Tag Archives: community

One Human Interaction at a Time…

I already know the problem you’ll have after watching this video. You’ll think you can’t do it. But if you listen all the way to the end, you’ll hear the key and discover that you actually can. Let me explain.

Dave Eggers is an incredibly passionate, creative, and energetic guy. I don’t want to spoil this video, but you should know his day job involves writing. “Once upon a school” is spoken, but it’s an incredible story with some both inspiring and funny examples of what happens when you create a mixture that includes passion, kids and learning.

For a few years now, I’ve considered myself a bit of advocate for kids, teachers, and schools. This guy could become my hero because he’s done something that’s all too rare. He’s created a wildly successful (and fairly large) program without losing sight of the most important truth. Ultimately, the most effective advocacy is about one human interaction at a time. 

So watch this, but don’t leave it thinking you can’t do it or that you are inadequate. Figure out some way — not necessarily as big and bold as Egger’s — to get together with a kid and have one human interaction.

There’s an incredibly important statistic early on in the video–studies have shown that just 30-40 hours per year of individual attention and instruction can advance a student one grade level. You don’t have to be real good at math. Three hours per month does it. Spend it listening to and encouraging a kid–your own or somebody else’s.

Get A Kid Going!

Give to Public Schools in Need! - Go to DonorsChoose.orgWhat a great resource this is… for teachers, kids, and anyone who wants to help them! DonorsChoose has been around for over ten years and is all about making it easy for folks to help classrooms in need. Teachers post classroom requests which “range from pencils for poetry to microscopes for mitochondria.” Supporters can give as little as $1 in support of the project of choice. You can truly give to a specific classroom. Projects are vetted and there’s tons of transparency and accountability, providing assurance that any donation made is a good investment in our kids’ education.

The project is nation-wide, but potential donors can search by state, town, and school. When I looked this morning there were 115 open projects in Maine–the closest to me right in Dover Foxcroft where the teacher is looking for help with securing an “incubator and humidity control system will allow my young scientists to explore embryology, life cycles and reproduction.” Current donations total just about half what’s needed, so they are well on their way!

Let’s set aside politics and the fact that we all are paying too much in taxes to consider what’s happening here… we have some teachers with a true passion for teaching and a need for a tool that we can provide fairly painlessly–remember, you can donate as little as a dollar. Unlike taxes, any contribution goes right to the project and classroom you choose and you have assurance your dollar(s) is well spent. Teachers aren’t paid to do this sort of fundraising–they do it because they love your kids and want them to learn.

A teacher in Milo is looking for some help with a digital player and dock so she can reel in some “reluctant readers” with a simple but effective incentive program.

The biggest problem you’ll have when you visit DonorsChoose.org is selecting which kids and teachers you want to support. Even if you can’t support them all, you’ll leave the site with a deeper appreciation for what is happening in our schools and what some teachers are trying to do.

My personal theme for this year is: “It is easier to build strong children than to fix broken adults.” Here’s a way to do just that. Teachers can also help by getting your need posted on the site. Let’s work together to get some kids going!

Won’t You Guide…?

For readers who do not know, I’ve worked with elementary kids on a volunteer basis for quite a few years… this year (at age 65) I’ve embarked a new “career” as an elementary substitute teacher.

When I got the call last Monday that I’d be needed at school, I was momentarily struck with the reality that going “to work” included the distinct possibly of not coming home. Like many, I’d been mourning the huge loss we experienced in Connecticut. As a society we’ve trusted teachers with our children’s education for a long time. The Newtown tragedy has demonstrated that we also trust those teachers and staff with our children’s very lives.

While I in no way want to diminish the loss of those children and adults, as time has passed I think we might consider that we are also mourning the loss of safe havens for children to learn. The grief that we are feeling calls out for answers and brings with it a rush to prevent this type of tragedy. We want to bring back those safe places.

One of the most meaningful things I learned about “classroom management” while preparing to become a substitute was the observation that “the only behavior you can truly control in your classroom is your own.”

boy_girl_flying_on_pencil_150_clr_186One day this week I was working with first graders on an art project. I’d been warned to keep them busy or “they will make your life miserable.” We’d been doing quite well, actually, when I suddenly lost control of the classroom. Amid the coloring and cutting and pasting and cries of “Mr. B, can you help me with this?” very suddenly and spontaneously one child started singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Within seconds fifteen little voices chimed in and I was left to stand and watch the unfolding of what might be described as a “Normal Rockwell Moment.”  For at least six renditions of the song (the part they remembered) my life was anything but miserable.

But it was not because of anything I did.

Every sane person wants to prevent the type of tragedy we experienced on December 14. As we work through the grief, I believe we need to remember that six year old who decided to sing. To be sure, somebody taught him to sing. But he decided it was time to sing. If we don’t remember him and his choice, we are in danger of deluding ourselves into thinking we can fix this by controlling things (guns, videos, the media, etc.) and perhaps even people.

I’ve asked myself what I might do to prevent this type of tragedy and believe the long look answer lies in another truth:  “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.” While we cannot ignore those broken adults, we (collectively, not just teachers) are “breaking” children every day by missing opportunities, failing to provide structure, and in too many cases engaging in outright abuse and neglect. The same newspaper that headlined the Newtown events also carried a story of an eight year old girl who was raped. These tragedies deserve equal outrage.

Anyone who spends any time working in schools has met them–the kids we are breaking. A kid who is constantly angry for reasons we don’t yet understand–copes by screaming and pushing his way around. The loner who is always seen off by herself during recess…

All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any reindeer games.

Just this week a nine year old confessed to being tired first thing in the morning explaining that her dad goes to work at 3 AM and she’s required to get up to care for her younger brother. She’s a real good kid and I think will grow up to be a responsible adult. I’m not indicting her Dad, because it’s likely an economic necessity. But she’s carrying a lot of weight on her young shoulders–can we be sure whether it will make or break her?

What happens to us shapes us, but we decide who we are. Those of us who are fortunate enough to work with kids have a key–we need to focus on building strong children who learn the skills–including the skill of self-control–that will allow them make good decisions about what they will do and who they will become.

Then all the reindeer loved him
as they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
you’ll go down in history!

Resource Recommendation

Strange coincidences… I actually lived in Coventry RI for one month (thirty six years ago!). Today one of my very best friends (and high school English teacher) lives there! And now, I’ve discovered a great resource there! The Coventry School District has developed a series of “tips for parents” that are awesome! I would deem them not just for parents, but for anyone who “works” with kids… the article on “Motivating Learning in Young Children” is a must read! I’ve added this link to the site permanently:


so you can always come back and find it! (For those seeking more indepth resources, many of these tips are based on information available at the National Association of School Psychologists website.)

Slightly More Than 24 notes…

I guess I’ve heard “taps” played many times throughout my life… most of those occasions were at Memorial Day or Veterans’ Day Celebrations. While not all of the the times have been “perfect,” the sentiment always is and it seems to be one of the occasions when silence reins in the too thin crowds. For the duration we seem to become aware of the number of flags flying in the cemetery we visit on these special days.

Since many of us will be experiencing this Monday, here’s a little taps trivia. The original version of what we call “Taps” was written by Daniel Butterfield in 1801 and was then named “Last Post.” It was rather lengthy and formal so in 1862 it was shortened to 24 notes and re-named “Taps.”

The performance of the original version embedded here makes the rounds every so often… it has a lot to recommend it. For one thing it was performed in Holland by a reasonably popular trumpeter named Melissa Venema. At the time of this recording she was thirteen years old. It’s pretty powerful–turn off all distractions, listen and watch. You won’t hear a false note and you will be as mesmerized as the crowd who watches her perform with the Johann Strauss Orchestra under the capable direction of Andre Rieu.

And maybe you could think about attending a Memorial Day Event to hear it played again–perhaps not as well, but with just as much meaning.