Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Power and Influence of a Teacher

There is nothing a student wants more than the approval and compliments from his or her school teacher, no matter how old the student. Conversely, there is nothing potentially more harmful and discouraging to students’ confidence and motivation towards academics and/or their self-esteem than the disapproval or disappointment a teacher may demonstrate towards them either!

Do you remember your own school days? Was there ever a teacher who believed in you so much, told you that you could accomplish anything you desired with hard work and encouraged you? Do you remember what that felt like? Or, was there ever a teacher who verbalized to you his or her disappointment in your work, grades, motivation, or academic skills in front of your classmates causing you to feel embarrassed? In either case, there is no doubt that you remember those moments vividly; the room, the kids, how you felt, and most every components of the setting that day! Your teachers’ approval or disapproval of you and your work had a powerful impact on your development, confidence, motivation, and self-esteem!

The role of teacher is multi-faceted. Teachers not only provide information to their students to be transformed into a base of knowledge, but also act as a little bit counselor, mentor, parent, and coach to their students.

As “counselor”, figuratively of course, teachers must understand the emotional development of children in order to be sensitive to their feelings and emotional and cognitive development. This is why teachers are required to complete education psychology courses in their own college curriculum. A child’s perception is his or her own reality! So, if a student “perceives” the teacher is disappointed in his or her academic performance and/or conduct based on the verbal and body language of the teacher, the student views this as “real”. Conversely, if a teacher encourages a student and points out the many things being done correct, the student is encouraged and motivated to continue to do well. As “counselor”, teachers often listen to students concerns, must determine why he or she is not performing and working to potential, and often find themselves analyzing the causes of this lack of performance. They then provide recommendations to the student as to how to alter the prohibiting behaviors and attitudes so improvements can be made in reaching his or her academic potential. Thus, the student is better able to reach the curriculum objectives and goals established. Sometimes the core problem for a student is something emotional that needs to be overcome regarding home dynamics, relationships with friends, or feelings of academic inadequacies. So, the role of “counselor” is a big one for teachers and carries with it great responsibility and impact on students!

As mentor, teachers provide an example to students of how they should conduct themselves. So, if a teacher wants his or her students to show respect for others, be sensitive to the feeling of classmates, and accept responsibility when not working to potential, teachers must demonstrate these same behaviors and attitudes in their own interactions with others. If teachers want their students to conduct themselves in accordance to school policy and procedures, teachers must follow the rules placed on them by their school. When teachers are complimentary, rather than critical, of the school environment, the curriculum, and of those with whom they work, students will likely develop a healthy and positive attitude about the school and the expectations placed on them. Teachers must be careful about how they conduct themselves in the classroom and the attitudes in which they reflect during their interactions with the students they teach, the colleagues with whom they work, and towards the parents of their students because students are watching and modeling their own behaviors and attitudes based on that of their teachers!

As a parent or authority figure, teachers must provide rules, expectations and parameters to students so they have a framework by which to operate. Doing so helps students feel more secure as they understand better the objectives for which they are striving. Additionally, just like parents must be careful not to enable their children and without intention allow them to blame others for their lack of proper student skills, attitudes, and follow through, teachers must raise the bar high and hold students accountable. It is important that while a teacher wants to demonstrate friendly behavior towards his or her students, he or she not become “friends” with these students. A professional line must be drawn which separates a teacher as an authority figure from the students as learners in order for them to gain proper respect for teachers’’ expertise and experience and then students will strive to reach a high level of knowledge themselves.

As coach, teachers act as motivators and encouragers to their students. They monitor and correct students approach towards solving math problems, analyzing cause and effects in science, tacking diagramming sentences, and understanding the impact one historical event had on another. When a student errs in his or her approach to a subject, teachers point out where the student “derailed” and point them in the right direction to enable them to get back on track. When students are tackling a problem correctly and with result, like a coach, the teacher tells the student, “Good job”, and provides compliment and encouragement. Like coaches, teachers have the opportunity to push students to limits and levels they do not know they can attain!

So, teachers, remember what you learned in educational psychology and from the many students you have already taught. You have incredible influence and power over the outcome of your students’ motivation to learn and feelings of confidence regarding, not only their academic abilities, but also their feelings of personal self worth.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Who's in Charge at Your House?

During the many years of work with students, I have often observed parents being both afraid of disciplining their children and taking charge in their homes. This month I am going to venture away from an educational topic and onto one that can affect your home environment, which will eventually affect your children’s academics.

Are you afraid you are going to make your children angry with you if you discipline them? Are you worried you may cause them emotional harm? Who is in charge in your house? If your answers are yes and your children are in charge at home, please continue reading. Following are some principles to put into practice at home in order to take charge.

1) Practice calm, conscious, confident parenting.

2) Practice the self discipline necessary to remain emotionally balanced in response to your children’s behavior.

3) Change things in small degrees because you can only improve your responses to your children’s behavior a little at a time.

4) Take note of your children’s misbehavior without immediately reacting, unless an immediate real danger exists.

5) Take a good look at your parenting anger and parenting fears because these emotional states indicate there is work you need to do on your own self.

6) Learn how to be firm without being emotional.

7) Communicate your children’s appropriate boundaries by consistently demonstrating respectful, responsible self discipline yourself, clearly communicating exactly the behavior you expect and you disallow, and follow through with consequences when patience and words do not work.

8) Be observant and learn how to talk to your children so they will listen.

9) Do not use harsh, angry criticism towards your children because this does not work. It lowers their expectations of themselves, lowers their self-confidence, and it fuels their fears, rebellion, and defensiveness, all resulting in an even worse behaviors and attitudes.

10) Do not fight with your children. Fighting does not work because when you engage in a frustrating power struggle with them, you will lose your own power and authority.

11) Do not do too much for your children to protect them from life’s challenges. Sometimes children learn more by dealing with events without your help and by you remaining uninvolved.

12) Remember children learn to behave in the ways that get them what they want. If you give them what they desire when they have been bossy and demanding, you have taught them that these traits satisfy their desires and they will disrespect others.

13) Remember that when children’s bad behavior goes without consequences, it causes them to feel confused about what is expected of them and they may even doubt that they are truly cared about and interpret your leniency as apathy.

14) Develop emotional strength by remaining patient and composed when our children express hurt and angry feelings. You cannot teach your children self control when you are losing your own.

The minister of a local church, Dr. Bill Blanchard, presented five important points on parenting in his sermon on Father’s Day. He taught that when parents demonstrate affirmation, acceptance, appreciation, availability, and affection towards their children, it fosters in them a sense of authenticity, security, significance, importance, and lovability; respectively. He also taught that when parents have only rules in their homes and no relationship with their children, this could lead to rebellion.

Take charge in your homes as parents, while at the same time developing a relationship with your children. Set an example they can model of responsible, respectful, and accountable behavior, which will enable them to develop these same positive traits and become more confident and successful as students in the classroom. Your children will then also likely carry these same positive character qualities into their adult lives!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Outdoor Play: A Lost and Forgotten Adventure

When I was a young girl, the majority of free time after school and in the summer was time spent outdoors. Kick ball, dodge ball, crack the whip, tag football, shooting hoops, making mud pies, exploring the creek for tadpoles and frogs, digging to the center of the earth, swimming, tennis, scavenger hunts, swaying on the tire swing, talks in the tree house, and walks to the nearby Woolworth’s to buy a coke and French fries were all activities I participated in with the kids who lived in my neighborhood. I remember leaving the house at 10 am and not coming back home until 9 pm, and the sound of my mother’s voice yelling, “Carol, it’s time to come home!” Wow, those were good days. Then I grew up and became a mother and the obsessive worry about the safety of my daughter caused me to rarely let her play outdoors unless I or another responsible adult was right there with her to supervise. How times have changed, but children innately have not changed!

The pleasures of the outdoors are among the deepest and most memorable events of childhood. Unfortunately, however, because of the increasing demands on parents working outside of the home and the growing concern for children’s safety, more and more children spend time behind locked doors watching television and playing video and computer games. Some other children have a schedule so full of structured activities such as music lessons, dance, drama, karate, and sports activities, that they do not get to enjoy the pleasure of free, imaginative, and unstructured play time outdoors. Compounding the dilemma, many elementary schools have eliminated recess, which for some children is the only time during the week they are able to have carefree play.

It is widely believed that unstructured physical play is a developmentally appropriate outlet for children to reduce stress and restlessness and to increase their attentiveness. In fact, children learn best through free play and discovery as it involves the whole child: gross motor, fine motor, senses, emotion, intellect, and social interaction! Outdoor play also helps prevent obesity in children, which is currently reaching epidemic proportions in the United States! Having unstructured play time outdoors provides children the opportunity to be creative, use their imaginations, and learn to play cooperatively with others.

So, what can we do as parents to make sure our children have outdoor play time? A few suggestions follow:

1) Get with other responsible parents and take turns supervising the children’s outdoor activities so you can know your child is safe and the outdoor time consists of quality activities.

2) Create a backyard play area that consists of soil, sand, water, long grasses, trees, flowers, bushes, animals, pond creatures, places to sit in, on, or under, places that provide shelter and shade, different levels of nooks and crannies, and places that offer privacy and views. Plants appeal to all of the senses, and when combined with a mix of sun, shade, color, texture, fragrance, and softness, they encourage a sense of peacefulness. Natural areas allow for investigation and discovery by children with different learning styles. Some people refer to an environment like this as a discovery play garden.

3) Buy or build toys, games, or other activities which are conducive to outdoor play, such as a kite, Frisbee, football, jump rope, kickball, bug house, bird house, spider web trellis, water games, tree house, in lieu of computer software or the latest video or technical gadget.

4) If your elementary school has eliminated recess, talk to other parents and, as a group, appeal to your school’s decision maker to reinstate it.

Let’s make changes and provide to our children more free time outdoors to play. The benefits to the child will be well worth it, not to mention the memories created and sense of safety and belonging to the world God created that they will experience!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Interviewing for a Summer Job

Many high school students are beginning to look for summer employment. In fact, many adults are seeking employment, too. In order to increase the chance you are hired for the job being sought, it is important you thoroughly prepare for the interview and articulate how you are a “fit” for the position.

It is important to:

• Know general information about the position to which you are applying
• Learn about the organization you are applying to and the nature of its work
• Demonstrate your interest
• Specify your qualifications


You need to know what the position does, its job responsibilities, educational requirements, and starting salary; however, do not discuss salary during the first interview. This will help you prepare to demonstrate to the interviewer your credentials and the position for which you are interviewing. If a student, participate in a summer job or internship in a field you wish to pursue. Doing so will help you gain experience and provide you with first hand knowledge of the field.


The more you know about the employer, the more comfortable you will feel in the interview. By being knowledgeable of the organization, it will help convince the interviewer of your interest. Many interviewers will open with questions such as, “Why are you interested in our organization?” “Tell me what you know about our company.” You cannot bluff your way through these questions. You must conduct research to become properly familiar with a company in which you are interviewing.

Learn the following:

• Type of organization and its function
• Mission and goals of the organization
• Products and services offered
• Divisions and subsidiaries
• Position description and career paths
• Sales and earnings if a public or for profit organization
• Company size
• Competitors
• Locations
• Current company projects
• New trends in the field

Sources to use to locate the above information:

Career related websites, Career Resource Library occupational handbook, work section of Choices Planner, Standard and Poor’s Register of Corporations, Directors, and Executives, Dun and Bradstreet’s Guide to Your Investments, Thomas’ Register of American Manufacturers, The Value Line Investment Survey, Moody’s, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Forbes, Fortune


Review your qualifications for the position and know what you have to offer. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Self-assessment of your skills, interests, and work values will help you organize your thoughts in order to project a positive impression.

• Summarize your education experience as it relates to the position for which you are interviewing
• Articulate your related skills and abilities
• Cite examples of how you develop/used articulate skills
• Know your personal strengths and weaknesses
• Discuss your work and extra-curricular experience in detail
• Talk about your career goals and objectives
• Know where you want to work
• Identify any problem areas in your background and be prepared to discuss them
• Discuss variables you are willing to negotiate

Top Ten Reasons People Are Not Hired

• Dishonesty on the resume and/or application
• “Bad mouthing” a previous employer/company and not taking personal responsibility
• Showing no long-term potential
• Having digital “dirt” on social networks, such as Facebook and MySpace
• Having no knowledge of the company with which you are interviewing
• Acting bored, cocky, arrogant, or disinterested during the interview
• Sharing too much personal information during the interview, such as discussing hobbies, race, age, and religion. You may be setting yourself up for biases from the interviewer.
• Talking dollars (salary) not sense 
• Omitting examples of how you can increase the organization’s revenues, decrease its costs, and help the organization in some other ways
• Being inexperienced for the position

Stay focused on your goal and be willing to expend the time and energy required to be prepared for a very important part of locating a job; the interview.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Written Language: An Indicator of Children’s Cognitive Development

With the ever growing use of computers, cell phones, and other forms of technology there is concern amongst many educators and parents that children will never fully develop their potential in creative and mechanically sound written expression. We have all seen the abbreviations used in text and instant messaging and often witnessed what appears to be a thwarted ability of children to verbally communicate with clear thought, full intent, in descriptive and expressive sentences, and a logical sequence of problem solving skills. Many say that children should be trained and required by their parents to write “thank you” notes because it is proper etiquette and teaches our children to express gratitude. This is no doubt true; however, there are other often missed reasons why our children need to be trained and required at home and school to write letters and other correspondence and papers. One reason is because developing writing skills enables children to reach their full cognitive potential.

There is a relationship between cognitive development and written language. Cognitive abilities are the brain-based skills and mental processes that are needed for a person to carry out tasks; from the simplest to most complex. Every task can be broken down into the different cognitive skills that are needed to complete that particular task successfully, and these skills can be improved upon given regular practice (Wellman & Gelman, 1992). The actual act of writing, as demonstrated in penmanship, is a fine motor skill, which is the coordination of small muscle movements in the fingers and hands and usually in coordination with the eyes. By children using technology before they have developed the fine motor skills of writing with a pen, pencil, or crayon, they have been deprived of developing part of their cognition. Similar to why it is important for babies to crawl before they walk to train their brains left/right side coordination, learning the fine motor skill of the writing further develops children’s cognitive skills as demonstrated in dexterity.

Additionally, it is believed by many professionals that students’ level of cognitive development determines the organization of thought which they express in written form, and students cannot use language at a level that reaches beyond their stage of cognitive development. Piaget, a Swiss philosopher and psychologist, theorized that children’s thinking skills are demonstrated in their written expression and can be categorized in four ways: In children’s early developmental years, they think in images, and their writing consist of brief descriptions of physical characteristics of events and objects and focuses on only one part of it as if it were all of the image. In the next stage of writing, children have a broader understanding of how the descriptive concepts of language interrelate, so their writing is organized and indicates how the parts of the image, event, or object interact. As children further develop, they begin to see that there are alternative ways to describe images, so the material they write about can be broken into groups centered on a theme, issue, or more abstract point, not related to each other. Eventually, children evolve into a stage of writing in which their thoughts are organized and coherent and include a statement of the problem, rationale for solving it, supporting data, and a conclusion. At this latter stage, children’s writing reflects their more mature cognitive development. Likewise, children’s inability to write at this latter stage indicates they have not cognitively developed to their full potential and would benefit from educational training to develop this ability (Santmire, 1984).

So, the next time you require your children to write “thank you” notes for birthday gifts received, a summer journal describing their activities, or a paper detailing why they will not do something again as a consequence for violating parental expectations, you can tell them by doing so it will enable them to reach their full cognitive potential, and it is your job as a parent or teacher to take responsibility in enabling them to reach this potential!

Other benefits of children expressing themselves in written form are it forces them to think and think in a logically proper sequence of what they want to say. Writing causes children to think about word choices and to use words that most accurately depict and describe their emotions and thoughts. It allows them to demonstrate their mastery of correct writing mechanics as it pertains to grammar, word usage, punctuation, and capitalization. Writing causes children to improve their personal presentation by enhancing their verbal communication skills. Writing also enriches their relationships with others by them putting their thoughts and emotions on paper in their “thank you” notes and letters. And, writing teaches children to use good social skills and rules of etiquette in a culture that certainly could use some verbal poise!

Santmire, T. E. (1984). Cognitive Development in Writing. Opinion Paper/Speeches and Opinion Papers, 1-15.

Wellman, H. M. & Gelman, S. A. (1992). Cognitive Development: Foundational Theories of Core Domains. Annual Review of Psychology, 43(1), 337-375.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Instill A Love of Learning In Your Children & Students

Have you ever watched a baby or young child learn by exploring the world around? The eagerness in the child’s face demonstrates a yearning to learn as much and as fast as possible! Learning opens up a new world by enabling us to understand how things connect, act, and react to each other! It is important that as children grow up and there are more demands on them for earning high scores and good grades, that their zest for learning not be replaced by a dread of learning.

So, how do we instill a love of learning in our children and students? In contemplating an answer to this question, I ask myself what would have caused me to want to learn as a child, and during my professional career as an educator, what have I observed to cause students to want to learn. Following are a few thoughts…

In order to instill a love for learning in a child, if parents and teachers are enthused about what they are teaching, it is likely that the child will be excited, too, since children often mirror the attitudes and actions of those with whom they associate. It is also important to learn alongside your child by taking the time to become familiar with the same topics he or she is learning about in school. Select a book your child is reading in English class, read it at the same pace as your child, and talk in depth together about the class assignments. The same can be done with a chapter from a history, science, or economics book.

Model or demonstrate a love of your own learning, as it is difficult for some teenagers to see why they should put time and energy into learning something new, especially if they do not see their parents taking the time to learn new things, too. Read books and talk about them with your child. Talk about current events, history, politics, or social justice at the dinner table and in the car.

At the core of learning, there also needs to be a reason or purpose for the student to want to learn the information being presented. In other words, the usefulness of what is to be learned is important. If learning by rote memorization, a child can become bored and unexcited about the content. Additionally, learning a topic must make sense and be logical. A student needs to know from where this new information to be learned originated. He or she needs to understand how the information can be applied to other concepts and situations. It is vital to answer the questions of who, what, where, when, and how, but, the question WHY must be addressed, as well!

A few examples follow: When teaching a new vocabulary word, teach the student from where the word derived, the various parts of the word; i.e., prefix, suffix, root; and how the word can be applied in writing and in conversation. In literature, what life, religious, and/or cultural experiences caused an author to write about what he or she did, and how did this piece of literature affect culture and society of that time and during future years? In math, not only what is surface area, but where can examples be seen, and when calculating total surface area, what does that number represent? In science, what causes cells to multiply and divide, and once they do, what are they transformed into?

In today’s educational environment of standardized tests and test preparation, one of the greatest challenges teachers and parents face is being able to be creative in their lesson plans. Often they feel that they are so busy teaching students to take upcoming tests that they have lost the ability to be creative and teach “outside of the box”. Therefore, the task of motivating our children to want to and love learning, demands that parents take some of this responsibility and learn how to instill the love of learning in their children.

Children love learning when they know why it is important to learn the information, feel engaged in the topic being presented and competent in their ability to apply the knowledge, not when they are only lectured to. By being involved in your children’s learning, you will provide both you and them the opportunity to build their knowledge base, create effective life-long habits, and even more importantly, build a stronger connection with the world and with you through their love of learning.