When we think of education, our minds are geared to think of seated in rows of desks, listening attentively to teachers lecturing or modeling a new skill or idea. We assume that attentive students are taking in all the new information and processing it to be stored in their long-term memory. In a perfect world, that would be the case. As adults, we know that learning a new skill is a process. Think back to learning how to ride a bike. As a child, you are told to get on, pedal and just balance. Easier said then done. Not only do you need the knowledge of how to ride a bike, but you also have to comprehend how to successfully jump on this two-wheeled machine and ride without falling. To do this you have to apply your knowledge and practice, practice, practice!
Over my travels, I attended a workshop and the presenter recited this quote “Celebrate that in which you want to see more of.” This Principal, Muriel Summers, said that when she is working with her students she remembers this short phrase and applies this celebration to appropriate situations. Think about the discovery of bike riding: you jump on, balance and ride. Your instructor cheers at your success and prompts you to keep going. The celebration builds your confidence and signals that this is a behavior that should be repeated and practiced until you are able to ride a bike automatically and subconsciously. Go back to the classroom, where the teacher is lecturing with the assumption that the students miraculously just got it. We all know that only a small population of students just get it. Students need to experiment, ask questions and sometimes fail before a skill becomes automatic. When working with your children or if you are a teacher working with your students, remember that students need to create their own knowledge. When a child is asking questions, they are learning. Don’t discourage this curiosity, in fact celebrate it. “Celebrate that in which you would like to see more of!” We want children to ask questions, to apply knowledge and be able to explain the new skill to others. It is at this point that learning occurs. We have all been there with our children when they ask a question, we answer it, and they respond with “but why?” Instead of celebrating and encouraging that “but why”, we usually respond with “just because.” At that point, learning comes to a halt! Support that questioning and your child will amaze you with insights and connections that they make with your simple explanation. One thing to remember is Socrates quote, “Genius always begin with wonder.” Learning is not only a child sitting in rows of desks listening to their teachers. Learning is enhanced in play and higher order thinking skills are shaped with imagination. The ability to pretend opens doors to all disciplines of education. Celebrate that pretending and occasionally get lost in wonder with your child. Educational tip: When your child shows signs of wonder and are a little inquisitive, support their initiative and sometimes enhance their ideas with even more detailed ideas. Taking a few minutes to learn with your child will make a lifetime of difference. It is amazing to see a child experience the “new”.
It might have been many years ago, but I grew up during a time where trophies were given to a select amount of individuals. Individuals who exceeded in talent, knowledge, and ability above everyone else. First place trophies were given to the person who came in first and everyone else learned to accept and recognize the effort that was put forth. It builds character to not always come out on top. Feeling humble for losing teaches us about effort and how to try harder the next time. Character is built when you are on the losing team and you have to shake hands and recite “good game” to each member of the winning team. Character is built when you are on the winning team and see your friends offering you a congratulations fist bump. Not everyone gets a trophy!
I grew up knowing that I was not the strongest in math, but I was great at creative writing. I was not a great artist, but I was great on the cross country team. I was not in the chorus, but I was a fundraising champion. I was not always aggressive while playing team sports, but I was great helping students get organized. Knowing your highs and lows create character and makes you appreciate your unique characteristics. Not a single one of us is good at everything!
Now I live in an age where everyone gets a trophy. Everyone gets a participation reward. Everyone gets treated exactly the same. How does that build character? How does that teach effort?
Replace the participation trophy by teaching kids it is okay:
-to strike out.
-to finish the test last.
-to not be the top seller.
-to not win a BINGO.
-to not be the first to be asked to the dance.
-to not all cross the finish line at the same time.
-to not all get a ribbon for showing up.
-to get your name pulled out of the hat to win the door prize.
-to not know how to solve an equation right away.
-to not be invited to the party.
-to not be included in a group message.
-to not be asked to be the line leader.
-to not be the first out the door for the Easter egg hunt.
Teach kids that it is okay to celebrate others when they:
-hit a home run.
-great at taking tests. .
-unstoppable when selling ice to Eskimos.
-win atl BINGO.
-to be the first asked to the dance.
-cross the finish line first.
-leave with a 1st place ribbon ribbon.
-are lucky and always seem to get your name pulled out of the hat.
-solve equations on their first try.
-are the life of the party.
-stand proud as the line leader.
-collect the most Easter Eggs.
It is also okay to be average at some skills, it is okay to be great at sports, it is okay to struggle in math.
In a world of participation trophies, we are not teaching our kids to be happy for our friends when they succeed.
We are teaching students it doesn’t matter the amount of effort we give because everyone gets the same reward.
It seems like just yesterday I was preparing for my first day as the newly appointed middle school principal. I had spent the last couple of weeks making sure all the students’ schedules were accurate, all textbooks were delivered to the classrooms, homeroom assignment were perfectly posted on the front door of the school and my staff was prepared to motivate and educate. The first day arrives and I drive up the Avenue that led me to a perfectly manicured lawn which surrounds a state of the art school building. I still remember the thought of this being “my building.” As I walk into my office perfectly decorated with motivational posters and my education degrees framed on the wall I sit back in my leather desk chair and thinking about all the hard work to get to this point. I gaze out of my window noticing the American flag blowing in the wind as I prepare for the first bus to pull up. My thought, “This year is going to be amazing! The students will be eager to learn and will be so excited to be in school.” That is what I was taught in all my methods classes.
Here the bus comes toward the school. I make my way to the front entrance, smiling ear to ear ready to greet my students. I say a quick good morning to the staff members as they are making their way to their morning posts. Life is good! Then I hear the squealing of the bus’s brakes and take note that not all of the students were sitting quietly in their seats like they did in all the textbooks illustrations we reviewed in college. Don’t get me wrong, most of the kids were arriving to school sitting in their seats but I noticed one boy with his arms hanging out the window, another student standing in the aisle and yet another one yelling from the back of the bus to the front. Oh No! Not at my school. I quickly enter the bus and welcome the students but remind them the proper way to ride the bus to school. Mid speech, three more buses pull in with similar circumstances and there is no way I am going to be able to address each one of them. Think Jessie, think! Awe-Harry Wong!
As an aspiring educator, I was exposed to an array of techniques suggesting how to be a successful administrator. Everything looked picture perfect, efficient and organized. I can recall numerous references to a particular educator, Harry Wong. Mr. Wong was an expert on teacher effectiveness providing effective teaching skills, classroom management, and delivering teacher’s expectations to students. His techniques and suggestions almost looked redundant as he explained step by step how to collect papers from rows of students, how to get their attention, etc. Now I know why he was so precise and regimented. The message I took away from his lessons is that students of all ages need direction, rules, procedures and guidance.
So it is my turn. After six years watching these school buses pull up to the middle school, I have developed my own techniques when working with my students. My students, parents and colleagues now know that I cut straight to the heart of any “issue,” demonstrate overflowing compassion and work as a team player. My intention is to advocate for all my student’s education and safety while I work tirelessly to ensure I never leave any stone unturned when trying to help one of my students. I protect my students when in my care or when they are out in the community and I will continue to support them as they become grownups. Those same people know that when faced with that “issue,” I don’t beat around the bush. I feel like a large portion of my job description is to ultimately prepare youth to be productive, respectful members of our community. This is not an easy task, but I have never been one to succumb to a challenge.
Yearly, I am honored with the task of educating and maintaining the safety of 700-750 students – not just any students – but middle school students! So to maintain my sanity, forestall the gray hairs and decrease the appearance of stress related wrinkles, I have to be organized, efficient, on my toes, speak with a teacher’s voice and guide with an open heart. I developed clear guidelines of what I expect out of my students and after 17 years I have streamlined what I believe are paths to success: my Principal’s Principles!
Whatever you do…own up to it – Nothing drives me more crazy than a kid who can blatantly deny something they did when caught red handed. I have yet to allow a student to pull the wool over my eyes and find some of the excuses students can come up with quite comical when backed into a corner. What makes it more entertaining is that as a middle school educator, I know that an occasional student is going to make poor decisions that will shock any adult, but if you are man or woman enough to do the deed, be man or woman enough to admit it. Which is a nice segway to my second principle.
Mistakes are okay….. if you learn from them – We were all kids at one time. We can all take a stroll down memory lane and laugh off some of the ill advised choices that led us into the principal’s office. All kids make mistakes and most adults understand it is a part of the adolescent period of growing. As educators, we issue discipline based on the severity of the situation and on what measures will inhibit the behavior from happening again. Those students survive their punishment and all parties involved can agree to leave it in the past; tomorrow is a new day. Now, if the same students repeat the same behavior a week or so later, believing that lightning won’t strike twice, they are in for an electrifying awakening. At that point, The Compassionate Educator is on high alert realizing history is repeating itself. I would not want to be that student.
Only believe half of what you see and nothing that you hear. – Sometimes I wish MY messages to students where taken HALF as seriously as the rumor that started during 2nd period history class. Don’t these students know that I know what I am talking about and not the members of the drama club ready to stir the pot? My first question to any student who has passed on gossip about another student is “Did you witness this happen?” If the answer is no, then spreading that rumor only makes you look silly. If the answer is yes, mind your own business because most likely you only caught part of the action or conversation.
I might have been born at night, but not last night- It is amazing how students think their prank for lack of a better word is original. They must never have heard the saying “Been there, done that.” We all know that if a group of boys all have to go to the bathroom at the same time, there will be an altercation. We know that a bully is not a one time offender so when girls continuously issue a complaint, we have a repeat offender. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be a duck. Cheat sheets have always been hidden in calculator covers; students have always sold term papers to other students; the frogs have always been freed to avoid a lab assignment, etc. I do sometimes love the challenge of them pleading their case when I already know the outcome.
Using bad language shows lack of intelligence – My favorite “Dr. Scottism” – Anyone can spout four letters words in daily conversation, but only students with intelligence recognize those words as offensive and mediocre and chose to
make Mr. Webster proud. If you want to be a kid who is popular and stand out in the crowd, then learn how to express yourself like you know what you are talking about and value your reputation. Leave the offensive and bad language for someone else.
Modern day heroes are kids who can walk away from drama – Anyone can be pulled into drama because the magnetic force is fierce, but it takes courage, self-confidence, and discipline to walk away from the majority. All childhood heroes have a superpower or ability that makes them stand out for the greater good. Students who can go against the grain have that superpower and become the most respected amongst their peers. Be that hero!
Respect is given only when given back – Automaticity is a word I use when I think of respect. I was raised to say please and thank you, use words such as sir and ma’am (madam), and to respect everyone. Respect is automatic in my book and can only be taken away when disrespected. Teachers choose to be educators, to work with students as they prepare for the world beyond high school. Those same teachers respect their student’s uniqueness, learning styles, families and opinions, but in return demand that same appreciation from their students and their families. This is where I see the most change in the attitudes of our younger population which is often aggravated by guardians lack of respect for educators. Education is not just a mandate from the state, but is the key to success. If a student was raised believing that education is not important, they will lack the respect for teachers. Teach kids the importance of school and that it is a gift to be educated.
Anyone who says “snitches get stitches” are at least passive bystanders and at most cowards- If I have not heard this a million times, I have not heard it once! Are we really going to believe that in this day and age if a student reports something that has the potential to hurt another student, they are considered snitches? With all the issues related to school violence and bullying, plus the amount of students diagnosed with mental illness, first reporters (otherwise referred to as snitches) should be commended by their peers for their courage to speak out even if the perpetrator is a friend.
Strong girls are ones that can hold each other up; weak girls are the ones that throw you down – I remember in high school, a common saying was “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Let’s face it, girls can be mean, but haven’t we evolved to be mighty? Have we not learned that we are all equal and have opportunities to do anything we want? I guess some girls have not received that message and have not learned that there is power in numbers. Support your peers -girls or boys-and protect them from individuals who are always putting them down. Steer clear of those weak girls and jump on the strong girl bandwagon.
Boys who threaten to fight lack confidence to not fight – Who actually wakes up and starts to plan who they are going to threaten to fight today? Is it really impressive to think fighting makes you cool? Look at yourself in the mirror and think: “I am better than that and I will make choices to show I have confidence and the ability to avoid fighting.” Is there not anything more important than a fight? I know I would want to be on the side of confidence and not waste time on petty arguments because the commotion surrounding a fight lasts a few minutes. Having confidence to avoid a fight leaves a lasting impression.
Successful kids are the ones that can block out the “white noise” of unsuccessful kids – Did you ever notice that students who like drama tend to surround themselves with other kids who like drama? These students are more worried about their social status than how well they are doing in school. These students are extremely capable of being successful, but they let the distractions get in the way. Students who always seem to avoid drama, bypass a distracting situation like it is not happening. They most likely are oblivious to what I call “white noise” and their focus is on more positive things.
Kindness is the only thing that is allowed to be thrown around – School Rules 101 clearly state the following: We do not throw food in the cafeteria; we do not fling inappropriate language around the halls; we do not launch spitball or pencils at our classmates; we do not shove each other across the room and we definitely do not scatter rumors amongst our friends. There is one thing we are allowed to throw ……KINDNESS!
Respect yourself enough to stick up for yourself – No one has the right to take advantage of you and it is your responsibility to stick up for yourself. That does not mean to physically hurt someone or to seek revenge, but it is okay to ask someone to stop doing what they are doing or to report any issue to an adult. That is why we are here, to help direct you with positive decisions. You should never let anyone walk all over you nor should you let anyone take advantage of your kindness. Respect yourself!
To be safe, listen to country music – The more I research pop culture, the more I feel like I want to go back in time. I love all genres of music, but do we have to include explicit and vulgar lyrics? No wonder our student’s vocabulary includes so many inappropriate words. The sad thing is, they feel like these words are okay because their teen idols use them in daily conversations. I am sure I was exposed to the same issues when I was a student, but I must have turned the station to country more often than not.
This might seem like a lot to take in, but I want to cover all my bases when it comes to what I expect of my students. This is my roadmap to success and my ideas on how to treat others. I refer to these often when talking to my students so they know where my heart is when molding them to take on the world!
The biggest obstacle parents face raising kids in this generation is the lack of knowledge around their “social culture.” The whole “been there, done that” attitude parents have when raising their kids does not necessarily apply today. We are living in warp speed when it comes to innovation and there is no way possible parents of teens have experienced the same situations as our youth are currently experiencing. Just think of the multi-volume encyclopedias that were worth gold or the first word processing program that was groundbreaking to anyone who worked on a typewriter. Now think about the pace in which new advancements were introduced to the world compared to the pace we are moving at now. The rabbit and the bionic hare! A brand new iphone is released but the prototype for the next one is ready, just waiting until the first reaches record sales before the next is released. Remember a time when you did not know where your friends were and when trying to call, the line rang busy, As fast as I am writing this list of common dangers to our kids, new dangers are proving these outdated.
Fake Social Media Accounts- Our kids are pretty savvy when it comes to their social lives and that includes going to all the hard work of managing fake social media accounts along with their pristine main accounts. It is not uncommon for a child to have two Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, and TikTok accounts. Ask any parent about their child’s social media accounts and they will automatically say, “I monitor my child’s social media accounts daily” and then stand proud as a peacock when they tell you their child’s instagram handle is “mommys_little_princess!” So when I tell them to make sure they check their child’s other account that is called something like “hide_from_mom,” they doubt my intelligence.
Chat Rooms- Recently a student reported being on an inappropriate chat room called, Omegle. Omegle has been around for a long time, but despite all the warnings, kids are still accessing this site. In this chat room you literally talk to a stranger. Seriously, the name pops up as “stranger.” What happened to stranger danger? While investigating, I typed this website into my phone and within seconds was asked my age, sex, and some very exciplit other questions. Never do you know who the stranger is or where they are located, but you converse and at any time, you or the “stranger” can “stop” the conversation. My brief conversation with the stranger led to him (he told me he was a male) asking me to log into Snapchat so we could exchange pictures. He ended the conversation quickly when I asked him to video conference. He caught on that I was not in it to converse. As soon as he stopped the conversation, it was erased with no way to find that “stranger” again. The report initially was because a student allowed the “stranger” into his Snap and through video access the student was shown live footage inappropriate for anyone. Kids who have a Smartphone have access to all of this. How many other chat rooms are out there?
Location Settings- After reading about chat rooms, consider how many kids out of curiosity volunteer their Snapchat name to these strangers. So now this “stranger” has access to your child. What is really scary is that we live in a generation of kids who want to know where their friends are at all times, so of course they have their location setting on and anyone that is their Snap friend can access the “Snap Map” to pinpoint where they are at any time. This is great for parents monitoring where their child is at all times, but this information can also lead a pedophile right to your child. Turn location settings off for all apps that are public to anyone.
Account Privacy – I am always a little leary about privacy settings. “Do we really know if our electronic devices have privacy?” To be safe, make sure your children/teens have their settings on private and check them often. Kids are obsessed with “followers” and “likes” so it is very appealing to be “public” and have a large audience.
Anonymous Sites – Do you believe that kids would actually log on to a site to bash one of their peers just to be mean? These sites are out there and easily accessible to anyone with a smart device. One of the original apps called “After School” was creating havoc amongst teenagers everywhere. More commonly used today is Yolo and Whisper. These particular app allowed you to anonymously compliment or bash your classmates in a TBH (to be honest) fashion. We can only relate by our vivid memory of the writing on the bathroom walls.
Keyboard Courage – All of us know that when we are face to face with a person, it is a lot harder to say nasty things or to make threatening statements, but it is so easy to type a nasty message to a classmate when you do not have to look them in the eyes. Technology can be amazing, but it is also a tool that can do harm. As adults, we would not waste our time hurting others or we can handle “words” from people who do not mean much to us, but add the insecurities of tweens and teens and you will see drastic changes in a child’s affect. Most kids internalize the words of a bully, so as parents, we have to be on our toes to identify changes in a child’s behavior, personality, and attitude. This behavior is causing more and more kids to have anxiety issues, social awkwardness, emotional issues and can ultimately lead a child to make unsafe decisions. It is no wonder we are seeing a rise is substance abuse, mental health issues and violence. At one time or another, all kids are witness to, participate in or are the target of someone demonstrating keyboard courage.
Call of Duty, Fort Nite, Grand Theft Auto – All of these games are created for mature adults but are marketed towards our teenagers. The awesome graphics puts you right in the action of stealing cars, shooting people, stabbing people, etc. but guess what, there are no consequences. Really? We are exposing our children to violence that is based on real life and in real life would land them behind bars. Not in these games; the kids want the kill, they want the “W” and they are “live” trash talking with their friends and again complete strangers. Am I the only one who finds issues with this? You can not tell me that these games do not desensitize our kids to violence. We can place some blame on the manufacturers of these games, but we, as parents, buy these violent games.
Communication- This is where educators are seeing the most decline in our students’ academic ability. They can not communicate without a device. Students are not making eye-contact, not greeting each other in the halls, lack communication skills with adults, have anxiety over presenting in front of their peers, and they get the shakes if their electronic devices are taken away. Technology has reprogrammed our kids. Have your kids disconnect to reconnect with you, their siblings, friends, etc.
Posture and Vision – Not only are students being exposed to too much information, but we are seeing how looking down at a phone, tablet etc. is creating a generation of slouching youth. Just like the elongation of a giraffe’s neck to reach vegetation on tree tops, our physical qualities as humans are adapting to technology. I can even imagine that the long term effects of staring at a device will change our sight.
I will admit, my life revolves around technology, but I also know what it is like to not have the world at my fingertips. My parents had the ability to censor what I was exposed to. I only knew information that was passed on to me out of an adult’s mouth. Our kids now know everything! They can pull up anything on an Internet search. They believe everything they read on the Internet as gospel. They are desensitized to violence and pornography. They are lacking communication skills and are becoming couch potatoes. They think shooting animated characters on video games is fun. It all makes me question if technology is really moving us forward. As a middle school principal, I witness technology, 75% of the time, creating problems, drama, and removing a kid’s ability to play, create, and just have fun. Be proactive, not reactive! Create household Internet rules, limit screen time, have discussions about dangerous online predators, check social media sites and “for my eyes only” apps, and monitor the behaviors of your children.
Just when I think I caught up and learned the ins and outs of middle school students, I run head on into a brick wall. Let me explain my predicament. I see this teary-eyed young lady quietly walking down the hall to homeroom. So, I decide to intervene, just like any other compassionate adult would in this situation. I approach cautiously – as a four-year old, little boy would a bunny when trying to catch the cute little creature. I always want to make sure all of my students are okay, but I don’t want to make a situation worse during what appears to be a very trying time for her. I catch her eye with my most sympathetic gaze. Without even saying anything, she looked at me and said, “He left me on open.” I pause, trying to look as if I understand her predicament, but really I am stalling while I plan my intervention. So, without further hesitation, I proceed with “Who left you on open” and cross my fingers that I even want to know what is meant by on open?” She was very forthcoming with the name of a 14 year old boy who also attends the school. I assure her that everything was going to be okay, to take a deep breathe and take one class period at a time. She agrees and promises to come see me if she needs anything. I watch her disappear into a classroom and hurriedly I open the door to another room of students. I scan the room carefully, and ask to see one of my best resources for teenage drama assistance.
Parents of teenagers – Take note. My conversation with this student went as follows:
Me: “So, I was wondering if you could help me out a little. I am trying to figure out what is meant to be left on open?”
Student eagerly jumps in with, “OMG, who was left on open?”
Me: “Does it really matter? I just want to know the meaning behind the phrase.”
Student replies with excitement: “It does matter because the person that was left on open is in danger of losing their streak.”
Me: “Streak of what and you can’t be on open to have a streak?” I probably appear to look a little nervous because the conversation is getting deep.
Student looks at me like I have two heads: “You don’t want to lose your streak, Snap only lets you restore a streak one time and after that it is gone forever.”
Me (so many questions are entering my mind.): “Is a streak really that important? and Is Snap really SnapChat? I thought SnapChat was for pictures you want to share.”
The student nodded and continued, “It is, but you have to keep sending pictures to keep your streak and increase your snap score.”
Me: “Yikes! Let’s start over…on open?”
Student: “Oh, it means the snap was opened, but not responded to. So someone is really blowing someone off. Can you now tell me who was left on open?”
Me: “Absolutely not! So did you ever think that maybe that person’s phone died or they are busy.”
Student gives me a frustrated look. “Well, If someone told you they were left on open, they are also aware that that person has been on snap and is avoiding their message. SnapChat will tell you the last time a person was on Snap. Now, if she was left on delivered, that means the snap went through, but the receiver is ignoring the snap and didn’t even have the courtesy to open the snap! I am not sure which is worse, but both are not good.”
Me: “So if the person actually reads the snap, that is a bad thing?”
“Yes, it means they read the snap but are choosing not to respond. That is a major blow off.”
As I contemplate continuing this conversation, I experience a vivid memory of Abbott and Costello’s, “Who’s on First?” I politely thank her for her time, and hustle to my office for some Urban Dictionary education.
What I found out:
Left on open means a snap was sent and the recipient opened it, which is a complicated way of saying the snap was read.. In addition, SnapChat records and reports when a person is on Snap so the original sender has proof that the recipient is not busy or away from their phone, but just being stubborn. Hence, why the young girl was so upset. She was left on open intentionally.
Left on delivered means the recipient did not even take the time to open and read the snap. Also devastating to an original snapper.
Snap score means this app is counting how many times everyone is snapping back and forth. The more you snap, the higher the score. This is another indicator if someone is purposely leaving you on delivered. If the recipient’s snap score is rising, they are actively snapping.
Streaks are created after you snap someone over a few days, but within a 24 hour period. Your streaks with each member you snap is also recorded. But get this: If you do not snap within a 24 hour period, the streak is gone and you have to start over. I know what you are thinking, how do you keep track of all these 24 hour periods? Awe, simple, the app puts a timer next to the name of the person warning you that his or her time is almost up.
So after taking this all in and realizing how lucky I was to just have to pass paper and pencil notes, I decided to check on this girl. I look up where she is and I walk to her classroom. When I have her in the hall, she looks even more distraught. Thinking I understand this Snap language, I ask, “What happened and did he now leave you in delivered?” She frowned and said, “No, I am still left on open, but now we lost our heart so his second favorite on his best friends list passed me up and now has his heart.” Of course, I asked how she knows that and she replied “I keep checking my phone.”
Okay so we will leave it at that because I am once again clueless and I’m shocked at just another way technology is taking over our kids. This is time consuming to keep up with all of this and kids are becoming addicted. Continuing my research, I found that on average kids snap each other back and forth between 40-50 times a day, competing to maintain snap status. I also found it is common for students to have 500-1000 day streaks. No wonder we are having trouble with incomplete homework and lack of content mastery. The kids are too busy snapping. I don’t even want to know how many kids are on each other’s daily snap list.
So, I chalked this experience up to kids having their priorities totally out of whack. They are addicted to social media where relationships are based on hearts and best friend lists. More concerning, I have a student breaking our cell phone policy of leaving their phones in their lockers – turned off!
Sometimes admitting that you have a weakness and accepting that you are not always perfect feels like you succumbed to failure, but verbalizing your feelings and sharing your story can turn that failure into a success.
One Monday morning while I was greeting students at the front door of the school, I noticed a young girl, who is usually the first to tell me good morning, look a little glassy-eyed as if she was distant. I proceeded to tell her good morning and she looked up with a sheepish smile. The day continued and I received a phone call from her mom who sounded distraught herself. She explained that her daughter was acting out of character all weekend and was secluding herself to her bedroom. Her daughter was being very clingy and normally she is very independent. She asked if I would call her down to see if anything was going on at school. I did, and I too noticed a very timid affect to this little girl. What I saw was a girl who visibly looked lost and was having trouble making eye contact. Her one leg was moving uncontrollably and she struggled to make conversation.
Seeing her like that reminded me of the first day of my senior year. When I woke up that morning, I did not feel that nervous anticipation that I normally feel when starting a new school year. The smile that was normally on my face was hidden behind a lingering, hopeless feeling. A feeling that would not go away and the more I concentrated on alleviating the recognizable symptoms, the more intense those symptoms developed. I did not wake up that day as myself; I woke up that day as a scared teenager who wanted to curl up in the fetal position and guard myself from the experiences of the outside world. I wanted to close my eyes and open them again and be the carefree, bright-eyed girl that found excitement in just getting ready for each new day.
On the first day of school just a few years back, I noticed a young boy exiting the bus dressed in his first day of school bests accented with swollen, red eyes. At the middle school level rarely do I see a student start the day upset. I knew it was the first day of school and all the students would have normal jitters, but for some reason this student caught my attention so I continued to watch this student for the next two weeks. Finally, I asked the bus driver if she noticed a change in this little boy and she informed me the kiddo had a hard time almost every morning when in elementary school. She said that this boy is overly cautious and strives to be perfect in his studies. He had friends, but they were always questioning why he was so upset, so they distanced themselves from him. On one particular day, he asked me on his way to homeroom if he could go see the nurse because he was not feeling well. Later that afternoon, I called his mom and she explained her son sometimes breaks her heart because she doesn’t know how to fix what is going on in his head.
That little boy’s disposition brought me back to the time when I felt lost and retreated to my bathroom where I sat on the floor. I can still feel my fingers entwined in the green carpet fibers, like I was holding on tightly so I would not succumb to panic. My anxiety was coming in waves that I was not controlling. Waves of emotions seemed to be crushing down and wearing away my ability to cope. When at its highest peak, I was immobilized. When at its lowest, my thought was that the feeling was going to come back any minute. What caused this transformation in me? What triggered this emotional roller coaster? When will this feeling go away? All of these questions kept playing in my mind as if they were recorded on tape.
First impressions tell a lot about a person. When meeting me for the first time, you would immediately detect that I am a strong-willed, confident woman who takes control of any situation while remaining calm, cool, and collected in an emergency. First glance, you would see that I do not let grass grow under my feet and I jump from one project to the next seamlessly. I would even go so far as to challenge anyone to keep up. I am sure I can exhaust an onlooker as I balance work, three kids, a business, working on my dissertation and making sure my kids scrapbooks are up to date. With that being said, I have a general anxiety condition that is not triggered by a specific event or trying times. My anxiety is caused by a chemical imbalance that I had to learn to control and to deal with it. Deal with it just like people deal with diabetes or heart disease. The condition is real and it is important to make changes to control it. There is no shame in having anxiety, as there is no shame in having a migraine, high cholesterol, cancer, etc.
I now look at my anxiety as an unwanted gift that I gratefully accept and tuck away for specific situations. I guess that sounds silly, but I have the ability to relate to people who have anxiety issues. I am able to easily notice the change in someone’s affect and guide them in the direction for support. I share my personal experiences with anxiety to help individuals navigating this uncharted territory so they can understand these feelings and how to deal with them. My anxiety makes me compassionate so that I can relate to my students on a daily basis. My anxiety makes me an educator that knows that all behaviors stem from other issues and finding the root cause of those issues will modify behavior faster than disciplining it.
If I could teach my students mini lessons on how to cope with anxiety, they would be outlined as follows:
Never make any life altering decisions when you are feeling anxious – I learned this lesson the hard way and believe that even when I was younger I would shy away from situations that I was unsure of and most likely missed out on a great time. At the onset of what I consider my initial bout of anxiety, I was absolutely sure that I would not be able to start my first day as a senior in high school and that all my dreams had vanished, but I did it and I was able to pursue my goals. Do not change your goals in life until you are in what I call “back to normal.”
It takes a whole lot of strength to get through a day of anxiety – The feeling of anxiety is exhausting. Your mind is constantly racing and your subconscious is relentlessly reminding you to calm down; that there is nothing to worry about. How your body reacts to the feeling of anxiety differs from person to person, but it is not uncommon to have a rapid heartbeat, jitters, heavy breathing, loss of appetite and a numbing cold feeling all over. Take a deep breath and just move forward.
Talk yourself down by reminding yourself that you have been through this before and it does go away – The first time for everything is always scary, but as you get used to a problem and the outcome, future experiences become more of a “Here we go again” and believe it or not, you will laugh about it.
Surround yourself with positive people and have patience with others who do not understand – I am sure as a person who has anxiety you have crossed the path of others who do not relate to what you are feeling. I have had people make comments, such as “Just stop worrying,” “Knock it off,” Snap out of it” or “Are you crazy?” and my response is always, “Really – You think I want to be like this?” There is a lot to be said about not judging someone until you walk a mile in his or her shoes. It is so easy to condemn when experience is absent. It is so easy to turn a blind eye on the unknown. Surrounding yourself with supportive people will help you be patient with those who do not understand.
Never give into your anxiety – This one is huge! I wanted so badly to give into those horrible feelings and hide in a dark room avoiding life, but I went to school and reminded myself throughout the day of my small victories. I started with putting one foot in front of the other, then I celebrated every class period I completed and then I celebrated getting through the whole day.
Anxiety is very humbling – I did not realize this one until my extreme bouts with anxiety were almost non-existent. I felt I was on top of the world until the day my anxiety hit again. The few times it has come back with that intensity, it took a long time to feel comfortable again. I never took a good day for granted and was humbled by each bout of anxiety. I became who I am through my experiences and do not live my life based on my anxiety. I need to fail in order to succeed. I need to fall in order to be lifted up. I need to stop before I go. I need to have humbling experiences in order to be successful.
It is not taboo to talk about your anxiety – One of my favorite people told me one time when I was questioning my sanity that “Crazy people do not know they are crazy.” I still laugh at that one, but if you think about it, that was my anxiety talking (Refer back to #1). The more people are aware of how common anxiety is, the more people will feel comfortable if they are having symptoms themselves.
Having anxiety is not a bad thing – Yes, the feelings related to anxiety are horrible and the thoughts are sometimes uncontrollable, but all of that makes me and will make you a more conscientious individual and an ideal person to support others who have these symptoms.
Now back to those particular students I mentioned earlier in this article, as well as numerous other students I have worked with over the years. I had the knowledge base to get those kids through what they were feeling because of my personal experience. Without that experience, I might have missed some cues that a student was struggling. Those students have someone to relate to and someone to lift them up when they feel defeated. They have a model of someone who is very successful despite at one time having horrible anxiety.
Anxiety has made me a better educator.
Anxiety helped me understand the actions of others.
Anxiety allowed me to be compassionate to the uniqueness of my students.
Anxiety helped me guide students down a path of success.
Anxiety helped me to look at each day as a blessing.
Life’s lessons are plenty. How we react and deal with them is what separates the strong from the weak, the successful from the unsuccessful, the respected from the disrespected and the leaders from the followers. Someone once stated 10% of our success is based on events that are thrown our way, but 90% of our success is devoted to how well we react to those events. I believe that!
Sometimes I just don’t understand my teenage daughter? Talking to her makes me sometimes question if I was ever a teenager, if I was ever popular, if I was a fashionista, and did I even have friends? The type of music she listens to, the time she spends straightening her hair, why she would want to wear such tight jeans with holes all through them and her lack of communication other than through Snap, text, Tik Tok and instagram. As a mom, I feel totally ”extra” and not eligible for her to “spill the tea” with me and I swear I was never so excluding with my own mother. Then one day a spark of a connection starts to heat up and I tread lightly because I do not want to extinguish the familiarity right from the start. I have to keep my cool, if she finds out…it is game over!
All of my teenage years spanned the length of the 90s decade, which really was not that long ago. It was the best time of my life and I was, in my eyes, the model of what a teenager in the 90s should look, walk, talk, dress and converse. What a time it was! It was a time of dial-up internet, call waiting, Delia’s, Saved by the Bell, Sun-In, Rachel/Monica hair cuts, Boyz 2 Men, Destiny’s Child and even Cotton-Eyed Joe. So when my daughter started hinting around that it was time for a mom/daughter shopping trip, I was intrigued. It only took her sharing with me what she would like to purchase to send me back to 1995, sitting on the window sill of the high school cafeteria.
My daughter: “Mom, I would really like a pair of these super trendy new sandals”.
Me: “Oh, what type of sandals?”
My Daughter: “Well, they are a bulkier sandal with two leather straps across the top and the sole conforms to your foot the more you wear them. They are called Birkenstocks”.
It took me a minute to process and I must have looked confused or maybe elated because she preceded, “Mom, can we look at them?” Immediately, I wanted to share that at one time I had those very same “trendy” sandals in every color. But the moment I say that, the trip down memory lane would take an unwanted detour and I want to go along for the ride.
Isn’t it funny how things come full circle? It is also interesting how styles are “reinvented” and introduced to teenagers as “original.” Here are a few of my favorite trends of the 90s that I caught my daughter sporting!
These sandals were the staple of my wardrobe in the late nineties. The more you wear them, the more comfortable they become and it was one pair of shoes that you and your BFF did not share. They became unique to your foot, so sharing was not practical. Looking through my shoe collection, you might have found Mary Janes with a chunky heel, shoes with a platform, and utilities boots.
I might have had a few tears in my jeans, but by no means were my jeans considered “skinny.” Sometimes the bottoms of my jeans completely covered my shoes and my figure was lost in the material. Having a tapered jean was unheard of in my day. Yes, skinny jeans are popular today, but I caught my daughter in a pair of jeans that looked like they were not painted on! Amazing! One day, I will break out some pictures of me in the late nineties and share them with her.
The only thing better than a scrunchie in the 90s was the banana clip in the 80s. A year ago, I would reminisce about the infamous scrunchie and laugh out loud of how ridiculous they looked plopped on top of my head or tied around a loose ponytail gathered at my neck. More importantly, I would have several hanging off my wrist just in case one of my friends asked, “Can I borrow a scrunchie?”
#4 Doc Martens
Alongside my “birks” were strategically placed Doc Martens. Picture utility boots that you see on construction workers or on members of the military, but super shiny, black leather with stitching lining the outside sole to the boot. They look perfect with a pair of my loose fitting jeans. Not very feminine, but you could walk through anything. So when my daughter was perusing the Birkenstock rack, I was not surprised that she tested out a pair of Doc Martens. Oh, the Joy!
#5 Puka Shell Necklaces and Bracelets
The 90s was full of “extra” including extra gaudy Puka shell accessories, but we all loved them. After the routine of getting dressed for school, came the routine of adding scrunchies and Puka shells to our neck and wrist. Maybe even an anklet for fun. When I noticed my daughter purchasing a single leather strand with one, white pearl, I knew the Puka shells would be surfacing soon.
#6 Friendship Bracelets
Another fun accessory was on the inexpensive side and most the time came in the form of a gift. Friendship bracelets consumed many hours of the 90s teenager’s lives as they weaved, braided, tied or patterned with three strings, candy stripes, or some other creative design. We would tape the one side to the kitchen counter and let our creativity flow. Wouldn’t you know it, woven embroidery thread has been found throughout my house and my kids know how to macrame.
#7 Oversized T-shirts
Now that I think of it, the 90s were just comfortable. Wide-legged jeans, soft scrunchies, comfortable shoes and to top it off, oversized tees. It did not matter what the t-shirt design or the color, it just had to accent Puka shell necklaces and cover all the areas that present day Yoga pants accent. My favorite was a navy blue U.S. Navy shirt that was super soft. I do not know where I found it but I think one of my friends ended up claiming it. It was fun to share in the 90s too! Several years ago, I never thought my daughter would approve of me leaving the house with anything screen printed but now we coordinate.
#8 14 Karat Gold
Coin ring anyone? Along with the junky jewelry came the Gold Rush. Nothing subtle about this trend. Rings on every finger, large hoop earrings, herringbone chains, and chain linked bracelets, oh my! This trend I have yet to see my daughter explore but I would not be disappointed if she asked for a gold dolphin ring.
#9 Beverly Hills, 90210
Maybe the recent reboot jogged my memory but I sure did love meeting friends weekly for 90210 night. I believe I cried for days when the 10th season ended. Believe it or not, when the network auctioned off props and furniture from the set, I was live on the Internet placing bids for Donna’s wedding dress (we were the same size back then) and the cow print oversized chair in Donna’s and Kelly’s beach house. So yes, I watch the reboot with my daughter, but she is not getting the true picture of what it was to love the bad boy style of Dylan.
So now you know my excitement for my daughter’s sudden urge to go shopping with me. A trip down memory lane was much needed and knowing that my daughter’s fashion sense is not much different from mine, I consider it a mom win! Well Played!
When I think back to my “glory days” sitting in a classroom, I don’t recall bullying being such an issue. I am sure it went on and children were affected by it every day, but I think it was more of a private matter. No one told on a bully or admitted they were being bullied and teachers rarely talked about or received any training on extinguishing potential bullying situations. Occasionally, you would hear a teacher reprimand a student for “picking on” another student, but how much impact did that have on the aggressor and their behavior coming to a halt?
It seems like school bullying has been a topic of interest on a lot of parent’s and educator’s minds lately. More and more, the news media is educating the public on the long term effects of bullying and occasionally they publicize a bullying issue gone totally wrong. How did we end up living in a society that can be so cruel? What does a bully get out of hurting others and belittling their peers? Does it increase their self-esteem because they originally felt so inferior to that particular individual? From experience, I have concluded in every recognized bullying situation, the resulting behavior is usually easily defined. The root cause of most bullying situations is some form of jealousy. Maybe a student gets better grades or maybe a student looks a particular way? Maybe a student has what someone else wants? Maybe a student is just shy and it takes time for that child to warm up and participate in certain activities?
I have also learned in my experience, that some kids just think they are better than others. They were raised to believe that everyone is not equal and should not be treated with the same respect. Sadly, kids that fall into that category are kids whose parents indirectly raise them with a sense of entitlement. When the issue is addressed, these are the kids who come from parents who are quick to say “how dare you?” instead of supporting educators to modify the behavior. Student who fall into this category are usually sneaky, intentional and downright mean, but appear to be innocent and sweet. Both categories of bullies: ones stemming from jealously and ones stemming from entitlement need to learn right from wrong. Unfortunately, without the support of parents, school faculty members have to address these issues along with the student’s education. The schools are also blamed when these students continue the unmodified behavior, making the schools a target for ridicule.
As parents, we need to promote an individual’s differences and unique qualities. Parents need to raise their children respect differences in others and model how not to be envious of others, but promote differences as something that sets us apart from all being uniform humans. Not everyone has the ability to automatically be at the top of the class, but everyone has the ability to learn. All students do not fit the “unrealistic” mold Barbie and Ken originated, but each of us was created in our own mold. Our personalities develop from life experiences, so why don’t we take the time to give each other positive encounters and leave all the negatives to the inevitable. As parents, teach and model for your child how to respect each other, complement each other and at times stick up for yourself and others. No one should be treated like their differences are a curse, but should be appreciated for their individually.
As educators, we are outlining procedures to combat bullying. We can’t stop it completely, but we can recognize it and make our bullies understand the power of their negative words and actions. We can curtail the behaviors by educating our youth on why it is inappropriate to bully and there are consequences for that type of behavior. We can stop the practice of “stop picking on him/her” and move to “bully free zone.” It should be the bullies’ life that is altered by the behavior and not that of an individual who is considerate for others and is just enjoying the day. Children that grow up as bullies often live their adult life as bullies. Think about your actions and words to others before you model your behavior as appropriate to your children, students and onlookers. Promote a “bully free community”, “support the schools”, “teach your child right from wrong” and “promote equality!”
Educational Tip: Make sure to ask your child about their school day. It is important to keep lines of communication open not only to academics, but to social activities that happen during the day. Parents are the number one resource in identifying possible bullying activities. Recommended Reading- The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale.
Hi…..Jessie here! Welcome to my blog that encompasses stories of my life as a mom, teacher and principal – all of which involves interactions with children. Of those three titles, Mom is my favorite because I feel my greatest accomplishments are my three children. Greatest accomplishments because for 18 years, I have been walking on eggshells navigating through uncharted territory. Being a mom is so rewarding, but also one of the scariest adventures ever. The titles of teacher and principal are tied for a close second because when I entered my first classroom of students, I was awestruck with these amazing kiddos and how I learned just as much from them as they learned from me. Both titles taught me what it felt like to be strong and empathetic while molding me to be humble, happy, sad, “Compassionate”, irate, ecstatic, stressed, confused, lost, speechless, and the list can go on and on. Sometimes you have to feel negative emotions to experience positive emotions. You have to “Find your balance.”
My love for my own children and my school children motivated me to continuously strive for more education to better understand their motives. I wanted to learn how their brains functioned, how their emotions affect how they learn, why building relationships with students eliminates misbehavior, how showing compassion is more important than demanding perfection. Seeking these answers and working in the educational field led me to the title, Dr. Jessica Scott.This blog is to share my thoughts, experiences, mishaps, successes, “aha” moments and occasionally a platform to give advice. Reader beware: I love sarcasm and a portion of my posts contain my ability to be witty, funny and creative while other posts are serious and have a sense of urgency. This platform allows me to share with you moments that others would comment, “you could write a book with everything that has crossed your desk over the last 17 years as a teacher, administrator, and principal”. This platform also allows me to share my struggles as a mom raising three teenagers without pulling my hair out! Finding the balance of motherhood, my career while being a wife, and upcoming entrepreneur has been a major juggling act, but I am doing it. My biggest roadblock has been finding some “me” time, but to find a balance requires that time to rejuvenate. So join my journey, laugh at my mishaps, scratch your head with my puzzling encounters with students, watch my juggling act while I stretch myself too thin, and see when my type A personality gets the best of me. Fill free to comment and share with me your similar experiences so we can all have that “been there, done that” moment. This should be fun!