The Power

Any of us who have worked in schools for any amount of time know about those students who move through each day, invisible to most yet not making any trouble. We also know about those kids who are quite visible because they move through each day creating a wake of problems behind them. These two groups of kids have something in common: they tend to have few meaningful relationships with other kids or adults.

We can’t necessarily create friendships for them with other students. They may just have to forge their own way through the social world of their peers, perhaps making a few connections, perhaps staying isolated.

As teachers, however, we have an opportunity to make an impact on kids from both of these groups. We can pick out one or maybe two of these students and begin to build a relationship with them ourselves. We can do this with students whom we see in the hallways, lunchroom, bus stop or study halls. These are not our own students but students who we choose to make an impact on their possible loneliness.

We can start by just making eye contact, saying “hi.” Another time we can comment on their haircut/style, books they are carrying, food they are eating, shoes they are wearing. We can notice something safe and not too personal about them. Later we can ask them about something: who’s their teacher, their favorite/least favorite class, their after school activities. At some point we might ask them to help us carry something, to help one of our own students, to make a picture that can go on our classroom wall. We can ask them about their sports team, their test scores, their music performance.

This is not an act of pity. This is a professional act of reaching out, slowly and methodically, to show kids they are noticed, that they matter.

This is guaranteed to make a difference in the life of a student at your school.

We have the power to make an impact on kids, one relationship at a time.


November 30, 2012. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Does It Really Take A Village…?

The proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child” is a familiar saying used to describe the importance of community efforts to ensure its children’s well being along with each individual family’s efforts. The saying and its attribution as an African proverb is sometimes thought of having originated from the Nigerian Igbo culture and the proverb “Ora na azu nwa” which means it takes the community/village to raise a child.

Current day research on keeping kids healthy focuses on a similar theme. To keep them safe, according to experts, today’s kids need to be watched and supervised by not only their own parents or guardians but also need to be overseen by other adults in the community [Rishel, Carrie, Sales, Esther, Koeske, Gary. Relationships with Non-Parental Adults and Child Behavior. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. 2005-02-01].

The pace of life for today’s families has increased to such a degree that children’s parents can barely keep up with them. Unlike the days of our youth, kids are well connected to a lot of materials outside of our homes: media, Internet, cable TV, cell phones, etc. This is not the same, though, as being connected with other trusted adults who are concerned with the well being of children. Privacy issues and boundary considerations make it even more difficult for adults to get involved with other people’s children. Kids today are losing their close contact with other adults in their lives.

Research has also documented that kids are more likely to grow up safely if they have a healthy relationship with at least one other adult who is not their parent []. Learning how to trust others from a generation other than one’s own is a life skill that begins in childhood.

Some schools are adopting a new program to train parents to work together to form just such a community. PARENT-TO-PARENT COMMUNICATION TRAINING works with parents of a specific grade level to connect with each other, identifying the challenges facing today’s families and practicing techniques to break through the impediments preventing parents from communicating with each other.

Beginning with activities to help parents get to know each other’s names, discussions emerge about stressors in family life and how to inoculate families to prevent or minimize those stressors. This is followed by small group activities where real life dilemmas are deconstructed and ideas generated about how parents could benefit from contacting each other. It soon becomes apparent that it can be difficult to make contact with other parents and a list of “impediments to communication” is created.

As a large group, ideas are generated to break through the impediments standing in the way of the desired communication. Small groups are re-formed and parents practice giving and receiving communication about the dilemmas. Finally, the large group is surveyed about their individual desire to be contacted if anyone is ever concerned about their child. The unanimous hand-raising confirms to the group that they have been given permission to contact each other if/when real dilemmas occur in the future.

It really does take a village to raise healthy kids today. Schools can help to teach its parent community how to do this effectively.

For more information on this dynamic parenting program, please contact us at


October 1, 2012. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Would I Choose a Teaching Career, Again? Reflections From a Retired Teacher

by Jeff Fink

It seems to me that as you get older it is only natural to reflect on your life and the decisions you have made. Recently, I have been pondering whether or not I would have chosen a teaching career if given the chance to do it all over.

The answer is definitive. I truly loved being a teacher. I loved being surrounded by kids. I found the work interesting, challenging, rewarding, never boring, a way to show my creative side, and almost always fun. I believe they kept me young. So, I guess the answer would have to be a big YES!

However, if I were twenty-two years old today would I chose teaching as my career? I realize that the answer to this question is not as conclusive. In fact, the best I can say is I am not sure.

Although retired from teaching, I stay involved in the profession through ChildSense and as a professor in Hamline University’s education department. And although I am no longer “in the trenches,” I have a birds-eye view of today’s schools. When I look at teachers and administrators today I often see exhausted, unhappy people.

I believe the most significant reason for this is our country’s emphasis and use of standardized tests as a way to determine student progress and teacher and school effectiveness. The pressure to have kids perform on a standardized test has been a huge strain on educators today. For many, they are so obsessed with the “test” that they have forgotten how to teach and they have created an environment that is stale, boring and certainly doesn’t promote life-long learners.

Although I believe it is important to assess student learning and teacher effectiveness, I am certain that a standardized test only is a snap shot of a students learning. It doesn’t show how far the student has come nor does it show how motivated they are to continue learning.

They say the pendulum always swings in education. I hope the pendulum swings soon.  It is time that we found better and more creative ways to assess student learning and teacher effectiveness. I think when we do we will see the joy of teaching and learning return.

September 6, 2012. Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Summer Vacation…It’s Slipping Away!!!

Ahh…summer vacation. Sleeping late…reading the newspaper…drinking coffee…leisurely walks. Okay, maybe taking a few seminars…cleaning the basement…organizing papers…throwing things away. Still, the change of pace for the summer is dramatic. Earlier this summer, as I was enjoying the last days of June, I ran into my colleague, Kris Nelson. She also basked in the glory of summer vacation, and particularly June. Then she told me something I will never forget. She said summer vacation is like the weekend. I asked her to explain and here is what she told me.

ImageJune is like Friday night: the beginning of an extended break. The time to relax and not worry about anything. Time expands out indefinitely. Sometimes we relax because we’re tired after that long stretch of work. Sometimes we let loose and go wild because we’ve been structured for so long. June is like Friday night.

July is like Saturday: the middle, a full day of open time. Getting a little used to the change in structure and just going with the flow. Lots of time left, why it’s only just started. We can play, complete projects, run errands. It’s our choice because we have the whole day! It’s glorious. July is like Saturday.

That brings us to August. August. August is like Sunday. Yes, the day is still open but we can feel obligation and responsibility creeping up on us again. We try to enjoy the open time we still have but we can’t help but look ahead to what’s coming. The next long span seems so far away. We don’t want to waste any of this wonderful freedom by thinking about all of this too much but we can’t resist preparing ourselves. The day ebbs away and then…we’re back. August is like Sunday.

In truth, most of us love our jobs. I look forward to returning to school at the end of August and even on Mondays. I feel lucky to have a job that I enjoy and kids and adults who I value seeing each day. Those of us in schools, we get to push the reset button every year. Who else gets to do that? But I can’t shake that feeling of freedom slipping away as the days get shorter and the sales advertisements creep up earlier each year.

I need to start going to bed earlier. It’s almost Monday.

August 1, 2012. Uncategorized. 1 comment.


The expression K I S S came about because we often complicate our lives by over thinking problems when the solution is often more simple. However, the reverse can be true too. There are times we find solutions to problems that are too simple and fail to take into consideration the complexities of an issue. We may let our own life experiences, our assumptions, and our biases guide us to solutions that only take into account our limited view of a particular issue.

Joe Soucheray, in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, might be guilty of the latter. In the following article he proposes a solution to the problem of low school attendance. Maybe this is one of those issues whose solution isn’t quite so simple.

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July 2, 2012. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

The Best Gifts for Teachers


As the school year is closing, some may be thinking about how to show their appreciation for teachers and other school support personnel. We know many teachers who have found great value in personal messages created for them by their students and parents. Letters, photo albums, and other documentation of what made the school year important to them usually stand far above token gifts of items such as candy and coffee cups. To see that a student or parent has taken the time to articulate WHAT has made the teacher relationship special, well, that carries its own special message.

One of my most prized possessions is a clay cup. It is molded in the shape of my face by one of my former students. Liz made it for me in art class when she was a fifth grader about 34 years ago. It sits on a counter in my kitchen holding pens and pencils. I look at it every day. It serves as a reminder of a memorable student as well as a symbol of the feelings I’ve had for all of my students.

Students and parents: think about creating a representation of your fond feelings for your teacher and consider beginning it now. By the time the year has ended, you will have a gift for the teacher that will resonate with him or her for a lifetime.

Teachers and other school personnel: please consider sending us a description of your favorite mementos from your students. Attach a picture, if you can.

May 31, 2012. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

A Teacher Asks, “Why Can’t I Create a Classroom Community?”

“I greet my students everyday when they walk into the classroom. I take interest in their lives both in and out of school. I do my best to involve the parents by calling with positive news and by sending home weekly newsletters. I hold a morning meeting with a greeting, an activity, and morning message. I try to smile and be excited to begin each teaching day. I work hard on building a relationship with my students. In spite of all my efforts to create a harmonious community, my students still don’t treat each other well and can sometimes can be outright mean to each other.”

Do these words sound familiar?  Why is it that in spite of teachers’ best efforts to build a harmonious community, it doesn’t always happen?

While all the above strategies are critical for building a community, we find that teachers often do subtle things that defeat all their hard work and have the effect of dividing the community.

These subtle gestures most likely occur when a student continues to demonstrate behaviors that disrupt the teaching and learning. At these times, teachers might roll their eyes or make some other gesture of disapproval. They might also deliver a message of guilt such as: “I am sick and tired of having to constantly remind you!” or “Do you think other kids will want to play with you?” or “You are acting like a kindergartner.”

These messages communicate how the teacher is frustrated and tired of this student. The implication is that the student is the problem not the behavior! It conveys a message to this particular student that he is not accepted, that he is defective. These comments have the effect of ostracizing the student from the rest of the class and it gives the other students permission to not accept that student as part of the community.

It is understandable that teachers get frustrated and tired, after all we are human. If we want to create a classroom community for all students, however, then in addition to doing all those positive proactive strategies, we must also make sure we preserve the dignity of the student whose behavior might wear us out. We must respond to behaviors respectfully and continually send a message that it is the behavior that is the problem not the child.

If we can manage our own feelings and treat ALL of our students with respect, especially those who may not reciprocate, then we can truly create a classroom community, a unique environment where EVERYONE feels that they belong and that they matter.

May 1, 2012. Uncategorized. 2 comments.

What’s Wrong with “Catch Them Being Good”?

“Catch ‘em being good.” We heard this phrase frequently during the phase of child development practice that focused on promoting “self-esteem.” Parents and teachers were directed to not only set clear boundaries for children and to hold them accountable for crossing those boundaries, but we were also to acknowledge their positive behaviors as they occurred. In fact, some amounts were suggested, such as five positives to every negative. We’re generally in support of noticing and acknowledging the positive behaviors of others (and not just children). Where we disagree is on HOW that acknowledging is presented. Too often, positive messages are simplified into statements of praise. Praise statements too often skip over stating what the value of the positive behavior is and implies that the value is simply in pleasing someone. Statements of praise (“I like how you did this..” “Thank you for doing this…” ” What a great boy/girl you are…”) may please the recipient but it is at a price. The price is not allowing the child to experience the value of their behavior internally. Instead, they only externally receive the verbal pat on the head because they have pleased someone else.

When your child or student does something well, what would you prefer to have them think:

My teacher/parent thinks I did a good job at that.


I did a good job at that!

Please continue to “catch ‘em being good” but when you do so, take the extra time to tell them what was “good” about it. Tell them how helpful it was that they cleaned their rooms, how welcoming it was to include others into their games, how wise they are becoming because they were working on their homework. Praise is so easy to give in its simplest form. Greater value can occur when praise is paired with acknowledgements that are more detailed.

April 1, 2012. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Remembering Your Teachers; Remembering You

Mrs. Nudell, kindergarten.

Mrs. Brennen, first grade.

Mrs. Airey, second grade.

Mrs. Mooney, third grade.

Mrs. Torp, fourth grade.

Mrs. Swenson, fifth grade.

Mrs. Long, sixth grade.

These were my elementary school teachers. I may be spelling their names wrong but their memories have lasted for around 50 years. Why do I remember them? Let’s see: Mrs. Brennen pushed me out of line in first grade after sweetly asking me what I was doing standing in the wrong place. Mrs. Long came over to my home to support my parents’ lecture to me after I was caught shoplifting at a neighborhood drug store. It was Mrs. Torp, however, my fourth grade teacher, who left the greatest impression on me. She inspired me to be a teacher. It was because of her firm but sensitive handling of her classroom that I knew, at ten years old, teaching is what I wanted to do.

In my subsequent career as an elementary school teacher, I tried to recall the lessons of my former teachers. Some of their teachings I tried to replicate, some I made sure to avoid. I never pushed anyone. Most of all, I tried to inspire my students to become humane, to challenge their thinking, and to love to learn.

I don’t know if I’ve left a legacy with any of my former students; I hope I have. I realize that the inspiration of teachers in younger grades may be dwarfed by the more recent memories of students’ high school teachers. Yet, I’d like to think that those of us who teach younger students do plant seeds, seeds that grow into healthy plants, thriving because of our early contact.

In a recent article in The New York Times, NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF writes about just such an impact in HOW MRS. GRADY TRANSFORMED OLLY NEAL. Read the article and then follow the links to his blog comments. Teachers have made impacts on many lives, as demonstrated by the memories touched by this article.

Do you recall teachers whose impact on you remains to this day? Have you received feedback from any of your former students commenting on your impact on them? Please let us know your thoughts and experiences.

January 31, 2012. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

The Importance of the School Bus Driver

If you have ever worked in an elementary school, you know that for many students the transition from the bus ride to the classroom can be difficult. The bus is often unsupervised and unsafe. Although the drivers try their best to maintain order on their bus, they are most concerned with driving carefully and getting children to school safe and sound. Because of this unstructured environment, students often get off the bus feeling unsettled and not prepared to learn.

A bus driver named Dennis Stricker has discovered not only how to provide a safe ride, but how to keep his passengers (students) engaged by playing a trivia game with them. Sue Powell, principal at Garlough Elementary in West St. Paul, Minnesota claims, “The students who ride Sticker’s bus arrive at school excited and ready to learn. It sets the tone for the students’ day.”

If all students arrived at school ready to learn like those on Mr. Sticker’s bus, student achievement would certainly rise. While we are constantly looking at new ways to improve student achievement, it might behoove us to take a look at how we might begin the students’ day not when they enter the school, but when they board the bus.

To read the article on how Dennis Sticker helps prepare students for school please go to:

January 1, 2012. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

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