Category Archives: children

Think Outside the Box

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When given a practice standardized essay prompt “Write an opinion on whether conformity or individuality is better,” Jacob S. (Klein Oak High) wrote the following:

Jacob Spenser 10/2015

“Hook. Introduction. Thesis. Transition. Body paragraph. Transition. Body paragraph. Transition. Conclusion. Restate thesis. Call to action. All the predecessors and all the heirs of this composition have likely used this same mind-numbing
format. I don’t intend to waste your time or mine, however.

Even now, I draw closer to asphyxiation with every line, every word, every letter. My words sit cramped like sparrows resting atop horizontal prison bars, every note of every song snuffed and silenced before it can escape this maddening box. The Black Mamba slithers endlessly, inexhaustibly it tightens every corner, ready to strike any stray mark that wanders beyond it’s coils. Overseeing it all, the warden. The octagonal antagonist with an ashen face, tatooed with the only word in his lexicon. STOP.

You ask my opinion of conformity, but you don’t care, you don’t really care. Your own opinion is clearly stated in a comfy box all its own. Shrieking, screeching, screaming at all of us in capital letters.

STUDENTS MAY NOT WRITE OUTSIDE THE BOX

Conformity constricts. Conformity coerces.

Conformity Kills.”

This is a call to action for those of us in education. It is time to let students out of the box. Kids are not standardized beings and it is time we recognize and honor them as learning individuals. We have the ability. Change is hard but the cost of not changing is too high.

I know, I know some of you will invalidate this student’s experience with cries of “But we all have to learn to follow the rules!” Yes, this student clearly demonstrates he has learned the rules and has mastered them. Why are we still asking this student to prove he can conform and comply?

It is time to stop the standardized madness for all of us.

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The very long road to okay.

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This post is going to be very personal and open you up to a part of my family that I have felt too much shame to speak of. It has been years in the making so please excuse the length. I’m not even going to proofread this because, if I do, I won’t post it. But that’s why I am doing it. The shame is holding me back and it is a lie. There is nothing to be ashamed of. I am going to open a giant can of worms: parenting a child with a serious psychiatric illness. Yes, the child I am writing about knows and is on board. She thinks people should be aware and quit treating mental illness as everything but what it is: chronic and debilitating.

Over 22 years ago, I gave birth to the most amazing child. I remember physically seeing the world differently the day she was born. I vowed to be the best parent to her that I could be. I was going to research everything. I was going to be thoughtful in every aspect of being a Mom. I was going to get it right. In a lot of ways I did and in an equal number of ways I didn’t. What I know today is the biggest mistake I ever made was not listening to my intuition. It is there for a reason. It is there to warn us when something is wrong. This incredible child was beautiful, brilliant, slept well, ate well, laughed and was generally wonderful. We were off to a great start.

When she began puberty, things began to really change. She had always been headstrong but headstrong was turning into wreckless and adversarial. She began to have insomnia. She was failing in school. Things were not okay. I began to research. Because this was my first time to raise a child, I wasn’t confident in my abilities. I was sure all those older parents knew better than I even about my own child. I was assured it was just puberty. I was told to give her more vitamins or to spray her pillow with lavender or to begin homeschooling her because a better school environment would cure everything. I listened. I did everything I was told. Things weren’t better. All of these veteran parents had given me all the solutions so I blamed myself.

If I weren’t a terrible mother….If I knew more about raising children…..If I read another book….Maybe I could find the answers. The shame I felt for being her mother and not having the ability to make things better was so tremendous. It was debilitating. Piled on top was the shame I was feeling for spending so much energy on what might be wrong with my eldest, I wasn’t fully there for my younger two daughters. I regularly mentally flogged myself for failing all three of them.

We came to a fork in the road. A place where I had to choose whether all of those people were right or if that niggling voice in my head knew something was really wrong. I began researching therapists and she hated all of them. She would run circles around them and challenge their knowledge. This was not going well. I was so tired.

Friends and family blamed my permissive parenting. Others blamed homeschooling. Still others blamed my lack of leading a fully organic lifestyle. Obviously, I was doing everything wrong. 

I eventually came across Dialectical Behavior Therapy and my eldest was diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder. I cried because this dragon finally had a name. In my exhausted state, I convinced myself we could slay any dragon that had a name. Names were powerful.

It wasn’t that easy. Sure, the dragon had a name but this dragon was a liar and a cheater. This dragon would steal my daughter from my arms.

The lowest point of my entire parenting journey was the day my daughter had to be hospitalized. I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t will things to be better. She was on a fast downward spiral and I knew I couldn’t keep her safe. The hospital was horrible. I almost walked out with her. I won’t go down the road of how ridiculously bad mental care facilities in the USA are, but, trust me, when I tell you that you wouldn’t put your child there unless you had no other choice. I can’t tell you how horrible I felt. I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t make it better. Piled on to this was the litany of supposed friends who either quit speaking to me or only spoke to me to tell me what a bad decision I was making. I had *two* friends left and that didn’t even include my spouse. 

In that low point as I sobbed for my baby because she was hurting so deeply, I had never felt more calm because I knew I had listened to my intuition and I knew as bad as this was, she was safe and I was….at the very least….now on the right track. I would move heaven and earth to help my daughters and some days it felt as though I had.

Borderline is very difficult to treat. The medicines are mediocre at best. They either made her feel tired or nauseous or fuzzy-headed. She no longer felt her muse and couldn’t paint or write songs. Taking the meds was a fight because she wanted to feel okay but that wasn’t happening. We also went through periods where she felt okay on the meds so her illness would lie to her and tell her she no longer needed them.

She quit taking her meds. She decided she was going to just will herself to not have borderline. She would just decide she didn’t have it. She was now an adult and there was nothing I could do but beg her to think this through.

We began a slow downhill spiral that spanned several years. She wasn’t going to go back to the meds. She was going to be fine but she couldn’t finish her classes and she couldn’t focus. She had trouble holding down a job. She moved out of our home because she no longer wanted me to give her advice. She was angry with me. Angry I hadn’t done more. Angry I hadn’t fixed it. I always fixed everything so why not this. I was angry for the very same reasons. Why couldn’t I fix this?

We reached a new low the day I received a call that my eldest had swallowed a bottle of pills and was hospitalized. My mind was racing. How could I not have known she was suicidal? How could I not have seen the signs? The horrible truth is there were no signs. She wanted to see what would happen if she swallowed the bottle of pills. This couldn’t be happening. It was too horrible for words. How would we know if she was going to attempt something like this again? How could we stop such a dangerous whim? I forced the issue to have her hospitalized. I was terrified for her. She was livid with me. That dragon was telling her lies again. That dragon was telling her she could just pretend she was okay.

I hate that Borderline dragon. I feel a deep anger for all it has stolen from my daughter. It has taken years away from her. It has hurt her relationships with friends and family. It harmed her ability to do well in school or easily hold down a job. Borderline is an abusive bastard.

She has now reached a place where she has decided that she needs the medication. She reached her own low that let her know there was no turning back and there was no willing the borderline to go away. I am thrilled to say she is doing okay now.

It is funny, when my eldest was a baby, I wanted everything for her. I wanted her to go to the best schools and have an Ivy education and take on the world. I loved her more than life so I wanted the best for her. It took a long time to realize sometimes okay is the best.

Through all of these years, I learned the simplest but most important virtue of being a parent: I learned to be content and peaceful when things were just okay. I don’t know if things will always be okay, so I hold on to the good days for everything I have.

Listen to your inner voice if it is telling you something is really wrong. Intuition exists for a reason. Feel peace and contentment when your children are just okay. Let go of guilt and shame. They will find their way to better than okay if they want it.

If you have a friend who is walking a similar journey, check in on them. Don’t turn your back when they need their village the most.

I hope this post is helpful to someone out there.

The Ukulele Parade

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The Ukulele Parade

*I know what you are thinking,”It has been a year since she posted!” Rub it in, why don’t you? Yeah, it has been a year since I wrote here. Let’s just chalk this up to not being a terribly prolific writer or ADHD or raising three daughters or some combination thereof. I had something really important to share and this is the best venue so I. Am. Back.

I had the opportunity to receive some perspective last week. A bit of background is necessary here: My daughters attend different schools because they are very different people and require different types of environments. My middle daughter attends our locally zoned public school, Wunderlich Intermediate. She enjoys the large, diverse school because it has many competitive opportunities. My youngest daughter attends The Banff School which is a small, culturally diverse, private school. She enjoys the ability to work with her teachers more closely and the fact that the school is multi-age/multi-grade allows her to work more at ability rather than her age/grade correlation. In her words,”I like that everyone gets their work done without all the drama.” No middle school is drama free but it is a more comfortable level for youngest. I am all for utilizing the environment that works.

Last Tuesday, I received a call from O (middle daughter) saying she had missed the bus through sobs of sadness. Now O is incredibly private and not one to cry easily so my alarm bells immediately began ringing and my inner Mama Bear was on the move. Upon arriving at school, I was fairly horrified to find out that a teacher (who doesn’t even teach O) had caused her to not only miss her bus but had also bullied and shamed her in front of another teacher for not being conversational. Important to note here, the incident she was referring to occurred at the local grocery store over one month before. O wasn’t rude, just chose not to converse which is her right outside of a school setting. O hadn’t done anything dangerous or broken any school rule yet this teacher chose to flex her authority and detain her. I was amazed to hear the assistant principal helped to stop O from getting on the bus and to hear him say that because O isn’t an adult she needs to learn to respect adults simply because they exist and are older than she. I reminded the assistant principal that respect can not be taught through fear and intimidation. You may reach compliance but that is far and away different from respect. Respect is earned and not just because you reach the age of majority. Respect is taught by modeling respectful behavior. We didn’t demand this assistant principal and teacher see negative repercussions, rather we asked they be trained in the research that we know to be true: Teachers who bully students are more likely to be bullied themselves. This Twemlow research shows the negative outcome of teachers and administrators who bully students. Please bear in mind, I do not think these adults were being malicious; I believe they were unaware.

Fast forward to Friday!

I received this photo in E’s (youngest daughter) school newsletter with the following caption: ‘The most exciting event of the week for 6th and 7th grade is a little hard to understand if you are not part of the Banff culture. If no one “signs the sheet” for an entire week in Mr. Crump’s World Culture class, he leads the class on a ukulele parade around the building.  Fun and quirky, but if it works…’

Ukulele Parade

I asked E about the Ukulele Parade and she says,”Oh! If no one has to sign the sheet (gets in trouble) then Mr. Crump takes us on a Ukulele Parade where we march, dance and sing through the school.” I couldn’t believe the timing of this information. You see, Mr. Joe Crump is doing something wonderful here. He is using a currency that is meaningful to the students rather than imposing his currency upon them. There is mutual respect happening here and the kids are responding positively. Now don’t get me wrong, I am aware that large schools don’t necessarily have the ability to have a ukulele parade but the teachers do have the ability to use currency which is important to the students. Then the teacher is part of what builds students up and not part of what tears them down or makes them feel inadequate or embarrassed.

I know many teachers practice positive classroom and student management. I love having the opportunity to showcase teachers doing awesome things. Mr. Crump renewed my spirit with his ukulele parade and I wasn’t even there.

We adults have the power to be a positive or negative influence on the children we are involved with. Childhood is hard; people can be mean. Be one of the people who builds up instead of destroys.

Go to Japan without leaving Houston

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Developing Talent – What should society expect from brilliance?

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I often find myself listening to conversations about talent development for gifted children. Now, I actually believe altruistic talent development is a great thing for kids: take their areas of strength and help them grow. What’s not to love, right? As with any altruistic notion, implementation and the need to pay for said altruism often takes away from the vision. What troubles me most is a sense of entitlement society seems to feel toward a child’s brilliance and how this entitlement infects the idea of talent development and twists it. I don’t mean holding high expectations of meeting your potential. I have high expectations for my girls but I don’t have expectations of what meeting their potential looks like or how they will “owe me” for supporting and helping them develop. I mean the notion that society feels ownership toward an individual’s intellectual gifts. For instance, it makes me pretty crazed when people tell my eldest daughter,”Don’t be a philosopher. You are so smart, you should be a doctor and cure cancer.” As her parent, my first thought is,”Have you ever seen her artwork or listened to her music? My goodness, I wish she would quit taking art off the table of viable career paths.” My second thought runs along the lines of,”You don’t own her intellect. Why are you telling her what to do? You don’t even know her well.” This is followed closely with the thought,”She has never been on the path to be a doctor and has shown no interest in medical research. Is she smart enough to pass the courses? Sure. Does she have the passion for medicine? No.” These “well-meaning” adults don’t realize the damaging message they have just given her: “What you want to do is meaningless. You owe us a cure for cancer because you are wicked smart. Any other path is a waste.” Now, if this had only happened once, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. It has happened a countless and depressing number of times. This brings me to my worry about the movement toward talent development with gifted children. If I felt like we wanted to develop talent because supporting and encouraging our children is beneficial for society then I would be the first passenger on the ship. That isn’t what the conversation has been, in the United States. The conversation is,”If we develop the talents of academically gifted children, imagine what they can produce for our society.” It is subtle but the message is,”In return for developing your talent, you owe us.” Our society has also begun to send a second message,”Artists and philosophers are not as important to society as scientists and mathematicians.” I beg to differ. There is balance in all things. The great minds of science and mathematics were often also philosophers and artists. We can’t separate out talents like we are separating the wheat from the chaff because art and philosophy are not chaff. They are wheat just like science and mathematics.

Here is my opinion: We should develop talent because it is the best practice for growing well-rounded children. It is the fertilizer for the seeds. We should be ecstatic for the wheat we receive but not become angry with the seed if it didn’t produce enough wheat or maybe wasn’t the variety we thought we wanted. We enjoy the wheat we have and are grateful. The same holds true for talented children. They don’t owe society their gifts and we should be grateful when they share their great gifts with us in whichever form those gifts take. My daughters don’t owe society another *Sputnik moment. Society owes my daughters the support needed for their growth with no expectation of what that result will be. When support is freely given, people feel more inclined to give back. When support is given with demands, people feel protective of their gifts.

Think about it. Won’t our society be better for creating happy, supported children over creating the next Sputnik moment?

*This post is somewhat in response to Paula Olszewski-Kubilius’ opinion piece in The Hill on May 13, 2012 but it is mostly an aggregate of things I have pondered over the years. The article can be found here: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/education/225289-stop-short-changing-our-most-gifted-children

The Solution Finders: Thanking the Creative Educator

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What? My first participation in a blog tour ever! Woot. Total writer’s block. Ever have those times where you know what you want to say but you can’t quite get it onto paper in such a way that it carries the impact it should have? Yeah, I’m there.

This week kicks off the International Year of Giftedness and Creativity guided by the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children. http://www.world-gifted.org/ Needless to say, I am very excited to participate in the blog tour because supporting gifted and talented children is a huge passion of mine.

So why, why, why am I having such a hard time writing a post? I think I want to get it right. I want to create a post that celebrates all it is to be gifted and creative. I think it is probably an impossible task and therefore my brain has gone on strike.

I have decided I will just use one story and maybe not try to encompass all of our educator experiences in one blog post. Maybe I will write stories throughout the year celebrating educators who inspire.

Let’s start with our most recent experience. My younger two girls had always homeschooled until last year. We had the opportunity to travel a great deal with my husband for work and we enjoyed loads of cool adventures. As they grew up, they wanted to go to school and stay home and “be normal.” We felt as though this was a reasonable request so we registered for public school and began a different sort of adventure. To say we were a bit skeptical about what we would experience is probably an understatement.

My younger girls didn’t want me to push for them to receive gifted services even though we knew both girls had met gifted benchmarks all of their lives. I try to respect these requests when I feel no harm will likely come out of it and the reasoning was logical. *Here is a good place to add the caveat that I have been an advocate for gifted education for almost ten years. I speak at conferences and sit on committees and created a support network for parents when my eldest daughter was struggling with school placement. On the form for “Parent’s work”, I simply wrote “stay at home Mom.” E-mailing teachers? Remove my signature line. We went into last school year completely incognito.

On meet the teacher day, I knew I instantly liked Mrs. Angela Wrigglesworth. Well, first, let’s just say she has the greatest “book character” type name ever. She and my youngest daughter began talking and had many favorite books in common. I was beginning to feel pretty positive about the year to come. Upon speaking further, we found out that she had also been Ms. Texas Wheelchair 2004. http://mswheelchairtexas.org/angela-wrigglesworth-ms-wheelchair-texas-2004/ By the end of that first meeting, I knew I was going to like Mrs. Wrigglesworth a lot.

Fast forward about two months and I am in love with Mrs. Wriggleworth. She sees each child as an individual and realizes their needs are all different and individually important. She encourages them to be their own person and to be unique. She is an example of setting and meeting your goals. I’m thinking,”Cool! Even if youngest doesn’t really learn anything from class, she will learn a lot from her teacher about life.” I went into this with low expectations of what she would learn so I wasn’t disappointed. As part of district protocol, she tests my youngest’s reading level and runs out of tests to give her to accurately assess her reading level. I receive a phone call from Mrs. Wrigglesworth and she says,”Mrs. Taylor, I have never had a child read at the level your daughter reads. I can only borrow books from the middle school but that won’t be the right level. I was thinking I would start a book club for your daughter and I. There are books she and I both want to read and this will help her have books on her level in class and someone to discuss them with.” I was elated. I didn’t even have to ask for help. I offered to purchase two copies of any book they were going to read and she could keep them, for the class, as a gift.

Why is Mrs. Wrigglesworth an inspiration? She had a problem and she came up with a creative solution.

Creativity comes in many forms. When a teacher uses creative solutions to help a gifted child a definitive message is sent to the child,”Your needs are important and I want to support you.” What a validating affirmation to the child and their parents. Bonds are formed and community grows. We all want to be part of a supportive and nurturing community.

I was not surprised when Angela Wrigglesworth was announced as our district’s elementary teacher of the year. I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving.

Thank you, Angela Wrigglesworth, for being a creative and inspirational teacher.

I encourage you to thank a creative, inspirational teacher in the comments. Let’s have a year of highlighting creative teachers of the gifted and celebrate the wonderful impact they have on our lives.

Charitable Children

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I sit here and wonder how on earth I got roped into juicing lemons for fresh lemonade again. How do these things happen to me? Oh right, I love my kids and made a blanket statement of support*.

*Note to parents: watch those blanket statements of support because they always remember!

I kid, I kid. I help my girls juice lemons because they had a vision for charity work and their Dad and I try to support them in their charitable endeavors. I have learned a great deal about efficient juicing techniques in the last couple of years but mostly I learned a great parenting lesson: When your child finds a passion let go of the reins and watch in wonder. It seemed like such an easy, simple request: “Mom, we want to buy things for the SNAP wish list so we e-mailed our friends and we want to hold a lemonade stand.” SNAP is the Spay Neuter Assistance Program www.snapus.org and we had spent the day having Ms. Kitty spayed. Their Dad and I decided to just let them run with their idea. How did they want the stand to look? What sort of promotion for their event were they wanting to create? It was a rather epic brainstorming session with a group of seven and nine year old children with a passion and a message.

Fast forward two years and these lemonade stands are no small feat to put on! There have been shirts made and a fantastic lemonade stand cut from a beautiful AutoCAD creation. The lemonade must be made and there need to be cups, napkins, snacks, water, etc. and so on. Oh and don’t forget to procure some change. Dangit, how often do we get to an event and I am running to a bank for change!

The important experience was watching a group of young children make a real difference and reap the rewards of a job well done. They know how to create a cost projection; plan an event; speak in public and a host of other life lessons we would have been hard-pressed to teach them in a meaningful way otherwise.

We can’t always accommodate a child’s passion but if you have the opportunity, go along for the journey.

For more information on my daughters’ charitable work visit their page: https://www.facebook.com/lemonaidgirls