Archive for the 'Insider's Tips' Category

T.E.S.T.ing Week

standardized testing funnyAs an educator, the Spring semester can become difficult and instructional time becomes precious and limited. My ELL students have to take the district, state, and national tests, along with language acquisition tests. These required tests seem to dictate our schedules and energies during the spring semester. I find myself planning quick, self-standing lessons that can be implemented at any time because only the Lord Himself knows how much time I’ll ACTUALLY have.

Testing is part of our educational system – like it or not. So here’s what I tell my kids about standardized testing. I hope it helps you and our students gain some perspective and maybe find hope in the midst of the craziness.

Taking a test isn’t the goal here. It really isn’t. Yes the scores matter. Yes I will hear about it if my students don’t do well – but I’m not here to make sure they do well on the test. I’m here to help them learn the skills it takes to prioritize information, manage their anxiety and apply what they know. Each of those skills will help them in life and that’s what matters.

Every job requires you to pass a test. It’s not fun to admit – but it’s true. If I want to work on your car, replace your roof, or repair your broken limb – I have to pass a test. It might not be a multiple-choice test, but I will be trained and I will have to show someone else that I can apply my skills in a manner that is not only acceptable, but perhaps exceptional.

Scores don’t define you. I tell my students they are more than a number – they should never let scores define or limit them. Now, at the exact same time, I work to help them use numbers to evaluate their growth. Have you ever watched a student chart their progress and smile at the upward movement? It’s awesome! Some students consistently score high and if that score drops they begin to panic. This is where the emphasis and importance of grades and scores (see ABCs of Grades post) should be put into perspective . Kids need to have permission to be kids and to be unique in their learning and their performance. Tests don’t provide those opportunities, but we can remind students that there’s more to life than the test and the score it produces.

Talk to me. Typically I run a controlled, fast-paced classroom and my students know I have an agenda that takes priority over their social needs. However, during testing week things begin to relax a bit. I ask my students to talk to me. I ask about life outside of school. I want to know if anything is happening in their social or emotional world that might be weighing them down. I feed them, I let them go the bathroom…I am compassionate to their plight. My students with high anxiety levels let me know when they need a break and I trust them. I’ve never had a student try to “get out” of taking the test – they know this is happening – but I think they truly appreciate the understanding from the adults in their lives.

I’ll end with this well-known political cartoon:

testing cartoon

Many people use this illustration to undermine standardized testing and yes – it has a good point – but let’s be careful in our assumptions. Our students are failing. It kills me to even type that sentence – but it’s true (PEW Research).

Are the national/state/district tests truly representative of student ability? No.

Are they truly reflective of a teacher’s instructional abilities or classroom management? No.

But each time I’m tempted to complain, I ask myself what I have a BETTER way to assess ability throughout the country and I can’t think of anything.

So until I’m in a position to change things for the better I’ve decided to focus on making my classroom better and helping my students compete on the national stage.

No matter what test life might throw at my kids I want them to know how to use their gut, their knowledge, and their reasoning skills to make the best choice they can and pass that test.

I will ensure my students know their value. From there I hope they will become thirsty for knowledge because they feel confident in their abilities. For many of my students they don’t see education as valuable (see Welcome to America post) – I want to change that. I want them to revel so much in the learning process that they resist the temptation to reel against the testing.

Systems aren’t perfect – they are flawed and sometimes broken. The children in my classroom are broken and flawed and so am I. So before I shake my finger at the system, I’m going to take a hard look at my students and at myself to make sure we are growing and becoming better each day. That way we can face the test as a unified front, and when the test is done we just keep moving forward.

T.E.S.T.

Yep – it’s a four-letter word.

How we interpret this word is what matters and our kids need us to guide them along the way.

Happy testing!

Kasey

 

The ABCs of Grades

medalsThroughout my years of working with mothers, one topic continues to come up in conversations – when to pay and when not to pay children.

So here are my thoughts, take what works for you and trash the rest – but please know this is not a quick, nor is it an easy, answer.

Here’s the thing about money. It causes an item to have a defined value (or lack thereof). In 2008, Dan Ariely wrote the book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.  It’s a fascinating look at why we do what we do and how we make decisions. He talks about two forms of currency or value. The first is a social norm, where money isn’t the issue. Instead, it’s about relationships and the value or benefit our decision brings to our fellow man. The second is a market norm. This norm focuses on money and the fiscal results of a decision.

Quick example: A plate of cookies are in the office break room. Sign says, “help yourself”. People only took one cookie and the cookies lasted for a while so everyone had an opportunity to enjoy one. Another time a plate of cookies was labeled, “.25 each”. Guess what happened? People put in a dollar and took 4 cookies. The cookies were gone in a short time period and people took more cookies than they did before.

According to Ariely, here’s what happened. A market norm was assigned to an object and therefore the social  norm went away. No one thought about others, they just did the math. I put in a dollar, I get 4 cookies.

It makes sense doesn’t it? But here’s the thing. Ariely (and a bunch of really smart psych people) figured out that once a market norm is assigned, the social norm not only goes away, it can never return. He has so many examples about a daycare charging for watching kids late, lawyers helping the elderly with legal advice, and on it goes. It’s a fascinating book and I think it bears some weight with kids, grades, chores, and a household.

Is it wrong to pay kids for responsibilities or positive marks? I don’t think so.

Is it necessary? I don’t think so.

Before you get upset – hear me out.

Each of my children are unique. Their learning styles and abilities are very different. My oldest can work for 4 hours on math and still only earn a B. My middle child can do the same assignment in 1 hour and earn an A.

Did my middle child work harder? Nope. Is my oldest not giving his best? Nope.

So why would I assign a market norm to their learning and their abilities?

What if my kid has a teacher that is just one of those royal, pain in the rear end, jerks who never gives an A on a test or paper? What if my kid has a learning disability or the unit they are studying in school just doesn’t make sense to them? There are so many variables involved in the learning process and school objectives.

Carol Dweck writes and speaks about how important the PROCESS is and not just the PRODUCT of learning. (CLICK HERE to watch her Ted Talk) She did an experiment with groups of children who were given projects and puzzles to complete. One group was told they were “smart” when they finished and the other group was praised with the words, “you worked so hard” at completion.

Each group was then offered a more difficult puzzle or one at the same level. Wanna guess which group went up a level and invited more challenge?

Yep – the group that was focused on the process. The ones who were told they were smart really were smart kids. In fact, they figured that if this level of doing things constitutes “smart”, why should I push myself?

I’m not suggesting we lose “smart” from our vocabulary, but the minute I add market norms to grades and the learning process, I take away the social norm of enjoying the process of thinking, struggling with answers, and in the end having a result that reflects my efforts – no matter the grading scale being used.

As mothers we are tasked with creating global citizens. People who aren’t afraid to work hard. People who immerse themselves in the process and create a product that is an authentic reflection of our children’s thoughts, dreams, feelings, and abilities.

We can tackle the topic of chores another time. For now, start thinking about what events or tasks need to remain focused on process and social norms instead of focusing so much on the market. The “market” of this world can sometimes limit our kids or misrepresent them.

I truly believe our children are looking to US to provide a market that values them beyond their grades or scores. But instead, values what they bring to our family and our society.

So here’s your mneumonic device for the day concerning grades and performance in children:

Accept each child as unique and wonderful.

Be focused on the process more than the product.

Continue to encourage children to try, even if a “prize” or “medal” doesn’t come in the end.

I value you.

Thank you for caring about the little things and the big things.

You stay up late, wash clothes, clean floors, wipe away tears, and YOU are making this world better. Don’t limit your actions according to the market norm. Your value FAR exceeds such measurements. You and I have a social norm that will come to light as our children grow and treat others as we have treated them – with respect.

Thank you for sharing, liking, and commenting – Spring is coming – hang in there!

Kasey

 

 

Dear Momma,

friendsI meet amazing women all the time. Here in my hometown and across the US I’ve seen mommas who are doing a great job and just trying their absolute best to raise a family without raising their blood pressure. This isn’t an easy job…but somebody’s got to do it and thankfully, it’s all of us.

Dear Momma I met on the running path this weekend –

Thank you for encouraging me to keep trying to become a “real runner” – your words of encouragement meant the world to me. We talked about how your kids are small and things are challenging. You asked if it gets “better” or “easier” as they grow and I said yes. I wasn’t lying but I didn’t want to tell you the truth. The truth is it does get easier concerning the physical exhaustion associated with caring for little people who can’t take care of themselves. But the emotional and mental energy it takes to raise elementary and pre-teen kiddos is truly overwhelming at times. I’m currently in competition with advertisements, trends at school, technology and people forgetting that tone of voice means more than the words coming out of their mouths. I remember being where you and you’ll have more “rough weeks” but hang in there. God is preparing you for the future and every interaction you have with them now will help the tough conversations of the future have an impact because you took time to develop a relationship with your kids now. Everything you do matters. I hope you enjoyed your run and thanks again for sharing your extra bottle of water and offering me some yummy candy :o)

 

Dear Momma I stood behind in the check out line –

I have an honest question for you. That whole “I’ll give you a treat at the end if you’re good” bribe…do you still think that’s a good idea? It must have been a rough shopping trip. I’ve had those too. When people are hungry, tired and super frustrating and all you want to do is get your list of food and get out of there – it’s not fun. I have an idea. Maybe next time your kids would enjoy having a job or responsibility beyond what they SHOULD be doing – being good. I don’t get a reward for being nice to the people at my work but I do it because it’s the right thing to do. Maybe the treat used to work and it was a good idea but after what I saw today I think your kids have you figured out and their working harder at wearing you down instead of bettering themselves. You deserve better – hold your kids accountable and they’ll respect you for it. I promise.

 

Dear Grandma at the park –

I had to smile as you gave that toddler your complete attention. You remind me to enjoy each moment and be fully engaged with my kids. I heard you squeal with excitement when that sweet boy made it down the slide all by himself. I needed our excitement today. Thank you for breathing life into my day by just being you and showing your love.

 

Spring has arrived and I am thrilled to see what God is going to bring into my life…the new, the unknown and the challenging things that will come…the only reason I’ll make it through is because I’m not alone. We’re all in this mothering thing together –

Find a fellow momma and give her a smile – you’ll never know how much it might help her…and you.

You’re amazing!

Kasey

Independence Day – the Mommy Way

Tomorrow we celebrate our country’s birthday – the day we declared our independence.

So I’m declaring my own kind of independence.

I’m claiming freedom from the feelings of guilt, fear and insecurity that often steal my joy.

My independence doesn’t come through denial or ignorance – instead it comes from the freedom of knowing I am not alone, that God is with me and I can find comfort in knowing perfection is not a prerequisite for effective parenting.

Need more proof that this kind of independence is possible (and dare I say it – NECESSARY!?) Look no further than the most fantastic, hilarious, well-organized and applicable book for moms looking for guidance instead of guilt.

Run, do not walk, to your Amazon.com button and buy this book! You’ll want your own copy – mine is pictured above (check out the post-its and tattered pages – it’s marked like crazy on the inside too!)…

Here are a just a few of my favorite quotes/challenges and general greatness from Kathi’s book, “I Need Some Help Here!”

Get ready to enjoy a time of hope and help as we declare our independence from anything that is not of God.

1. When we feel guilt creeping in Kathi reminds us to have the same mercy on ourselves that we would have on our friends. Kathi writes, “I think it breaks God’s heart to hear how we talk to ourselves – without grace, without mercy. God is not surprised by our failures, but it must be so disheartening to him when wee become judge and jury for ourselves. Remember that God loves you passionately and wholly” (Can I get an AMEN!?)

2.  Throughout the book Kathi provides Scripture and specific prayers I can pray for myself and for my children – it’s an amazing resource! The best part is that the prayers and Bible verses are organized according to situations that are bound to occur in all our lives.

3. I loved reading all the testimonials and personal stories from moms who did everything “right” and yet their children decided to do wrong. I was amazed by these women’s honesty and their willingness to share how they found hope in the midst of despair.

4. When talking about how we feel powerless due to our children’s bad choices, Kathi writes about it being painful and how it takes time to recover but, “we haven’t put our trust in our child’s choices. We’ve put our trust in the Rock” – YES!

5. Each of my children are unique and while I love that fact I sometimes hurt for them when they don’t fit in with their peers or the world’s expectations. Kathi challenges us to change our prayer from “Lord, help them be enough” to instead praying: “Lord, BE their enough.” Wow – I’ll admit it – I have that statement written on a notecard and taped to my bathroom mirror.

I guess we could use that statement too. If GOD is our “enough” we won’t have room to second-guess, fret or stew about whether or not we’re good or bad moms. Instead, we’ll just keep reveling in God’s hope and enjoying the help we receive from our fellow moms who are (as Kathi puts it) in the trenches with us.

I am so excited to share this book with you and I know you’ll enjoy each part of this challenging and honest look at parenting.

I’d encourage you to read it with other friends or even out loud with your husband – every piece of this book is something we’ve either been through, are dealing with or will some day encounter. No one is immune to life.

If you have your own story about finding hope during a troubling time we’d love to hear it. Thank you for being honest and allowing God to use your life to encourage others!

Happy Independence Day!

Let the hope-filled days begin!

You are loved –

Kasey

 

 

Let The Summer Planning Begin!

I have been incredibly blessed to work with some of the most gifted, amazing women as I’ve journeyed through this world of speaking and writing.

A woman I truly admire and respect is Kathi Lipp.

She. Is. Hilarious! She is real, she is honest and she is so encouraging.

I also love her ability to take real life and then give us real solutions and ideas.

Because I love all of you and know you are in the same boat as me – I can’t wait to share Kathi’s FREE book with you!!!!

Yep, I said FREE!

Just click on the picture below to have Kathi’s latest book, “Surviving Summer Vacation”, emailed to you today!

Leave a comment below with your best summer activity and favorite activity to help the summer days be fun and full of wonderful memories!

Summer and warm weather are coming – let the planning and celebrations begin!

friends

 

The Language Behind Lent

Here’s a post I wrote 2 years ago about Lent – reading it now I have to laugh. James was 5 at the time. He is now 7. We haven’t talked about what we’re giving up for Lent – it’s been a crazy season of life. This weekend will be a time of talking, praying and hearing from our boys and what God is going in their hearts.

How do you talk to your kids about lent?

Are your kids or family giving up something in particular?

I’d love to hear your thoughts – please leave a comment below :o)

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday – the beginning of the Lent. Last year was the first time we took our children to an Ash Wednesday service. It was a wonderful experience I documented in my post Discovering Lent. This year I had to work, Matt was sick and we didn’t make it to any services at church, which was a bummer. But we are still talking to our kids about what these 40 days mean to us and how it helps us prepare for Easter. My favorite part of this Smarter Moms community is knowing I’m not alone in this journey…

    Some of you have commented on Facebook, sent a Tweet or sent us emails asking about how and when children should be involved in this tradition and how to explain Lent to them. I’m so glad you asked because I was struggling with the same issues just yesterday!

    I picked up our son, James, from preschool and saw a paper laying on the table outside their classroom door. The teachers had obviously explained Lent and asked children what they would give up during these 40 days of remembering Jesus. I was shocked to see James’ answer – he was going to give up wrestling with his Dad!?!?!  That’s his most favorite thing in the world to do!

     I smiled as I read the other children’s responses and began praying for wisdom. Did James truly understand Lent? How would I help him be aware without creating a feeling of guilt or pressure? I was still praying silently as we walked to the car and our conversation at lunch was eye-opening for both of us. I hope you can take some of this script and use it if the need arises, but I want to point out that each child is different and you know them best. Pray and trust the Holy Spirit to lead you through these sometimes complicated topics. We’ll also look at some main points to cover when discussing Lent and resources for you to user. For now, here’s my conversation with my sweet baby James:

M: Did you guys talk about Lent today with Ms. Kristen and Ms. Lynn?

J: Yep. 

M: Well, what did you learn?

J: We were suppose to pick something to give up and I said I’d stop wrestling with Dad for the next 40 years because I usually get hurt when we wrestle with the other boys anyway, so I thought that’d be a good thing to give up.

M: Do you know why you are giving up wrestling with Dad?

J: (silence)

M: How about I tell you more about Lent and how Daddy and I observe it and then maybe we can talk more about what you want to do – would that be okay?

J: Sure.

M: What do we celebrate at Christmas time?

J: Jesus’ birthday!

M: That’s right! Jesus made a choice to leave His home, Heaven, and all his angel friends and even His Father – God. He gave it all up so He could come here to earth and save you and me. That’s a pretty awesome sacrifice don’t you think?

J: Yeah – I wouldn’t want to leave you guys and go anywhere! I’d miss all my toys and my bike.

M: I know, that would be so tough! You don’t have to leave us or your bike. But Lent is a time when we think of something “extra”. Think of something in your life that you really enjoy eating or drinking or doing – but remember it needs to be something extra…can you think of anything?

J: (silence)

M: Something extra in my life would be sweet treats, coke zero, even watching certain TV shows….I really enjoy all those things but if they weren’t in my life I’d still be okay wouldn’t I?

J: Yeah.

M:  So, during Lent we choose something extra, something we enjoy, and we give it up for 40 days. Then every time we want to drink a coke or watch a show or eat a sweet treat we remember what Jesus gave up. He gave up Heaven for you and me! Giving something up is simply a way to help us remember and help us keep a thankful spirit. You don’t HAVE to give anything up, but it’s kind of a cool challenge.  Whatever you give up gets to come back in your life on Easter morning – just like Jesus was able to go back home to Heaven on Easter morning!

J: Ohhhh Okay, I think I got it. You know what I really like? Sprite. I think I want to give up Sprite instead of wrestling with Dad.

M: Babe, I think that’s a great idea – do you want to give up drinking anything that has those bubbles in it and only drink milk, juice and water? Or you could just give up Sprite – whatever you want to do.

J: I think I want to give up everything with the bubbles in it (pause) and Mom, I think you should give up drinking Coke too. We can do it together!

M: (with a slightly false, begrudging tone) I think that’s a great idea! We’ll do it together. So every time we want to order a Sprite or Coke at McDonald’s or want to drink it at home we’ll remind ourselves that Jesus gave up Heaven and we’re giving up that drink.

    We were eating lunch during this conversation and BOTH of us had a carbonated beverage as our drink.  James suddenly had a look of horror on his face like he’d broken a rule or messed up already. I assured him that today we could drink as much coke and sprite as we wanted – Lent didn’t start until tomorrow.  And now that He had me committed to no Coke I educated him concerning the Western Church’s view of Sundays during Lent.

   He was very excited to hear we could have Coke and Sprite on Sundays because they represent the resurrection. In fact, if you count from Feb. 22 (Ash Wednesday) through April 8 (Easter) there are 46 days. Lent is a forty-day period because we don’t count the Sundays. I know for some people it’s more about a complete surrender and removal of a task so perhaps skipping Sundays isn’t something you would like to observe and that’s fine – each person needs to observe Lent in their own way.

   When it comes to children and this season I don’t think they should feel pressure to sacrifice anything beyond their ability. If a child doesn’t truly understand the crucifixion and resurrection they won’t grasp this time of sacrifice and remembrance.  Start small and let your child choose something on their own or talk with your family and pick something that ALL of you will sacrifice during these forty days. Some ideas might include:

* Instead of going out to eat, save the money and buy groceries for a local food pantry

* Instead of watching television or playing video games in the evening, decide to read sections of scripture that describe Jesus’ ministry and life. Following His journey to the cross makes the week before Easter and Easter morning even more amazing.

* Perhaps your child gives up a favorite toy or activity for a day. During that day, help them remember WHY they are giving up that particular thing.

* Instead of buying new clothes, commit to getting rid of clothing that isn’t being used or doesn’t fit and give it to a local charity.

* Instead of watching TV, sit down and write letters to missionaries (your church will have a list of names and addresses) and thank them for helping others know about Jesus and how much He loves them.

   The whole point of Lent isn’t to be like the Pharisees and brag about what we’re giving up. That would be selfish and boastful. The point of Lent is to remember that sacrifice matters, discipline counts and in order to be an effective Christian we need these reminders each year so we don’t forget.

   Sometimes when our children watch us observe these traditions they learn as much or more than if they had participated. Never force a child to receive communion, to have ash on their forehead or give up something during Lent. To force them takes away the fundamental component to the Christian life: free will.

   Here are some great websites with other ideas for celebrating this season with children. Don’t worry that the “actual day” has passed. This isn’t about strict observance of particular dates and times. This is about helping our children remember how much Jesus loves them and how we respond to that love in our own life. We won’t love the things of this world so much that we can’t give them up – even if it’s for a season. We will love God and Jesus more than anything else!

   Have a great Lent season and please, share your stories with us in the comment box – how do you celebrate with your kids and how did they respond to the whole idea of Lent?  We need to hear from you!

Kasey

http://www.imby.net/easter/kids.html

http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/Lent/children.html

http://iccreligiouseducation.com/lent.cfm

http://www.catholicmom.com/kids_lent_activities.htm

How do you spell love?

th[9]Quick, think back to all the goofy, puppy-love feelings you experienced the first time you fell in “love”. Whether you were 5 or 15 we all know the fluttering feeling in our stomach that happened when that someone special brushed our hand or looked our way.

Love can change form as we age. It feels, sounds, looks and even impacts us differently.

Valentine’s Day has come and gone but I hope we never stop thinking about how to show love to the people in our life.

We can read books about types of Love Languages and we know what it feels like to be loved, but sometimes it can be difficult to show love to the people we’re around the most.

One day I was truly fed up with my toddler and called my mom in desperation. I remember saying, “Mom, I don’t even LIKE him right now – he’s driving me crazy!” In her wisdom my mother reminded me that my son is around me more than he’s around anyone else in his life. He knew me better than I might know myself. My toddler could read my body language and understood when I was tired, hungry and at my wit’s end. He was so much smarter than I was giving him credit.

So I decided to focus on how I could love my boy even on days when I really didn’t like him.

No matter the age of our children or the size of our family our love can be communicated in an intentional and powerful way. To help us show love in a fresh, new way let’s spell it with words instead of just letters.

L is for LISTEN

Love truly listens. It listens first, speaks last. When love listens we are able to put technology away and focus on the people in front of us. When we listen we be become compassionate, patient and willing to accept the people in our family. When I listen I find out my kids see the world differently and have a perspective all their own. Listening keeps us from judging or making assumptions. It takes energy to listen, but it’s an investment that brings a return in relationships built on trust and respect.

O is for OPTIMISTIC

Optimism doesn’t mean I’m clueless. If I’m optimistic I have hope. I’m hopeful that new information, trying new things and the situation I’m facing will bring positive results. Sometimes it’s really hard to be optimistic in the light of trying to love the people in our life.  Is there a family member, child, coworker causing you grief? Try being optimistic about who they are and how things could work out. It’s the whole “glass half full” mindset and when optimism (hope) is present we are able to truly love instead of just tolerate people.

V is for VARIETY

Here in Kansas, we enjoy changing weather, seasons and landscapes. Variety is obvious in nature and it should also be obvious in how and when we love. We don’t need to wait for Valentine’s Day or a special occasion. We need to show love when no one expects it and in fresh new ways! Need some ideas for the man in your life? Check out Kathy Lipp’s 4 Day Love Challenge.

E is for ENDURE

This is the toughest one for me. I can become impatient and short with people because I just don’t see why the solution to the problem hasn’t been discovered and implemented. The Lord is working on me. I’m learning to be compassionate and willing to endure with my children. The only condition to enduring is this – when we endure with people we cannot begin to enable them. If we promote the problem instead of helping people find the solution we’re creating victims and we’re securing their need for us to be in their life. Love never gives up, it endures – even if we don’t see the results until heaven.

HOW ABOUT YOU?

Do you have a strategy or scripture that helps you truly listen to the people you love?

Have you tried something new and held hope that it would work? When things get tough, how do you remain optimistic?

What cool, different way do you show love to your family? Share your variety with us so we can try your ideas!

Has someone in your life endured with you or have you endured with someone else and seen love conquer all?

I can’t wait to read your stories – thank you for taking time to share!

Kasey


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