Category Archives: Small People

Look Out for Children!

DJMAX / Pixabay

The reactions to the recent tragedy in Las Vegas have certainly been varied. Thanks in a large part to the ongoing media coverage, it remains a focal point for many.  It, therefore, seems fitting to share several thoughts, including this paragraph from a recent J.E.D. Foundation blog post:

At a time like this, the simple things will help – don’t hold feelings in, talk to friends, family and loved ones. Turn off the TV,  computer, and phone. Get up and get out – tragedies can weigh so heavily on us that it makes it hard to move. Take a walk, go to the gym, run errands, spend time with friends, volunteer to help. And lastly, everyone should take care of themselves and those around them – physical health and emotional connectedness can go a long way toward making you feel like yourself again.

During last night’s Suicided Awareness and Prevention Workshop we discussed briefly the potential impact events like this have on children.  It is so important to remember they are watching and listening and may be much more aware of news and incidents than we might think at first. If it is difficult for an adult to process the “why” of an incident like this, consider how much more so it may be for young people. This is a time when we should look out for our children.

I published a post from Edutopia (an excellent resource for teachers and parents, by the way) on Mr. Boomsma’s Facebook Page. Entitled “Responding to Tragedy: Resources for Educators and Parents.” When time permits, I will be adding many of those resources to this website.

As a general guideline, I encourage adults to listen and watch for signs that a child is struggling to come to terms with the incident. It is not necessary to “force” a child a think or talk about it, but it is important to be willing to listen and answer questions. You don’t have to have all the answers. Provide reassurance and gently shift the focus to the positives. In children’s terms, “Let’s look for the helpers.”

That’s actually pretty good advice for all of us.

Unintended Consequences -- -- the good, the bad, the ugly:

A recent post on Facebook told the story of a teacher shopping for school supplies. She was approached by several parents shopping together (who had their school-aged children with them) and subsequently forced to listen to them complain about how much they were spending on back-to-school supplies and how teachers must think parents are made out of money. Apparently, they didn’t notice that the teacher was spending even more money than they. Her cart was full of things she needed and supplies to help out the students she knew would not have what was necessary.

It was an interesting story, certainly. The teacher handled a potentially ugly situation gracefully and sympathetically. I admired that but felt a real kinship with her when she described what she really wanted to say those parents.

Adults often “thing” children. We forget they are there and, more importantly, forget they are watching, listening and learning.  It’s a mistake that’s easy to make. Even teachers must guard against it. We see them as “kids” or “students” and lose sight of the fact they are small people with big brains that are like sponges.

Not only did those parents not notice the teacher’s cart was full, they forgot there were little people watching, listening, and learning.

So the teacher wanted to remind those parents there were little people there and what they were hearing was, “School is not important enough to spend money on, teachers are not to be trusted, they have bad judgment, and learning does not require investment.”

In fairness to those parents, they (hopefully!) didn’t want their children to hear that. We sometimes call this “unintended consequences.”

I watched a child tugging on her mother’s hand as they walked down the street, almost yelling, “Mom! Mom!” Mom was totally focused on her cell phone screen and it appeared not even acknowledging the child. I don’t know what was so important on the phone. I don’t know why the child needed her mother. But I’m fairly sure I know the message the child was getting. I also know that a few simple words and eye contact with the child could have conveyed a very different message.

When it’s back to school shopping time–or school budget time–I believe all adults have a responsibility to “watch our words.” We may be frustrated at the expense while we’re shopping and angered with increasing budgets and taxes but because we’re adults we should be able to express our frustrations and anger in an appropriate manner.

Let’s not teach our kids to disrespect schools and teachers. Let’s be careful we do not devalue learning and education–even unintentionally.

Education is expensive. But it’s also important. Let’s teach our children both of those truths and model good problem-solving skills.

Sometimes unintended consequences can be good. Another time in a store, I heard a young child ask what might have been a fairly simple question–I honestly don’t remember it exactly, but it was relative to why something was where it was.  The parent stopped and looked at it with the child then said, “That’s interesting. Why do you think it’s there?” I didn’t need to eavesdrop on the entire conversation to know that child was learning he and his thinking is important. I also hope to have that child in a classroom I’m teaching some day.

Thinking is not only allowed, it’s needed. Not just in classrooms, but in life.

Mr. Boomsma’s Brag Book

When I started my own consulting business many years ago, a colleague and mentor encouraged me to start what he called a “God Shelf.” It could, of course, be called a “trophy case” or “wall of fame.” As I recall, his explanation was, in part, “You’re going to need to learn to treasure the awards and certificates you receive. Since you’re working for yourself, you’ll probably won’t get ’employee of the month’ awards from your company.”

He was right–and I’ll never forget the story he told of an award he received in the mail. He made it into an event by going out to dinner with his wife and having her present it to him over coffee.

Maybe that’s a bit over the top, but I do think we should enjoy the recognition we receive.

As many know, in addition to substitute teaching, I volunteer at our elementary school with the kids. A few years ago I agreed to assume responsibility for publishing the yearbook through my little publishing company, Abbot Village Press.

A lot of folks express surprise that an elementary school has a yearbook, but we think it makes sense. In a way, it’s the kids’ brag book. It helps create a sense of community and school spirit. We involve the kids in its design and production with things like a contest for the cover design. We even have a yearbook team of sixth graders.

But truth be told, my primary motivation is that it provides another excuse for me to work, play, and learn with the kids.

At the end of the school year, the kids always surprise me with some sort of recognition. Last year I was presented with a basketful of thank-you notes–one from just about every kid at school (nearly 300), kindergarten through sixth grade. What makes them really cool is they are personal. Each kid tried to find something specific to thank me for–and I can tell you that in many cases they appreciate things I don’t remember doing! The basket sits next to my desk and if I’m ever feeling discouraged or down, I grab a few and re-read them.

This year’s surprise was an extra page in the yearbook, designed by the yearbook team with the help of Mrs. Daniels, our art teacher and my “partner” in getting the yearbook published. I’ve shared the page with a few friends–they’ve encouraged me to make it public.

Thanks, kids… for another page in my brag book and for being so much fun to work, play, and learn with.

What’s Your Label? Who Are You, Really!?

Thank you so much for your book, received it yesterday and have read a chapter or two so far. I have many questions already, everything is just so well done. Through mass-marketed media its perceived that adults take for granted the words of a child, and their hold and place in society. Your book defies that stereotype, finding the deeper meaning in education and brains of our youth. Coming from someone who wants to study child-minds and thought processes, it was very humbling and insightful reading the first beginning pages of your experience with the young Amish girl…

What is not to like about a review like this!? It’s written by a high school senior who contacted me for some “collaboration” on a writing project… her planned vocation is to become a child psychologist and her avocation is to write and publish.

I love her suggestion that I defy the stereotype that “adults take for granted the words of a child…” She definitely has a future as a writer, because that is a previously not-so-well stated mission. Maybe even an obsession. I often quote Stacia Tauscher:

“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.”

Children are really just little people, not so different than those we consider adults. Admittedly, they have less experience being a person than an adult, but they are no less a person. They see things with curious minds and fresh outlooks. Their observations are often insightful.

Just this week, we received new identification badges at school. They are quite formal and official looking. We wear them on a lanyard so people can be assured we belong where we are. I don’t question the need and logic. But a second grader did.

He grabbed my badge, studied it closely and looked somewhere between puzzled and horrified. “Mr. Boomsma, this isn’t right. It says you are a substitute teacher. You are a REAL teacher.”

I suppose I should have “corrected” him, but truth be told he made me feel pretty smug and really good. He also gave me a lot to think about and I ultimately decided that what he thought was probably more important than what my badge said.

One reason subs sometimes have difficulty managing a class is the students will view him or her as “not our teacher” and decide the day will be a bit of a holiday. When I teach the Substitute Teacher Course, we spend some time discussing this potential power struggle. Part of my approach is that we must establish at the beginning we are there to teach, not to babysit. Yes, things will be a little different, but it is still about teaching and learning.  A substitute who establishes that at the start will have far less “classroom management” issues.  In age-appropriate language, I make it clear I am not there to manage a classroom, I am there to teach and facilitate learning.

So I think it’s pretty cool that second grader thinks it’s wrong to call me a substitute. I also think it’s pretty cool that he was able to read the entire badge, including the word substitute.

Labels are certainly a necessary tool in our society, but they come at some cost. The biggest cost is the loss of true identity when we become seen only as the label.

Don’t forget. A child is a person–a smaller and less experienced one, but no less a person.

BDN Series Mentions Mentoring…

back-to-school-183533_1280“Maine Focus” is currently running a series of excellent articles “Before Addition There’s a Child.” I’m both honored and humbled to report that my experience with Bus Drive Otis Phillips was included in the installment entitled “How one caring adult can change the life of a child.” (Scroll down to the epilog, “Your Stories.”) I continue to be amazed at the impact this story is having.

My ongoing hope is captured in my observation that “We mentor people in ways we don’t even mean to.” A corollary to that is mentoring doesn’t have to be hard. By definition, mentoring is a relationship in which an experienced person helps guide someone who is less experienced.  I think something as simple as  a kind or encouraging word creates a connection that can be defined as a relationship, however brief. Let’s call it a ‘mentoring moment.”

The Maine Focus series is about “preventing one of the largest public health problems of our time.” There’s a growing body of evidence that human connection goes a long way towards combating addiction.

Mine isn’t the only story in which an adult did something that at first seems small, but turns out to have major impacts, perhaps because it is about human connection. Hearing those stories is encouraging and heartwarming. But creating our own stories can be even better. Just look for those mentoring moments.