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Blog EntryBlog: Thursday, September 29, 2016

2016-17 School Year

As I look at all the means that we can communicate today, it becomes overwhelming. Every week I send a message out in our Friday Flash in the column Principal's Desk. While it would be possible to simply put my thoughts on these pages, the Friday Flash has important information that the school community should be aware of and I want to encourage all to read it. I would also encourage all to sign up on our EES Blog which simply requires that you provide your email address.  You will be alerted by email whenever there is a new post!  

Posted by Dr. Michelle (Shelley) Mathias at 9:39 AM | 0 comments
Blog EntryBlog: Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Weekly Thoughts

As I look at all the means that we can communicate today, it becomes a tad overwhelming. Every week I send a message out in our Friday Flash in the column Principal's Desk. While it would be possible to simply put my thoughts on these pages, the Friday Flash has important information that the school community should be aware of and I want to encourage all to read it. 

Posted by Dr. Michelle (Shelley) Mathias at 12:36 PM | 0 comments
Blog EntryBlog: Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Intellect vs Effort

     Have you ever found yourself telling your child how smart they are?  We all value intelligence.  Over time, intelligence has been so highly thought of that the idea of being average is unacceptable to many.  Of course, that is silly because the concept of average is a matter of statistics.  Not everyone gets statistics.  As a matter of fact, I had a friend who was a math teacher in West Virginia. I can’t remember if it was their legislature or the Dept. of Education, but whichever, decreed that the bottom 25% of students would be the bottom 33%. But I digress.
     If you think about it, intelligence in and of itself is of little value.  Effort is far more important, regardless of intellect.  There are plenty of smart people who do very little with their lives, and “average” people who do great things because of the effort they expend.  Too often though, we talk about how smart people are when in fact, it was the effort combined with intellect that resulted in their success. 
     The impact of effort on the development of our brains is really important in insuring that we are increasing our brain’s capacity.  It’s really fun to tell students that they can actually make their brains smarter. They can increase the number of neurons through trying new things or they can shrink them by doing the same things repeatedly without trying anything new.  A common comment by students who spend time talking to me is that school is “boring”.  The problem is that they generally have not actually tried to do what is being asked of them. As we get deeper in the conversation, I find that they often think things are hard but they have not actually expended any effort.  It seems that the idea of not being able to do something is enough of an obstacle. 
     The focus on intellect has given many children the impression that being “smart” means that they should be able to do things very well the first time they attempt the task or skill. They can be surprised when that isn’t the case. Some become angry and frustrated because letters are not formed perfectly, they can’t pick up reading immediately or math is hard. Their frustration and anger comes from a concern that perhaps they are not “so smart” after all.  This can shake their image of themselves, and also create concern that they will disappoint the people who told  them that they are smart.  They won’t even allow themselves to practice something before expecting perfection. It is amazing how complicated things can get for young minds!
     We can change their thinking to one that affirms their right to practice and encourages them to see it as an important part of the process of learning. We can do this by focusing on the effort they expend, “Wow, you worked really hard on that” or “You must have tried really hard”.  “You must have practiced that a lot!” Admiring their effort affirms their right and need to practice and puts the emphasis on the attribute of effort that in the end, makes the most difference to them becoming successful adults. 

Posted by Dr. Michelle (Shelley) Mathias at 3:41 PM | 0 comments
Blog EntryBlog: Friday, October 3, 2014

The Power of "No"

          We’ve all seen it.  The puppy dog eyes, the quivering lip, the beseeching upward gaze.  We’ve all heard it – the wheedling, the cajoling, the whining, and the worst, the wailing.  Puleeeze! Please can I have it?  Please can I have a friend over?  Please can I have ice cream?  You’re ruining my life! I hate you! 
            Really?  How did we get here?!  In reality, we’re probably our own worst enemies when it comes to the child who has a hard time accepting “no” for an answer.  Our children will do what works for them.  If they find that, after pestering us a number of times, we give in, the tactic works.  Off they go, happy as clams with a cheerful “thanks mom”, or “thanks dad” shouted into the breeze.  Maybe, if we held out long enough, we’ll even get a hug.  We end up feeling a little happy because we made them happy (and quiet), but also just a little uncomfortable because, after all, who’s in charge here?!
            The art of pestering parents is one that is natural for children to develop.  There are some good things about it.  They are developing a level of persistence.  We want persistence on tasks.  They are learning the art of argument - of convincing someone of something.  We also want that.  But they are not learning other things that are also very important. 
            The word “No” is a very powerful tool in teaching several important characteristics to children.  “No” teaches children that they will not always get what they want and to learn to cope with disappointment.  “No” teaches them patience, that they need to wait their turn or for the time when things are right. “No” teaches them to be aware of others and their needs (that they are not the center of the universe). “No” teaches them self-control.  “No” accompanied by a simple statement of reason helps in all of these things. 
“No, I am working right now.  You will need to wait until after I am finished.” “No. That toy costs money that is not in our family budget.” You get the idea.                                                                                                          
Here’s the tough part and I guarantee you that it gets easier very quickly if you stick to it. Teach them that “No” means “No” by holding to it.  Ignore continued requests.  The pestering is meant to bother us. Ultimately, we choose to be bothered by it and we can choose not to see that it bothers us.  We are the adults here.  We should have more stamina than our children.  Remember, children do what works.  They stop what doesn’t work. Generally speaking, their attention span is shorter than ours!  We need to teach them that we mean what we say. Ultimately, our homes become more peaceful because the arguing stops.  That peace is just as beneficial to our children as it is to us.  Everyone benefits.  
            “No” results in children becoming more resourceful and less dependent upon others for entertainment.  They develop patience. They get more creative in finding other things to do. They make their own toys rather than buying things that end up in the pile.  They rely on their siblings more as playmates.  Best of all, they respect that “no” means no and the adult is in charge.  And in the end, that provides them with a greater sense of security and confidence.  

Posted by Dr. Michelle (Shelley) Mathias at 5:01 PM | 0 comments
Blog EntryBlog: Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Art and Importance of Listening

          How often have we asked our children, “do you hear me?”, had them nod their head, and then they do something that bears no relation to the directions just given.  We shake our heads and wonder how it happens. Hearing is quite different from listening. We are designed to hear and a lot of our hearing is subconscious. Consider the amount of noise peepers make on a summer evening and the number of times we are actually conscious of the sound.  I think I live in a quiet neighborhood until I actually listen and become aware of the distant sound of vehicles on the highway a mile or so away.  My ability to hear didn’t change.  The sound was there constantly, but listening to it was an active decision.    
            Listening is the process of taking in sound and making sense of it in terms of how it relates to us. We have found that many students are very interested in talking but not so interested in listening.  It’s easy to see whether a child has been listening or hearing when it is their turn to talk.  Some will join a conversation with a comment that is a repeat of the previous speaker’s comments – just in their own words.  Others will come out of left field with something that has nothing to do with anything anyone has been talking about.  We see this a lot in kindergarten and first grade.  As children get older, the left field comments are less likely to happen as children learn not to introduce off topic thoughts. 
          I think that as adults, we have to ask ourselves how we are doing in modeling the kind of listening we think that children are expected to be able to maintain in school?  Are we interrupting our children when they talk?  Do we allow them to interrupt us in the middle of an adult conversation?  Even when they say "excuse me", are we simply stopping and focusing on them the instant they interrupt or are we teaching them to listen for a pause in the conversation before saying "excuse me" and interrupting? Are we helping them to develop patience by actually making them wait a bit before giving them an opening to interrupt us?  It's ok to do that!   It is important that they able to delay the gratification of being heard,  
         This is not an issue of annoyance in the end.  As an educator, I am seeing children missing out on learning because they are incapable of listening.  Their inability impacts all students.  This skill is an imperative and it is being lost at an alarming rate.   


Posted by Dr. Michelle (Shelley) Mathias at 5:35 PM | 0 comments
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