Actions Speak Louder than Words-Appreciating our Teachers

Alright, I admit it, I am burnt out.    Burnt out on spending at least nine hours every day with toddlers.  Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do but have you met a toddler? They have runny noses and they will actually run over to wipe on your pants (or shirt, hair, back…whatever is available) They need lots of physical affection and often go about accessing it in the most interesting ways (today for example a little girl put her finger in my ear!? Yep).  Also, they cry….a lot.  I’m comfortable with crying, showing emotion and even encourage it but…it is LOUD sometimes.

I’m burnt out on teaching.  Burnt out on working in a less than supportive environment.  All of the above wouldn’t matter if I was working in a situation where  I had proper support.  Staff development, meetings where we were able to discuss questions and concerns we have about particular children.  Paid time off and the ability to call in sick all would be helpful.  I wish I could say that my current center is out of the norm but unfortunately it is not.  There are far more centers like mine, with exhausted teachers out of time and money to continue professional development.  Frustrated with their lack of professional or personal fulfillment they take things out on the children.  Teachers who aren’t well supported don’t make good teachers.  They either leave the profession or they start to care less.

Luckily I am on the path to personal and professional renewal as I leave my time at this center.  What about everybody else? During this teacher appreciation week I couldn’t help but think about all of the other teachers out there.  Working moms, working students, caring people who probably should have had the pleasure of retiring years ago.   What do we really need to do to show our teachers we appreciate them? Do Starbucks cards and flowers really get the point across?  I admit this is better than nothing at least for a second we feel as if we are appreciated.  Day after day, year after year it just doesn’t cut the mustard.

In their book Professional Capital Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan argue that what we need is a fundamental change that allows for a community of educators to emerge.  This is as true in early childhood education as anywhere.  In some cases I would argue even more so.  Early childhood educators are in the unique position of laying the foundation of our children’s emotional and educational future.  Teachers don’t have the luxury of being able to just ‘phone it in’ ever.  Even if we don’t feel like it how we act and speak is constantly being absorbed by our littlest friends.

I know this question is bigger than this post.  I also know I am not alone in feeling overworked, underpaid and just plain exhausted.  As more and more children start ‘school’ before the age of one and private care/preschool programs move ahead in a largely privatized and practically unregulated manner what can we as teachers do to change the tide? What role, if any, should our society play?   What type of movement will it take to really place educators at the forefront of our country (as they do in Finland)? What are the consequences if we continue the way we are?

Thanks for reading as I vent! 🙂

Melissa

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Lost iPhone, Renewed Commitment

My husband misplaced my phone this weekend.  He was juggling a toddler, a bag full of what-toddlers-need and trying to get to an Easter party with his dad’s group.  My first reaction when I heard that it was gone was to blame, yell or ‘teach’ him how to stay more organized so this never happens again.  Never mind the fact that a few weeks earlier I put a library book on the roof and drove off, only to remember when my two-year-old asked what happened to said book.

Then, while staying silent and breathing I started to use the work I have been doing in regards to Nonviolent Communication and taking responsibility for my emotions.  There was nothing helpful I had to offer.  No way I could make it better or make him feel less upset.  What I needed to do was let him feel how he felt (this is pretty novel for me, in the past I probably would have wanted him to get over it while simultaneously growing more irritated at him for letting it happen). My job was to figure out how I was really feeling and then manage myself appropriately.

As minutes passed and I kept breathing and thinking I realized that maybe this was not the tragedy it seemed. In some ways I felt relieved.  It was a reminder that I use my phone WAY TOO MUCH, despite the fact that I don’t want my son to be over exposed to technology.  I am modeling a “one hand on the phone, one eye on the person I am speaking to” mentality that is completely opposite from what I believe in. I was sad about the loss of un-uploaded photos and video but other than that perhaps this was a time for me to reflect.  Re-prioritize.

If I had acted on my initial frustration and anger I never would have felt anything more.  Or if I did it probably would have taken hours or days to come to it and only after causing unnecessary hurt. Instead I was able to really look at why I was so upset (because “What would I DO without my phone?!” ) and what that really meant.

I have a new phone now…I am a small bit poorer for it.  I was able to save ALL of the un-uploaded photos and video! (Here’s to syncing your iPhone regularly!) With it I have a new plan for its use: While at school I will only use it when I am not with Collin.  At home I will check it every few hours or so and then put it away.  I will only respond to calls or texts, not sit around facebooking or google searching for no reason.  That’s the plan, now lets hope this lesson stays downloaded long after the memory of losing it is gone.

Cheers to a bit less technology and a lot more interaction in our lives,

Melissa

Simple Sunday-Staying Present, Moving Forward

The main goal of the ‘Simple Sunday’ post is to chronicle my journey to a more simplified, honest and intentional family life.  In all honesty sometimes this isn’t very simple at all.

In my last ‘Simple Sunday‘ post I wrote about how taking control of my own emotions and giving them a voice is beginning to lead me to a more peaceful, synchronized home life.  And it is, really and truly.  Learning about my own emotional landscape is quite a journey but one that seems to go hand in hand with parenting. I am up for the challenge. Every day uncover new and interesting things about myself or the way I respond to situations with my son or other children in my care.

All of this uncovering can come at a price though.  It is hard for me to ease up on myself sometimes.  Hard to remember that I am thinking in a new pattern.  There is a fine line balancing self-reflection with self-degradation. Sometimes things get busy or I get to stressed.  I am less than patient with Collin or I am not as organized as I should be.  As I learn to be more accepting of others around me (particularly my sweet boy and wonderful husband) I also need to work on being accepting of myself.

Part of being truly honest with yourself is accepting yourself.  We can all grow, read, and learn from each other.  Parenting done well demands this.  To stay healthy as a family I think it is important that we are always learning and growing.  Moving forward.  However we must make sure to appreciate where we stand, flaws and all.  In the here and now.  Simplicity is being truly happy without a rush to move on to something else.

To truly live a simple life there must be mistakes, allowances for real life.  Time spent giggling while in the midst of a mess. Time honestly apologizing for mistakes.  Maybe a few weeks with too many toys, disorganized still after a birthday party or Christmas gift bonanza.  Blog posts left unwritten and some books left unfinished.

As growing Mammas and Daddas what we need most is love.  For ourselves and our littles.  We need to give them the benefit of the doubt  and we need to do the same for ourselves.  Just being here, now, doing our best is simply the most wonderful part of our job.

Happy Sunday,

Melissa

Simple Sunday- The Rhythm of Family

Some weeks we’ve got it, and some weeks we don’t.  By “it” I mean a rhythm to our family life.  I don’t just mean our routine because by necessity we follow a similar routine every weekday.  Get up, make lunches, get dressed, get out the door to school (me and Collin) or work (Dadda).  Then get home, cook, eat, bath and bed.

Our rhythm is that intangible synchronicity where we are all moving together comfortably.  We are working together to keep the house clean, food on the table and laundry folded.  It is when we all feel like we are able to get what we need and give what others are asking for.

Not that we expect perfection (okay, maybe I do sometimes but I am WORKING ON IT!) It doesn’t mean we don’t have goals or issues to work through.  It means that at the end of the day we are okay with what was left undone and happy with what was accomplished. It’s the steady drum beat of family life, calm and welcoming.  When the rhythm is missing its more like an alternative band at practice, you never know if you’re about to hear a lilting ballad or an all-out screaming anthem.  In short, without our rhythm life seems more stressful and less fulfilling.

As mothers we come to learn early on that “If Mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”.  Whether we like it or not how we feel, act and participate in our family has a large effect on the family ‘vibe’.  Through my beginning study on Nonviolent Communication I have come to realize that when I am disconnected from the rhythm of my family it is because I am not getting my needs met.  In truth this is often because I have no clue what my *real* needs are.  If I am overcome by disorder in the house I don’t always recognize that, instead it may come out as frustration with my husband for not picking up enough.  If I need a break for some me time, I may instead lose my patience with Collin.

I can’t force my husband to do anything he doesn’t want to do (and really he does so, so much already) and I can’t control the fact that my two-year-old is, in fact, acting like a two-year-old.  What I do have control over is how I speak to them and if I take enough time to center myself and feel what my true needs really are.  As mammas we all will have moments when we let things go for too long without checking in with ourselves.  We need to take inventory of where our emotions are coming from in order to give ourselves back the power to control how we react to our feelings.

I know I can help our family’s rhythm to keep humming along by recognizing what is bothering me and doing something about it.  I have found it freeing to say to my self, “Self, you feel like you want more order in the house right now, how can we accomplish this? By organizing that pile of papers?” Then I can choose if I really want to organize those papers right now, put it on a list or let it go.  I can let go of trying to control others as I may have done in the past (“Babe will you puh-leeze organize those papers? and um..do it now?”)

Having space to make our own choices and recognize what we all need  helps us all work better as a team.  In the hopes of helping us all (even the littlest among us) to recognize, verbalize and learn about our feelings and needs I have posted the following two lists on our refrigerator.

 Thanks to the Center for Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication Needs List 

NVC Feelings list

I know we’ll continue to come in and out of rhythm, have good weeks and bad weeks.  Part of getting back into the rhythm is just allowing yourself to be a little off sometimes and then jumping back in.

Thanks for reading! Heres to a great week 🙂

 Melissa

Truth be told..

I have a hard time telling the truth. To my son. In my heart I want to be honest and clear with him. I want to help him to prepare for what is to come or to honestly express the emotions he is handling. When the going gets tough though I always find myself in an internal battle. The logical side of me trying to smack some sense into the emotional side.

You see my emotional side still believes that I can protect him from all hurt. Isn’t that what we really all want to do anyway? Deep down every parent would love to make their child’s life an easy ride full of excitement, fulfilled promises and friendly interactions. We all know this isn’t life though. From the very beginning our tiny ones have to deal with life. They get shots, they must sit in that god awful contraption we call a car seat and they sometimes (gasp!) even have to wait to get their needs met while their mothers use the restroom!

No matter what my convictions are or how I may act to the contrary I promise you there is always a little voice inside my head begging me to sugar-coat a sad good-bye or other such childhood disappointment. For the most part I feel I am honest but today was a big test for me as a Mamma.

Today we went for Collin’s two-year-old check up. I knew for weeks now that this meant he needed one more vaccination. I also was keenly aware that our last appointment for a nasty cough had been a less than warm visit. With these two things in mind I decided that I would be honest and clear about what would happen. However, up until the moment we walked into the office I was trying to talk myself out of actually telling him he would get a shot before he got it.

I mean really who wants to know they are getting a shot before they get it, right? The anticipation is the worst part anyway isn’t it? (This is where I almost had myself convinced) BUT….and this is a BIG BUT….we ALWAYS know that a shot it coming. Yes thinking about it can be worrisome and produce anxiety, but what if someone took you into a room (someone you trusted) and out of NOWHERE someone just poked you with a needle? I would feel so betrayed and to be honest I wouldn’t be going anywhere with that person anywhere soon.

I had to look more closely at my motives. Why did I feel like sugar-coating the truth (and btw sugar-coating is a lovely word for lying isn’t it…)? Truth be told I was worried that telling him he was going to get a shot might make him freak out a bit. I was worried about having to deal with a full-blown toddler meltdown. Stating it out loud might make him more difficult to deal with. An oblivious toddler would surely be easier to ‘fake-out’ and get to cooperate than one who was in the know.

These were MY reasons for lying though and none of them benefited him in any way. He deserved to be prepared for all of it. He deserved to know what the nurse and the doctor were going to do. He deserved to know that he would get a shot and that it would hurt.

So I told him. Everything. (I did wait to talk about the shot until right before the injection nurse was due to come to the room though, in the hopes of reducing anxiety about the whole experience)

The other piece to this is the respect one must have to treat a child so young this way. There is an underlying belief that your child understands and internalizes what you say that must be present when speaking the truth. I can’t say I have always been completely honest or respectful during our short relationship but each day I am more conscious and I try harder. I am very aware that the words I use do matter. They matter very much. Sometimes I worry that when I speak the truth of what may be bothering him out loud I will cause a commotion. I will make things worse or bring on louder screams. But do you know what happens? Each and every time that I break through my own barriers and MAKE myself state what the real truth of his emotions are? He releases those feelings, moves through them and handles it. He may need to cry more or harder to do this. He may simply be thankful for the recognition and be able to move on. This truth telling is always cathartic and always moves us closer to a true resolution.

It was the same way in the Dr.’s office today. As we went through the steps that I had prepared him for he (and his Pooh bear) got weighed, measured and checked for any number of issues. He clung on to me a few times but easily relaxed as we discussed what was about to happen. He laid down for his shot, knowing he would feel a poke or a pinch. Of course he cried but he was done in less than a minute. He wiped his eyes, we talked about how he body was stronger now. I asked if he wanted to go and he smiled “Yes!” and we walked off talking about what happened.

Both of us full of love and trust in each other and our ability to face the world as a team.

How do you grow mutual respect? How do we stay honest yet speak in a developmentally appropriate way?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

As always, thanks for reading and T.G.I.F.!

Melissa

Nonviolent Communication-Learning a new language

 In my post on the New Year I expressed my commitment to study and practice Nonviolent Communication.  Now here we are a month out and I haven’t even finished Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg. This is not because I have put it aside, it is because I can’t get through a chapter without reading and re-reading it.

 When I first picked up the book it was with the intention to be more receptive to what others were saying to me.  I wanted to break down the walls that fly up in defense when I hear something that goes contrary to how I think it should.  I didn’t want to be such a ‘right-fighter’.  I also wanted to be able to express myself more clearly and in a less negative manner.  Generally I was hoping to clarify what I thought I was already doing in order to better model this for my son.

Little did I know what a journey this would be.  The book, broken up into two main sections dealing with expressing ones self and empathetically responding to others, has me re-learning the way I speak, think and express emotion. The four main components of the communication system are observing the actions that affect us or others, expressing how we feel in relation to what we are observing, examining the needs that created those feelings within us and then requesting the actions that would help to enrich our lives (or meet our need).

Click here for a visual of the NVC components

As I have tried to put this book into action I am continually left speechless.  The two components that really trip me up are expressing how I feel and then examining the needs that created those feelings.  I have come to a realize that I have a very limited ‘feelings’ vocabulary.  The words I use most frequently to express myself are ‘mad, angry, sad, frustrated and happy’.  When weighed against the breadth of human emotion this is a pitiful list to be sure!

As for the needs, well that was easy right? What was I needing? I need you to be quiet so the whole class can take a nap now.  I need you to do the dishes right now so I don’t feel stressed out about them later.  Whenever I looked for a need behind a feeling it was usually focused on someone else.  Furthermore, I have found that I mistakenly label assumptions about others as feelings! For example I feel misunderstood when you say you don’t want to (insert issue here, manage money as I do, run the classroom as I do etc).  When I say that I feel misunderstood I am really stating that I think they are misunderstanding what I am saying.  I am taking away their power and not truly feeling my needs or hearing theirs.

I’ve had quite the long-lasting-aha!-moment.  This quote has really stuck with me “what others say and do may be the stimulus for, but never the cause, of our feelings” WHAAT?! Never? Wow, what an amazing and freeing possibility that only I am responsible for my feelings.

I hope that through knowing myself better and learning  language that will express my feelings I will be able to be a more compassionate mother, wife and citizen.  This is not just about conflict but about being responsible for our own emotions and lovingly supportive of others.  What a gift to give ourselves and our children!

As I continue on this (admittedly longer than expected) journey I will keep you all posted.  Please share your experiences!

Thanks for reading!

Choosing to spank-Opening the door to violence

A few articles I have come across today have sickened me to the core.  All deal with the death of a child at the hands of their parents and all of the parents in question began their abusive behavior under the guise of  ‘discipline’.  Though I understand people maybe lacking the tools needed to deal with their children in times of stress, leaving the door open to hit a child is inexcusable. I have more than my fair share of expletives to describe how I feel about parents who harm their children.  What follows is my attempt to open up a discussion about how to halt these parenting practices in their tracks.

Many of the aforementioned articles detail the accounts of children who were murdered at the hand of their own parents.  These parents are all believed to have read and followed the discipline strategies of Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of the book To Train Up a Child.  The book, which uses scriptural references as support for the violent ‘training’, is particularly popular with christian homeschoolers who praise it on their websites.  Physical abuse is recommended starting in infancy to teach a child how to stay on a blanket and increases in intensity throughout childhood.  The tragic stories of the three children lost to families reported to be studying this book’s philosophies are beyond imagination.  A little girl beaten for hours until she died for mispronouncing a word during homeschooling, a babe of just four years old beaten and suffocated to death for not staying in his bed.  Most recently a little girl found was found naked face down in her own backyard after what seems to be weeks of living outside with little food and inadequate shelter.

This book is not an anomaly.  Corporal punishment has been widespread in our country for many years despite the piles of literature to prove it ineffective at the least and dangerously damaging at its worst. Recently a video of a judge beating his daughter has gone viral on YouTube.  The daughter taped him in secret in the hopes of finding someone out there that also believed what her father was doing was wrong.  He, however, does not think he was in the wrong at all and is seemingly surprised at the backlash.  “No, in my mind I haven’t done anything wrong other than discipline my child,” Judge William Adams told KZTV Wednesday after the YouTube video went viral on the internet.

Most of the debate over these atrocities goes something like this ‘whether or not you believe in spanking…this should never have happened’ but it DOES matter how you feel about spanking.  In my mind it matters on a fundamental level.  Allowing yourself to use any form of physical punishment as a ‘discipline’ tool opens the door to more violent behavior as your child grows.  Making the desicion one way or the other to spank or not to spank was one of the first child rearing decisions these murderous parents made.

I have heard the arguments again and again “if spanking is used in the proper way it is the right thing to do” or “children need to know there are consequences for their behavior”.  Many circles feel that children need to be hit or they won’t learn to ‘mind’ you.  I have heard people throw phrases around the play ground like “if you had my son you’d hit him too”.  Really? I beg to differ.

In order to strike someone you need to have a few preconceived notions about them in your mind.  You need to feel more powerful, you have some need to control them, you want to ‘win’ or be right, and finally you have to feel that YOU will have no consequences for your behavior.  That or you are just seeing red and haul off and hit someone.  Either it is a choice to use your intimidating size and power to coerce your child into listening to you or you have lost control of yourself and lack the tools to deal with your child in a different way.

We can choose whether to use discipline as guidance that will help shape our child into a self assured, emotionally balanced adult with self control and an intrinsic sense of motivation.  We can also choose to punish a child violently in the short term to halt a behavior.  In many ways I see spanking and other forms of corporal punishment as the easy way out.  Instead of doing the hard work of listening to your child, learning about them and trouble shooting why certain behaviors may be popping up repeatedly a spank is the remedy for all.  Instead of connecting with their eyes as they search for boundaries, structure or a proper outlet for a new skill, another spank is in order.

The hardest and most rewarding work is discipline without shame (of the type outlined in this wonderful article by Janet Lansbury). Parents who use proper outlets to let go of their own stress are able to keep themselves in better control when frustrations and conflicts arise.  Parents who do the work and build a tool box full of strategies to help their children magage themselves in the world are constantly growing along with their child.  Both parent and child stand to learn about themselves and how to better handle any situation they find themselves in.  Those who consciously parent and make a choice not to spank have also made a choice to work harder to support their children’s behavioral development in more loving and effective ways.

As a matter of practice I don’t feel we should be judgmental of other parent’s choices.  I do not think every parent who spanks is on the road to the horrible tragedies listed above.  I also know that many parents make the best choices they have based on their history, family situation and cultural background.  With that in mind I must say that I hope for a world where every child is respected enough to be treated as we would treat our coworker, neighbor or spouse.  Every child deserves a home free from fear especially at the hands of a loving parent.

We should be appalled at books that tout physical abuse of any kind as a way to deal with a child.  As parents we should know better.  For them, we are the world.  No book should be able to convince us that hurting our baby, while they look on with confused eyes full of shame and confusion, is the best option.  These authors, with no child development training, are essentially brainwashing parents into feeling as if they are going against God’s word when they let ‘defiant’ behavior go without a whack. There is a better way, check out this great article on partnering with your child from HandinHand parenting.

In the name of these children I urge you to please follow this link asking Amazon.com to stop carrying books that spread child abuse as a valid parenting philosophy. Click here to sign.

Let them climb!-Risk taking in early childhood

Among the other teachers that I work with I occupy a strange role.  I am the teacher who doesn’t worry.  If a child climbs to the top of the slide and stands up smiling, I wave back.  If a group of kids find a pile of sticks I sit down encouraging exploration.  When another teacher comes over and quickly takes one out of someone’s hands I feel a pang of sadness.  Balancing on the edge of the sandbox? No worries.  Running while holding someones hand? No prob.

I am a firm believer in modeling and I don’t see it as effective to critique another teachers style right in front of the children.  However, in this case I don’t see my modeling going anywhere.  In many cases I think that other teachers may see me as being unaware of what the children are doing or even lazy for not rushing to their side.  I don’t blame them.  It is in the job description to protect all of these chubby flush-faced little people.  If they fall or scrape themselves we need to comfort them and clean them up, a job that isn’t always quick and easy.

I guess the reason teachers don’t seem to pick up on what I am doing is because it doesn’t look like I am doing anything.  No one notices as I take a few steps closer as I wave to the boy on the slide.  No one catches it as I gently ‘save’ a special stick for a little girl before she goes running off, but after she has had time to really check it out.  They also can’t see the quick evaluation I go through as I see those kids run off together.  What are they running on, near or around that could hurt them? Or is it really just fine that they run off laughing holding hands until they collapse, even if one of them may get a little scrape in the process?

I have noticed less and less swings on the playgrounds at schools, new schools (especially preschools) are rarely built with them due to safety concerns.  Inside there are clean floors, bleached tables and toys in neat boxes.  Glass is hidden far away along with scissors and anything else deemed dangerous. I know these other teachers think they are being helpful by stepping in to save them.  Save them from themselves and possible danger, but are we really helping them?

Starting from birth we all try, fail, and try again.  It is an innate trait in all of us that helps us stay motivated to learn to crawl, walk or hold a crayon.  As these children explore their world I see it as my job to guide them but not stop them.  To allow them to climb and fall.  Learn about their bodies but also learn about perservance.  To allow that innate desire to discover the world around them by their own power.  An article by Jackie Sinnerton states “It’s vital for emotional development that they are allowed to trip up, pick themselves up and learn from the experience. They need to build up resilience.”

The world our children will enter upon adulthood is not one of safe clear boundaries and constant protection.  To the contrary they will find a world of gray areas, amorphous relationships, virtual professions and vague job descriptions.  It is not as simple as letting them take whatever risk they want.  There is a delicate dance performed between me and the kids.  They know I am there to help them stay safe, but they also know they are free to try things and I will understand. They need to be allowed to takes risks, fall down and have someone there when they need help getting back up.  The amazing thing is a lot of the time if they know you are there that is enough for them to pick themselves up.

Just jump in!

I ‘started’ this blog a few weeks ago and today I will write my first post. I don’t know what was holding me back exactly. Yes, I am a full time working mom of a toddler. Yes, I cook a home cooked meal most nights of the week. Recently I have become magically better at keeping up with laundry (is this as skill that just grows from within once you give birth?) Did I mention that I teach toddlers, all about the same age as my son, ALL DAY LONG?

But that isn’t what was holding me back. It is a fear or insecurity from deep within. Something that tells me “Oh no! What if you do it and it isn’t perfect?” or *gasp* “What if you do it and people think it sucks?”
Watching my son and his buddies play today I was inspired to let it all go. They know nothing of this world. Just tiny 18,20 and 22 month old babes. Giggling, running around the room with crepe paper ‘tails’ singing, dancing and falling all over themselves. As I joined in laughing and smiling right along with them I felt free. This is why I love my profession, why I love my life, why I feel so blessed to watch my beautiful boy grow up. Not one toddler in the group stops to wonder what another might think. To the contrary they are constantly pushing limits to see what happens. Why can’t I?
They jump in and explore the tastiest parts of life. The most exciting, the deeply emotional, the physical and the challenging. So WHY CAN’T I?

In honor of my son, Collin, the joy of my life. I will put fingers to keyboard. I will document our lives together. I will throw caution to the wind. No more won’ts or can’ts.
This is me learning to be a mommy, guiding many little hearts through the day and hopefully getting dinner on the table on time. Oh! I forgot the laundry! 😉