Category Archives: Life Lessons

We Have Been Dangerized

Thanks to Lenore Skenazy for her poignant blog post/article in response to the near-incomprehensible Lieby Kletzky tragedy.

READ LENORE’S POST HERE

The fact is that we DO decide in a most irrational fashion what fears to pay attention to.  Sure, the media helps a lot!  And then we obsess, often to the point of unintended and unwanted consequences.

The day after they found Lieby’s body in New York City, our site had a field trip planned; we were taking a small group of 24 five-and-six-year-olds to the Zoo.

24 children with 7 adults.

Two families pulled out of the trip- too dangerous, they said (“…you heard about that kid in New York, didn’t you?”).

At least four other families expressed concern about the trip (“you’re sure you’ll be watching them?”– as if we hadn’t been all this time, but now we were kicking around the idea we should start).

I understand the parental pull to protect your kids.  I’m a parent, too.    I get it.

As a care provider, I’m also always humbled by the trust the parents place in us every day we take care of their kids.  I always strive to keep that trusting bond at the fore of my thoughts (and remind the other staff to be aware as well) as we move through our daily activities.

And, at the same time, I really get it.  I get how freaking irrational our fears can be when driven by sensationalism.  In many ways, we are still the 5-year-old kid worried about the monster from the movie that we’re sure is lurking there under our bed.

Men In Black: Violence is Just Alright With Me!

The Supreme Court has recently ruled that a California law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors is  unconstitutional (Story and commentary here).

I have to admit that the libertarian in me agrees with this decision.  Which makes the internal struggle all the more poignant.

Mainly because the libertarian in me is a purely logical, black-and-white, take-no-prisoners idealogue.

The other part of me- the parent, the educator, the one who works with kids forty hours per week- is horrified.  I would rather have my kid be able to walk into a store and buy a Playboy rather than a game that included the above scene of gristle (of course, logically, a false dichotomy, but emotionally powerful enough to make the point).

I posted my thoughts on this on my facebook page and got replies from all my smug libertarian friends about how it is the parents’ right and responsibility to choose, so, the Supreme Court, was, of course, correct in their decision.

The problem is, in twenty years of working with kids and families, I know that there is a percentage of parents who abdicate that right and responsibility.   Over the past year, I have overheard conversations of 2nd and 3rd graders talking about the carnage they create playing such games as “Call of Duty”, “Assassin’s Creed”, “Halo”, and other such games.  And while the studies around violent TV and video games’ effect on the psyches of impressionable youth come down solidly on the side of “not a good idea to let them play these”… like global warming, there’s just enough wiggle room for the other side to cry that their rights are being infringed.

While the solid empirical evidence is unclear, I suppose that what it comes down to for me is – do we want a world where kids are given scenes like the above as a “plaything”?  Are we ready to deal with the potential consequences ten years down the road?

Yes, I do understand that this is not Armageddon.

It is not the end of humanity as we know it.

But it is one small, tiny, almost subconscious step away from a world of peaceability, community, and non-violence.  We have enough violence and carnage and insensitivity in the world already.  My question is, are we ready to tolerate more for the sake of entertainment?

Giving up the Shoulds

Yes, I’ve said it again and again.  The key, not just to working with children and youth, but to life, is the art of being present.

This morning, I found out (again) just how hard that is to do in the face of “shoulds”.

You know those shoulds… children “should” act a certain way, co-workers “should” do this and not that, the daily schedule “should” be followed, parents “should” parent their kids this way (and not that)… the list goes on forever.

Fortunately today, I ran across a blog post that says it all… “Don’t Should All Over Yourself“.  Yes, the title of the blog is the “Art of Manliness”, but don’t let that put you off (if the play on words hasn’t already).  This message is for everyone.

How it came about is this: I came to work on the opening shift (6:45 a.m.) running on a touch more than four hours of sleep and two cups of French Roast.  Almost as soon as the doors were swung wide open, in walks one of our “Patience Angels” (so named because it’s a more useful framing of behavior-challenged kids: “God heard you were a patient teacher, so he sent you this patience angel to find out!”).

Almost immediately, he begins touching everything he’s not supposed to, irritating and criticizing the four or other so kids who have also arrived early, finding everything under the (7:00 a.m.) sun that there is about which to tattle, rolling over the back of the couch, sitting on furniture… well… you get the idea.

And I forgot.  I forgot to be present.  I forgot my taoist training to “observe and feel without judgement”.  I forgot to look inward and find something I could give upnothing new can be created without giving something up.

It was 4:00 p.m. before I realized that what I forgot to give up was the “shoulds”.  How this child “should” behave.  How smooth a day “should” begin.  Only by giving up those “shoulds” can I be present, look deeper, and understand the all-too-human, all-too-insecure boy before me that is seeking attention, approval, and an outlet for his naturally intense behaviors.

And by giving up these “shoulds” (even 9 hours later!), I can finally see the angel that was sent to me.

Thought Leadership

Thought Leadership (or, in the personal tense, thought leader) derives from business jargon in the mid 1990’s for leadership (primarily in corporations) that bases itself on ideas of merit.

It has since evolved to mean involving a company (or any similar group) in an integration of professional ethics with highly effective leadership development.

What better place to plant the seedling of Thought Leadership than in Out-of-school-Time?  It is that time that is (supposed to be) devoted to the youth’s path of becoming; of learning the ways of the world and interacting with and leading communities.

Even Laurie Ollhoff, formerly of Concordia University’s (St. Paul) college of Education has described Out-of-School-Time care as a miniature community, where children are not learning to become, but are actively involved in the act of becoming (as we all are, regardless of our position on the path of life).

This year, our Junior Staff Leadership Group of 4th and 5th graders will be becoming Thought Leaders.   Stay tuned to find out how this turns out!

What if we could give our kids this?

This video is 16 minutes long, but worth every second spent.

Lessons From the Super Bowl

Aaron Francisco probably isn’t a name you’re familiar with unless you are a devoted fan of the Arizona Cardinals, Brigham Young Cougars, or you grew up in his hometown of Lale, Hawaii.  He is a backup safety for the Arizona Cardinals and played admirable defense against a smashmouth Pittsburgh Steelers team.

On the final drive of the game, Aaron Francisco demonstrated two lessons for all of us who work with youth each day.  The scene was this: Pittsburgh had a 2nd down with 6 to go, and a little less than a minute remaining before time ran out on their Super Bowl dream.  Pittsburgh’s quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass under a heavy rush and flung a quick, desperation ball to the right to soon-to-be-MVP wide receiver Santonio Holmes.  Covering Holmes was none other than our man, #47, Aaron Francisco.  It was the culmination of everything either team had worked on all year… everyone had practiced their part and this was the big show.  Francisco had the pass covered!  And, then, something momentous happened.  As the ball was on it’s way to Holmes, Francsico tripped and fell to the turf.  Holmes gathered the pass in and romped 40 yards to the doorstep of the endzone.  All because Aaron Francisco lost his footing.

Here is our first lesson from Super Bowl XLIII.  No matter how hard we practice, try, or are at the top of our game, sometimes we trip and fall down.  Sometimes we falter at a critical moment when everything is on the line.  It can happen to you, it can happen to those you work with, it can happen to your supervisor.  How we react to falling down determines 0ur true character.  How we react to someone else’s falling down is the most honest gauge of our character.  Next time you really mess up, or, better yet, next time someone you work with really screws up, remember Aaron Francisco.

Back to the Super Bowl…  Two plays later, with just over 30 seconds remaining in the game, Ben Roethlisberger took a short drop and lofted the ball, again to the right, in the corner of the end zone for Santonio Holmes.  Holmes extended his arms, miraculously kept his toes planted in the corner of the field of play and pulled Roethlisberger’s pass down into his waiting arms for the winning touchdown.  Again, guarding Holmes was none other than Aaron Francisco.  However, this time Aaron Francisco hadn’t fallen down.  In fact, he played the tightest, most perfect coverage that was possible- all to no avail.  Holmes brought the ball down and Lombardi Trophy to the Steelers.Holmes beats Aaron Francisco... again.

Here is our second Super Bowl lesson.  Sometimes, no matter how perfect we are, how on top of our game we are… well, to use the polite version of the phrase… stuff happens.  You may be the greatest teacher of all time- but, guess what?  Stuff happens.  Out-of-your-control stuff.  Unavoidable stuff.  And, again, all we are left with is how we react to what happens.  What do your reactions say about how you deal with your stuff?

When things go wrong, and they will, remember Aaron Francisco.

And now a word from Dale Carnegie

Our older kids are about to embark upon a KidzLit project centering on the timeless classic by Dale Carnegie, “How To Win Friends and Influence People.”  For a group of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, I am sure this will be quite a challenge as many of the cultural references, not to mention the language of the prose itself, is quite dated. 

But as soon as I began re-reading the book, I realized why this is such an important book for not just kids, but everyone, to read (and re-read if you haven’t gone over it in a few years).  In the first section of the book, Dale Carnegie walks us through his three big ideas on getting along with other people.  He quotes a young Charles Schwab admonishing us as we walk through life to be “hearty in our approbation and lavish in our praise.”

I have to admit that of late, I have been in that crowy winter funk, and my doling-out of both approbation and praise had been on the wane, especially around the children.  So, freshly inspired by the reading, I made certain to change my ways.

First test: Cleanup Time.

For awhile now, we’ve been working on the idea of “community,” especially around the area of cleanup.  I’m happy to report that the group of kids functions on a higher plane now than it did a year ago, especially around responsibility and care for our things, as well as the actual cleaning up process.  However, it still remains an irritant to see some children not engaged in the process… and a temptation to do specifically what Carnegie says never works… to criticize.  So this morning, I purposely and forcefully took the opposite tack.  I praised.

Two of the older junior staff members (our 4th and 5th grade leadership crew) had done simply a wonderful job in the reading area, carefully insuring that all the books on the bookshelf were placed facing the correct way and that litter and other toys had been picked up from the couches.  Two of our younger charges (including one who often uses cleanup time to do, well, nothing) took great care in the play-kitchen area, putting the play food back correctly in the refrigerator and cupboards, and stacking the dishes neatly on the shelf.  As the kids came together after cleanup time, I boomed out, “all right!  So, who was responsible for the reading area this morning!?”  As soon as NO HANDS went up, I got my first clue that maybe I hadn’t been showing much appreciation recently.  The kids responsible shot furtive glances over to the reading area to see what might have been missed.  Cal said, “um, it was Travis.”  Travis immediately shot back, that, no, it was Cal who did the cleaning this morning.  At that I said “Oh… that’s good- I’ll tell the both of you then… the reading area looks outstanding!  In fact, I haven’t seen the reading area this clean and organized in a very long time… you both did an amazing job!” 

The looks on the faces of both the boys melted into… I suppose sheer happy pride is the best way to describe it.  I have a feeling that both Cal and Travis will be giving commensurate effort in the future, probably taking over the responsibility of overseeing the reading area.

I repeated the process with Sally and Candace who cleaned the play kitchen area.  Both had seen how it went with the boys, and were eager to take the credit for helping.  Again, from the looks on their faces, I have a feeling, at least for the short run, we’ll have no problems keeping the play kitchen clean.

The mood of the whole room, and might I be so bold as to suggest, the whole day, hinged and changed on those two minutes.  And I, and the rest of the staff, were reminded of the power of acknowledgement.  Thank you Charles Schwab, and thank you, Dale Carnegie for sharing your “big secret in dealing with people” so many years ago.  It’s effects continue to reverberate.