Consequences are a fact of life.

(Listen to the PODCAST based on this blog post.)

How is it that children appear to completely miss the inevitability of the terrible outcomes of some of their awful behaviors, especially the ones they keep repeating?    How is that they do not foresee the consequences of some of their habitual poor choices?

Consequences are naturally occurring reaction
Young children are definitely capable of making better choices based on awareness of the consequences of their choices – but lectures + scoldings are not the most effective ways to help them grow in this important way.

You know, like the kid on the playground who hasn’t developed any patience yet … she’s that pushing kid who has to be first one up the slide or onto the swings.  Or, you know, the kid who gives you a heart attack every time you’re walking with your group of students on a city street near traffic, and he needs to be reminded, over and over, to look both ways before leaving the sidewalk.  Or, what about that child who will rarely shares toys or food with other kids?  And then he wonders why the other kid started crying or hitting or biting or doing whatever it takes to make that un-sharing kid as miserable as she is.  Sound familiar?  

Of course it does, and dealing with those behaviors can be sooooo exhausting.

Sooooo tired.

So, consequences. How do we get young kids to think before they act?  Well, we know what pretty much doesn’t work: scoldings, time-outs, lectures, shaming, blaming, etc., etc.

The thing is, most kids are pretty smart. Smart enough, at least, to not actually have forgotten our instructions and our repeated corrections about their behaviors, and about the consequences of their choices. 

Once I realized that fact about kids’ intelligence, I figured there must be something else going on to explain their poor choices, because all the kids in my class had the same responses to being pushed, to avoiding being hit by a car on a busy street, to getting hurt feelings when another kid wouldn’t share with them, to playing fairly and playing by the rules.  But, I wondered: Did they all know that they all shared pretty much the same feelings and values?  And … how could I help them to help them to know how much understanding and values they all shared?

Hmmmm … What if, instead of endlessly correcting the behaviors that lead to those kinds of unpleasant consequences, I brought them all together, and designed ways for them to preemptively think about and evaluate familiar challenges, so that they could discover and decide, together and for themselves, what were their own best ideas for better choices for better consequences?

WHAT IF?    

Seemed like a good enough experiment, so I thought about some of the kids’ biggest challenges, the challenges that left them the most unhappy when they made choices that resulted in the consequences they would never choose IF they actually thought about them ahead of time.

I wrote down lists of questions that were NOT directly pointed at correcting those troubling behaviors and choices.  Instead, I asked questions that drew upon the kids’ own ability to put on their “big picture thinking caps.”  In other words, I got them thinking about all kinds of connections and interactions and elements around a wide range of familiar challenges in totally neutral, completely objective ways that completely protected them from needing to feel defensive or singled out.   Eureka!!!

Together, the kids came up with brilliant solutions to all the old familiar challenges.  Solutions that made perfect sense to them, because those solutions were their solutions, not my solutions.

Peer group shared-thinking for active engagement
Kids learn more when they’re actively engaged in subject matter (rather than passively compliant).

Next part of the experiment was to see if their future ‘real-life’ choices would actually reflect the choices they’d made in their peer group discussions.  Yep!!! The kids were reminding each other about what they had all discussed around pushing,  being more careful around cars, about different ways to handle situations in which there was one toy and two kids … all that good stuff. 

Some of their solutions were far and away better than mine,  and therein lay the power of ownership, of identifying and defining problems and solutions in their own terms, with their own words, with peers who could best relate to each other’s perspective and values and feelings.    

So much better for them to discover their own best solutions, and so much easier and less exhausting for me to support them in their process of discovery. 

Consequences can be understood, and kids are open to that understanding ... just not lectures.
All actions have reactions. When children consciously discover their ability to influence the consequences they have to live with, they make better choices.

Kids do understand consequences, and they are capable of making choices that result in happier consequences more and more of the time… without constant reminders from us.  They just need opportunities to consider their own answers to the right kinds of questions.  What are the right kinds of questions, you ask? Basically, the right kinds of questions “… show students where to look, but do not tell them what to see.”  When groups of students are asked the right kinds of questions, their natural desire to share answers that they all know are correct is how they all get on the ‘same page,’ because after answering those RIGHT kinds of questions … they ALL know that they ALL know the same things about feelings, safety, fair play … everything.  And that changes everything.  It just does.   

There’s fascinating brain science that validates this type of approach, which is effective, in large part, because it is preemptive, in other words, never is this approach introduced in the heat-of-the-moment nor soon after any challenging behaviors have occurred.   Because what we don’t want to do is try to engage the logical parts of kids’ brains when their amygdala might still be fired up. 

A physiological explanation for emotional responses hijacking reasoned responses.
The emotional response area of the brain (limbic system / amygdala) receives incoming signals 2 or 3 times sooner than the rational part of the brain (prefrontal cortex).

Preemptive peer group discussions involve the prefrontal cortex – the region of the brain most responsible for logic, self-regulation and executive function skills.  The brain, not fully formed until the early to mid-20’s is the physical foundation of emotional and psychological health and well-being.  Preemptive exercises like the one I’m describing, can influence the brain’s foundational structure and wiring, and even, with enough consistency, help to balance negative, traumatic or careless experiences. 

We teachers have a HUGE responsibility to expose our students, as often as possible, to experiences that activate and engage children’s natural born instincts to constructively collaborate for all-around positive and satisfying solutions… so they can own the decision-making process that will create happier and more positive consequences for themselves and others.

Sound good?  Got questions?  Let us know what you think about these ideas. We’re here for you and because of you – and for students everywhere, of course. Kids need us to expect the best from them, and they need our help to draw out the best from within themselves.    


Trust, Healthy Self-Respect, Mutual Respect, Collaboration

Healthy self-respect, cannot be forced, but it can be activated, engaged and it must be exercised.

I probably don’t have to tell you that being an educator in 2018 is NOT the same as being an educator 30 or even 20 years ago… before the world wide web transformed everyone’s ability to get quick answers to any question. 

Love can be our most practical teaching super power.
Love is felt, and it doesn’t need words to have its positive impact. Love manifests as whole-hearted attention. Love manifests as respect.






Okay, so obviously our youngest students aren’t accessing the web to get their questions answered, but they are watching as their siblings, parents and neighbors do it as naturally as walking to the fridge to pull out a quick snack.  Everyone – you, me and all our students – are influenced by the environment we’re born into … the environment in which we live and grow. 

These are fascinating and quick-moving times.  Two defining features of these quick-moving times are our self-sufficiency and our connectedness. (Yes, there are definitely down sides to all that ‘virtual’ connectedness, but that’s not where I’m going right now, so please stay with me and my train of thought here.) The self-sufficiency of our times is exercising our inclination to trust in our own instincts, and the  ‘connectedness’ of our times is bringing out our inclination to collaborate – which is based on the deeply natural need to belong.  And belonging, when it’s healthy, is based on mutual respect, which, if you think about it, can only be based on each individuals’ well established self-respect … which curves back to the self-sufficiency and self-trust that are being enabled in today’s world.

There’s a lot to unpack here … are you getting that?

Okay, so SELF-RESPECT is a concept that needs defining, so that we’re all as clear as possible that we’re all thinking along the same lines about what that term encompasses.  First, what self-respect is NOT.  Self-respect is not an idea or a mindset about how much I matter… even though that’s good, of course, but it’s not really enough to support a person in maintaining core values when real challenges arise.

Self-respect, on the other hand, is a healthy, ground-zero, foundational sense (which goes beyond ‘words and thinking’) to a core of spontaneously responding to the fact that each of us, ourselves included, is worthy of being acknowledged, and worthy of being treated well, in spite of our imperfections.  Healthy self-respect, cannot be forced, but it can be activated, engaged and it must be exercised.

If all of this is getting too abstract and theoretical, take a moment to think of a few individuals you know – personally, or in the world at large – who personify self-respect.  Inevitably, they are people we admire. Inevitably.  They’re comfortable in their own skin, as the saying goes.

Can you imagine a class full of learners established in self-respect? And then, can you imagine how a class full of self-respecting learners would be the natural foundation for a class environment based on mutual respect?!   

So, what does this have to do with SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING? And, even more importantly, how can this fact enable our teaching approach to be smarter, more efficient, more successful – with less effort?

Well, how many of us are brave enough and BIG enough to acknowledge the fact that our young students’  knowledge and understanding are not limited by what we – their teachers and parents – tell them.  How many of us would actually benefit from reminders that teaching students from pre-formatted curriculum and one-size-fits-all, right & wrong, Do-This/Don’t-Do-That formulas are just not connecting, deeply enough, with today’s students.  Sure, behaviors might change in the short-term.  Students will sing the songs about being nice and treating each other well, but do any of us really, honestly sense that that is how deep learning happens?  That that is how learning gets remembered and used in REAL LIFE?   And by ‘real life,’ I mean not just on the playground today, but in school next year, and the year after that, and the years after that …

Let me ask you a question that I hope you’ll ponder for a moment in order to arrive at an answer that can inform your future teaching in the most meaningful and energizing ways.  You ready?

When you were a kid, were you ever a ‘blank slate?’  Were you ever an empty bucket – just waiting to be filled with others’ ideas and values and labels and feelings?  I know I wasn’t.  Ever.   And out of all the teachers who’ve responded to that question from me, not a single one of them ever said, ‘Yes, I was a blank slate, and I needed to be told what to care about and how to feel, and the best way to solve every single problem.’  Not a single teacher out of the thousands of teachers I’ve interviewed, one-on-one, or in large groups during my presentations at education conferences answered YES to that question. Not a single one.  In fact, the most common response I’ve received to that question has always been the exact opposite.

What does that tell us? How does that inform our way forward in developing the education, the thinking skills, the critical thinking skills of our young students … especially as those skills relate to their social emotional learning?  To answer that question, I’m going to loosely quote Elisabeth Stitt, an educator I’ll soon be introducing on an upcoming episode of the NOT YOUR NORMAL SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING podcast:

Elisabeth basically told me that something she did as a teacher —- and that she emphasizes with parents  — is to assume that children  do not want to be behaving badly (because, as she said, it never feels good to her to behave badly) and that if we, in our role as teachers, can acknowledge (not necessarily agree with, but acknowledge) our students’ perspective, with gentle curiosity and with trust in who they are at their core,  we can nurture their self-respect – which they all deserve, and which, when it’s healthy, serves all relationships.       

So, how can we most efficiently move into the paradigm that’s emerging for today’s students and tomorrow’s world? 

By activating and engaging students’ ability to collaboratively discover their own shared solutions…. to take responsibility and to shape their destiny by establishing their individuality within the context of the class, and eventually, the world around them. They want, and really need, to move from dependency to autonomy, and to do that they need opportunities to express their values within collaborative peer group discussions to gain direct experience making decisions that ring ‘true’ and  work for all.  That’s how self-respect and mutual respect and collaboration align.

And even though it might, at first, feel un-natural or uncomfortable to be teaching less, while asking more questions to evoke kids’ own wisdom, teachers commonly report that it’s never long before the all-around benefits of this approach start accumulating – beyond anyone’s imagination – which is always a happy surprise.   

Will some teachers continue to see this type of approach as a threat, as too difficult, as undermining their roles of authority?  Will some teachers continue trying to  “tame” young children,  by imposing compliance-based practices in the mistaken belief that the kids “just need to learn how things are!” then everything can get to how it “should” be…

Or do we take on the challenge and the highest calling of our role as educators, testing the old ‘industrial, production line assumptions’ about what schooling should be?

It comes down to trust.  Do we trust our students – who they are at their core?  Do we trust that, at their core, even our youngest students are open to discovering solutions that work for everyone, including themselves, rather than just themselves?   

IF we can    s t r e t c h   into trust … even if it feels a little ‘risky,’ is it so hard to imagine how that  courageous act of stretching out of our comfort zones will lead to real WIN-WIN’s in our class?    

… and isn’t that what we all want?!!!

Love in the Classroom

Love can be our most practical teaching super power.

I was a teacher for 20+ years, and in that time I discovered, beyond any possible doubt, that  love must be central to what we do and who we are with our students.  I hope you agree, but if you don’t, or if you’re on the fence about bringing love into the classroom, I hope you’ll keep reading.

First, though, a quick story.  I was born and raised in California.  And to make me even more of a Californian, after my parents divorced, my time with each of them was divided between the San Francisco bay area – with my father, and Los Angeles, with my mother.   My California roots go even deeper.   I’m a 5th generation Californian, and my two sons are 6th generation Californians.   All that to say, when a great career opportunity presented itself to my husband, several decades ago, we enthusiastically moved our growing family to a small town in the midwest.  Talk about culture shock.   WOW !!!

  I am NOT proud to say how obnoxiously proud I was of my heritage, my upbringing, my ever-so-cool California, big city roots.    

I wasn’t overt about my pride of origins when I shopped for groceries or perused stores for my children’s needs, nevertheless  people were palpably  hostile towards me.   Why?  I smiled. I asked how clerks were, and answered with a friendly tone when they asked how I was.  It was mysterious and  weird, and really uncomfortable..

After a couple of weeks of life in my new surroundings, the unfriendliness was really getting to me.  Didn’t these people “get” how cool I was?  How much I had my (bleep) together?!!!

Then one day, after another icy and incredibly unsatisfying interaction, a fresh thought popped into my mind.      (Don’t you love it when those ‘fresh thoughts’ happen?)    

What if I changed my mind set?  What if I wasn’t so full of myself and my self-proclaimed  California-ultra-coolness the next time I walked into a store?     What if I opened my mind and heart to the possibility, just – for starters – the possibility that the locals were just as valuable and interesting and worthwhile and lovable as I was so sure that I was?      

I thought … well, maybe.  I mean, how could it  hurt to experiment with that concept ?    I wasn’t going to say anything, because – really – what could i say?    “Hi, I’m not going to be all full of myself any more. Instead, I’m experimenting with the concept that you might be just as valuable and interesting and lovable as any other person from any other place on this big beautiful planet.”   

NOPE.  Definitely wasn’t going to say that – thankyouverymuch.

But I was going to own that concept, but there couldn’t be any half measures with this experiment. Right?!  What would be the point of that? 

Bottom line:  everything changed.  I mean:  every interaction. Every.   To this day it blows my mind.

That experience, taught me that, in a sense, we’re all mind readers.  You. Me. OUR STUDENTS.  Oh, yes.  Very definitely our students. 

Feelings are communicated wordlessly.
NEVER underestimate children’s sensitivity to what we are truly feeling about them.

So, when I brought into my classes the mindset that each of my students was  valuable, interesting and a person worthy of love (no matter how un-lovable he or she might sometimes act), my classes ran so much more smoothly …. NOT because I told the kids that I thought they were valuable, interesting, worthy of love and respect, but because that was the GROUND ZERO from which I taught and interacted with them…. even when I had to lay down the law, even when I gave them tough assignments, even when I entrusted them with projects that required a lot of independence and self-motivation.   Over and over again, their ‘mind-reading’ skills served them and all of us incredibly and constructively well.

So what’s my point?  Well,  I’m still trying to work out the details so that I can explain how all this works – internally / on the inside – so the impact can be seen – externally / on the outside – but an important and immeasurably practical piece of all this is that we teachers need to, we GET to, explore and discover what love looks like when it’s put into action within all our classroom interactions.    

For me Love looks a lot like respect.   Love also looks a lot like trust … genuinely trusting that the best within our students actually WANTS to express itself, even though their best sometimes can’t actually be expressed without our respectful facilitation efforts on their behalf … which sometimes takes patience.    

When I failed at all this Love stuff … it hurt, but I learned, and I learned how to fail a little bit less the next time.  I keep learning, because I keep trying to pay attention to the ‘signals,’ if you will, that the mindreaders around me are picking up on.

Does that make sense?  Does it ring true for you?  Share your thoughts, your successes, and your challenges around this topic.  I’d love to know what’s going on for you.    

Here’s a link to the associated podcast.