Three Things Thursday

What I’m Reading:  “Into the Magic Shop” by James R. Doty. Doty a neurosurgeon and director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University, writes about his rough childhood and his research into the connection between our brain, and our hearts. It gives practical instructions for meditation and empowers readers to take control of their emotional and physical lives. A great read!

Into the Magic Shop

Building Confident Learners: Take breaks when necessary. Sometimes it’s helpful to set a timer for work periods and another for break periods when working or studying for a period that is over an hour. This helps build in necessary brain brains without having to overthink it.

What Gives Me Joy: Family and local restaurants. My uncle and aunt stopped in town on their way to Charleston and we had lunch at The Farmer’s Table. It was great to spend a few hours with my Wisconsin family (who I miss) while enjoying a delicious meal!

Farmers table

The joy of learning. Together.


Teaching Kindness

Ready for some good news? Kindness can be taught. It’s taught through modeling and discussion, and there are a lot of great recourses that concretely teach kindness. Every school I’ve visited has a school wide program aimed at teaching kindness and empathy towards others. In order for a program to work though it must be consistently taught throughout the school day and at home.

There are a lot of quick resources for kindness activities. For example Discovery Education has some good ideas on how to implement a program with a monthly theme and easy activities. Kindness curriculums don’t need to take up the school day, teachers barely have time as it is to get through the standards and lessons they planned. Quick mini lessons sprinkled throughout the week can be just as effective.

Team building activities, “clubs”, and service projects are other fun ways to get kids involved in kindness. For example, One year some of my third grade girls were having trouble getting along so I formed a lunch club and we worked on projects and games together. It was a great way to get to know my students better, and to help them get through a rough patch. Hosting clothing or food drives is another simple way to build empathy both at home and at school. Volunteer at local food pantries, hospitals, shelters, or other service organizations in your neighborhood. Build kindness and service into your daily life.

I know it may sound like I’m simplifying something that isn’t that simple. Teaching kindness is a team effort. It’s not a school’s or a teacher’s sole responsibility to teach kindness. Communities, neighborhoods, schools, parents, and families need to work in tandem. And lest I be called a Pollyanna, it’s important to note that sometimes there is a lot going against teaching kindness. Just do what you can do, where you are, with what you have. That’s all any of us can do.

I volunteer at The Hope Center for Children. Check them out if you’re looking for a service opportunity in Spartanburg.

The joy of learning. Together.



Social learning theory, Service, and Self-efficacy

What I’m Reading:  This week I’m nerding out on articles about social learning theory and motivation. If you read Tuesdays post on motivation, and want to explore the concepts I discussed further, follow the links below.

 Building Confident Learners: Help learners build self-efficacy by:

  • Providing them with a balance of tasks that challenge them and that they complete easily. In other words give them opportunities for success from time to time.
  • Modeling a belief in your own ability to be successful by persevering through a problem.
  • Giving them verbal confirmation that they will be able to complete the task at hand.

What Gives Me Joy: Meeting new people and working with others. This week I had the opportunity to volunteer, and to meet a handful of new people. Feeling useful and helpful gives me a sense of purpose,  which in turn gives me joy.

The joy of learning. Together



Trying to teach a lesson or subject to a student who is unmotivated by the content is likely every teacher and parent’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, there are many things we are unmotivated by, but which need still to be completed. For example, I am generally unmotivated to do the dishes or vacuum the mass amount of husky fur off our carpet. If I don’t wash the dishes or vacuum however, all kinds of hygienic problems will surely ensue. In this case the aversion to impending mold filled plates and fur tumbleweeds motivate me to do the chores.

brain key

Young students however have less motivation to do an uninteresting task because they often to not see the point for various reasons. There is a lot of research on brain development which I could write an entire paper on, so I’ll just tell you to look up brain development and motivation if you’re interested. Simply put, motivation has everything to do with learning. No motivation=less learning potential. That’s why relevance is so important. You can’t force a learner to be magically interested in a subject they don’t like or feel they are bad at, but you can try to work in something of interest to them.

So what makes a student motivated to learn? Remember last week’s post on “Imposter Syndrome”? In that post I explained that I thought I didn’t have anything to say so I wasn’t motivated to write. This illustrates that perceived success is either very motivating or very demotivating. Both external and internal reinforcement are big motivators, connection to past learning, rewards (to a certain extent), goal achievement, and energy levels are other important factors. Don’t get me started on social learning theory, but social influences make a difference too. Look it up, alright?

If you’re interested in this topic and want to learn more about motivation and learning I suggest reading this excerpt from “Educational Psychology Developing Learners” at Look up social learning theory, and brain development while you’re at it…if you’re motivated to do so.

The joy of learning. Together.





Vulnerability and Kindess

helping hand

One can certainly be kind without being vulnerable, but often an act of vulnerability with other person is a great kindness. This doesn’t mean you need to run out and share your deepest fears and sadness with relative strangers in the name of kindness. In fact, please don’t do that, you’ll get some appropriately alarmed reactions. But, if someone you care about shares their fears with you, be honored that they chose you to share with, and respond with empathy and openness.

Similarly, when a child or young adult decides to share something that is important to them with you, listen to them. Really listen. If they ask for advice tell them about your experiences and let them know they’re not alone. Can you imagine classrooms that are run with this in mind? I can because I’ve seen them in action. There are many amazing teachers out there teaching their students to be kind, open, appropriately vulnerable, and honest. As an adult, simply just showing that you’re human and make mistakes too is an act of vulnerability and often an act of kindness as well.

Be kind always, and be vulnerable when appropriate. Openness and empathy lead to happy children and consequently, to happy learners.

The joy of learning. Together.


Patience for the Process


pencil and paper

What I’m Reading:  “Assigning more Writing with Less Grading” by Mathew M. Johnson. This is a great quick read about the necessity of simple practice. Writing is one of the trickiest things to teach because it involves so many moving pieces. It can be done though, and I mirror the author’s opinion on constant assessment. It’s so important to give students freedom to practice and explore without marking their pages with what often feels like criticism. Assessment is an important piece of any teaching strategy but so is providing space to learn and try new things without a “grade”.

Building Confident Learners: Patience. Be patient with a learner when they are trying something for the first time. We often forget how hard something was for us initially, once we’re pros at it. Have patience with the process.

What Gives Me Joy: Music. Once upon a time I sang in a Jazz band, and although I no longer make music myself, I still find solace in listening. I will appropriately quote the late Tom Petty: “Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.”
The joy of learning. Together.


Imposters Everywhere


I sat down to write this post and I really did not feel inspired. I didn’t feel like I had anything riveting to share, and I wasn’t in the mood to write. Here’s why: First, I like many people, sometimes fall into the metaphorical pit of self-pity where I envelop myself in histrionic feelings of inadequacy. Sounds like a real party, am I right? Second because I felt like this post was doomed to failure I did not feel motivated to write it. With all this fun stuff rolling around in my head I opened up my computer to get down to business. It’s not surprising that I found plenty of things on the Internet that were more interesting (a cinnamon roll recipe, various crochet patterns, facebook posts, emails, my bank account, literally anything else). Eventually I wrangled my brain and summoned some self-control. I then pulled up a blank Word document to get to work. Oh the joy of a blank Word document! So new, so full of opportunity, so saturated with feelings of dread, and doom, and panic.

Alright, the good news is that all this eventually lead me to be inspired to write about a few topics and their impact on learning. “Imposter Syndrome”, motivation, and “grit”. This week a look into “Imposter Syndrome” and learning. In one sentence, “Imposter Syndrome” is the condition of feeling like you’ll be found out for being an actual idiot, and for not being good enough at your job, in your home, as a parent, as a spouse, at school etc…Much of the research on this phenomenon has been done on adults but I would argue that the beginning symptoms of it are percolating in our youth as well. The idea that everybody else has it all figured out is both comforting and horrifying. It’s nice to believe that there is an end point, where you’ll eventually know how to do everything you’ve ever wanted to be able to do. It’s horrifying to feel like everybody but you, has already done it. I saw my students experiencing this when we learned something new, as their eyes darted from person to person hoping to see some signs of confusion that mirrored theirs. I heard my students say, “But I just can’t do it, I’m not smart enough.” Some suggest that “Imposter Syndrome” is only evident in high achieving people but in my experience I’ve seen all types of students experience some form of it.

What can you do to help someone through the effects of “Imposter Syndrome”? Be vulnerable. Show them you’re flawed too and that you don’t have it all figured out either. And then, talk about what you do know (because you know a lot) and use your skills to support the child through their process. Show them that thier best can be good enough, and when a little boost is needed help is just an ask away. Remind them that learning is a never-ending process no matter who you are. Success cannot be achieved without the help of others. Teamwork is everything.

The joy of learning. Together. 


If you want to read more about helping your child when they experience “Imposter Syndrome”, check out this quick read: “How to Help Your Kid Through Bouts of Imposter Syndrome”.


Why We Aren’t Kind: Bullies and Empathy


There are days, when even the kindest folks falter. There are days, when we make mistakes and stray from our best selves, maybe with a snarky remark, unkind words, or with gossip and criticism. We all make mistakes and by taking responsibility for our actions and making amends we can move forward and start again.

Sometimes however we run into folks who are unkind more often than they are kind. Sometimes we find ourselves face to face with someone who treats us unfairly with an aim to hurt us. We ask ourselves, why do they want to cause me pain? What did I do? The answer is that it’s really not about you. It’s about them, and only about them.

I believe we are born kind, and we learn hate. With that being said it’s hugely important to remember that a bully has most likely been bullied by someone else. They learned to do it somewhere, from someone. It’s not an excuse for their behavior but it’s an explanation.

We can teach our children to respond to unkindness with empathy and action. We do not need to let people treat us unkindly, but we can still address the situation with empathy, knowing that the bully is in pain too even if they are unaware of it.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The joy of learning. Together. 


Reading and Eating

What I’m Reading:  “25 of the Most Exciting Picture Books of Fall 2017” by Devon Corneal. This is a quick review of 25 great children’s books coming out this fall. If you’re looking for something new to read at home or at school, follow the link to read about the books yourself!

Building Confident Learners: Read, read, read! Reading at home either with an adult or alone is the one of the easiest ways to develop literacy. Choose books that are interesting or new, and set aside specific time to snuggle up with a good book! You can check out the list above for some fun ideas.

By bedside table full of reading material! 

What Gives Me Joy: Cooking and sharing a meal. Nothing is as comforting as a delicious meal shared with good family and friends. I’ve been enjoying planning meals to cook for the week and have found some fun new recipes in the process! Cooking with kids can be a great way to teach them to follow directions. It also provides a mini lesson in measurement while supporting teamwork.

The joy of learning. Together.


Quick Tips: Failure


Below are two more quick tips for helping children navigate experiences of failure.

Encourage them to try new things

  • Trying new things can inspire them and provide new avenues for success. This doesn’t mean giving up on an activity that they have expires failure in. Remind them to keep working through a failure AND to try new things.

Role model failing gracefully

  • Show them how to lose gracefully when playing a board game or a sport. Congratulate the winners even when you’re on the losing end.
  • Laugh at yourself! It’s no fun to take yourself too seriously and kids know it. Show them that making mistakes and failing can be OK and even humorous at times.
  • Stay motivated. When you fail, you can role model resilience by continuing to work through the problem.
  • Talk with them about your feeling of failure and about how your worked through a tough experience.