Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Daddy, Can You Fix It?

Image Source: Here

I recently flew with my daughter on a solo flight to El Paso, TX to visit my paternal grandfather for his 80th birthday. It was a wonderful trip where we met up with my parents, who had made the long drive to be there as well. This trip had many learning opportunities for me, but the one I'd like to focus on involved a souvenir my daughter received from my mom that didn't last nearly as long as it should have.

While in El Paso, we visited a store called The El Paso Saddle Blanket Company, which if you are ever remotely near El Paso is worth a visit. This place has a little bit of everything, including beautifully beaded jewelry. My mom decided she wanted to buy my 3 year old a necklace and my daughter was very excited to have the present, so much so that she then wore it for the rest of the trip.

Skip ahead a few weeks and we are back home and my daughter is still loving the necklace and keeps telling us it was a present from grandma. However, due to her "extreme" love for the necklace, my daughter decided to try and wear it as a belt and while sliding in over her shoulders the beaded necklace shattered. Then the tears began. "Daddy," she pleaded, "can you fix it?" And like a dagger the words hit me because I knew that beadwork wasn't one of my talents. I'm not sure who was more crushed, my daughter because her beautiful beaded necklace was destroyed, or me because my little girl mistakenly thought I could fix it.

Just then it hit me, I may not have the skills needed to fix this shattered memory, but I did know someone who could, a mother of one of my students. I got in touch with her as soon as possible and explained the situation and she agreed to take a look, while informing me she could make no promises. After looking over the wreckage, she agreed to fix the necklace, but let me know it would look different since she had no idea what the original design was like. My main request was that it be made of a stretchy string.

I had no way of fixing the necklace, but I knew someone who could and was able to get in contact with them. As parents, we don't know all the answers, and we don't have to as long as we know where to find them. We need to make sure we have trusted confidants with whom we can go in times of need and struggle. By have a group of friends or family members who can help us, we become even better parents and our children do nothing more than benefit from the influence of others. We shouldn't be embarrassed or afraid that we don't know all the answers, unless we aren't willing to look for them.

What happened with the necklace? This parent came through and delivered not only one, but two beautiful necklaces that are very much 3 year old proof with stretchy string and all!

Cross Posted at

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Creating Headlines and Capturing the Essence of Our Family Vacation

Family Vacation HeadlinesGood newspaper headlines capture the essence of an event or story. Great headlines draw a reader in and make him want to read more. While headlines don't share everything in a story, good ones express the most important aspects of a plot. Often, the best headlines not only inform readers, but also entertain them.

One of my favorite thinking routines for helping students' capture the heart of what they are reading is Headlines. This routine asks students to write newspaper-type headlines to summarize and express the crux of the matter at hand. We use this routine often in my 6th grade reading class, and I have found it a useful tool to help me formatively assess my students' understanding.

In my class students create original headlines after each chapter they read in a text. We sometimes share these aloud in class. Often, we ask the writer the follow-up question: What makes you say that?" Occasionally, I ask students to write a headline for the days' learning as their "ticket out the door." We've also used the routine as a way for small groups to report to the class on the core their group's discussion. It's a useful tool, and I recommend you give it a try to make your students' thinking visible. Students need practice summarizing and identifying main ideas, and headlines are a good way to practice.

My school has eagerly embraced the Project Zero thinking routines, and my sons' teachers use this routine in their classrooms, also. Creating headlines has spilled over from school into our home as well, and I love to hear my children ask each other for a headline after a family outing or event.

We are on spring break this week and have traveled to Copper Mountain to ski. At the end of the day Monday, as we were riding back from the slopes, my second grader Andrew chimed in with his "headline" for the day. We liked his so much that Eric, Sam, and I added ours as well. I shared them on Facebook as a way of keeping friends and family updated on our trip. The headlines really do capture the heart of our family vacation. So, we added our girls' headlines and continued writing them at the end of each day. Here they are so far:

Monday, March 11
  • Philip: Where's the Ibuprofen?
  • Eric: Up Down Turns
  • Sam: First Day - A Success I Say
  • Andrew: Cold Cold Colorado
Tuesday, March 12
  • Philip: No Longer 25
  • Debbie: Not As Bad As Yesterday
  • Eric: The Journey to the Top Continues
  • Sam: Family Fun Skiing 'Till the Day Is Done
  • Andrew: The Fast and the Furious
  • Evelyn: Getting to Ski with Dada
Wednesday, March 13
  • Philip: How Did They Grow Up So Fast?
  • Debbie: She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain
  • Eric: The World of Turns
  • Sam: Bittersweet
  • Andrew: Tree Trouble
  • Evelyn: Skiing Is Fun
Do you think you have a good idea of what our trip has been like? How might you use this with your family or your children? I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences about writing headlines as a method for capturing the heart of an event, idea, or concept.

"Creating Headlines and Capturing the Essence of Our Family Vacation" originally appeared at

Thursday, March 7, 2013

On Being One of the Extrinsic Rewards

extrinsic rewardsMost schools are full of extrinsic rewards. Teachers and principals use rewards and punishments to encourage students to do what we want them to do. It's been this way for a long time. It's the way my teachers tried to motivate me, and it's how I originally learned to "manage" my students. Yet, as I've continued learning as a teacher and dad, I've started to reconsider extrinsic rewards.
I'm not much on extrinsic motivation any more. I've read Dan Pink's Drive, and it resonated with me. I've also become a fan of Alfie KohnJoe Bower, and Chris Wejr. I firmly believe internal drive is the best motivation and one should do the right thing because it's what he knows is right--NOT because there's a carrot dangling at the end of the stick. I want my students to try because they want to improve and because they feel empowered to learn. I want my own children to have that drive, too, and so I've tried to reinvent the ways I motivate and encourage kids. (I admit I often revert to rewards and punishments when I become reactionary, but I'm working on it.)
I'm a 6th grade reading teacher in an elementary school that long ago fully embraced the Accelerated Reader program. We are all about AR at my school. Last year was my first year in an elementary school. It was my first time to really experience the madness that is AR at PDS. It's over the top. We have all kinds of rewards and many levels of achievement where students receive prizes. The whole thing culminates in an enormous AR auction at the end of the year, and if I gave details of the event you'd claim they were hyperbole.
I understand and appreciate what we are trying to do with AR. We want our boys to read. We want then to read often, and we want them to read well. We hope to develop life long readers, and yes, we have many boys that are amazing readers. And yet, the AR system of extrinsic rewards makes me uncomfortable. I just don't like it.
My son Sam is a 5th grader at my school, and he is an avid reader. He's always got his nose in a book. He gets that from his mother. Sam reads because he loves it. He's a sucker for a good story and enjoys talking about what he reads. I don't doubt his motives for reading, but he also gets pretty excited talking about his AR points, too. I worry that when the extrinsic rewards of AR are gone Sam's enthusiasm for reading will also wane. I hope I'm wrong, but I still worry.
Yesterday, teachers passed out AR prizes. Sam had read enough books to win a certificate allowing him to go out to lunch with the teacher of his choice. He could not wait to tell me about it when he arrived in my room after school, and I did my best to look happy as he reported his winnings. Then, with a big smile he showed me his certificate and said, "And look, Dad, I get to go out to lunch with any teacher of my choice. Guess who I choose?"
I looked back at him baffled.
"You!" he said.
I'm still not a huge fan of extrinsic rewards especially in regards to reading. I'm still pretty certain extrinsic rewards are not in kids' best interests, but for the moment--at least for today-- as a dad, I'm okay with being one.
This post was originally shared on

Monday, March 4, 2013

Daddy, Come Play with Me!

Come play with me Daddy!
"Daddy, come play with me" is a phrase I hear all the time and I love it! I have a 3 year old daughter who is so sweet and loving and yet, I don't always give her the time and attention she deserves because I have "obligations" that must be fulfilled. Now, there are certainly things I do that must be done like going to school, work, or religious duties, but there are also a number of other things I let get in the way of that valuable time with my daughter.

How many times do I come home to an anxious daughter, she literally runs to the door everyday to unlock it so I can come in, only to allow technology or work get in the way? I have found that she is only excited for the first 5-10 minutes and then she loses interest if I'm not able to devout some time to her. It is incredibly sad how frequently I let those crucial moments pass with without playing and enjoying her sweet kindness and love.

How frequently do we allow ourselves the opportunity to "play" with our students at recess? Are we too "busy" to go out and play? Now, I recognize that we can't always go outside and play at recess because as teachers, we legitimately have to use that recess time to prepare for lessons, talk with a colleague, or heaven forbid we need to use the restroom during the day! The question though, do we really need to do those things every recess break?

I am in my 5th year as a classroom teacher and I am embarrassed how infrequently I allow myself to play while at recess! I go out for my recess duty rotation as needed, one time you shouldn't play, but actually be vigilant for safety and concerns of the students, but do I go out and play? Not really and that bothers me. In my first year teaching, I went out to play at least once per week. Once a week! I haven't been outside to play at all this year, we are in March just in case you forgot. We are ⅔ of the way through our school year and I have yet to go out and play. I need to change that ASAP!

I think one of the best thing we can do as teachers is go out and play with our students. Show them we are not just there to teach them academics, but also how to have fun. We should spend time running and playing to show them physical exercise is good for us all, especially as adults! I am going to set a goal of returning to my once a week recess play time with my students for the remainder of the school year so they can see how much fun I really am!

Even more important than the play time at school, is the play time at home with my kids. I think the best thing to do in this case is to make sure when I walk in my lovingly unlocked front door that I am ready to give my sweetheart daughter a couple of my first moments home so she can see how much Daddy loves her!

"Come play with me Daddy" needs to be a phrase I continue to hear for many, many years from this little girl and the only way to make sure that happens is to actually do just that. Drop the work, the electronics, everything and just spend some time playing with my little girl!

Cross posted on

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Accidental Parenting and Accidental Teaching

The first 9 months of raising twin girls has been some of the most challenging and rewarding moments of my life. During these months, my wife and I have been such learners as we try to figure out what works for our girls. We have read a number of books and talked to many people about strategies, philosophies and ideas that will help us as parents. One book that has stuck out and provided us with tons of great ideas (and much more sleep) is The Baby Whisperer by the late Tracy Hogg. Her philosophy aligns well with ours (we are not the 'cry-it-out, Ferberizing' style of parents) as we try to listen to what our children are telling us - why are they crying? What cues can we look for? What is that facial expression or body language tell us? It is truly amazing what happens when you actually understand what your kids are telling you!

One of the ideas that Hogg writes about is what she calls "Accidental Parenting" and describes it as:
Start as you mean to go on. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment parents sometimes do anything to make their baby stop crying or to get the toddler to calm down. Often the "anything" turns into a bad habit that they later have to break - and that's accidental parenting".

Hogg goes on to give a number of examples such as taking your baby for a drive to get him/her to sleep. She explains that this WILL work... but unfortunately it will teach the child that he/she needs motion to fall asleep and will struggle to fall asleep on his/her own. Another one is when an infant wakes up in the middle of the night and parents put the child back to sleep with a bottle. Again, this works but teaches the child that he/she needs a bottle to go back to sleep.

At times, having twins has placed us in survival mode and we have had to resort to types of accidental parenting at times and although it has worked short term, it has definitely caused problems in the following days.

As my wife and I were doing our best to avoid accidental parenting, I could not help but see the obvious link to what we do in schools. How many strategies do we use that work in the short term but accidentally cause problems later on?

Here are some examples of "accidental teaching" that I have used in my career as an educator:

  • Rewards, bribes, prizes - if you do this (or do as I say), you will get this shiny prize. Kids figured out very quickly that it was all about the prize and not so much about the task.

  • Yelling - I yelled at kids and then they became quiet. Guess what happened after this... they knew that they could be loud UNTIL I yelled!

  • Punishments - I used my power as an educator to give consequences strictly on my terms... because I could. I was not concerned for the reasons for the behaviour but more about the statement I needed to make. Kids learned to just misbehave when I was not looking and avoid getting caught.

  • Worksheets - kids were quiet and seemed content to do endless worksheets and busy work. If the goal was busyness and silence, then this would have been a great success - unfortunately, the goal was learning so I kind of missed the boat.

  • Focus on grades - if you do this, you will get a good grade. Students crammed, copied homework, memorized... and forgot to learn.

  • Focus on the result - as a young coach, it was all about the score. When my players faced a tough opponent or were in a big game, they crumbled because they were focused on the scoreboard. Once we began to focus on process rather than result... we, ironically, started to do better on the scoreboard.

  • Awards - I have given awards and been part of a number of selection committees. When the focus of players and students moved to the award rather than the process, I realized we had a problem.

In our current system with large class size and challenging class composition issues, teachers often see no other option than to resort to rewards, punishments and other forms of accidental teaching. I continue to catch myself in a stressful situation resorting to actions that do not align with my philosophies. The key for me is that I am catching myself and reflecting upon my actions. I still have a long way to go as I continue to make errors in judgment but I do see myself continuing to grow as an educator and parent; each year I gain tools in my toolbox that help me deal with stressful situations much differently more effectively.

As stated, I realize that parenting and teaching are often very stressful and majority of decisions are done with the best intentions. I encourage you, as parents and educators, to reflect upon the decisions we make with our kids. Are we parenting and teaching for the long term or are we teaching some lessons by accident to help us get through the day?

Originally posted at "The Wejr Board" blog.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rethinking the Little Mermaid

Dear Brenna,

I watched The Little Mermaid a few weeks ago. I understand Ariel's curiosity. I get the sense of sacrifice that goes with love. I know that the infatuation looked a lot like love. But it wasn't. She sacrificed everything for someone she didn't know and he sacrificed nothing in the process.

When you get older and watch the movie, I want to know the original story, where the little mermaid evaporates into foam.  There are powerful people out there who will woo you with the promise that you'll be part of their world; be it a handsome prince or a high-paying job or the accolades of a top-tier college.

I don't want you to lose yourself. I don't want you to evaporate.

 You should never have to change your identity to meet the dreams of a man. No relationship, no promise, no plot line in a fairy tale story is ever worth giving up your voice. Be curious. Be bold. But cling to your voice with your whole being, Brenna.

Love, Dad

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On Courage

Dear Joel,

You would have been brave if you had smashed that kids face into the ground.  And you would have been justified, too.  Bullying is never okay and the victim is never at fault.  But you didn't choose bravery.  You chose courage instead.  You boldly dealt with it with humility and grace.  You talked to me about how it felt.  You talked to your teacher about why it was wrong.  Then you moved a step further and chose forgiveness and you proved, at a young age, that love is the most courageous route possible.  Thank you for the reminder about what matters.