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The Children Are Always Listening

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           I was recently at a school where there were some challenging social dynamics amongst a group of second graders. I know this must be familiar to parents of school-age parents: the rise of social media and early exposure to our culture through the Internet has created a complex social hierarchy amongst our youngest students. Clothes, possessions, vacations, cell phones, who's playing what games, and gossip are the social currency - a mirror of our adult world, no? Even the political debates of our times - immigration, taxes, climate change, gun control - are woven into our children's conversations.

           I am not advocating overly protective parenting: kids will get numerous messages no matter what we do. I am advocating that we as parents model the traits that will lead to greater understanding: listening, tolerance where possible, agreeing to disagree, and the willingness to find common ground with everyone we meet:

·        Listening: Do we allow ourselves to hear one another? Do we truly listen without simply formulating our next response? Do we provide eye contact, body language that is open and accepting, and a willingness to be present with another person? This is essential with our children and also essential with one another.

·        Tolerance: Many of us have been engaged in political arguments that only refute others' points of view. We have seen religious intolerance, racial intolerance, ethnic intolerance, gender intolerance, and social class intolerance played across all media. Can we model tolerance of others' experiences - when their points of view do not threaten or limit our free expression of our experiences?

·        Agreeing to disagree: Can we have a loving truce with our friends and families? Can we show our children that "being right" is not the only important facet of a relationship?

·        Finding common ground: Can we find the places where we agree and work from there? A love of Italian food, a shared passion for the Mets, or a soft spot for country music may be all we come up with, but it's a start.

          Back to those second graders: one student shares that there is a playdate coming up and only Suzie and Jake are invited - with three other classmates standing right there. Meanwhile, outside of school at pick-up time, two parents go on and on about the trip they are about to take next weekend, with other parents within easy earshot and unwitting participants in this conversation. The same thing, no?

          Children are always listening - not just when we are telling them what to do but also when we are driving, talking on the phone with our own parents about our siblings, and chatting with our friends. (How many times have we said "be nice to your brother!" while we bad mouth our siblings in front of the kids?) Can we choose to be loving, capable, compassionate, and tolerant individuals when the kids are around? Or even when they aren't around - just for the good of everyone?



          Most of us who are parents and grandparents remember well the issues that arise as a new school year begins:

·        What will I wear the first day?

·        Who will be my new teachers?

·        Will my friends still like me?

·        How can I possibly pass Algebra II/Physics/AP History???

(We might also remember that many of issues are issues of privilege: how many students in our country and around the world have limited access to new clothes, poorly staffed schools, peer groups dominated by gangs, and few opportunities for advanced courses?)

In the midst of this very natural angst there are also opportunities for new goals, new experiences, and new challenges for growth. But - as always - "chance favors the prepared mind" (to quote Louis Pasteur). How do we prepare ourselves and our students for the new beginnings that come each September?

·        Start adjusting the home schedule before the first week of school: wake-up times, meal times, and bed times can be quite flexible in the summer. Many of us need to slowly adjust to the school day, homework time, and fall sports schedules.

·        Set goals for the new school year: have your child pick one new activity they will try this year and hold them to that choice. Suggest grades or specific achievement points for various school classes that hopefully can be attained, and write those down as a "pledge" or "contract" to be reviewed at Thanksgiving (or after the first grading period). Making a team, running for an office in school, and learning a new skill or musical instrument all would apply here.

·        Make your home "school-friendly": be sure there are appropriate spaces for doing homework, knowing that these spaces will need to change as your child grows up and has different needs. Have appropriate healthy snacks available for after-school munching. Try to have your home be a welcoming space for your child to do school projects with other children.

·        Have a family "screens" policy: screen time is here to stay, but parents can still set the standards for screen use at home. Have clear policies about dinner time (no screens and phones for parents, too!), multiple screen usage while doing homework (multitasking is a myth!), and how you will collect screens before bedtime (eliminate those 2 am texts!).

If we do not provide values and structures for our children the culture - which is based upon social media and consumerism - will fill in the void. We have a responsibility to raise our own children, and that takes time and effort.



Raising Kids Who Bounce Back

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I believe that there is a continuing revelation of truth in the world - that we are always going to find new ways to be authentic. Our children's development is a form of continuing revelation: they will grow and teach us who there are, what they need, and how they will live in this world.


I also believe that children - with the right nurture and the right environment - naturally grow into goodness. That being said, life presents challenges, and thus we need to talk about how we help our children - and ourselves -  deal with setbacks - the concept of resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity with positive

  outcomes and optimism. We all need it - but how do we develop it? Here is a list of qualities that we can nurture in our children to develop this "bounce back" skills:

·        Learn how to have positive relationships.

·        Cultivate a good sense of humor.

·        Develop an "inner compass" and learn right from wrong.

·         Encourage independence in age-appropriate ways.

·         Model and cultivate a love of learning.

·        Model and develop flexibility

·        Look for self-motivation in things they are passionate about - baseball, painting, gymnastics, reading - even if these passions would not be your first choice for them.

·        Honor and applaud competence - self-esteem is based upon competence, not self-praise...

·         Make your home a place of creativity.

·        Model and nurture perseverance: learn a new skill with your child.

·        Recognize spirituality in yourself and your child: how do you practice as a family respect and awe for the divine?

A major challenge to resilience that many parents ask about is bullying. Let's first talk about what bullying is:

1. Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions.
2. Bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time.
3. Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength.

It is also important to know that bullying is not teasing (between friends with no power differential and with a goal of humor and not aggression) or a random unkind act (which is regrettable but can be addressed as a single incident).

So what can we do to stop bullying?

1)                 Teach children to use their words first and ask for what they want.

2)               Empower children to a) find common ground with others; b) seek positive cohorts who can be allies in positive activities; c) walk away from bullying situations toward friends and allies; d) remain calm and confident, and e) (when all else fails) ask for adult help.

3)               Avoid solving the situation for children when is first arises - instead use Fay and Cline's Love and Logic formula (respond with empathy...pause... "what can you do about this?"...pause... "I love you, you are a competent child, I am sure you will figure this out"...walk away.

4)               Letting us know at school if nothing has helped and all three criteria for bullying (listed above) have been met.


Here is the text of a Good Housekeeping "sidebar" on resilience (December 2010 issue, page 124) that staff writer Jacqueline Nochisaki put together after interviewing me:


Four simple moves that'll nurture a bounce-back kid from John Scardina, a school psychologist and parent educator in City Island, NY:


 GIVE YOUR CHILD THE REINS: When your child is talking about a tough situation, let her finish, then say, "This must be really tough." Pause. "What are you going to do about it?" The key here is to show you are tuned in by acknowledging the pain she is feeling,


 CAST A VOTE OF CONFIDENCE: As your child formulates a plan, give her a boost by saying, "I see someone who is caring," or "...strong," or "...good at x, y, z." Reflecting her assets back to the child helps her realize she is capable of handling the situation, tough as it may be at first. "Say, 'I know you can handle this, but if you need help let me know.'"


 CREATE A GRATITUDE LIST: Help a kid going through a tough phase count his blessings and cultivate optimism: Have your family write up and post a gratitude list of five to ten things to be grateful for. The message: These good things in life are here to stay, regardless of challenging situations. When your child is feeling low, remind him to check the list


 CALL IN THE PROFESSIONALS: If your child has a rough patch and experiences sleep or appetite disruption or lethargy, or if you notice a change in relationships with family or friends, it may be time to have a therapist step in. Ask your pediatrician, family practitioner, religious leader, or school guidance counselor for references.


As always it is my privilege to work with you and your families.

     Children's brain development is a constant process - neurons don't know anything about summer vacation. There has been much good research about the benefits of year-round schooling (three months in school, one month off from school, repeat, etc.)  yet we as a culture seem to be wedded to our present school calendar (which was started to help families in farm families deal with planting and harvest times - go figure). So - ten weeks off - how do we keep the learning process fresh and vital?

     Here are some ideas that might be helpful:

1)            Read everyday: make frequent trips to the library, have lots of books around, and make sure there is an equal amount of reading time as there is screen time (or at least a healthy fraction...). Have a family read-aloud book that everyone will enjoy, and sit together every evening you can and read together. Be a good role model and read in front of the kids - even if it's a magazine or a newspaper. Some families might pick the Bible to read together, others might pick the Chronicles of Narnia series, still others might pick Pretty Little Liars. The activity is more important than the content - reading is a habit you want to nurture.

2)           Do some everyday math: Pay your kids for vacuuming the carpet by the square foot (and have them measure the whole house while they're at it!). Have them weigh the recyclables every week and see if you can improve your family efforts to be green. Cook with recipes that you can double - or half - and teach fractions naturally. Help them learn money skills when at the store.

3)           Have you and your child pick one new activity to try over the summer - playing the guitar, painting,  jogging, sailing, birdwatching  - and do it with them. There is good research on the Suzuki method of music instruction (where a parent and child start together as beginners playing the violin) that the learning rate improves when learning a new skill with a parent.

4)           Keep a journal of summer activities - be transparent about how summer learning will help in school and use either a journal for each child or a family calendar that tracks summer activities on a daily basis. Journals can work with younger children, too - they can draw pictures and use inventive spelling to make captions. Send the journal in to school for show-and-tell in the fall - teachers will appreciate your efforts.

5)           Realize that you, too, can be a lifelong learner and a role model for a lifetime of exploration. What are you waiting for?

What are Quakers "for"?

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Edward Burrough, an early convert to Quakerism, described what Quakers are "for" in 1672, writing that:

"We [Quakers] are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
These words seem especially relevant today as we seek to educate our community to be informed skeptics of arbitrary power and discerning judges of character and intention.

Who are the people in our schools that we send out into the world on graduation day as they "commence" the next stage of their lives? Do we produce graduates who will only be successful in conventional ways (money, achievement, power) or do we produce individuals who will be beacons in troubled times, helping those around them to find comfort in truthfulness and courage in doing "the next right thing" in their lives.

Once you have joined a Quaker community, you will see that there is much to be celebrated and many good people whose good works have been of value to all. Yet we must remain vigilant in our application of the testimonies to our everyday lives:

·         Do I value the simplicity of straightforward speech and uncluttered perception so that I can focus on what is really important?

·         Do I seek true peace in my life, not just the absence of war but the presence of compassion and non-violence?

·         Do I maintain my integrity in all I say and do?

·         Do I create community, even with those of different faiths or political views?

·         Do I practice equality in my acceptance of others, providing not just the same gifts to each person but instead the specific gifts each person needs to have equal access to the "good life"?

·         Do I give back in service through an acknowledgement of my own privileged position in the world, recognizing how my path has been made easier from day one by the gifts of others?

·         Do I practice stewardship in my care for others and for the planet, realizing that "best practices" are not dictated by government regulations but instead by individual choices of conscience?

In the words of George Fox, a founding member of the Religious Society of Friends:

"Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you."

Here are five things every parent would do well to remember about teachers:

1)      Teaching really is "rocket science" - and brain science, too! There is research-based practice that goes into good teaching, and teachers strive to be up-to-date in the "best practices" of their field.

2)     Teaching is a calling as well as a profession. We educators feel "called" to do what we do: to provide a service to the next generation - education - that is more important than money or power for our children's future happiness.

3)     Teaching demands rigorous preparation for each day in the classroom. Today's young people - "technology natives" who have grown up with the Internet, cell phones, and social media - won't do well with old lesson plans and rote learning.

4)     Teachers are humans too - and we appreciate affirmations, respect, and constructive comments on how we are doing.

5)     There is a "learning triangle" - parent/teacher/student - and we must do our share as parents to compliment what is happening in the classroom.


AND - here are five things every teacher would do well to remember about parents:

1)      All parents want the best for their children, and sometimes this blinds us when faced with the necessary discipline that teachers must administer.

2)     Parenting is the most important work many of us will ever do, and thus we can all use the help and support of one another on this journey.

3)     We live in a culture where shame, embarrassment, and sarcasm are common in the media - we parents don't want this for our children, and our classrooms need to be safe havens that are free of these unnecessary challenges.

4)     Parents are humans too - we appreciate affirmations, respect, and constructive comments on how we are doing.

5)     There is indeed a "learning triangle" - parent/teacher/student - and we must do our share as teachers to compliment what is happening in the home.


Wishing everyone a great start to the school year...!


      Every fall families with children in school face the same challenge: how to transition from the days of summer vacation to the days of school bells and homework. For families with working parents going back to school may be a relief - childcare for the summer can be quite daunting and expensive - yet the addition of school anxiousness, new teachers, and academic rigor provides new territory for everyone.

     Some tips to remember:

·        Check in with yourself: am I able to relax? Take a deep breath? Be calm in the face of change? We parents set the tone for back-to-school: will it be well-planned and calm or hectic and last-minute?

·        Make sure all health needs are taken care of beforehand: school can be at the "cutting edge" of experience for your child, and we all want to be in our best form when starting a new endeavor.

·        Go over all of the paperwork you received over the summer, and make sure all forms are filled out and ready to go.

·        Check that list of supplies again: no one wants to be the only child without the specific pencil box/calculator/notebook that was requested by the teacher!

·        Check for any dress code requirements before you go shopping: it will avoid a lot of fights and trips back to the store. Help your child pick out that special outfit for the first day and maybe have a special outfit for yourself as well: it is indeed a special day for everyone!

·        Set up a family calendar (large whiteboard calendars with dry-erase markers work well) that is color-coded for each family member. Keep track of how busy everyone is going to be!

·        Be sure you have re-established bedtime and wake-up times - don't wait too long!

·        Make a plan for lunches: make them the night before if possible. Children who are old enough to make their own lunch should do so, and perhaps also make lunches for younger siblings. Remember: responsibility at home reinforces responsibility in school and leads to responsibility in life.

·        Start to minimize TV time: most of us watch too much TV in the summer, so begin that transition now.

·        Have a designated homework place and a schedule for after-school/HW time. Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.

·         Make a resolution with your child for the new school year: "I will not yell in the morning" might accompany "I will follow my own morning checklist without your help." Put the resolutions on the fridge door and keep track of how you are doing.

·        Remember: childhood (and, indeed, life) is a journey, not a race.   

Blessings on the new school year!

What's Your Mindset?

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In her book MINDSET: THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS, Carol Dworkin talks about fundamental differences in the way we approach the world - through school, work, and relationships - to either maximize our development as people or remain stuck in our present life situation. She presents two worldviews - the "fixed mindset" and the "growth mindset" - that represent these approaches to life:  

                        Fixed Mindset:                                 Growth Mindset:    

                        Intelligence is static...                     Intelligence can be developed...   

                        Look smart at all costs...                 Remain curious and humble...

                        Avoid challenges...                           Embrace challenges...

                        Give up on obstacles...                    Persist in the face of obstacles...

                        Effort is fruitless...                           Effort is the key...

                        Ignore negative feedback...            Learn from negative feedback...

                        Feel threatened by the                   Find inspiration in the

                              success of others...                          success of others...       

                        Lose interest if things are hard...  Get motivated if things are hard...

Parents can be examples of either mindset for their children, as can teachers for the students in their classrooms. Wouldn't we want those we serve and love to see life as an unfolding adventure rather than a process of protecting themselves from the trials and tribulations of the world? And how can you build resilience if you always give up too easily (i.e., "That's not for me"...."I just don't have the talent"..."I'm too (old/tired/busy) for that")?

Quaker schools embody the growth mindset. Human development is seen as the :"continuing revelation" of our gifts as we "grow into goodness" and build fulfilling lives, day by day.

SO - Try new experiences (the opera, NASCAR, a yoga class)...learn a new skill or hobby (the violin, welding, sailing) about people who can be role models (Michael Jordan, Mother Teresa, the Quakers)...ask yourself "what would (my role model) do in this situation?" and see if you can act in a positive way, too...learn to give and receive feedback with compassion and acceptance.

People who live long and productive lives never stop learning from their mistakes and continually work on themselves and their skills. How about trying on a "growth mindset"?                         


Every school year begins with a learning curve: teachers and students need to learn about one another and develop a style and routine that will (hopefully) lead to a successful experience. Why not help the process along by creating a learning biography for your student?

Start with a photograph - either paste one onto a page or download one from the computer - that captures your child's personality. Then sit down with your child to complete the following, discussing each point and coming to some agreement about the most honest and helpful answers that could be given:

1)     I am a (good/fair/poor) student in the classroom.

2)     I am a (good/fair/poor) student at home.

3)     Three things in life that I absolutely love to do are a)_______________ b)______________________c) _____________________.

4)     Three specific skills I hope to learn and/or improve this year are a)_______________ b)___________________c)___________________.

5)     My favorite subject area is __________________________because _________________________.

6)     My most challenging subject area is _____________________because ___________________.

7)     I describe myself as (circle all that apply): self-motivated   a lover of learning   an independent learner   a detail person   attentive   impulsive   fidgety   a reluctant learner   organized   sloppy   forgetful   curious   bored distracting   distractible   competitive   a team player  critical of others   critical of myself   a teacher's pet responsible   lazy   critical of myself  

a class clown   a positive person a negative person    ______________________

8)     I wish I could be more like this (circle all that apply): self-motivated a lover of learning   an independent learner   a detail person   attentive   organized  curious   competitive   a team player  a teacher's pet responsible  a positive person ________________________________________________

9)     The most important goal I have for myself this year is _____________________.


End with your student writing a brief note to the teacher, followed by a brief note from you. Then send it off to school and know that you and your child have done something positive to start the new year in school. What are you waiting for?


Diversity Matters...

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There was a lively and interactive discussion last night at West Chester Friends School regarding diversity: how do we as a community handle our differences as we celebrate one another? Many areas of strength - as well as many areas of challenge - were shared after we began with exploration of our own positive and negative experiences with diversity over the course of our lives.

I am reminded of the mission of Friends schools - to educate the whole child as each person grows into goodness - and and glad we are "checking in" to see that all feel welcomed and supported. Quakers set the bar quite high on issues of integrity and equality - two of our core testimonies - and we need to continually monitor how we are doing as new families join our community.

For me, every time I come to the school and walk through the halls, diversity jumps out at me: art, writing, music, creative play, and meaningful reflection are woven into the very fabric of our school, with room and encouragement for individual expression and "thinking outside of the box." May this be the case for all of us in all parts of our lives!

It is, as always, my privilege to work here. Blessings to all...


In peace,


Teacher John


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