"We are living a public life on a global stage, the ones who can express themselves best, will be heard." -Laura Hill Timpanaro, Artist, Author, Educator

Monday, September 5, 2016

Kayla and Ava Kindness Heroes

This summer my daughters turned me onto to an amazing charity called Random Acts of Kindness which was founded by TV actor Misha Collins.  Being that my daughters are huge fans of Supernatural and active in the Fandom I wrote asking if there was a way for kids to get involved in their charitable acts and guess what?  Random Acts was just launching a child friendly giving org. called Kindness Heroes.  My daughters are doing a Beta test with Kindness Heroes right now and so far it has been a great experience.  I encourage you to follow Kayla and Ava on their journey and to get your students and families involved in Kindness Heroes when they officially launch (target date) this fall.  Not only will you be doing something great for the community with the students you serve, you will do something amazing for yourself!  There is no greater thing you can do than give of yourself without expecting return.  As my daughters like to say don't sit in the background, get involved!
Kindness Heroes by Kayla and Ava

We have always been a family that volunteers, mostly my Mom but she pushes us to get involved and think of our own projects too.  What we've learned is that everything is accessible and you can really do some humongous things just by taking the first step-like rolling a snowball to make a snowman, good ideas keep getting bigger and bigger.  Below are some of the things we have done with Kindness Heroes, all the ideas we thought up and did in our own time.

1.  We do a lot of hiking in the woods and last week we got caught in a torrential downpour.  Mud filled the paths and we were soaked by the time we got back to our car, so were a lot of other people.  As we were leaving we saw a girl who was stuck, her car was really far away so we picked her up and drove her to town-which was flooded too!  It felt good to give her a lift.

2. Save-A-Pet is always looking for supplies so we asked neighbors to donate paper towels, glass cleaner and pet food then dropped it off at our local shelter-they were very happy we stopped by!

3. The beach by our house is always full of litter which is really annoying since there are garbage cans all around.  We filled a 30 gallon bag in about ten minutes #CarryOutYourTrash

4. My uncle was complaining that he didn't have any good music to listen to so we made him a CD of songs we thought he would like and sent it to him in the mail.  It will make him smile.

5.  We were hiking again and on the way to the woods we saw a lady collapse from the heat.  Mom stopped the car and we gave her water and drove her home and told her neighbor.  Mom saw her the other day walking by the park so we are glad to know that she is OK.

6. A big bunch of trees were cut down by our house so we planted some milkweed there.  Butterflies need milkweed and they are global pollinators so we hope this helps.  

7. We got the idea to start collecting bottles to return, this way we know they are being recycled plus we donated the money at the church, which was fun.

8.  My grandpa had a bad accident and was in the hospital for a couple of months.  We got the idea to make a big banner to surprise him when he came home-he really loved it!.

9.  This year we volunteered two weeks of our summer vacation to help kids at Destination Science camp. It was pretty cool and there was a group we taught to draw, which is something both Kayla and I are really good at.

10.  My mother was growing citronella bushes and was making new ones from the clippings.  Citronella is great for chasing mosquitos away so we gave some bushes away and are growing more to donate to other people.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Growing Your Brain By Changing Your Mindset

"Don't worry if you're bad in math, you're a really great writer."

We've all said something like this before or heard colleagues, parents, even students portraying themselves as "good" in certain academic areas and “bad” in others.  During extra curricular activities and in our personal lives we divide ourselves into athletes, artists, nerds, brainiacs, failures, successes, good kids and troublemakers. By defining ourselves we define our ability to grow academically and as a person by putting restrictions on what we can accomplish. Defining ourselves this way is characteristic of a fixed mindset, a way of thought that for decades has defined generalizations like boys are good in math and girls are good in writing.

21st century teaching defies these stereotypes presenting the opportunity for students, teachers and parents to foster increased cognitive abilities through a new way of thought, the Growth Mindset.

Researchers studying the brain have long known that neural pathways are carved into the surface of the brain by repetitive actions causing habits to be formed.  These habits are no more than fixed pathways for stimulus to travel on, stimulus that make us wake at a certain time or feel the urge to eat desert after a savory meal.  It has been shown that these neural pathways can be rerouted by changing the repetitive action, creating new paths and new behavior patterns.

So why is this so important?

In a growth mindset students are taught to understand that the brain grows with learning making them capable of achieving more.  It’s widely known that students who play an instrument grow a portion of the brain that remains completely undeveloped in their non-musical peers! Teaching students that their brains can grow with learning and that they can become better, even strong in subjects they haven't mastered produces students who are more motivated to learn, exert more effort and take charge of their own success

When students focus on improvement instead of worrying about how smart they are, they become better students, learn more academically AND learn how to position themselves for success outside of the school environment.  

Studies on growth mindset training, where students have been taught that they can become better academically through increased effort and focus on personal growth instead of benchmarks has played a role in increased performance on standardized tests, in decreasing gender gaps on performance in math, and academic improvement in racial arenas where students exhibited an increased enjoyment and value of their schoolwork.

Adopting a growth mindset at your school may come in many forms.  For administrators you might see an honest response to feedback and a willingness to learn from teachers, parents, staff and students. For teachers, an increased collaboration with peers and parents, a desire to strengthen skills and a belief that all students can succeed. For parents a growth mindset allows us to support our children's learning inside AND outside the classroom focusing on challenging children and encouraging them to put in the effort they need to grow.  Finally, students take charge of their own success, they enjoy the process of learning more and create a skill set that will serve them outside the classroom helping them meet challenges they will face as adults.

Changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset will not be always be easy.  Sure there will be pitfalls, failures and frustration as students strive to master difficult subject areas but the payoff of having students who are self motivated, productive, confident citizens is so much greater. So what are you waiting for?


Thursday, September 1, 2016

True Grit

/grit/ noun courage and resolve, strength of character

Grit is a term I've heard used often and loudly in scholastic arenas.  The word itself means to have strength of character, resolve, a certain stick-to-itiveness embodied by a clenched jaw and John Wayne-esque stance.  In education arenas I have heard it used to describe desired student behavior and as a battle cry for modeling that behavior, teach students to have grit and they will succeed!  I thought I knew grit, what it meant and how to use it, but then something happened that changed my mind.

Me after my second surgery
In fact, two things happened that gave me pause for some deep reflective thought.  One was very personal, in April I was diagnosed with skin cancer, which had formed on my nose and back.  This was a very treatable cancer in which the affected area was surgically removed.  I had my first two operations in April, the last three in June and July, I won't say it wasn't painful physically and emotionally (nobody wants a surgeon cutting away at their snout) but nothing compared to chemo or radiation treatment.  At the same time my father fell and was hospitalized for months requiring surgery for a fractured hip and rehab, two friends died suddenly, one of heart failure and the other as the result of a fall down a flight of stairs and my insurance dropped me in the middle of surgery for not checking a box on the renewal form.  I was an emotional and physical mess.  If there was ever a time for grit, this was it.

The other thing that happened was a student I was working with was removed from her family.  I have been working almost exclusively with kids at risk for the past year and had gotten to know this child as an extremely bright student with a lot of potential.  I had watched this student struggle to continue excelling as home life deteriorated complicated by drugs and lack of authorative presence.

Ava and Kayla raising funds to
buy supplies for Save-A-Pet
We went down our paths simultaneously, me choosing to channel my powerful emotions fueled by pain and anxiety into creating and giving, helping my daughters get involved with Kindness Heroes a program in beta test sponsored by Misha Collins and his Random Acts Of Kindness program; my student struggling to make sense of what was happening.  I was able to channel my frustrations into a new gallery show titled the Celebrity Series, I rekindled my love of rock drumming and hiked wooded climbs everyday to get strong again.  While I poured my energy into wellness and art I noticed that many colleagues I relied on took my illness as an opportunity to advance themselves and as some doors closed I found a whole new set flung wide open with support pouring in from the artistic community, teachers and giving institutions.  My student also found an outlet on stage building self-esteem and like me, finding support from unusual sources.  We both found out what true grit meant.  It can't be taught, it is not a label, it is an experience in which you pull yourself up out of hole, that experience strengthens you and makes you grow as a person into someone who is more empathetic, determined, confident in what you can achieve and give, knowing you will succeed if your willing to go the mile.  

So what’s the point?

As you start your school year you will find yourself in challenging situations-motivating students, managing behavior, searching for funding, rethinking classroom set up, administrative differences, difficult colleagues, children at risk, cultural barriers in the community.  I would challenge you this year to not get frustrated but instead to look for the silver linings.  Use your grit to come up with creative solutions to your problems and model this for your students.  Who knows, that kid that can't sit still could be the next robotics genius, that administrator who drives you crazy could come up with funding for your pet tech project.  

I was once told the story of a teacher whose very studious class was faced with a noisy ruckus outside their classroom door.  The teacher asked her students for suggestions to quiet the noise.  Half said to yell at the noisy students while the other half suggested calling an administrator to quiet them down.  The teacher simply walked over and closed the classroom door.

We can only control our own behavior.

Use your grit this year to model by leading who knows what you will accomplish or what you will learn.



Read the books I write with my children.