Flipping the Why

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In every area of my life, I am bombarded with “Why?”

My five-year old loves to ask why and then say no.  My two-year old loves to ask why, over and over and over again.  She doesn’t listen  for an answer, but simply asks why again.

  • Why is Puff (the dragon) sad?

  • Why is Mia grumpy?

  • Why is the baby sad?

  • Why, why, why…?

At school, students want to know why.  And teachers.  And that’s great because asking why demonstrates critical thought.  It demonstrates a lack of blind compliance.  It demonstrates autonomy.  And that is what I want of my children, of my students and of my colleagues.

And yet, I am exhausted.  Sometimes, I don’t want to have to answer why for every single detail.  Sometimes, I don’t want to have to explain, especially when the information is readily available.  Sometimes, I want blind trust and faith.

As a poet and an English teacher, I have spent my life teaching “show don’t tell.”  And yet, I find myself in a lot of telling situations.  And we all know, when someone “tells” others don’t listen.

So, I am flipping the why.  I am no longer telling.  I am asking.

  • Why do you think you can’t do that?

  • Why is Puff sad?

  • Why do we need to…?

  • Why?

Last Thursday, I had to keep a lot of our students out of an area in which they wanted to go.  And when each of them asked why, I asked why back.  And they answered. Because when they reach within, they know why – we all do.  We had great conversations; my why generated connection and it built relationships.  Plus, I had a lot more fun and a lot more company than if I had stood there and told each student why individually.

I urge all educators to flip the why.  Involve the questioners and help them to find their own answers.  Ask them to “show” you why.  It leads to greater acceptance and less questions later.  It supports 21st Century Skills.  And it builds positive relationships.  So rather than answer why, ask why.

And Madison can tell me why Puff is sad…even if she does forget again five minutes later.

Is It Ever Okay?

In looking at the above clip, at the behavior of Ortiz in this baseball game, and I wonder, is it ever okay to behave in this fashion?  In anger?  In the heat of the moment?  Is it okay to lose control?  Is winning worth more than character?  What is the cost, not only to the individual, but to the team, the spectators, those watching on television?  What are we saying when we behave in this way?

Recently, I listened to a morning show on gratitude hosted by Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino and the conversation turned to sportsmanship, Little League and what we model for our children.  Sadly, many parents behave in anger and outrage even at Little League games, so is it any wonder things like this happen at Red Sox games?

Apology or not, of which there wasn’t (only some sad justification), I don’t see how it’s worth it.  I’m married to an athlete and a coach, so I know the stakes are high in sports. And I know emotions run high.

Still, we’ve got to get past anger and learn how to model a better form of disappointment. Because essentially, this great man, this nationally recognized star, was disappointed because he struck out.  And rather than accept blame or fault, he blamed the umpire, threw a temper tantrum and then ranted on about how it was justified.

How on earth does this contribute to a positive, well-functioning society?  We adults must recognize our own flaws and emotions, and then decide how we want to portray ourselves because we are all role-models and no one deserves to see this.  And even if the umpire was wrong, isn’t there a better way to solve the problem?

So if it isn’t right in public, is it okay in private?  Is it ever okay to get this angry?  To break things?  To yell and scream?  How do we get past anger and operate from a place of love and gratitude?  In all that we do?  No matter how much it tries our patience?  Or our pride?

It’s Not a Fight!

Screen Shot 2012-12-10 at 6.29.32 PMThis week has felt like war.      Everywhere I turn, there is conflict and I am tasked with seeking a workable solution.

In the midst of it all, I turn to the weekly #edchat, only to be confronted with blame and insults as comments come rolling in about “weak and spineless admin” who apparently are not in it for kids.  Truly disappointing to be a part of a group of educators who want reform by blame.  And to be fair, there were lots of people who didn’t agree with such comments.  Here’s the thing:

It’s not a fight!

We are all in this for kids. Parents, teachers, students, coaches, counselors, admin – EVERYONE!  No one wakes up in the morning with anything but the wish for their children/students to succeed.  So, then why so much difference of opinion?

I think we have to start asking ourselves some hard questions:

  • Do our practices (as parents and teachers) support learning?
  • What is best for kids (not easiest)?
  • Are we allowing for failure?
  • How are we developing resilience and problem-solving skills in our kids?

If we start to attend to the above, rather than worry about right/wrong, I think we’ll go a lot farther down the path of student success and happiness for all!

The Sound of Home

Inevitably, if I am driving with my daughter Mia with the radio turned low, and the Call to Prayer sounds, she will chime in with urgency, “I cannot hear!”  I then turn the radio up full blast and we drive to the beauty of “Allah Akbar” sounding to its distinct music.

If we happen to be near home, the sound of the radio meets the reverberations of the many mosques around, so we will roll down the windows to hear the Imans’ voices meet in their crescendo, sometimes in complete unison, while at other times their voices echo off one another.

Hearing the Call to Prayer through my daughter’s eyes has allowed me to hear its beauty.  It is magnificent, even without knowing the words.

Interestingly, the Call to Prayer is the sound expats complain about the most, particularly the early morning call.  And so my Mia’s love of the music gives me pause.  Mia, who is almost five, is British and American, but her entire world is Kuwait.  She was born here, her friends are here and her Call to Prayer is here.  In fact, the other day, out of nowhere, she told me that she didn’t want to leave Kuwait ever.

And so I am witness to the third-culture phenomena, and that’s okay.  When our worlds merge, we can begin to appreciate so much more.  For me, one of my favorite early morning activities now, is to rise before the Call to Prayer, head to my writing room on the roof, and listen to the day begin as the sounds of a hundred mosques echo around me.  That is the beginning of a beautiful day…

Feel the Fear…and then what?

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I have never believed in fear.  Or regret.  I still don’t believe in regret; it’s a useless emotion that often leads to guilt.  That doesn’t mean I love everything I do or have done, but I find self-forgiveness works a lot better than regret.

Fear, however, is an emotion that I now know intimately and it has grown with parenthood.  It began with silly fears.  First, I was afraid I would break or bend Mia’s fingers as I put on a newborn onesie.  Then I was afraid of the windows in our 14th story apartment.  Or the traffic on the road as we walked to our car.  All fears that my rational mind could set aside with common sense.

Real fear.  That happened in 2011, days before Mia’s second birthday, when she had a feveral convulsion while I was holding her.  I’d just given her medicine, and as she started foaming at the mouth, I thought I’d poisoned her.  Our thoughts grew worse as she turned blue from lack of breath.  I will never forget Marcus screaming, “Tara, Tara she’s dying!”  I almost can’t type it.  My fingers want to go back and delete the words.  It is still too real and it has been years.

Mia is fine.  Feveral convulsions are normal.  And common.  But those hours before we knew, those moments when she wasn’t breathing and after when she didn’t recognize us, that was when fear and I became intimate companions.  That was when I finally knew that everything doesn’t always work.  Maybe that is the day I grew up.  Or at least grew out of naiveté.

I don’t know why I am writing about this now.  I just now that parenting is the one aspect in my life where physical fear for my child can replace all rational thought.  Perhaps that is love, be it love with attachment.

As an educator, I can appreciate to a much greater degree how much trust parents place in us when they send their children to school.

Learning to let go…of our kids, of our fear…that is the ultimate exercise in parenthood.

The Home/School Duality: It Really Does Exist

I didn’t know I was “one of those parents” until I became one.

Marcus and I were sitting in our first parent-teacher conference; quite ridiculous actually, seeing as Mia wasn’t yet two, but her nursery school ran twice a year conferences much like every school in which I have ever worked.  And there we were, super excited to hear all about our brilliant child.

Miss Dana, who we and Mia grew to love, but at that moment we barely knew, uttered shockwave upon shockwave as we sat there, dumbly smiling.  Even there, I kept thinking, “I won’t be one of those parents,”  through my ever-growing false smile.  You know, those parents who make excuses or explain away everything the teacher says; as teachers, we’ve all sat through those conferences where we couldn’t finish a single sentence without the parent interjecting.

“…and don’t worry that she isn’t talking yet.  It’ll come,” uttered Miss Dana reassuringly.

What?  Whoa?  Are we talking about my child?

“Excuse me, could you say that again?”

And sure enough, my chatterbox who started uttering non-stop nonsense sounds at just four months and was speaking in full sentences by sixteen-months, was apparently mute at school.

Until Miss Dana said, “Don’t worry,” we hadn’t been worried.

And it was then that I heard myself saying it; being it; one of those parents: “But she talks all of the time!”

And it was then that I really, truly got it.

“Those” parents aren’t making excuses.  Not all of the time.  Sometimes, the child is not the same.  Sometimes, the child we know as a teacher is not the child we know as a parent.  Oftentimes…  Perhaps most of the time…

Swiftly humbled, I knew that the best thing to do was listen, but I also knew that I would be listening much more closely to the parents I met with in my role as an educator.  Waves of empathy rocked me.

I don’t think you need to be a parent to be a brilliant educator.  I know scores of teachers who are brilliant and aren’t parents.  Still, I don’t think we can ever truly understand the anxiety and love of a parent until we sit in that chair and get a view from a different side of the conversation.

With regards to Mia, she’s a sideliner, an observer, an old soul.  I knew that before the conference.  I knew it even better after.  She observes and needs a lot of time to get comfortable.  If pushed, she retreats, but when allowed her space, she will soon engage fully.

IMG_3593A perfect example occurred this past May, years after the naiveté of that first conference.  Marcus and I were sitting at her first ballet recital.  Mia was by far the most timid and perhaps, the least coordinated.  Marcus was worried because she was so shy.  I knew better.

“Just wait until tomorrow,” I told him.

The next morning was her end-of-the-year class party.  I have the privilege of dropping her at school every morning, so I know how comfortable she is there.  With ballet, we started mid-year and she was still observing.  But in school, she was completely at ease.

photoSure enough, watching her on a Tuesday afternoon at ballet compared to the following Wednesday morning during the class show, was (excuse the cliché) night and day.  Mia was the life of that party.  She knew all the songs and dances and she performed with great enthusiasm, one of the most animated kids in the bunch.  In fact, she was the one they substituted in when one of the other children got stage fright.

Recently, talking to a couple of good friends who also happen to be awesome elementary teachers, I heard two great ideas meant to foster the parent-teacher relationship and help everyone understand the dual nature of children at home and school:

  1. In the first weeks of school, parents write a letter to the teacher introducing their child.
  2. On the first days of school, teachers meet individually with every parent.  The parent does most of the talking, speaking to their hopes for their child and their fears.

With both of these strategies, teachers not only get insight into the child, but also the parents and the relationships they have with their children.

As I continue to say, we are all on the same team – Team Child – and therefore we, the adults, should work to make sure we all understand one another as well!

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