Brains, man…

“Well, I’ll tell you…they seem to be pretty determined to blame their students for being teenagers.  It’s sort of hard to teach ’em when you’re mad all the time, you know?”

That was the short report from one of my school coaches recently. Being as how I seem to spend a lot of time these days reminding people (parents, teachers, MYSELF) that teenagers are just not adults, no matter how much we WANT them to be adults….well…I’ll give you the tl:dr upfront:

“The teenage brain is not just an adult brain with fewer miles on it,” says Frances E. Jensen, Harvard professor of neurology.

Teenage brains, for the most part, aren’t able to do what adult brains can.  At least not consistently.  They’re learning how to be adults, but they aren’t there yet.  When they were babies we didn’t get mad at them for falling down while learning to walk or when they made a mess while learning to use a spoon. We didn’t go all Zero Tolerance- Suspension- Incarceration on the three year olds who threw tantrums.  It’s easier to remember that humans develop on their own timelines when they’re young and cute (and easily controlled physically).  We just keep giving them chances to practice, picking them up when they fall, wiping their faces and cleaning up the mess until they get the hang of whatever we’re trying to teach them.

Teens aren’t as cute.  They scare us a little. Plus they LOOK like adults so it’s easy to forget…

But they aren’t adults.  Don’t for a minute assume that just because they got it right once, they’ll get it right consistently- because they won’t.  They can’t.

Need proof?  Here you go:

I’m a big fan of Sarah Jane Blakemore’s work


Need something a little more academic?

So it’s pretty clear- they aren’t doing these things just to make you mad.  So Stop Being Mad at Them.  It’s not helping you and it’s not helping them. You may have to teach it (and “it” could be anything from the Pythagorean theorem to Turn In Your Homework Every. Single. Time to Put Your Phone Away I’m Talking to You) 10,000 times before they get it.  Just like their parents had to help them stand up again roughly 10,000 times and don’t even get me started on the success/not yet ratio related to potty training.

This growing up thing is a process, not an event. No fair getting unreasonably crabby when they fall short. And if you’re crabby more than 50% of the time, you’re being unreasonable- and you’re making your own job harder.

Anyone who’s ever been yelled at or discounted can tell you- it’s stressful.  And stress isn’t good for brains.  Need proof of that? Here or Here or Here

Tired of clicking? Here:

 “when the youngsters heard the criticism, they had a negative emotional reaction (see: eye roll and exasperated sigh) as well a lack of ability to process what was being said (see: “Wah-wa, wah-wa, wah-wa). But a surprising find was that, while hearing their mother’s criticism, the adolescents were not able to understand where their mother was coming from.”

Yup. Your crabby is actually counterproductive. They aren’t hearing anything you’re saying.

Need a something to do instead? Edutopia has some great ideas fresh out of the oven this morning, or how about a little Unconditional Positive Regard?

Get the point? Good.  Now take a deep breath and go out there and grow some brains.

A Servant’s Heart

You know how you have favorite words and phrases? Go-to language that just sort of rolls off the tongue in different situations? Sometimes slang, sometimes jargon, sometimes just words you like because they’re fun to say? (I’m a big fan of “plethora” and “veritable,” personally.)

One of my professional favorites (along with “edubabble”) is “the students and families we serve.” I use it a lot in describing goals, aspirations, the mission and values of my program and my department.  I never really thought much about it until a potential client school pointed it out as an unusual turn of phrase.  (Really? It’s unusual? I don’t think so but whatever- that’s beside the point) He noted that, while it’s certainly a concept that he and his faculty would agree with, it wouldn’t be a phrase that would come to mind for them right off the bat. It was the word “serve” that drew him up short- he didn’t think of their work as service so much as…educate, teach, inspire, etc.

In my undergraduate program (Go Mizzou!), I was fortunate enough to have an educational philosophy course that pushed me to identify my own stance as an educator.  What did I ascribe to, not in terms of traditional educational philosophy, but as a human being about to walk into a career filled with teenagers?  We had some great conversations and I settled on the idea of a Servant’s Heart. It was something I’d explored in my summer work with the American Youth Foundation, it had been a part of my own religious upbringing, and it was something my grandmother had talked about during my summer visits to the family farm. The idea that my role was that of servant- humble, willing, cheerful, kind, supportive- fit well with who I wanted to be in my professional life.

Now, 20+ years later, I can say that I’ve done a lousy job about half the time.  It’s not easy, that particular stance, but it’s something I continue to aspire to.  Particularly as I seem to see more and more schools arranged for the convenience and goals of adults (policy makers, administrators, bus companies, testing services, etc) and fewer and fewer in service to the kids and families who walk through the doors everyday.  As we get more frustrated with those above us in the educational food chain, we let our anger roll downhill. We blame teachers for not being inspirational enough, we blame parents for not doing a better job of instilling values and work habits and reading skills, we blame kids of not being the kinds of students we think we were, for lacking “grit” or “aspirations” or whatever.   There’s a whole lot of anger, a whole lot of blame…not a lot of service.

Here’s an idea: the next time you’re tempted to go down that road, when you feel the anger building and you want to scream in frustration, take a deep breath and turn to the person “downhill” from you- the person most likely to bear the brunt of your frustration at that moment, and ask one simple question:

“How can I help you?”  

Just that.  Not “how can you help me?” or “how can you fix this for me?” but “How can I help you?”  Sincerely. With curiosity and not judgement. With sympathy and a recognition that, as Mother Teresa told us “We belong to each other.”

Let me know what happens- I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

For all my GET TO THE CONTENT! No Time T

For all my GET TO THE CONTENT! No Time To Waste! Colleagues “Week One Is Just Week One” #ThereWillBeTime

“As anxiety and shame become more preva

“As anxiety and shame become more prevalent in younger and younger students, practice self-forgiveness and treat yourself to a side dose of grace. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it and show the class how you forgive yourself, recover, and keep moving forward. In this way, by allowing for self-forgiveness despite the circumstances, you model it for your students and demonstrate to them how they are worthy of extraordinary things, both grace and the eventuality of their own grit.” The Grit to Jump Hurdles & Grace to Recover From Them

Guest Post: For Good

Well, we’re deep into the dog days of summer and it seems like a prime moment for a guest post because Lord knows it’s too hot to do anything else today! I want to share some thoughts from AUNE student and local music teacher Kate Butterfield.  Kate was selected by the student body to share her thoughts at the middle school’s graduation this spring and I found that her words were such a lovely reflection of what she’s been learning as a student in our Experienced Educator’s MEd in Mindfulness for Educators. Kate was gracious enough to share her remarks with me and I couldn’t wait to pass them along to you.  (If you’d like to reach Kate, you can do so at

Good Afternoon,

I am honored to be able to share a few thoughts with you this afternoon, and to be able to thank you for the gift you have been to us here at Keene Middle School. Although we celebrate you as the KMS Class of 2015, we also celebrate each of you as the amazing individuals you are. Each of you has had a different experience here at Keene Middle School, and we have been honored to be a part of that experience. When we think of you as a class, we will smile.

Over the past several weeks, I have been asked if I am looking forward to the year being over. My response has been – “Yes, in some ways I am very ready for a vacation. But I am also sorry for this year to end because of this wonderful 8th grade class.” Thank you for all you have been and done over these past 3 years.

This is a very special time and here you are, sitting in this beautiful auditorium, surrounded by friends and family, to mark the end of the first 8 years of your formal education. Look around this room – these people that are here, are here for you. You are important and we all celebrate you.

I would imagine you have many emotions right now. Take a moment to think about them….excitement…..sadness….pride…..uncertainty….wonder……..All of us experience mixed emotions when we are faced with a transition. The known is ending and the unknown is about to begin. You are not alone in how you are feeling!

I hope you are filled with gratitude for what you have experienced here at KMS. I hope you know how fortunate you are to have this gift of education. There are many middle school students in this world who do not have the opportunities you have been blessed with.

We all have voices in our heads that can inspire us or keep us from doing the things we want to do or what we know is right….Hear a different voice; one that says : “I am awesome, I am speciaI and unique. I can do amazing things with hard work and perseverance.”

Marianne Williamson says it this way in her book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?  Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine. We were born to make manifest the glory within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

You have done this. You have let your light shine in athletics, music, drama, art, dance, Jonathan Daniels Peace committee, OCAC, Robotics, Destination Imagination, Student Council, Rachel’s Challenge, NJHS, advisory community service projects, yearbook, Cardinal Newspaper, in the classroom, the  halls and the cafeteria. It might have been as simple as being a friend or doing the right thing.

Much of what you have accomplished has happened with patience and tenacity – the ability to stick to something even when it is hard or you don’t think you will be able to do it or understand it.

Some of you may be thinking, “I did not take advantage of what I could have at KMS. I didn’t focus on my school work, or join a sport or club I wish I would have…or make friends with people in my classes.”

When things don’t turn out the way we want them to or we did or didn’t do something we should or shouldn’t have, know that we are able to start over, every minute of every day. All of us have made decisions we wish we had made differently….or said things without thinking. If we take time to pause before reacting, our minds will be clearer and we will respond in a more thoughtful and caring way. We can go forward in a new way. We can have a fresh start right now.

Each moment in our lives is all we really have. To live thinking of the past or dreaming of the future is really robbing us of life right now. Be fully present in your life. Know that the only thing you can control is yourself. You can’t change someone else. You can only change your thoughts, your attitude and your response.

I encourage you to live intentionally….do things on purpose….make things happen, don’t wait for them to come to you.

Take time to really talk with people…turn off your cell phones and have a conversation while looking into someone’s eyes. Listen to others and really hear what they are saying. Spend time outdoors without listening to your music and enjoy the sounds in nature.

Exercise gratitude – each morning before you get out of bed….think of at least 5 things for which you are thankful. Pause throughout the day and exercise gratitude. No matter what is going on in our lives, there is always something to be thankful for.

As you leave KMS, you may think we have been your teachers and you have been the students. But, we are all teachers and students. Every experience we have and every person we meet can teach us something. Know of the impact your life makes on the lives of all those around you.

Stephen Schwartz expresses this best in the song “For Good.”

It well may be that we will never meet again, so let me say before we part, so much of me is made of what I learned from you, you’ll be with me like a hand print on my heart. Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

Happy Accidents

You know how sometimes you think you have all your pedagogical ducks in a row all nice and neat, with all your prep done and organized and all your materials at hand and then, mid-lesson, you realize that you missed something.  Something BIG?

No? That never happens to you?  Really? Of course it does. Don’t be all faker-faker-cookie-baker.

So yesterday I got to be a part of  my 14th summer of Level 1 Institutes, watching the group in the Keene Level 1 present a big thing that we do in the middle of the institute. (I can’t say more than that because SPOILERS) Suffice to say, it was AWESOME.  And it was the product of a happy accident.

The last time I used this challenge I made some big modifications (as we always do) because the school I was working with, Creative City Charter, was using Critical Skills to support and magnify their Place Based and Arts Integration pedagogy (which, btw, is amazing).  The group we’re working with here in Keene this summer? Not so much the Creative City faculty.  (Not that they’re not awesome cause they are- they’re just a different group)

So as I watched the group unpack their challenge on Tuesday afternoon, I had a moment of realization that, at first, sent me into a bit of a panic when I realized that I HAD FORGOTTEN TO REVISE THE CHALLENGE.  While working with my amazing facilitators (Allison and Danika) to be sure they had everything they needed, I hadn’t thought to point out the MASSIVE changes I’d made to this particular challenge. All the stuff about Place Based Learning and Arts Integration (which we hadn’t talked about or touched on once in the institute because they’re not part of Critical Skills)? It was still in there. Whoops.

We whispered frantically, “Do we pull the challenge, send them on a break, revise it, tell them to change it on their copies? WHAT DO WE DO?!!!”

You know that scene in Star Wars where Ben Kenobi gets offed by Darth Vader and, as Luke stands there in stunned silence, he hears Ben’s voice in his head saying “Run Luke!” so he gets back on the ship and lives to fight another day? Well, I sort of had a moment like that.  I heard the collective voices of 30 years of Master Teachers in my head saying, “Just watch and wait.  They may surprise you.  Let it ride.” So I got my Zen on and did just that.  We agreed that we’d let the group negotiate that part of the challenge out if they asked. But you know what?

They never asked.  After just 2 days of doing this Critical Skills thing, they figured out how to leverage the expertise in the group because some of them knew all about Place Based Learning and others were killing it with Arts Integration already.  They didn’t question why these unfamiliar things were in the challenge because the whole week had been filled with unfamiliar things and they knew they could do this because they’d done everything leading up to this so why not?

Eventually we acknowledged what had happened, and it turned out to be this amazing teachable moment were we got to be transparent about what can happen when we keep calm and let things progress on their own when the unexpected happens. Allison and Danika were prepared with a plan B if things had really gone sideways, but they didn’t rush in to fix things.  They let the group figure it out and, in the end, they blew open a whole new understanding of Critical Skills for me and, I think, for each other.  They had a chance to see the ways that Critical Skills can support and magnify all kinds of student-centered philosophies and pedagogies. They even folded in things like Responsive Classroom and Technology Integration because they were things that they were using in their own classrooms already and they could already see that they all supported and magnified each other in really amazing ways.

It was an amazing happy accident. I’m so grateful for all those voices in my head (particularly those I recognized as Peter, Bill, Al, and Maura who seemed to speak the loudest) who reminded me to just wait.  Just. Wait. Watch. Pay Attention. Have Faith in the Group.  TRUST THE PROCESS.

(Want to see a rocking video about the day? Check out this one that Danika made!)

The #MakeTheMostOfIt Challenge | Edutopi

The #MakeTheMostOfIt Challenge | Edutopia #YouEarnedYourSummer