A Season of Hope

With the negativity in the news and the poor and shocking behavior of those in leadership positions in our country, it is easy to begin losing faith in humanity.  However, though December is the darkest month of the year, it is also a time of charity and a time of hope. Below is a true story that reminds us of the power of  goodness.  May the below story inspire you as we move into this holiday season.

There was a jailbreak in Parker County, Texas, in June, and a correctional officer is alive because of it. Inmates were awaiting court appearances in a holding cell when the officer watching over them collapsed. The inmates called out for help. When none appeared, they used their collective weight to break down the cell door. Rather than making a run for it, they went to the officer’s aid, still yelling for help. One even tried the officer’s radio. Eventually, guards heard the commotion and came in. After placing the inmates back in their cell, CPR was performed on the stricken officer, saving his life. “It never crossed my mind not to help, whether he’s got a gun or a badge,” inmate Nick Kelton told WFAA. “If he falls down, I’m gonna help.”

Developing a Child’s Gratitude

Many people identify Thanksgiving as their favorite holiday.  It’s a day often filled with delicious food, good company, and a common theme that different faiths and backgrounds can appreciate: gratitude.  However, “being grateful” is not a natural behavior and parents need to be intentional about cultivating it in their child.  “No one is born grateful,” says life coach Mary Jane Ryan, author of Attitudes of Gratitude (Conari, 1999). “Recognizing that someone has gone out of the way for you is not a natural behavior for children — it’s learned.”

Below are some ways parents can intentionally develop gratitude in their child.  The information is from an article by Charlotte Latvala which I hope you find useful.  Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Model and have children use “please” and “thank you”.  Use language like, “Thanks for that hug — it made me feel great!” when talking to your child.  Also, insist on these words as well.  After all, “good manners and gratitude overlap,” says New York City etiquette consultant Melissa Leonard, a mother of two young daughters.
  •  Work gratitude into your daily conversation. Lately, we’ve been trying to weave appreciation for mundane things into our everyday talk — “I’m so grateful to have a good cat like Sam!” or “I’m so happy when you listen!”  When you reinforce an idea frequently, it’s more likely to stick. One way to turn up the gratitude in your house is to pick a “thanking” part of the day. Two old-fashioned, tried-and-true ideas: Make saying what good things happened today part of the dinnertime conversation or make bedtime prayers part of your nightly routine.
  •  Have kids help. It happens to all of us: You give your child a chore, but it’s too agonizing watching him 1) take forever to clear the table or 2) make a huge mess mixing the pancake batter. The temptation is always to step in and do it yourself. But the more you do for them, the less they appreciate your efforts. (Don’t you feel more empathy for people who work outside on cold days when you’ve just been out shoveling snow yourself?) By participating in simple household chores like feeding the dog or stacking dirty dishes on the counter, kids realize that all these things take effort.
  •  Find a goodwill project. That doesn’t mean you need to drag your toddler off to a soup kitchen every week, says Lewis. Instead, figure out some way he can actively participate in helping someone else, even if it’s as simple as making cupcakes for a sick neighbor. “As you’re stirring the batter or adding sprinkles,” she says, “talk about how you’re making them for a special person, and how happy the recipient will be.”
  •  Encourage generosity. “We frequently donate toys and clothes to less fortunate kids,” says Hulya Migliorino, of Bloomingdale, New Jersey. “When my daughters see me giving to others, it inspires them to go through their own closets and give something special to those in need, as well.”
  •  Insist on thank-you notes. Paula Goodnight, of Maineville, Ohio, always makes her girls (Rachel, 10, Amelia, 6, and Isabella, 3) write thank-yous for gifts. “When they were toddlers, the cards were just scribbles with my own thank-you attached,” she says. “As they grew, they became drawings, then longer letters.” Younger children can even dictate the letter while you write, says Lewis. “Just the act of saying out loud why he loved the gift will make him feel more grateful,” she says.
  •  Practice saying “no”. Of course kids ask for toys, video games, and candy. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to feel grateful when your every whim is granted. Saying “no” a lot makes saying “yes” that much sweeter.
  •  Be patient. You can’t expect gratitude to develop overnight — it requires weeks, months, even years of reinforcement.

What Bullying is and What Bullying Isn’t

In August, the faculty and I developed a draft of a new FWM Bullying Policy.  The catalyst for creating a school-wide policy was to ensure the teachers and staff were up-to-date on the latest definitions and approaches when it comes to bullying.  In fact, this Wednesday, there will be a representative from Resiliency Center of Newtown who will provide training for our faculty and staff on bullying.

Why a new bullying policy and why the training?  Interestingly, FWM is practically void of bullying.  Compassion and empathy are the DNA of our school and I rarely ever experience anything close to children bullying other children here at FWM.  However, though we are a school that truly gets it right when it comes to developing and cultivating a culture of kindness and care, it is vital that all educators remain well-versed in new approaches when it comes to addressing bullying because it is so pervasive in our society.

It is important to add our children (like all children) make mistakes, say unkind things, act with insensitivity, and experiment with power.  School is a social laboratory where children practice their social skills – sometimes failing miserably.  When adults witness their child being the recipient of an unkind behavior, they will sometimes call it bullying.  However, bullying is a specific type of behavior:

“Bullying is unwanted, repeated behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior may be a physical act, or a communication that is directed at or intended for another child, and which causes harm.  While unkind behavior is also unacceptable, bullying is distinct in that it is repeated and causes physical or emotional harm, or creates an environment where a child feels intimidated or reasonably fearful.”

I am in the final stages of preparing the FWM Bullying Policy so parents can view it online in the resource page of their MyFWM.org account.  In the meantime, if you’d like educate yourself on bullying and how parents can become better informed at recognizing bullying behavior, please click here.

I’ll end with a quote from one of my heroes, Fred Rogers: “Little by little we human beings are confronted with situations that give us more and more clues that we are not perfect. Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”





What Adults can do?

  • Be proactive by establishing a bully free culture
  • Build trust
  • Talk to children about what bullying is
  • Give strategies for dealing with bullying
  • Model how to treat others



Lessons We Can Learn from Veterans

Today, Todd Keeping, retired corporal in the Unites States Army, spoke to FWM students in kindergarten through 8th grade at our Veteran’s Day Assembly. It was an honor and privilege to have a veteran speak to our students.  In his talk, he discussed the brotherhood of his unit as well as the challenges he had to overcome to complete his training as a paratrooper.  Mr. Keeping also shared about the sacrifice families make when a loved one is deployed or relocated away from their home.  After the presentation, the children asked excellent questions with one of the best ones being, “What lesson did you learn while serving and how did it impact your everyday life?”  Mr. Keeping answered by telling the students he joined the police department because he was searching for a job that was similar to the one he experienced in the military.

In his book, Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change your Life and Maybe the World, Admiral William H.  McRaven, Retired, shares life lessons he learned as a Navy SEAL and Commander of the United States Special Operations Command.  In his book he writes, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed… If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. And by the end of the day, that one task completed, will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made, that you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

The above passage from Admiral McRaven’s book and the message from Corporal Keeping, Retired, remind me of the importance of small achievements.  Individual tasks done well will positively impact larger tasks and operations.  Whether packing a parachute properly or making a bed with care, each detail is important and, when strung together, create conditions favorable for Mission Success.  I think parents may consider this approach when thinking about strategies for raising their children.  Here are some ways parents can keep the focus on “small tasks done well”:

  • Have your child make his/her bed every morning before going to school
  • Have your child clear his/her plate after every meal
  • Have your child carry all their gear into school (if too much, have them make two trips)
  • Have your child fill his/her water bottle and pack his/her lunch
  • Have your child hang up their coat in the closet
  • Have your child bring his/her dirty clothes to the washing machine



The Parent Impact

Over the weekend, my youngest son had his last soccer game of the season.  The opposing team he was playing was excellent – fantastic foot skills, accurate passing, and an effective team dynamic.  Though my son’s team played well, they were trailing by one goal.  At one point, a member of my son’s team was driving forward when a defender from the other team stole the ball and began to dribble the ball in the opposite direction; sprinting past other players at an impressive speed.  As the player who lost the ball on my son’s team began to catch up to the defender, he cocked his arms and shoved the boy so hard from behind that the boy toppled over and bounced against the turf.  It was a hard fall.  On the sidelines, parents gasped and some shouted.  One parent made a comment that the player felled was being over dramatic.  This started an aggressive back and forth between the parents from the opposing team and my son’s team.  All of this was in front of the players who heard and witnessed the exchange.

The lessons children learn about life come from what they see their parents doing.  A parent’s behavior teaches children how they should behave when confronted with similar situations.  Parents need to carefully consider their behavior and responses when their children are present or even close by.  Adults sometimes don’t realize how observant and attuned children are to the words and behaviors being expressed in their midst; but children are learning to be adults, so they watch and they listen.

Parents have many opportunities to  teach their children to be kind, patient, and empathetic by using real life situations that occur during any given day.  For example, when a person cuts you off when driving, instead of modeling anger by using negative adjectives (or expletives), model safety and calmness: take a breathe and say, “That was unsafe.  That person may be in a hurry – we’ll give him (or her) some distance between our car and their car.”   Also, if waiting for the cashier in the store and the person in front is taking longer than expected, use the extra moments to spend time chatting with your child.  If your child voices a concern about “it’s taking too long”, model patience and calmness by saying, “it’s ok – sometimes we need to wait a little longer.  How can we pass the time together?”  Finally, if you have a partner, spouse, or significant other at home, then model how you work through small disagreements.  The behaviors children learn by watching the interactions in their own home and between their family is HUGE!  Use times of small conflict to show children how you support, work through disagreements, and come to peaceful and loving resolutions.  If the conflicts are big and may become heated, make sure children are not present.

In the end, the main message I hope you extract from this post is that your children are learning by watching YOU.  If you embrace this, you can use this information to help teach valuable lessons that cultivate the values you have in your home and those you want to become rooted in the very fabric of your child’s ethical and moral fiber.






A Big Day on Friday

This Friday, FWM is hosting the Montessori Schools of Connecticut Annual Conference.  There will be over three hundred and fifty Montessori educators on our campus attending workshops and building networks.  FWM’s own Michelle Lamb (Middle School Humanities Teacher) will be facilitating a workshop on equity and diversity.  Gina Tryforos (Dean of Faculty & Program) and  I will be leading a workshop on working effectively with parents.  We are also excited to welcome our keynote speaker, Victoria Christgau who will be presenting on the importance of building a just and respectful school community.

Next year will be the 150th birthday of Dr. Maria Montessori.  Schools all over the globe will be recognizing the visionary work of this influential woman.  Though her methodology is proven to prepare children for the future, Dr. Montessori believed that the main purpose of education is to promote world peace.  Therefore, it is fitting that the Montessori Schools of Connecticut Annual Conference’s theme this year is Peace in Education.

I am proud to be part of an educational community whose vision is rooted in such a noble cause.  Now more than ever, our world needs young people who can step into leadership roles with a compassionate spirit and an independent mind.  At FWM, we teach children to think beyond their field of view and search for ways to make their classroom, their community, their world a better place.


The Power of Thank You


Helping children to be effective self-advocates means being intentional about modeling the type of language we want them to use as well as giving them the tools to successfully communicate their needs to others.  Click here to watch a TedTalk by Dr. Laura Trice on the importance of being specific with words of gratitude and admiration.

Recipe for a Successful Parent & Teacher Conference

On Thursday, October 24th, teachers will meet with parents to discuss the progress of the children.  Though parents are welcome to meet with their child’s teacher at any point throughout the year, this six week check-in is an effective way to see how a child is doing in school.  The focus of these conferences are not only academic, they are also opportunities for parents to learn how their child is developing socially and emotionally. However, a component of each conference should also include the teacher hearing from the parent. Information from the home is important because there are layers of a child’s self that the parents see and understand that are different than what the teachers will see in the classroom.

In preparing for the Parent & Teacher Conference, there are several key items to keep in mind:

Be open to the teacher’s observations and feedback, even if what she shares seems surprising.  Remember that your child will most likely behave differently at school where he or she has to interact with a group of their peers for a large part of the day.

Understand what your child is ready for developmentally.  For example, some parents become frustrated their child isn’t reading by a certain age but don’t realize that before 2nd grade, some children are not developmentally ready to read.  The book Yardsticks by Chip Wood is an excellent resource for parents who want to learn the developmental milestones of children.  Click here to order the book online.

Come prepared with a few specific questions.  If possible, email the questions ahead of time to the teacher so your child’s teacher is prepared with an answer.

Share feedback.  If all is going well, let the teacher know what is working.  If there have been some bumps or if there is something not going well, share details about what you have noticed.

If there is something unclear, ask for clarification.  Teachers seek to be clear in the information they deliver to parents.  Asking clarifying questions benefits you and the teacher whose goal is to present a clear portrait of your child’s growth and development.

In the end, Parent & Teacher Conferences are ways teachers can strengthen the partnership between the school and home by providing important feedback on the progress of students.  By being open to that information, parents can gain a deeper and broader understanding of how their child learns as well as how he or she is developing as a person and thinker.