How Fast the Years Have Flown By

In early June, my younger daughter graduated from high school.  Aside from my pride as a father of two high school graduates, both of whom are either starting or continuing college later this month, I was struck by another thought:  We no longer have a child in our local public school system.  After 16 years with kids in school, we no longer have open houses, conferences, concerts, ice cream socials, BINGO and family game nights, and the myriad of other events that parents with school-aged children attend year after year.  These are bittersweet thoughts, for sure.

After coming to terms with the fact that this also means that I am old, I started to reflect on all of the experiences my kids had in school.  My reflections may be slightly different than some other parents in the same situation because I can reflect through two distinctly different lenses: one as a father and one as a principal.  Here are my “take-aways” from our experiences watching our kids proceed through the system.

My girls had many different teachers between their kindergarten and senior year of high school.  Some were amazing and a few were mediocre. This includes all of the self-contained elementary teachers and the more content-centered middle and high school teachers.  This also includes all of the specials teachers and a few special education teachers.

Upon reflection, here is what I learned during the last 16 years.

The very best teachers brought out the very best in my kids.  There is no doubt about that.

  • Over the course of the years, they each experienced some of the very best instruction possible – but not every year (see the next point).
  • The girls learned in spite of the few mediocre teachers they had over the years.  Why?  Because we helped them persevere through the nine months in the classroom.  We helped them understand that they had to take a certain amount of responsibility for their learning and successes, regardless of the circumstances of the classroom environment or the teacher’s instructional practices. No doubt they are better prepared for college and the world of work because of the variety of adults they had to deal with.
  • The girls were placed in classes with and without their closest friends over the years, and they actually did better socially and academically in classes without their very best friends. They were forced to come out of their shells and make new and different friends.  In addition, they were not as distracted as they would have been with their BFFs in class.
  • There were times that both girls experienced failure and disappointment.  But, they made it through these times, and they are stronger and much more resilient now because of these experiences (what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, right?).
  • There were times that both girls felt the pain of teasing, exclusion, and “girl drama.” In some cases, this was quite severe, which was heartbreaking for my wife and me to watch.  I also admit that there were times when they each doled out some not-so-nice comments and actions to others.  But, I believe the girls are more sensitive, caring people now because of these experiences.
  • Did we fight with them about homework, studying, watching too much TV, eating right, going to bed, playing video games, and all the rest?  You bet we did.  Did we survive?  Absolutely!  Were the teachers and staff members on our side all along the way to guide us through the tough times?  Yep, and I truly appreciate that.

Yes, the years our kids go to school are stressful for us parents, and I can’t possibly explain how fast they have flown by.  But as I look back, I wouldn’t trade any of it.  I am very thankful to all of the adults in all three schools who were there to mentor, teach, encourage, assist, praise, and even scold my girls’ (hopefully not too many times!) throughout their journey.

1:1 and Parenthood: A Different Perspective

And now, a few thoughts from the other side of the desk…

On Thursday, my 17 year old daughter went to school to pick up the iPad that she will be using for her senior year.  I had already completed the paperwork required by her school district, and I had paid the $30.00 insurance fee (knowing my kid, this will be money well spent!!).  So I was pretty excited to see the actual device in her hands.  Finally, after years of writing about the need for 1:1, my own child will be a willing participant in this new adventure in teaching and learning.  That is so cool…Right?

Friday night she asked me if I would help her set up the iPad.  I said yes, but I could not help until Saturday.  I actually had no intention of helping her, however!  Why?  Because as a Gen Y kid, she should be able to read the directions and do it herself.  Isn’t that part of the point of giving kids their own devices?  They need to become self-directed in their learning, and this starts with setting the thing up.  If she gets stuck, she will need to figure out what to do.  There are tons of resources on the Internet to help her.

On Saturday, I was very busy with honey-do projects, and by dinner time, my daughter had to meet her friends.  Alas, I was not able to help her, so the device sat in the box.  On Sunday we ran errands during the day, and then she went to a concert by some guy named Daughtry so the iPad sat in the box.  Finally, tonight my daughter lost her patience with her “exceedingly busy” dad.  She sat down and pulled up the very explicit directions on how to set up the device.  I looked over her shoulder, and I have to admit that the school did a great job detailing the process for the kids.

Well, my evil plan worked; the kid set up the device by herself.  Sure, she struggled a few times, but that makes the whole experience even better for her.  She figured it out on her own.  The iPad is ready to take her to the outer limits of her learning.  So, I ask this most important question…

Are her teachers ready to guide her to a new type of learning never before experienced by students in schools?  I will ponder the answers to that question as this new school year evolves.  Stay tuned.

Disability Awareness Week

We just finished disability awareness week in our school.  This is a week full of activities to help all children become more sensitive to those with disabilities, and to help build a sense of empathy for people living with disabilities.  The activities are organized by parents, many of whom have children with disabilities.  The parents volunteer to spend an hour or so in each classroom conducting interesting and thought-proving activities with students in grades K-5.

So, I just came across this video on my Facebook page, and I will be sharing this with teachers and parents.  I think this is a wonderful example of someone who did not let a disability keep him from fulfilling his dream.

Enjoy!

If You Send Your Daughter To College …

… She may ask to pledge a sorority.

If she decides to go through rush, she is going to need a whole bunch of new clothes for the process.

That means her mom will have to take her to 20 different stores for at least 4 different outfits.

But the new clothes won’t look as good without accessories, so she will have to find some new bling to accent her new outfits.

And what goes with new clothes and sparkly accoutrements?  New shoes, of course!

When she realizes that she needs new shoes, she will have to do some web surfing on Zappos.com

This search for shoes will remind her that she will need to search the web for the “best looking, coolest” sorority houses on campus.

This web search will give her the idea to look up all of the sorority web sites where she will see hundreds of smiley, happy girls.

These cheerful pictures will remind her how badly she wants to join one of these exclusive groups which then will produce lots of stress and anxiety upon returning to college for the new semester.

This stress may trigger thoughts of insecurity, even though she first went off to college with a great sense of self-worth and confidence.

As she soon will learn in her psych 101 class, insecurity could lead to a bad first impression which of course will earn her many, many rejections from the “best looking, coolest” houses on campus because rushing is all about the superficial aspects of people.

This will cause much crying, weeping, sobbing and uber-drama (did I mention crying?) which will generate scores of calls and texts to her mom for advice and help.  If she is lucky she will listen to her mom who will expend every ounce of energy to build her confidence back up.

This will help her come to realize that most of the girls in most of the sorority houses just don’t get it, and there really are one or two groups of girls who want to know her as a person and not as a blingy, smiling mannequin.

Once she realizes this, all the drama will end, and she will gain back her self-assurance.   AND…

With a new, more mature attitude, she will find and join a group of nice young ladies who will help her start the next episode of her still very young life.

Meanwhile, mom and dad will have aged 20 years during this week-long process!!

Driver’s Ed or Dad’s Ed?

A few days ago, blogger Michael Smith wrote a post about the strange behaviors of his pre-teen daughter (aka the Evil Spawn).  Well, Mike, I can relate to your experiences, but I gotta tell ya… You aint seen nothin’ yet!

With a 16 year old and 13 year old (both girls) I am up to my eyeballs  in the “teenage drama years.”

Yesterday, I took my daughter to get her driver’s license.  OMG what an experience that was.  Off she went with some crabby old guy (and by old, I mean at least 60) to drive around an unfamiliar neighborhood.  She looked like a lamb to the slaughter… she was so nervous.  But, I was equally scared as I watched her follow him like a lost puppy out to the parking lot where my car was parked.  (Note: my car, not my wife’s car.)

So I sat and waited, texting my wife throughout that long, terrifying wait.  As other 16 year olds came back from their road tests with giant, happy smiles on their pimply faces, I sat, waited, and worried.  These kids had left and returned after my own kid left.  What was going on?  Did she crash?  Is she redoing the 3-point turn over and over again until she gets it right?

One thing I do know is that she is not parallel parking.  Today’s suburban teenagers are not taught that time-honored skill.  Nobody parallel parks in the suburbs, and how often do they drive into the city?  (Never with my car!!)  BTW – I am an awesome parallel parker.

Well, she finally returned from the road test with her own smiling face.  Phew…  We sat for the picture and then she received her license.

An hour later, I totally freaked out when she left for her first solo drive.  Then, it occurred to me that we now have our own little errand girl. “Hey, please go pick up your sister at camp… go drop off the  books at the library… go drop this bag off at your grandma’s house.”
Pretty cool!

Maybe She’s Got It

Got what, you ask?  Maybe my daughter, Gillian, really has gotten the “Web 2.0” bug.  By that, I mean maybe she truly has discovered the power and the joy of publishing her thoughts for the “entire world” to read.  Isn’t that the idea behind blogging and social networking tools?

After her dream of starting a Facebook was shut down (albeit temporarily), she resorted back to her blog which I had set up for her a while back.  Without any prompting from me (really, I did not even mention that she should blog), the kid started posting on her blog.

Why?  Well I hope it’s because she has discovered the need to tell people what she is thinking (she certainly tells us what she is thinking!).  That is where the blog comes in to play.  I have noticed that she starts almost every new post with “Hi everyone.”  This makes me laugh because nobody but her mom and I know about the blog (maybe a friend or two, but they don’t know hot to get there.).  Yet, she appears to understand that with the power of the internet, “everybody” could read her blog.

And what was her last post about?  Gillian is giving advice about how to be successful in life.  This topic came from an assembly she saw at school which obviously made her do some deep thinking (enough to write about it, anyway).  Too bad her teachers don’t have a clue about her blog, because they would be happy to see that the speakers they brought to the school made a positive impact on at least one student.

Cool.

Final Decision on FB

Thanks to all of those who voted in my little survey regarding Facebook.  As of today, the results are:

Yes give the kid a Facebook page = 4 votes (17%)

No, Make her wait until she turns 13 = 20 votes (83%).

Well, I agree with the “No” voters.  The more important message here is to follow the rules and not lie about one’s age, so my daughter will have to wait until April 28 when she officially turns 13.

I have had fun watching her watch the poll results each night, and after a few days, she realized that the “No” votes were going to win.  Although, from the beginning I was leaning toward making her wait until 13, this blog post has helped her see that most people agree with me, and it took the edge off my decision.

I do want to mention that when the “big day” arrives, I still will require that she give me her password.  I want the ability to check her FB page any time I want.  I think this is important for all parents to do when their children are using social networking sites.

The irony is that once she gets the FB page and uses it for a while, I bet the novelty will wear off and she will not use it nearly as much as she thinks.

I appreciate all of the wonderful comments.  This has been fun!

Facebook – One Dad’s Dilemma

My 12 year old daughter has been bugging me about letting her get a Facebook page for about six months.  (She reminds me that she is 12 and a half.  Remember when half birthdays were important to us?)  Anyway, the “rule” on Facebook is that you must be 13 years old to get an account.  According to their site:

Facebook Safety

Children under 13 years old are not permitted access to Facebook. In addition, parents of children 13 years and older should consider whether their child should be supervised during the child’s use of the Facebook site.

“But, Dad, ALL of my friends have one.  I am the ONLY one without a Facebook.”  She pleads daily.

“Sorry,” I say, “The rule is 13 years old to sign up.  You’ll have to wait until April.”

Obviously, ALL of her friends have lied about their ages which is easy enough to do.  Nobody checks at the Facebook main offices.

So, here is my dilemma:  On one hand, the rule for a Facebook page is you must be 13.  She is not 13, so I would be encouraging her to lie if she were to sign up right now.  I have always tried to teach my kids right from wrong.  For example, if the cheaper admission fee to a museum is for ages 11 and under, we tell the truth and pay the full amount (even though I have short kids who could easily pass for the younger age.)

On the other hand, I am the educator who has been preaching on this blog for years that we need to put the tools in the hands of the “digital natives” (Thanks Marc Prensky for that fabulous term).  They are going to use the tools anyway, so let’s channel their use in the right direction.  Let’s give them cell phones to use in school for educational purposes, and let’s use Skype, netbooks, blogs, and wikis for learning in school.  I feel like a hypocrite when my child wants to have another tool to add to her social networking toolbox.  She already has an email address, a blog, an AIM account, and Club Penguin account.  How is Facebook that different?

Meanwhile, over the last few days, I have been following some bloggers who are writing about Facebook.  First, Mark Walker, on his Mark’s Learning Log blog has addressed this same issue, only he is writing about his students getting Facebook pages – not his own children ( It seems different when it is your own kid!).

Mark wonders if schools should or should not block Facebook.  I wrote a comment stating that schools should NOT block Facebook, yet I am blocking my own child from the site – Hmmm…

Then, on Durff’s Blog, Mrs. Durff writes:

I recently was asked to talk someone’s parents into allowing their child on FB. I spent the time explaining to her why we should NOT be on FB. One of my biggest reasons (and I teach in a Christian school) is that it damages our witness. There are far more people in the world that are convinced FB is a bad thing than those who are convinced it is a good thing.

She goes on to write about some research proving that kids on Facebook have lower GPAs than kids who are not on FB.   Finally,  Durff quotes the Bible (Ephesians 5:3), and in doing so she is making the argument that Facebook causes immorality and impurity.  WOW!  That is quite a stretch, and it is fodder for a whole string of future blog posts.

Anyway, back to my dilemma.  What should I do?  Should I allow my daughter to get a Facebook page now so she can connect to others (I would monitor it, of course, like I do with my 15 year old), or make her wait until she is 13?  Please answer the poll question below.  I could use some help!

Our Odyssey in Our Odyssey – Part 5

We arrived in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware yesterday around 5:00 pm.  After some minor hotel issues (resolved to our satisfaction), we walked up and down the boardwalk.  This was my first time on a real eastern seaboard boardwalk.  It’s a fun place to hang out for a few days, and it is heaven on earth for kids.  The boardwalk is one mile long, and it is lined with the following:  Pizza restaurants, ice cream joints, popcorn stands, boardwalk French Fry stands, video game arcades, carnival rides, candy shops, salt water taffy stores, gelatto stands, beach stores, T-shirt shops, sundries, sub sandwich places, and hot dog, burger, & gyros stands.

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Ooohh. Gyros!

We are staying here at the Atlantic Sands Hotel facing the ocean.

We are staying here at the Atlantic Sands Hotel facing the ocean.

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After Gillian and I rode the bumper cars and went through the haunted house, we looked out over the ocean and saw an orange orb coming up from the horizon.  It was what I would call a “moonrise.”  I have never seen the moon actually appear to rise up out of a body of water like this, and it really was  a beautiful sight.

The moon over Delaware.

The moon over Delaware.

What a difference a day makes.  Yesterday we left a chaotic, energetic, bustling Manhattan, and today we laid around at the pool and the beach.  Life has slowed to a crawl.  Personally, I loved NYC and especially Manhattan, and I could have stayed for a few more days.  There is so much I did not get to see and do there.

Although I like the beach town atmosphere, I will be ready to leave Sunday morning.  I feel like we were learning, seeing, and doing  so much in New York, and now our brains have turned to mush, and I am eating so much junk.

Tomorrow will be more of the same – eating, lying around, eating, walking a little, lying around some more, and then eating some more.  I think I am going to explode.

Our Odyssey in Our Odyssey – Part 4

We trekked all over Manhattan today.  After getting up later than planned (typical Sherman maneuver) we booked over to the Today Show ready to meet Matt Lauer – well, actually Sally wanted to meet him.  I think she has a thing for him, but I digress.  To our dismay, well to her dismay, the Today anchors were all inside becasue we got there too late to see them on the plaza.  We did get to see some X-ray skinny weather lady report the weather, but we did not know who she was.

Yep, that's us, but we did not get to see much of anything.  Of course, we were not holding up any stupid signs.

Yep, that's us, but we did not get to see much of anything. Of course, we were not holding up any stupid attention-grabbing signs for the camera.

The NBC Studio tour was way better than I expected.  I had figured that it would be a cheesy walk around the building with the guide telling us that Jerry Seinfeld walked down this hallway, or that Katie Couric ate lunch at that table.  Instead, we stood inside the actual NBC Nightly News studio where Brian Williams gives his daily report.  Then we learned how Jimmy Fallon’s late night show is produced, and we spent time in the SNL studio which is the same studio they have been using since the Not Ready For Prime Time Players era of Belushi, Ackroyd, Radner, and Curtain (when the show was actually funny).

One thing I know for sure is that I am so glad I am not in front of those High Definition cameras.  They actually need to air brush on the make-up now because the cameras pick up every imperfection and glob of make-up on your face.  Yikes.

After the tour, we walked uptown to Central Park.  We were amazed at the sheer size of the place, and I was particularly impressed with the cleanliness and safe feeling I had in the park.  I was expecting something different.  Obviously, this was a good lesson in not believing everything I see on television (If you watch Law and Order you would think that there was a dead body around every turn in the park.)

I know.  I know.  It looked like it was going to be more fun that it really was.  Oh well, live and learn.

I know. I know. It looked like it was going to be more fun that it really was. Oh well, live and learn. At least the horse was nice.

We came upon a street performer who was teaching how to Hula-Hoop.  Well, Sally and Gillian are already experts, so they showed the guy how it’s done.  Marni and I stay as far away as possible!

Just showing off!

Just showing off!

The Central Park experience ended with a long walk toward The Dakota building where John and Yoko lived, and where John was murdered.  It was something I have always wanted to see.  Interestingly, there is a tribute to John in the park in the form of the plaque below, and there is a section called Strawberry Fields.  Yet, at the site of the murder, there is absolutely nothing.  According to the security guard, the current residents do not want to acknowledge the tragic event, so they refuse to erect any kind of monument or memorial.  All I learned was that John was shot inside these gates on 72nd street, Just west of Central Park West.  It was all very anticlimactic for me and Sally.

This is a small plaque that we found in Central Park in memory of John Lennon.

This is a small plaque that we found in Central Park in memory of John Lennon.

John was killed just inside these gates which form a side entrance to the Dakota Building where he and Yoko lived.

John was killed just inside these gates which form a side entrance to the Dakota Building where he and Yoko lived.

Mid-afternoon we hopped on a subway train and rode downtown to the lower east side.  There, we toured the old garment district and an old tenement building that has been turned into a museum.  This was a perfect way to put closure to our discussion of the immigrants who came through Ellis Island.  This is where they lived when they got off the boat.  We learned about two Jewish families who lived in the building at 97 Orchard at the turn of the century.  The rooms are amazingly realistic, and the curators of the museum have done an incredible job restoring the apartments to look like they did 110 years ago.  This was a fascinating tour, and I am so glad we traveled back downtown to take it.

The building was built in 1863, and it housed the Jewish tenements from the late 1880s until 1935.  Many of the building like this were used as "home businesses" commonly known to day as sweat shops where they made clothing.

The building was built in 1863, and it housed the Jewish tenements from the late 1880s until 1935. Many of the buildings like this were used as "home businesses" commonly known to day as sweat shops where they made clothing.

After “Crossing Delancy” we took the train back to the Times Square area.  This was another fine day, and I am so pleased that my daughters have learned so much from the experiences in NYC.  They both can’t wait to get on the computer at home and do more research and reading about Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, and the tenements.  Now that’s self-directed learning at it most basic and best!

Tomorrow we leave NYC for Rehobeth Beach, Delaware for some beach time.  I hope the weather cooperates.  We all need to “chillax” for a while.