reinforcement include disrupting or distracting others, not obeying certain rules, or not finishing schoolwork.

So Mom and Dad (or Grandma and Grandpa), with your consistent help, things will gradually get better.  Please do not wait for the situation to go away with time.  It might, but an attitude toward school, one that is not positive, may be forged in the meantime.  I have a friend who still remembers being sent home from Kindergarten on the first day because he fell off the jungle gym.  That's probably not exactly what happened, but the memory is "I screwed up on the first day of school and had to come back the next year."  His folks probably felt the same way, which is why they never said anything to him about it.  This memory is now 45 years old.  Partner with your school and make some positive things happen.  Email/msg/tweet me if you need help.  FB - Pamela Mecca Seymour, LPC, Twitter @pam327.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Stress and the Classroom Teacher

For about a year now I have been searching for research studies on teacher stress in American public schools.  I haven’t found any.  There have been some done in the UK, but I haven’t found any here.  I started looking because I want to give my colleagues some research-based ideas about why they might be stressed and how to cope.  No luck.  Looks like I have to just take a crack at it myself.

I think that the stressors teachers face is obvious to them, but not to the general public.  You have to experience being responsible for educating a group of children in a school to understand.  Substituting or volunteering will give you an idea. But truly understanding the load of stress comes from actually having to take responsibility for the classroom and what happens there.

As a teacher, it is your job to take a group of children from wherever you get them to point “X”.  That has to happen within ten months.   At this point I can go into the 25 reasons why this is at least a difficult task.  But we’ve heard them all before - low pay, the devastation poverty creates for children trying to learn, to the lack of resources, etc., etc.

I want to talk about some possible solutions for combating the unique combination of stressors on teachers.  These are just ideas from my own personal experience and observation – I would love to hear any others that people might have.

1.     Remember that your job is really, really, important……..
  I think teaching is as important and complicated as practicing some types of medicine.  You may not be saving a life, but you are definitely creating future doctors.  If you ask anyone to name four formative experiences from childhood, I'll bet at least two of them involve school.  You are instrumental in developing capable humans. Treat yourself as a professional with a brain.  Read new things.  Try new ideas.  Become active in the larger education community and your professional organizations.  You are a professional and you need to act like it.

2.    ………….but also remember that young humans are not created in a single school year.
  No matter how many standards are set by legislatures and departments of education, children are never all going to progress at the same rate in a given year.  It simply doesn’t happen.  One or two children in your class may not learn all of their multiplication facts this year.  And it’s OK.  Because if you are there in the moment with what they are ready to do instead, you will have provided what they need.  Which is success and confidence.  The rest will come along too.

3.     Leave some slush in the schedule.  A few years ago I worked for a Principal who used to tell faculty not to stress if they didn’t get to end of the textbook by June.  She advised instead to go as far as the children and the teacher were able with consistent effort.  If you have every day tightly planned, you are setting yourself up for a lot of stress.  If this is your first year teaching, you will get sick.  Probably in the spring.  If you have young children, they will get sick too.  Other stuff happens.  Stuff outside of school that you have to deal with.  Allow yourself and the children some days of review or autopilot. Then when the unexpected happens you are not spending the next three weeks frantically trying to catch up.  You will most likely end up in just about the same place at the end of the year anyway, with a lot less stress on you and the children.

4.     Let the children help you. 
I work in a Montessori school.  A central tenet to Montessori pedagogy is that children should be in control of their work within a carefully prepared and structured environment.  Children in the Montessori classroom engage in more activities than just academics.  They also take part in keeping the classroom organized and clean.  They help each other with school work and chores, and they take part in developing rules and routines.  It’s remarkable what children are capable of if the proper conditions are met.  Maybe that child is advanced in math and is somewhat bored.  She might like to spend some time helping another student who is struggling.  (Hopefully you are letting them find a way to do math at their level, too.)  Is that teacher closet a total mess?  Older elementary school students would love to spend time reorganizing it.  They might even stay after school to do it if it means extra time with you.  Look around your classroom at things that you would like to do.  How can the children help?  This is not about free labor.  It’s about freeing you up to do more of what is most pressing, while teaching children how to build a classroom community.

5.    Understand the real reason that parent might be acting like a total jerk.  Oh, I know that email was ugly and upsetting.  The child is having a lot of trouble right now, and the parent is making it clear that it’s all your fault.  Except that might not be the case.  If you have done your best, owned up if you messed up, this may no longer be about you.  Parents have a lot of guilt when their children have problems in school.  (BTW – It might not be their fault either.  Sometimes children just need to work through a difficult time with help from several different adults.)  Guilt can make parents crazy.  So don’t take it personally and/or assume you are a rotten teacher.  It may just be “guilt overflow.”

6.    Stay away from negative colleagues.  I don’t care what school I’ve been in, according to at least one faculty member at each place it was going to hell in a hand basket.  Like I don’t have time for that anymore.  The job is difficult enough as it is.  Every school has problems.  No Principal is perfect.  Look for people in your school who are problem solvers and hang with them.  They will still complain, but if they are trying to improve things, their positive attitude will rub off on you.  Believe me, you will feel less tired and defeated.

7.    Walk out of the classroom when you can.  Alone.  Without the entire class in tow.  (Hopefully they allow you to do this in your school.) I’m not talking about every 30 minutes, but if they leave for a special or you can grab someone to stand in the door for a few.  How many of us spend virtually the entire day in the classroom?  Even at lunch time?  It’s not healthy.  Go to the bathroom and freshen up if you feel like it.  Get coffee.  Stare out the window for a minute.  Take a walk outside, or visit the library.  Look at the latest projects outside of the art room.  You get the idea.  I doubt anything disastrous will happen while you are gone.

8.    Remember your oxygen mask.  When you fly, the stewardess always tells you to put your own mask on before assisting a child.  This is a good metaphor.  If you pass out from your own lack of oxygen, you cannot possibly help the child.  Likewise, if you “pass out” because of stress at work, you can’t be an effective teacher.  So take time for yourself.  Try the things here and other stress relieving things as well.  Take a day when you need it.  Find someone you trust to talk to if you need to.

You are definitely worth it.

Monday, August 4, 2014

How to Get to School On Time

For those who are now grumbling at me after the last post, here is a follow-up.  Remember that I am a chronically late person, and I live with three other people who have some form of ADHD.  We are all recovering “late-a-holics”.  Here are some things that I have used to get places on time – particularly in the morning before school.  Hopefully they will help you.

1.    Find a reason for being on time.  If not being late is not important to you, nothing below will make a difference.  People have different reasons for wanting to be certain places on time.  When my children were in high school and had to drive 40 minutes one way, getting up and out the door with plenty of commute time was a trade-off to Saturday School.  Maybe you just want your child to have time to transition in the morning.   Maybe you want them to learn that being on time is important.  Whatever the reason, you need to find it so that you will want to be prompt.
2.    Look at what you are doing right before you leave.  This is especially important in the mornings.  Can anything on the “to do” list be done the night before?  How about on Sunday?  I know one family that puts lunch components in plastic bags and containers on Sunday for the entire week.  Then they pull the lunch together the night before.  How about showers at night instead of in the morning?  I even know some families that give baths and put the younger children to sleep in the shirt they will wear to school the next day.  Can anything be eliminated?  Can the garbage go out in the afternoon instead of in the morning? 
3.    Resist the urge to get sidetracked.  Your routine should be your routine.  In other words, don’t load the dishwasher or clean the cat box one morning if it’s not something you normally do, or try a new hairdo that takes extra time.
4.    Have a bathroom schedule.  Not only does this streamline everyone’s routine, but it will also cut down on those folks who like to spend 25 minutes in the shower.  If you need to, put a timer in the bathroom and set it. 
5.    Cut down on electronic distractions.  No TV, phones, iPads, or other electronics before leaving.  Period.  This includes the grown-ups.  If your job means early morning email, it should be finished before your children wake up so that they have your full attention. 
6.    Speaking of being ready before the kids………This will probably be the least favorite suggestion, but do you get up before the kids?  How about getting up early enough so that you are dressed, fed, and ready to go out the door?  You can then spend your time getting everyone else ready.  If you are not distracted with your own activities, it’s harder for the little people to wander instead of putting on shoes, etc.
7.    Skip the drive-thru.   It’s actually not a guaranteed time saver.  You know that rule that says when you are cutting your time close, the guy in front of you will have four separate orders or the credit card machine will not be working.  While you are putting together lunches on Sunday, put together grab and go breakfasts as well.  They will probably be cheaper and have less fat.
8.    Allow for traffic.  Assume there will be an accident.  Better to arrive 20 minutes early than 10 minutes late.  A lot of smart phones will now estimate the time it takes to get to where you are going quite accurately at any given time.  If you have that feature, you can check on things 15 minutes before you would normally leave and possibly get out the door a few minutes sooner.

If you have other ways that you get places (especially to school) on time, I would love to hear about them.  Different things work for different people.  Feel free to comment below.  Find me on FB at Pamela Mecca Seymour, LPC or on Twitter @Pam327.

Why getting to school on time is really important.

This morning I spent some time in a classroom while their teacher was finishing a meeting.  The majority of children were there right on time and ready to begin.  The teacher assistant greeted the children at the door and gave them a warm-up work to do until it was time for morning meeting.  It was a 5-10 minute activity.

Three children arrived late and did not have time to start the activity before being called to the rug.  One child was visibly anxious about this and came to me saying, “I haven’t started tracing my numbers yet!”  I assured her that it would be all right and that she would have time to finish the activity later. But as she watched the other children putting their work in the completion basket, the look on her face told me she remained unconvinced.  I wondered how well the child was able to hear what the adult was saying in morning meeting. She did not raise her hand at all.  I wondered if she was still thinking about that worksheet. 

We all know how hard it is to “catchup” during the day when we start behind.  I hope the rest of her day is better.

Until I spent time in classrooms early in the morning, I did not appreciate how late arrival can mess up a child’s day. It can also mess up the classroom.  This particular morning there were no children that came in and interrupted morning meeting, but I know that often happens in other rooms.  Coming in late puts the “late arrivee” on the spot for anything they might have missed.  Moreover, everyone's attention diverts to the person putting up their water bottle, lunch, etc.  Children are missing what the teacher is saying.  And what she is saying first thing in the morning is pretty important.  If it’s just one child, the teacher can check in with the group and make sure everyone got everything.  But if it happens four times over 10-15 minutes, it becomes difficult to regroup.  Everyone ends up getting pretty frustrated.

I’m not talking to the parent that is late to school once a quarter.  I’m talking to the folks that are late more than once a week.  Now before you get all irritated with me,  I will tell you that I used to be chronically late.  I misjudge the time and try to stuff too much activity into the period right before I have to leave to go places.  The only reason my kids were at school on time was because I worked in the front office and had to be in the building early in the day.  Most important, I didn’t think it was a big deal to be 15-20 minutes late all the time.  Finally, a good friend of mine left me behind one day when I didn't meet her to carpool because I was 15 minutes late yet again.  She was fed-up.  The day after that, another good friend and psychologist told me that chronic lateness is just passive aggressive behavior towards the person you are holding up.  I guess that’s why it feels so rude.

I can’t tell you that I was never late after that, but I decided that being on time was going to be important.  I just realized I wanted to give people more respect, and I wanted to stop arriving at places feeling rushed and scattered. 

Isn’t that something you want to teach your child?

Monday, June 9, 2014

"Who does this charter school belong to, anyway?"

I am fortunate to have worked at two different charter schools in several different capacities.  I am also the parent of children who attended a charter school where I worked as an assistant director.  I was one of a group of people that helped start a second one - a dual language Montessori school.  I currently work at the school as their school counselor.  Starting that school and my involvement with it over 15 years has been a defining work in my life.

In North Carolina, where my charter school operates, charter schools are independent public schools.  Even though North Carolina has had charter schools since 1997, many people are still confused about this.  In North Carolina, charter schools must abide by many groups of regulations that govern traditional public schools.  These include enrolling children without charging them any tuition or fees, abiding by the NC Open Meetings Law, fiscal compliance including yearly audits, attendance laws, federal special education laws, federal student privacy laws, teacher licensure, and state accountability (testing) standards.  Charters have freedom that traditional public schools do not in how they spend state and local resources (federal money is still subject to restrictions on how it is used), the type of faculty members they employ (not everyone has to be licensed), and class size.

In 2001 the North Carolina State Board of Education approved our Charter plan.  That plan became a contract between our Board of Directors and the State of North Carolina. The Department of Public Instruction oversees our school and out charter plan.  In summary, our charter (contract) boils down to the operation of a K-8th grade school that uses the Montessori method of instruction (pedagogy) that provides dual-language education in English and Spanish.  This contract, or charter, is the essence of our school.

Recently, we have had some "troubles" at school.  Our current difficulties are not unusual in any school community, but has been a source of sadness for me, and for many other people who love our little community and who work hard to grow and develop it.  One particular email that was sent to the entire school community encouraged other angry parents to "take back our school."  That got me thinking about the "our" in that sentence.  Who is the "our," anyway?  I think it's important to look at each constituent group, starting with the Board of Directors.

Charter schools don't belong to the Board of Directors.  The Board of Directors is the governing body and the ultimate authority within the school community, but they have restrictions.  In North Carolina, the Board of Directors of a charter school must oversee policy and procedure that serve to implement the contract between the school and the state Department of Public Instruction.  They must also oversee policies and procedures that meet federal, state and local laws and regulations.  They answer to the Department of Public Instruction and through that agency, all other applicable agencies.  They cannot decide to change the mission of the school, limit the types of students that can enroll beyond what is already in the charter, or anything else that fundamentally changes the school from the description that is outlined in the charter.

Charter schools don't belong to administration, staff and faculty.  I think a lot of charter school employees will tell you that they give up some tangible benefits for intangible ones in a charter school.  Often they are asked to do more with less, and may be asked to take on added responsibilities.  They might tell you that the trade-off is taking part in a community where they feel a bit closer to the people that make decisions that affect their daily work lives and the success they have with children.  Charter school employees are often the difference between an effective school and one that is struggling.  But the school does not "belong" to them.  They would be the first to tell you that they cannot function effectively without strong governance from the Board of Directors and a lot of help from parents.  Employees who feel differently are not going to be helpful to the community as a whole.

Speaking of parents, doesn't the school belong to them?  After all, they are the school's "customers."  Charter schools have a lot of parent involvement - of time, talent and treasure.  One of the indicators of the success of any school is its amount of parent involvement.  So shouldn't we do what the majority of parents want?  Well, I would agree that parents have a voice and that they should use it.  Constructively.  The Board of Directors must listen to parents and answer their concerns with as much speed and transparency as possible.  To do otherwise is to condemn a school to limp along.  The front door will be very active with people coming and then going.  On the other hand, parents have to realize that their decision to enroll their child at a charter school is a choice.  Part of the choice you made is to trust that a group of people can operate the organization effectively.  It is not the job of the Board of Directors to change the school just because a majority of parents want it.  Nor is it the job of the Board of Directors to allocate funds/hire and fire/create policy according to parent wishes.  The job of the Board of Directors is to allocate funds and operate the school in the manner that they believe will best fulfill the requirements of the charter.  If that is not happening, parents should complain within the school grievance structure.  If that doesn't work, they should complain to the agency that oversees the Board of Directors.

What about the people that started the place?  The founders?  Shouldn't we defer to them?  Well, no.  Anyone who has studied organizational theory knows that schools go through stages.  Often the people that were excellent at getting the place running are not so effective when things settle into a routine.  Especially if the original operation of the charter isn't working and needs to be changed or renewed.  New ideas and new people need to mix with the school history and "the way we've always done things" to create a vibrant school that is constantly moving forward.  Making those necessary changes can be met with resistance from folks who have been around for awhile.  So even though their input is valuable to keep from reinventing the wheel, the community should not be left solely in their hands.

So who is left?  That would be the entire community.  Charter schools also "belong" to the conditions of the contract between the school and the state that oversees its operation.  The Board of Directors has the responsibility to make sure that the school abides by that contract.  Faculty have the responsibility to implement the policies and procedures created by the Board and to contribute positively to their development.  Parents who choose the school for their children have a responsibility to make sure their child is safe and thriving, and that the Board of Directors are doing what they can to support the implementation of the charter.  Founders have the responsibility to be the keepers of experience and promoters of positive change. Although a charter school operates for the immediate benefit of the children enrolled each school year, it ultimately benefits the entire school community and indeed the larger local community.  That benefit to the larger community is why most societies provide free appropriate public education to their children; something that has been a strong tradition in the United States since the country began.  In essence, when everyone works together, the school becomes a strong independent entity that can accomplish marvelous things for the children it serves -  because nothing else is more important than that.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Should We Return to the Same School in the Fall?

When I was a child, the concept of school choice did not exist.  There were private schools nearby, but to change public schools, you had to move to another local district.  Now we have much more choice, even in many rural areas.  Even in districts where there is not a lot of choice, parents have the option of home schooling.  My children have attended schools of choice.  They also attended the neighborhood school.  I have to admit that it was often a difficult decision for us to decide what we were going to do from year to year. 

Many parents face this decision when their child develops problems in school. It also becomes and issue when the school itself is experiencing difficulty.  I think this is a question you need to begin to think about mid-year every year.  That gives you time to apply for magnet, charter and private schools so that if you come to the end of the year and need to make a change, you are not stuck.  But even in June you may not be able to make a clear decision.

This post will help you cut through the clutter a bit to boil your decision down to a few important questions.  Whether to change schools is a decision that you need to make rationally, but with a contribution of your gut feeling.  Remember that it’s impossible to completely predict what the future will bring for your child and your school.  But you can make reasonable assumptions.

It’s important to answer these questions according to what “is," not what the school aspires to be. 
Even the best schools have a gap between the mission statement and how things actually operate on the ground.

These are the five main questions I would ask myself if I were evaluating whether to leave my child at their current school.  This list is in my particular order of importance with the most important consideration at the top.  Your order might be different.

1.    Is the school safe?
I believe that this is your most important consideration, no matter the order of the rest of the questions.  If the answer to this question is not a solid “yes," nothing else matters.  When I ask if the school is safe, I am referring to physical and emotional safety.  Does the school have a written safety plan?  Is the building secure?  What type of program or philosophy does the school have about bullying or harassment?  Is it a written policy?  Is the playground well maintained and well supervised?  Schools have different types of safety considerations. Thos considerations depend on their location, the age of the children in the building, what types of businesses or activities are nearby, etc.  School/district plans, policies and procedures should reflect their individual need.   My children went to middle school on the edge of a higher crime neighborhood.  The school drew students from that same area.  Early in their second year, a child brought an unloaded gun to school.  When I arrived in carpool that afternoon, the Assistant Principal handed be a letter from the Principal.  It described the incident and the school’s response.  My children had not even heard about what happened – the school handled it without interrupting their day.  I never before felt uncomfortable about sending my children to that school, but even that incident did not change my mind.  The school had plans and contingencies that they followed. 
2.    Is my child making academic progress?
When I talk about academic progress, I am not talking about high grades across the board.  Just like us, children have years with a lot of growth, and years where the growth is a little bit slower.  On the whole, is your child moving forward?  Are they on or above grade level?  (If your child has special needs, read below…..)  Is progress frequently monitored by the school and communicated to you?  Is extra help available and offered if progress begins to slow?  Does the school use a variety of methods to track and communicate progress?  You need to make sure that any issues are spotted early and addressed in an appropriate and timely manner.  Help might not mean individual help or testing.  It might mean a different type of homework for your child.  It might mean your child is part of a small group that is getting extra help.  If your child is academically advanced, it might mean different work or time in a different classroom to keep them interested and moving ahead.
3.    Is my child learning good work habits?
Qualities such as resilience, perseverance and the ability to overcome frustration are the best predictors of school success.  How does your school address these qualities?  Is it something that is active as part of the school day and the school curriculum?  Does the school provide extra help for your child if they struggle with work completion? How about organization or working most of the time with an appropriate level of effort?  Schools develop work habits in children in different ways.  Some schools try to develop intrinsic (internal) motivation.  Some use reward – recognition for good grades, awards, etc.  Some use a combination of the two.  Does the motivational method your school employs match well with your child’s personality?
4.    Does the structure of the school match my child and our family?
All schools have a structure.  At one extreme is the school that allows children to do what they want with a the lowest level of rules, reward, and punishment.  At the other extreme is the school that controls everything that children do.  Most schools are somewhere in the middle.  Some children feel more comfortable and thrive in an environment with the type of structure that actively tells children what they need to be doing and how to do it.  Other children need lots of rules and consequences.  Still others need freedom.  If the level of discipline and control at school matches home, children will be comfortable.  That same structure should match your values as parents.  Is the administration and governance of the school at the level of formality you like?  Maybe it’s informal, and everyone calls the principal by her first name, including the children.  Her door is always open, but regular written communication is non-existent.  Maybe making a complaint requires a formal process, and there are no “drop in” meetings.  What type of an administrative structure makes you the most comfortable?
5.    Is my child happy?
Does your child love their school?  They should.  They should have at least 2-3 positive relationships with other children. They should also have at least one positive relationship with an adult in the building other than an adult in their classroom.  They should feel as though they are part of a community; that they “belong”.  If the answer to this question is “no," you need to find out why.  Maybe the school community values conformity and your child is outside whatever the norm is.  We want to think of schools as welcoming, peaceful places where all children can get along, but that’s not always reality.  Can you imagine a different type of school where your child would be happy?  If you can, perhaps it’s time for a move.  If not, there may be other issues such as undiagnosed learning issues, anxiety, depression, or an issue at home.  A move in that case may not help; indeed the stress of learning a new routine and making new friends at a new place might be detrimental.

Beside these five considerations, there are some others that might apply to you:

Special Education Services – If your child has an IEP or a 504 plan, or qualifies for one, does the school meet their needs?  Are they getting enough help and the right help to keep making progress at a level appropriate for them?  Private schools often have remedial help.  But will they modify a child’s work or testing to accommodate a disability?  Does your child need those modifications?  Perhaps a traditional public school, public magnet school or public charter school will be able to do more.  Maybe your charter school uses inclusion EC services and your child needs to go to a different setting.  Maybe you would rather have your child in a regular classroom and pay for extra help outside of school.  Whatever the case, your school should respond to the needs of your child, or be clear about their limitations.

School Drama – Having worked at several different schools, I can tell you that all schools have drama.  There are always some parents and teachers that are happy, and some that are not.  People like to chat, and some people live for controversy.  Often how you think of the school depends on whom you talk to.  If the drama does not affect your child, you probably don’t need to worry about it.  You will know if it’s affecting your child if there are problems with the first five questions at the top of the article.   If the drama gets bad enough, it can affect the climate of the school.  In that case, you will begin to see children who do not feel safe, teachers who are too distracted to do what they need to, and administration that is constantly reacting instead of being proactive.   Is your child thriving and either blissfully ignorant of what is going on or doesn’t really care?  Pulling your child from school out of spite for a teacher or the school administration is not helpful for the child or your family. 

Commute -  Parents are willing to sacrifice their time and effort to take a child to a school outside the neighborhood.  Sometimes though, the length of time spent in the car may not be worth it.  We tend to dismiss the stress from “car time” because it’s such a routine activity.  If morning routine is constantly stressful or evening constantly exhausting because you are driving over 30 minutes to school, you may want to take a second look to see if something closer to home will meet your child’s needs just as well.

If your answer to any of the first five questions indicates it’s time to find a new school, you might want to let administration know.  Perhaps your issue is one that other parents are having as well, and the school needs to address it.  By letting the school know about why you have decided to leave, you are giving them important data about their program, policies and procedures.  The best way to do this is a brief face-to-face meeting, but only if it can remain civil on both sides.  If that isn’t going to happen, a letter is also a good way to let the school know what’s going on.  Be specific but refrain from getting personal.  Make sure to send a copy of your letter to the district office, the Board of Directors or whatever authority is ultimately responsible for school governance.

Once you have made your decision, please respect those who decide to stay.  Their circumstances and priorities may be different from yours.  If there is currently school drama, it's not your job to "take as many people as possible" with you.  You might be furious about a particular situation, but others may decide that the school is still the best choice for their family. Moreover, chances are that there are staff and families that have put a lot of effort into the school and should be respected for their work. 

I hope that you are happy with your school and that your child is thriving.  If you have a difficult decision to make, hopefully this article will help.

As always, your comments below are welcome.   Have other questions?  You can contact me on twitter @Pam327, and on FB at Pamela Mecca Seymour, LPC.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Our Favorite Teacher has Not Been Invited Back!

This post is mostly for parents of kids at charter and private schools, although some aspects of this also apply to traditional public school.  When a teacher leaves to move out of the area, start a family, or take a better position elsewhere, we are often sad but we understand.  When a well-loved teacher does not have their contract renewed by the school, it’s a different situation.  We often don’t understand.  Here are some thoughts on how to handle the situation, which is difficult and stress-filled for everyone involved:

1.  Don’t talk about your unhappiness, speculate, trash the principal or other staff, or gossip about the situation in front of your child.  Please.  Little people talk to each other, and they often don’t get the facts quite right.  You are feeding the gossip mill in the worst way possible, and probably upsetting your child more than they already are.

2.    Don’t assume that just because a contract was not renewed, the school is saying that the person is a bad teacher or a bad person, or has “made up” something bad about the individual.  We have all worked with people in different settings who we liked personally and who did a good job who were just not a good fit.  Maybe there’s a personality conflict.  Maybe the person has a great deal of talent around a certain philosophy or method that would fit better elsewhere. 

3.    Accept that you don’t “know” the whole story.  I don’t care how much you volunteer, how many kids you have at the school, how well connected you are with a faculty member, etc., you probably don’t know the whole story.  Period.

4.    Realize that the school is not going to give you an explanation.  They can’t.  By demanding a justification, you are in effect demanding that the school violate the teacher’s privacy.  The school owes the teacher an explanation, but not parents.  If this individual that you love so much has done some things that they are not proud of (and remember you don’t know if they do or not), do you really want to demand that their issue be aired in front of the entire school community?  If you do, then the situation is more about you than it is about kindness and fairness to the teacher.

5.    If you are at a school of choice, your decision to enroll your child means you trust the administration to make personnel decisions.  If you don’t, you should find another school.  Hiring and firing cannot be done according to teacher popularity, or decided by children, or changed by parent demand.  Aside from a chaos that situation would create, it would give teachers incentive to place parent regard above the needs of their students.  A good teacher knows that sometimes they are not going to be the most popular person with all of their parents, but they may be more effective than someone who is worried about not seeming “nice”.

6.    Use the proper channels to complain.  This means face-to-face meetings or putting your thoughts in writing to the proper people.  Usually that means an administrator or administrators, a Board of Directors next, and then a governing authority such as the state education agency or the diocesan office, etc.  It does not include gossiping in the parking lot, or putting ugly posts up on Facebook.  Your ultimate method of protest is to send your child to another school.   However, I will emphasize once again that before you put complaints in writing to a governing body or remove your child from a school because of a personnel change, you want to make sure that you have your facts correct.

Remember that the people who need the most focus in this situation are your child and the teacher.  This is not about you and your control over what happens at school. 

Your child needs to hear that you are sad that the teacher is leaving, but that you might not be able to answer all of their questions about why.  Remind them that you still think their teacher was a good for them and that you think they are a good person, and the school may not be saying otherwise.  Tell your child that you think the teacher will be able to find a school where they love to teach.  Encourage your child to write a letter.

If you really love this particular educator, do what you can do to help them exit gracefully.  Offer condolence and tell them how much you will miss them.  Remind them of how they helped your child grow.  Offer to write a recommendation or a letter that they can put in an interview portfolio.  Write an endorsement for them on LinkedIn.  Give them a gift to remember you by.

And don’t forget your Principal.  You may heartily disagree with their decision, but unless you have some solid evidence to the contrary, assume this has been difficult for them too.  A friend of mine told me once that letting people go was like eating raw sea urchin - painful and yucky.

You can use this difficult situation to either help a well-loved educator, or become a divisive force in your school community.  Your child is watching you.  Now is a time to be the adult you want them to be someday.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Disney versus Hersey Park (by guest blogger Owen)

    I like both Disney and Hershey Park.  At the parks, the rides were the same.  Both parks had a carousel.  Disney and Hershey had something like a downtown.  Disney had terrible French fries and at Hershey I got to try a Hershey Bar.  To get into the parks or your room you needed a bracelet or a ticket.  At Hershey Park the ticket was a strip of paper that said what type of chocolate you are.  I was a "Reese's Pieces" because I was five years old.  I would visit Disney again because you can take a boat to the park.

(Owen is in 3rd Grade at a Catholic school in Raleigh, NC)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Tattling.  Ugh.  The scourge of playground supervision and sometimes of the classroom, as well.  It’s certainly a problem at home.  What’s the best way to deal with this situation? 

Well, it’s important to understand why children tattle.  Young children, particularly those between the ages of 4 and 7, are cognizant of the rules.   They will often feel that something “bad” will happen or an adult will get angry if the rules are not followed.  They may also take it personally when another child breaks the rules.  Of course, they also don’t recognize their own rule-breaking behavior.  Children will also tattle to get attention from adults, or to get back at other children.  Some children will also use tattling as a way to control others.  “If you don’t play the game the way I want, I’m going to tell the teacher.”

We don’t want children to tattle. We DO want them to disclose issues around bullying and other types of inappropriate behavior.  Efforts to stop tattling must balance with the message that telling adults about specific situations is OK.

A conversation that needs to happen often is defining the difference between tattling and telling.  Since children are literal people, the definitions need to be concrete.  What I like to say to children is the following:

     “Tattling is something you do when you are mad at someone and want to get them into trouble.  It’s not a good thing to do.  You are tattling when you can fix the problem yourself, but go to an adult instead.
     Telling is a good thing to do.  Here is when you need to tell an adult: when someone gets hurt; when someone says inappropriate or mean things and will not stop; when someone tries to get someone to do something inappropriate; or when someone threatens someone else.  Threatening someone means telling them that you will hurt them or that you will be mean to them unless they do what you want.”

At this point, you can give some examples of situations and ask the children whether going to an adult will be tattling or telling.  Once you start this process, you will hear lots of questions about more scenarios as well.  Each time, you can ask the child whether they think the answer would be tattling or telling.  When they answer, ask them why, and check the answer to see if it meets the criteria above.  You are helping to build critical thinking skills.

Here are some other tips as well:

    If a crowd comes up to you on the playground with something to say, listen to what it is.  Even if you are sure it’s going to be a tattle, you need to show that you will give it a hearing.  Remember that other children are watching. If you are unwilling to listen, it sends a signal to others that it’s better to keep quiet no matter what. 
    If it’s a tattle, ask the child who spoke whether they think it’s tattling or telling.  Chances are they will recognize it as tattling.  Once they admit to tattling, ask how they might be able to fix the problem themselves.  Once they walk away, others will follow.
    If a child has a legitimate tell, thank them for letting you know.  Try to address the issue immediately.  Once again you are reinforcing the behavior you want to encourage.
    Be patient.  The difference between tattling and telling can be abstract for many young children.  They will need practice and consistent response from you to help them figure it out.  Even if you know they are tattling on purpose, you can view that situation as an opportunity to teach rather than an annoyance.
    If the tattling continues, try to figure out why.  First of all, is your response consistent?  Is it consistent for each child in your class or your family?  If not, you may be confusing the tattler.   Is the child upset about the rules?  If this is the case, are they written down somewhere?  Sometimes older children need to meet to determine how to use “optional rules” for a game like four-square.  Write those down as well.  Does the child consistently tattle on another child?  Maybe those two children need to sit down with an adult and work out some bad feelings.

Tattling will never disappear entirely, but over time it can diminish.  While working on reducing tattling, you can also build a culture of disclosure in your classroom and your home.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Please Check Your Phone Before Dinner Part One

This is not going to be a rant about how we all have our faces stuck in our phones.  As I said in an earlier post, I am a geek.  I love technology.  I am fascinated with things like the psychological effects of technology.  We are in the midst of a revolution in the way we communicate, produce, and manage the stuff of daily living.  These shifts in daily life will rival the changes of the Industrial Revolution.  Andrew McAfee is a professor at MIT. He points out that the Industrial Revolution multiplied our physical capacity as humans.  This Yet-to-be-named technological Revolution is multiplying our mental capacity as humans. ( TED Radio Hour Podcast, 2/28/2014 )
  I hear, "That's nice.  So what does that mean to me as a parent?"  Well, right at this moment your child might have their head stuck in some sort of device - iphone, tablet, laptop, etc.  Whatever it is, it's here to stay; and not just for gaming either.  If your child is in upper elementary school, they probably use a device to read.  They might also use it to communicate with friends.  (Just for fun, ask your child to remember the last time they talked to a friend on a land line phone.  Next ask them to remember the last time they used a cell phone or a text app for the same purpose.)  Moreover, while we all weren't paying attention, many schools have made it impossible to do schoolwork without using the internet.  Does your child still receive a paper report card?  Probably not.
  You can either throw up your hands and think, "I have no control over this so why even deal with it" or "I have no clue about any of this stuff, so I'm going to ignore it" or "This all makes me very nervous so I am going to restrict my child's access as much as I can."  I'm going to argue here that none of these approaches is going to help you, or your child live with technology mindfully.  Your children must learn that skill in order to be a successful adult.
  So how to do that?  Well, for starters you really need to know what's up with the technology.  Every once and awhile I give myself a reality check in a third grade classroom.  I'll ask, "In the last couple of weeks how many of you have helped Mom and Dad with something on the computer that they couldn't figure out?"  Most of the time 3/4 of the hands go up.  Millenials are the first generation that have known more about new technology than their parents.  "Oh, I know about computers", you say.  "I built my own.  Set up my own wifi network.  I can program."  Yep.  Can you tell me the hottest phone app right now?  Have you used Instagram at all?  Or Twitter?  Or Snapchat?  Can you get to a document in Dropbox?  The days of Microsoft Office as the most important thing are over.  Those that came of age in the last 15 years have moved on.

On the opposite end of the spectrum I might hear, "I can get to my email and I can text, but I can't really do anything else.  I don't really want to know more."  It's time to get more literate.  At the very least, you need to be able to comfortably access every tool your child needs to use for school.  Online grades, Edmodo, Khan Academy, Blackboard, Moodle, Weebly, Quizlet, Prezi; whatever they are using.  No excuses.  You need to understand what they have to do for school.  This is especially true in grades 5-8.

In the next installment, I will explain in more detail why this is important and offer some tips on using these tools mindfully.

Sign up to follow my blog, or find me on Twitter @pam327 and on FB at Pamela Mecca Seymour, LPC.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why I Love Khan Academy

I’m a bit of a geek.  Actually, I’m a total geek.  I once owned a device known as an Apple Newton - two of them as a matter of fact.  If you know what that is, you are probably laughing right now.  I am always interested in the latest technological “stuff”.

About five years ago, my son Wil told me about a website called Khan Academy.  Kids at his school were using it to help with their physics class and math classes.  At that point it was just videos.  He showed me one.  I thought it was pretty cool.  I could even understand what the guy was talking about.  My historical track record with both math and physics is not good.  I kept it in the back of my mind and started recommending it to my high school clients.  Seemed like a new way to do things.

Last year a young lady came to my office at school with a math worksheet.  She was in fourth grade at the time.  The worksheet was on subtracting mixed numbers.  She just needed some individual help to get going.  I started to show her how to do it the way I was taught.  She stopped me and said, “That’s the way my Dad does it, and it’s wrong.  My teacher does it a different way and now I’m all confused.”  Khan Academy (KA) to the rescue!  All of a sudden we had somebody explaining it “the right way.” 

While I was on the site, I noticed this time that you could do math exercises along with watching the videos.  I decided to spend time relearning math.  So I set up an account and started working.  I can tell you that’s it’s pretty cool.  When you log on for the first time, it does a quick evaluation to see where you are.  Then it presents you with appropriate exercises.  The results show your on-going level of mastery.

As someone with ADD and working memory issues, there are several things I like about the math skills module of this program.  I like the fact that you only have to answer five problems in a row correctly before you can move onto another exercise.  Every problem has instant feedback, and you can’t move to the next problem without putting in the right answer.  To find the right answer, you need to look at all the problem steps (called “hints”) one at a time.  If you don’t know how to do the problem, the hints and a video are right on the screen to help you out.  For every skill you attempt, you earn points and “badges.”  You can ignore those or use them as incentive.  So positive reinforcement is intermittent and frequent.

As a Montessorian, there are other things I also like about Khan Academy.  Yes, it’s computer based and it’s not truly didactic in the same way that the other math materials are.  It is self-correcting.  It is also tailored to the individual right off the bat, and can be further tailored to meet individual need and skill practice.  It is self-paced.  The interface is easy to use, so it promotes independent learning.  Children can explore skills that interest them as well as do those needed to meet standards. Planning a garden and need to know how to calculate area?  A child can learn that concept from scratch right here.  The program does offer extrinsic rewards in the form of points and badges. Instead of rewarding simple mastery of skills, it provides the biggest rewards for effort.  I like that.

As an educator, I like the program for the student data it provides.  Not only does the program show me which skills a child is practicing, it shows how well the child has mastered them.  Is a child struggling with a particular concept?  I can look at the answers they entered for each problem attempt and see how long it took them between attempts.  Often you can see if the child is guessing, or where they might be missing a piece of the concept.  The skills align grade level with Common Core standards, which can be handy.

Is this the only way or the best way to teach math?  No.  Technology is never going to replace the one-on-one relationship between a student and a teacher.  Is Khan Academy an important tool? Yes.  As a child who struggled with math, this tool would have made a great deal of difference for me.  It helps a lot of the children I work with.

I know that Sal Khan and Bill Gates have lately taken it in the teeth for the “corporatization” of education.  “With material online, they will be able to sell more computers.”  Yep, and with material printed in books, McGuffey sold a lot of readers.  So I’m not sure the criticism is entirely fair.  That is a whole other post.  I do hope that Khan Academy continues to be strong, adds a lot more interactive material, and is always used with mindfulness.

Monday, February 24, 2014

It's Not Just Food and Sleep.

Stressed out kids.  Seems I've been reading a lot about this lately.  (see The Epidemic of Stressed Parents Raising Stressed Kids - Huff Post )  I see it all around me at school and in private practice - anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, etc.  According to this Huff Post article, one out of five children suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder.  That’s five or six children in your child’s classroom. Maybe your child is one of them.  So you might be calling me for help.
If you do call me, you will soon learn that one of my favorite mottos about problems that kids and families face is that everything is overdetermined .  That means that there is more than one factor that causes an outcome.  Conversely, it often takes more than one intervention to change that outcome.  Stress in families is overdetermined. We talk a lot about various things kids should and shouldn’t eat.  We talk about exercise and time outside.  We talk about sleep.  We talk about reduced screen time.  (see TIME - America’s Teens Outscore Adults On Stress ) All of those things are good to consider.  However, there is not one specific thing that is going to be the “silver bullet” for reducing stress, or ADHD, or depression, or anxiety.  That being said; there are some other things I think we ought to think about adding to the mix.
  • Technology – The amount of time children and teens spend online is discussed a great deal.  I think there are other aspects to technology that need to be considered, specifically about school.  My children graduated from high school in June 2011.  At that time, a few teachers were asking for assignments to be turned in online, and some were posting assignments on websites.  In three short years, I have watched a revolution take place.  Now assignments are given and turned in online, and grades and countless other activities related to school live on the web also.  There are two stressful aspects to this revolution that I think schools have not fully considered.  One is that there are still families who don’t have the hardware needed to interface with all of these technological activities.  I am working with a young lady whose school does a great deal online.  The sole computer at her house is a 1998 iMac on a cable modem.  Some sites will not even load reliably on her machine.  Her parents have limited resources, and she is embarrassed to say anything to her teachers.  I also wonder what happens to children when the cable is disconnected because the bill hasn’t been paid or because there isn’t service where they live.  I think this may cause stress for more people than we think it does.  Another technological issue occurs for children who do not have technologically savvy parents.   What happens when the network goes down, a post on Edmodo is due, and neither the parent or a child have the technological know-how to fix the problem?  How many times has there been stress in your house because homework is due, and the technology is “down”?  Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE educational technology.  For many applications, it’s a wonderful thing.  I just think we need to be mindful of the consequences of relying on it, and then penalizing children when problems arise that are out of their control.
  • Common Core and Standardization – With the technological revolution we also have a curricular and pedagogical revolution happening.  Last week I met with a young man in 7th grade.  In one week in his social studies class they had covered the end of WWI and the Great Depression.  Monday and Tuesday on the first topic, and Wednesday and Thursday on the second.  This young man is pretty bright, so we always start with what he remembers and we build from there.  When I asked him what he knew about those topics, the answer I got was, “The Treaty of Versailles caused the Great Depression, so Franklin Roosevelt had to fight Hitler even though he didn’t want to.  Oh, and the stock market crashed right after the war.”  Granted he’s got ADHD and tends to miss things, but let me be clear.  The material covered 1918 and 1919, skipped to 1929 and ended at 1939.  In four days.  He had no context.  You should have seen the look on his face when he realized he was missing an entire decade in the timeline.  Like I said, he’s pretty bright, but this is not the first time he’s mixed two completely different concepts together that had been introduced in a short span of time.  I am not laying this at the feet of his teachers.  They are expected to cover certain pieces of material (standards, goals?) on a certain schedule.  As we work harder and harder in schools to cover more and more material in ever-shorter periods of time, we are confusing children.  This is not rigor.  I was a fan of Common Core when it was first introduced, but if this is going to be the result, no way.  Even more, for children that have organizational difficulties, the pace and demands of keeping up with all of this can be a hurdle too big to overcome.  Talk about stress! If your child brings home math homework in the 2nd grade and the question is - “Look at the following numbers and circle the one that is the median. 208, 246, 273, 264, 223, and 210” — could you help them?  Do you know what the median is?  (I learned when I took statistics in graduate school.  Not everyone has taken statistics.) Does the school expect you to?  If the answer to the first question is no, and the second is yes, you need to let someone know.  Parents need to be engaged in this and let the school and district know when their children have had enough.  Parents also need to start asking schools to teach specific strategies for different ways of planning work and learning material.  Finding the ways that work best for your child to study, finish homework and plan and complete projects are life skills that everyone needs to learn to keep stress under control. 
  • Stuff – This is not just materialism.  It’s about the complications that stuff adds to our lives.  I do a lot of home visits.  I see bedrooms filled with stuff.  Not just toys, but clothes, shoes, cosmetics, stuffed animals, books and all kinds of ephemera.  Stuff makes life complicated for kids.  It’s complicated to figure out what to do first.  It’s complicated to figure out what to wear.  It’s complicated to figure out where to find anything.  It’s certainly complicated to figure out how to keep it organized and neat.  It’s plain old complicated just to look at everything!  All of that causes stress.  If your child doesn’t want to part with things, why not just put the majority of it away?  It can be cycled and re-cycled back into the room.  Take the clothing pile down to what they need to wear in a week.  If something rips, gets stained, or just looks worn, replace it with something from the stash.  In my mind, a stress-free room looks, well, empty.
  • Loneliness – Think back to your childhood and your best friendships.  How did they start?  Many times they started at school, other times in the neighborhood.  Think about your earliest memories with those friends.  Did your parents always like those children? What do you remember doing with them that brought you close and can still make you smile? Chances are it was on the playground at school, or in someone’s yard, or even in someone’s house.  Most likely it was an unstructured activity without a hovering adult or maybe without an adult at all.  Maybe it was just sitting around doing nothing at all.  Now think about your own children.  Do they have the same types of activities with other children?  They probably don’t have them at school for more than 30 minutes, so don’t count on that.  Do they have them in the neighborhood?  Why not? Close relationships, the kind that grow closeness and trust, the kind where you can share secrets, the kind that build lasting bonds, do not develop at karate and ballet class.  They also don’t develop during play dates when Mom picks (or influences the choice of) the guest.  They develop through spontaneous, unstructured activities when kids can do what they want – with whom they want.  (Within reason, of course)  I talk to many children who do not have those opportunities.  They are lonely.  A child does not have to spend lots of time alone to be lonely.  A child who does spend time alone may not necessarily be lonely.  It’s not the quantity of the relationships; it’s the quality of the relationships. 

What do you see here that might be affecting your child?  How do you think you might be able to change?  I would be interested in hearing your perspective.  Leave a comment here, on my FB page at Pamela Mecca Seymour, LPC or tweet @pam327.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

This is Why Your ADHD Student Isn't Working - Part 4 of 4

"It is less painful to be told that one is lazy than that one is incapable.  In short, laziness serves as a screen to hide the child's lack of faith in himself, prohibiting him from making attempts to cope with the problems confronting him.
 - Alfred Adler[1]
 “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
Maria Montessori[2]
"One of the fundamental rules of education is 'never do for a child what he can do for himself.' And the minute that you see that in the development of the child, he is beginning to do something by himself, and (he) makes a feeble effort, which is not adequate yet, let him be inadequate; so that he learn to overcome his inadequacy. That is encouragement."
-Sophia de Vries[3]

This is the final part of the four-part series on why ADHD children stop doing school work.  This is the toughest situation and one that often takes time to reverse.  It is also the most frustrating situation for teachers and parents.  This is the situation that presents as if the child doesn’t care about the consequences for a lack of action.  This is the child who has given up.

Problem #4 – “I don’t see that there is any possibility that I will be successful because I am overwhelmed or discouraged.  I am not even going to try.”

Children who have under treated ADHD will find themselves feeling this way.   They have realized that they struggle a lot more for lower grades than their neurotypical classmates.  At this point you will hear a child say things like, “I work harder than everyone else.  They all get “A”s.  I just get “B”s and “C”s. (or “D”s) or “Everybody keeps telling me how smart I am, but even when I try I still don’t do well.  I’m really just dumb.”   Spending several years in this circumstance often leads to depression. Depression creates a vicious cycle of inactivity, poor grades, negative consequences and more depression.  These children need the adults around them to take a step back.


          Hand out one task at a time.  Sometimes doing one thing at a time can start a stalled effort.  “We are not going to worry about anything else until we get the first thing done.  What would you like to do first?”  Even if it’s something that’s easy, there should be positive reinforcement when it’s done.  “I’m glad you were able to finish that.  Did it take you as long as you thought?  Was it harder or easier than you thought?  Would you like to do another lesson/worksheet/task like this one, or would you like to do something different?  What would you like to do next?”  Eventually you will be able to hand out two tasks at a time, then three, etc.
          Switch between hard and easy.  Children who feel discouraged or overwhelmed have a low threshold of cognitive fatigue.  They need to take cognitive breaks.  Children with ADHD need to  learn how to manage this because it will likely be an issue for them for their entire lives.  Breaking difficult tasks into smaller chunks and mixing them up with short easy tasks is a good skill to learn.  This strategy may need a timer or an alarm on a watch or phone.  It will also need adult help to set up the first few times the child practices.
          Encourage any effort at all, and point out the benefits.  Lets assume the part of this child’s brain that creates a positive point of view about herself and her school life is broken.  You will need to fill in the gap.  Was the grade a 70?  Well, if it was a zero last time because it didn’t get handed in, that’s progress.  In this circumstance you need to be the positive self-talk that is missing.  Remind the child that with each effort the result will improve.  There are times I will ask a child to look at me.  I will look right into their eyes and say in a low voice in a serious tone, “I know that this is hard.  I also know that you can do this.  It may take some practice, but you are going to get it.  I will help you.”  I use this technique if the child seems to be feeling overwhelming sadness or discouragement.  When an adult says something this earnest and genuine to a child, it can have a powerful effect.  You are helping to retrain that inner voice.
          Five positive responses for every negative response.  This is my personal rule of thumb.  Negative self-talk is very strong.  It takes a strong and frequent response to begin to overcome it. 
          Resist the urge to rescue.  Yep, this is a sad kid.  You will want to help, and you need to.  But follow the cardinal rule of never doing for a child that which he can do himself.  You do not want to compound discouragement with learned helplessness.   Encourage the struggle, even if the results are not perfect. 
          Patience.  You might not see a complete turnaround to this situation in this quarter, semester, or even school year.  This situation did not develop overnight, and there’s no silver bullet for fixing it.   That means you may also have to re-adjust expectations.  This child may not make a year’s worth of academic growth this year.  They may need to do this grade twice.  It’s OK.  You didn’t cause the problem, and you aren’t expected to fix it – especially not overnight.  You are teaching someone to fish, not handing them food.  They may be hungry for awhile, but once they get the hang of it, the boat will fill up.

[1] Adler, Alfred, and Heinz Ludwig Ansbacher. The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, a Systematic Presentation in Selections from His Writings. Ed. and Annotated by Heinz L. Ansbacher and Rowena R. Ansbacher. New York: Harper Torch, 1964. Print.
[2] Montessori, M. (1995). The absorbent mind. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
[3] From a transcribed, tape recorded seminar given by Sophia de Vries on 7-16-76, in the AAISF/ATP Archives.