Summer Daze Infographics: Building Independence & Agency @ Home

Every weekend, one of my daughters wakes me up early, 5 AM early, to ask me if they can play.  And every weekend, I grumble a “yes” with my eyes shut tight.  Rarely though, do I ever fall back asleep.  Never have I told them that they can’t play.  And so this past weekend, we had a discussion about it.

“Why do you always ask me if you can play on the weekends?”

“Because we don’t wanna wake you up Mama,” says five-year-old Madison with her perfectly clear and logical voice.

Of course.  They’re being thoughtful.  They want to make sure it’s okay to get up and make noise.  Kind, but entirely too dependent on us, their parents, for direction.

In my work life, I am obsessed with learner agency.  I know that children can do so much more than we think they can.  If we get out of the way.  (As an aside, the same holds true for leadership.)  Yet, at home, my children are highly dependent on me and I worry about practicing what I preach.  I don’t want to be a compliance based parent.  Yet, I do want children who are clean, healthy and kind.  That may seem basic, but when you live in my house and fight twice per day about teethbrushing, you’d understand the clean factor.  And so as often as I think about agency at school, so do I think about it at home.

Because I am trying to develop agency and independence, I detest telling my kids what to do.  Mornings are a perfect example.  They both know the routine, and yet, they always ask what’s next.  Teeth?  Hair?  Shoes?  Breakfast? Packed lunch?  I have taken to posing the question back rather than telling them.  Still no independence.  Last week over breakfast, I asked Madison her plan and she told me what she was going to do and in what order she’d like to do it.  Then she proceeded to walk around the house with her toothbrush for 20 minutes before I eventually inquired about what she had to do.  10 minutes later, she brushed her teeth.  Argh!

I have toyed with the idea of a daily menu or checklist, yet, I’ve not had time to create it.  Then, it struck me.  An infographic for the summer.  With daily and weekly expectations.  And so tonight, we sat down and designed one.  I had some basic ideas of what should go on it, but I wanted to see what Madison decided.  Interestingly, she chose many of the things I would have picked.  Healthy food, journaling, reading.  

“The days are long but the years are short.”
–Gretchen Rubin

I am very pleased to present Madison’s Summer Days, an infographic we designed and created together, which will serve as her daily and weekly checklist.  Summer weeks can fly by and a bit of haplessness is great, but I find my kids do much better with a flexible routine.  My goal with this inforgraphic is to allow them to develop independence and ownership of what needs to happen, in addition to allowing room for voice and choice.  It’s an experiment that I hope works; I’ll report along the way.  In the meantime, feel free to download a PDF here or use Piktochart to create your own.  Good luck as we head into the Summer Daze of parenting. 

Madison Summer Days

Leave Unstructured Play Unstructured, Please

Some Rights Reserved by plasticrevolver


In a conversation about homework and unstructured play, we find an assumption that unstructured play happens outdoors.

  • What about children who live in apartments?
  • Should homework be used as a babysitter?


Unstructured play = imagination.  You can play for hours in a small corner.  My girls play for hours inside.  And outside.  With a myriad of tools or none at all.  Their greatest tool – imagination.

  • Should we provide examples of unstructured play?
  • Do we show parents how to do it?


As soon as we start providing examples, it is no longer unstructured.

While I understand the need for education and examples, I do feel we need to be very careful that we don’t create formulas that can be copied.  The beauty of unstructured play is freedom and choice.  Rather than provide examples, let’s provide the ingredients necessary for unstructured play to happen.

imagination + freedom + choice + inspiration (in the form of a rock, toy, shell, spoon, etc) = unstructured play

After this, let’s just let them play.  It is exhausting work, and when left alone, children can and will do it for hours and hours.  My greatest joy as a parent are the occasional moments when I overhear their play.  It’s inspiring.  And it can happen anywhere.  As long as we stay out of it and let them dream!

What are we really saying?

Each week since before Mia was born, I’ve received a BabyCenter tip of the week.  These are great little insights that arrive at just the right time.  This week, I got the below message about body language:

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 9.36.39 PM

It’s so true.  Often, I’ll say something while I am distracted and then wonder why my girls don’t listen, until I remember to practice being present.

These same truths about body language apply to leadership.  My most recent mentor is a counselor and she would often speak to us about how body language speaks more volumes than any words we use.

If our body language tells the truth, it’s probably best that our words do as well. Otherwise, we risk sending mixed messages and causing confusion, be it in parenting, relationships or professional situations.


Fair Isn’t Equal

After finishing my MFA thesis, I recently started a new poetry project.  Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of advice giving.  About how telling people things isn’t the most effective means of communication, and yet, there is so much to tell.  As a parent, particularly, I know that my children will resist advice and long lectures.  And so I started writing a book of poems for Mia.  Poems of experience, poems of advice, poems that I will give to her as she nears adolescence.

I’ve been working on the project for about a month, and it is a project definitely intended for Mia.  This has bothered me and I have wondered why this project is so intensely Mia.  Perhaps, I think, I will be inspired to write something like this for Madison when she is five.  And yet, I know this isn’t true.  As I write the poems, I am writing for Mia.  If I start thinking about Madison, the context changes entirely.

Even though I know my girls are completely different with varying needs, it has bothered me that the poems are for Mia.  I have been holding on to an antiquated idea that to be fair, things have to be the same.

Cupcake for MadA couple of weekends ago, Mia and I spent a wonderful afternoon painting in water colors.  The last painting I created was for Madison…a cheeky cupcake running away with a present.  Immediately, I was inspired to write a different set of more playful poems for Madison using paintings as illustrations.

I have long known that fair does not mean equal.  Yet, until that weekend, I didn’t understand the entirety of this statement.  The narrative poems for Mia are suited to her.  I know who she is and what she needs in the same way that I know Madison will respond to the playful narrative.  Knowing my children deeply means responding to them in different contexts, and though this sometimes feels unfair, ultimately, I have to give them what they need.

The same rings true in schools.  When we talk about assessment, which is a huge focus of conversation these days, we should also keep in mind that fair isn’t equal.  This is why we need choice.  Feedback.  Assessment to standards, which really means multiple means of reaching standards.

Some may read the above to mean differentiating assessment to decrease rigor.  This is not my intent.  I simply mean that there are multiple ways of reaching a standard and choice-based assessments create deeper engagement and ownership, and ultimately, greater fairness.

Fair is not equal because we all have different needs.  Rather than focus on what others have or don’t have, we should give space for each other to receive what we need.  I may spend more or less time with one child, one team or one student, but I will always be focused on what each individual needs.  That’s what’s fair!

My Brilliant Five-Year-Old

Last week, as I walked in the door from work, Mia greeted me by bouncing around me, waving the below picture in my face, and shrieking, “What’s the right answer?”

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 1.34.08 PM

Completely lost, I paused to have a look.  Mia kept up a running dialogue.  “Choose the correct picture.  Guess the main idea?  What picture tells the story?”

“I can’t choose because I don’t know the story.”

“Oh?  Just a minute.”  With that, Mia ran off and wrote the sentences around the picture.  Then, she asked again.

The sentence reads: “One day a little girl played in the garden.”  The answer can be chosen from the following: A girl kicking a ball, a butterfly flying, turning on the light or a flower growing.

I love her brilliance and her new found resilience.  From what I can decode, they must be learning main idea in her kindergarten class by reading a story and selecting the picture that best tells the story.  No big deal.  But, I’m pretty sure the students themselves aren’t supposed to be writing the story, drawing the pictures and quizzing their parents on the main idea.

Parenting is taking delight in the little surprises each day.  With Mia, I am constantly astounded at her enthusiasm and her creativity.  And I am definitely a proud mama because this makes me think she’s the most brilliant five-year-old around.  At the very least, I’m glad she finds so much joy in school that she’s inspired to do it all again at home.  That’s learning!

Deletion or Transformation? Problem-Solving by a Five-Year-Old

Every morning, my daughter Mia draws in my office before school.  This has been our routine for three years, and this year, our routine has been disrupted slightly by my youngest, a whirlwind of a person, who began school and therefore joined our morning routine.

Where Madison is easygoing, Mia is a perfectionist, and so often, when frustrated, Mia will crumple her paper and quit her drawing.  As a mother and an educator, this is not okay, and so I have been working with her on building resilience and dealing with frustration appropriately.  Thus, I am delighted by the following anecdote.

Mia was drawing a family portrait.  Madison was chatting away and I was working, not paying much attention to their conversation.  Once Mia had finished her drawing, she came to show it to me, proudly stating, “Look Mama, I drew a picture of us, but Madison was mean to me, so I turned her into an apple.”


IMG_0775It turns out, Madison had been unkind while Mia was drawing.  A couple of months ago, true to her perfectionist nature, Mia would have gotten visibly upset, perhaps quitting the drawing or crumpling the paper.  However, this week, she simply carried on drawing, changing her plan and working at it calmly.

Despite the fact that she had no issue calmly erasing Madison from the scene and turning her into an apple, I am thrilled at her progress.  This apple represents resilience, critical thinking and problem-solving.  That’s one great apple!

Please “Drop the Worry Ball”

My friend Sarah Marslender recommended I read Drop the Worry Ball, which has turned out to be one of my best reads of 2014. Originally, I set off reading it as a parent, but I quickly realized that this is a must read for all educators.

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 1.59.35 PMThe subtitle of the book tells a pretty good summary: How to Parent in the Age of Entitlement. However, this is not a book about spoiled children. It is not a book about helicopter parents. It is a book about the effects of over parenting and rise of two types of children, the anxious teens and the disengaged ones.

As a parent and an educator, I wholeheartedly recommend this book for anyone involved with children. It will change how we view one another, how we judge one another and how we work with one another.

A few of my favorite tidbits from the book:

  • “err on the side of benign neglect”
  • “teachers and parents are playing hot potato with the worry ball” but what are the children doing?
  • “watch, wait and wonder (as opposed to respond, manage and control)”
  • “so remember, when she screws up, and something painful is happening, she’s about to learn”

Essentially, in the last decade, our societies have become consumed with an over parenting culture that is detrimental to our children. Schools have also bought in, often expecting parents to “fix” a child’s behavior from afar. As a parent myself, I realize how impossible this is.

The best thing for our children and our students is for us, the adults, to “drop the worry ball” and let our children pick it up. Hopefully, they’ll fail early on, when the stakes aren’t too high. And if they don’t, eventually, they’ll have to live with the failure.

Well-written, engaging, humorous and honest, Drop the Worry Ball is a must read. Enjoy!

Rooted in Reality

Though I am not posting this until today, I actually wrote this post a couple of months ago. In finishing my thesis for my MFA in poetry, I have unfortunately neglected my blog, but I am now coming back to it, at least once per week.

August 31, 2014

Some Rights Reserved by Celeste

Last week, as a faculty, we developed Norms of Collaboration. As part of the exercise, we looked at Adaptive Schools Seven Norms of Collaboration and PLC Collective Commitments. The exercise was positive and we used a collaborative summary and priority stickers to whittle down our collective lists. As I was typing up the final norms for the group, I noticed that “rooted in reality” was one of the main priorities. Somehow, this phrase struck me as less than positive, not quite fitting with the other priorities such as respect, keeping a positive attitude and being engaged. I wondered, what does “rooted in reality mean?”

As it was the weekend, I engaged in a really productive virtual dialogue with the group reporter and found that they had meant…Yet, I wondered if that was the collective understanding of the entire group who had tagged it as a priority.

Last week, we also discussed an excerpt about expectations from Robyn Jackson’s Never Work Harder Than Your Students. She discusses the Pygmalion Effect and notes that it is not our “dogged belief in our students….” In our context, I noted that if we say, “they can’t,” we are really saying “I can’t.” We are saying “I don’t have the skills and strategies to help this child,” and if that is the case, we need to engage in collaborative inquiry together and find the strategies.

I have spent the weekend thinking about the phrase. I hope that to some it doesn’t mean there are students we can’t help, who can’t succeed. I’m all for being “rooted in reality” as a means to understand the present. But I want to do more than remain rooted.

Let me highlight my thoughts with a parenting example. I have spent the weekend rooted in the reality of my stubborn two year old who is learning how to listen well.  Additionally, both my girls are in a bickering phase that is somewhat new and completely grating. This weekend has been particularly challenging, and my patience has worn thin on numerous occasions. I’ve engaged in lots of deep breaths, positive self-talk, exercise and journaling. I’ve been compassionate in my discipline and modeled positive behavior. Yet, I’m still frustrated.

Despite everything I’ve read about toddler behavior and sibling rivalry, I’m experiencing the same issues again and again. That is my reality. It’s important that I recognize it, so I can move forward because I do believe we can learn how to get along, practice kindness, listen without losing ourselves and all the other goals I have for my girls. Yet, I also have to recognize that I need more strategies and support. Thus, remaining rooted in reality is not helpful. Recognizing reality is necessary so that we can become un-rooted.

Present reality does not have to become future reality. That is entirely up to us, and we have to believe, whether as parents or educators, in our own abilities to help our children learn and grow past challenges. Rather than remain rooted, I challenge us to imagine the possibilities and then think up solutions. As I used to say to my students:

Remember to always float on the aura of positive energy.

We must remain positive in our belief that all children can learn and want to be successful.


My Morning Working
My Morning Working

You may have noticed my absence of late. I’ve been writing…just not to my blog as I’ve just finished major revisions on my MFA Thesis in Poetry.  I’ve submitted my first round of revisions, so I’m back.  Much of my Spring Break last week was spent on the revisions, and I relished in days spent writing.

However, I also spent lovely days with my daughters. We went swimming, took long walks, lunched and brunched with friends, spent mornings and afternoons at the playground, had dinner out, went shopping and had an all around fun, event filled week. Mia even had her first sleepover when her friend Claire spent the night, and she met another friend out for a movie.

Yet, yesterday, when asked in her KGI class what she did over the break, Mia answered, “I stayed home and played with my sister while my mommy worked in her bedroom.”


MimadOn one morning, I holed up in my room to work on my poems. It was also the day I took them swimming and took Mia on a movie date later that afternoon. Yet, that is what she remembers – mommy working in her bedroom.

I’m wowed.

I’m humbled.

I’m reminded again that what others think is totally beyond my control.

At least Mia seemed happy about her story. Perhaps, she remembered it because it was the least normal part to the week. I can only laugh at the irony and remind myself to be graceful in my acceptance of her perspective, for, be it at work or home, regardless of my intention, I cannot control what others think.  And that’s okay…


I am not a runner, but I run.
I am not a public speaker, but I speak publicly.
I am not a natural nurturer, but I nurture naturally.

I am a poet, yet these days, I write mostly nonfiction.
I am a reader, yet these days, I read far too little.
I am a natural at yoga, yet these days, I’m far too inflexible.

I am not a cyclist, but I spin.
I am not a ballerina, but I dance ballet.
I am not techy, but I am a tech fanatic.

I am an introvert, yet these days, I’m with others constantly.
I crave solitude but I also crave friendship.

I am not a runner, yet
I have found joy in running
while listening to podcasts
that inspire ideas for writing
and mothering
and innovating.

I am not a runner, but I run.