Looking Back, Looking Ahead- Development is Still Crucial

Finding the Passion

Arnold Gesell (1881-1960)  is one of the most well-known researchers in the field of child development.  Much of his work, from the Yale Clinic of Child Development and later at the Gesell Institute of Child Development, was based on the simple premise that behavior is a function of structure and that humans develop in a patterned, predictable way.  Gesell and colleagues studied children for decades to gather “norms,” i.e. normative patterns of behavior and hallmarks from their clinical observations. Even though this data was collected nearly a generation ago, it has been refined and updated, and it remains very much the same today as when it was identified.  At each developmental stage, researchers were able to identify characteristic patterns of:

  • Mental and physical organization
  • Social and emotional behaviors
  • Play interests and activities

It was found that these behaviors involve a combination of interaction between child and environment (including other people) and acknowledged individual differences, however, developmental sequences were proven to be similar from child to child and across varying cultures.  Following Gesell’s retirement, Dr. Louse Bates Ames, Dr. Frances Ilg, and Dr. Janet Learned continued his work by founding the Gesell Institute of Child Development and to this day, the institute examines the concept of developmental age  and school placement.   From their website:

Understanding stages of child growth and development and using this knowledge to interpret behaviors, plan appropriate curricula, and manage the classroom are essential to quality teaching practices. Such understanding is also integral to quality parenting, and in implementing best practices in all professions working with children.

Development is a complex process that can be understood when attention and focus is given.  This takes an understanding of child development, solid interpersonal skills, and an openness to observe behaviors so that a clear picture can emerge. When school placement, curriculum and instruction are based on developmental age, a child is given the opportunity  to be successful with the skills and experiences they have to date, with an eye toward nudging them to take on challenges they can reasonably attain and therefore, grow. Continue reading “Looking Back, Looking Ahead- Development is Still Crucial”

Resources on Mindfulness and Teaching


After the last two posts, I’ve had requests for further reading and thought on mindfulness, meditation and yoga, for both children and adults.  If you’re thinking about mindfulness and how it might influence your work, check out these quick reads:

Mindfulness, Meditation, Wellness and Their Connection to Corporate America’s Bottom Line

Teachers Tuning In

Mindfulness Resources

Taking Care of Teacher

If you’d like a more in-depth looks, check out these, available through the Amazon links or at your local book store or library:

Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness

Planting Seeds:  Practicing Mindfulness with Children

Yoga Kids: Educating the Whole Child Through Yoga

The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Child Manage Stress, Become Happier, Kinder and More Compassionate


If you’ve got other favorite reads or resources, please post under comments!

Be The One – Smile, Say Hello, Pay Attention, Listen


I recently attended the Courageous Schools: Teaching & Leading in Tough Times workshop, part of the Mindfulness in Education Network Conference. I can’t say enough about the value of spending a day among colleagues who work so enthusiastically with children and families, but who also value the quiet time needed to go within in order to sustain the rich work executed on behalf of others.  In just a few short hours, the climate and format of the day allowed for some much-needed reflection and listening. It stressed the importance of taking care of oneself and of others, in both simplistic and complex ways.

Listening is one way to take care of others, but it’s both simple and challenging. To help practice for those challenging times, we practiced deliberate skills for better listening.  As we processed the challenges and feelings associated with true listening, a theme that came up.  Often, it seems, despite feelings of trust and congeniality among teaching staff and communities, the pace and demands of daily life often strip people of some very basic human skills like listening and taking care of one another. In the absence of these positive interactions, and true listening, uncertainty, fear, frustration emerge.  It makes us feel crummy. Or angry.  Or insecure. Whether or not we like to admit it, that impacts our work with children and families.  It’s essential that we listen and care about the adults, as well as the children, in our communities.

The day also allowed participants the opportunity to build trust in small groups and open up to some very deep sharing, if that suited their comfort level.  It reiterated the ideas articulated by  Marianne Williamson and Brene Brown about vulnerability and fear.  Once we accept that we are all vulnerable and that we all have the capacity to show compassion and empathy, it opens the door to risk taking and growth.  As teachers, we ask children to do this every day;  in our own busy adult lives, it can become extremely difficult – if not impossible – to be open to taking risks ourselves.  Without pushing ourselves to the edge of our comfort zone, how do we grow? How do we learn? How do we contribute? We must strive to set a climate of trust and compassion, so that we can work effectively, deliberately, passionately, and stretch beyond what we think is possible.

When I returned home, I was refreshed and able to get back to tackling a variety of projects that vexed me and forced me to Venn Diagrams. This clarity let me work more productively and with more creativity.  Here are four pieces of self-prescribed homework that I am committing to every day:

  • Smile more often. especially at people I don’t know.
  • Trying to be more present to listen and respond to others. And to know when not to respond.
  • Listening to others until they are finished, without interrupting, which is much harder than I expected. When you let a four-year old tell his w-h-o-l-e story, it can go on longer than a month of Sundays, but oh, what fun!
  • Not letting wireless devices enter actual face to face conversations. And secretly hoping my family will join in on this endeavor!

We all can use a little more time to be present with each other, so give someone you know that present.

Clarity With Venn Diagrams

indexRemember Venn Diagrams? They are a concrete, visual tool teachers use to help learners see how things are related. Lately, I’ve noticed the relationships among my interests, and work get me bogged down. I become so immersed and reactive, I can’t see the connections, let alone get my head above the mud to see the horizon. That’s when I need to go back to basics to gain clarity, so I started making Venn Diagrams in my head and on paper. Cramped, detailed lists revealed some themes and helped me zoom in on what requires my focus and energy. More importantly, it’s helped me to see where the various pockets of my life intersect.    Isn’t that the purpose of a Venn diagram?

Ironically, when I slowed down and really paid attention to myself, these intersections were staring me in the face. I had been so busy wading through the muck (and sometimes making muck) that I couldn’t see the green grass.

We’re all busy, right? I don’t know one person who sits around trying to find something to do. I like to think that I move through life in a pace that allows me to be purposeful and mindful; sometimes I think I am different. When my ego takes over, I think I am one of those outliers who has “balance” or a generally heightened sense of purpose and perspective.

Believe, me, I KNOW some of those outliers, I am no outlier. Continue reading “Clarity With Venn Diagrams”

13 Things I’ve Learned About Writing

shelf sampling
shelf sampling

Lucy Calkins has long been a curriculum mentor of mine.  Her writing for teachers expanded from her work at Teachers’ College and  reaches far beyond New York City.  Over the years, I’ve followed her work, wrestled with her curriculum and seen the amazing writing produced by students who are lucky enough to have teachers who guide and listen to them authentically, deeply, intently.  Lucy brings remarkable knowledge and compassion to the writing process for children.  The clarity of  her body of work guides legions of teachers to bring out the best in student writers.  When I first viewed her video Being a Good Writer: Writing tips and strategies from Lucy Calkins, I felt as if she was speaking to me; only in the final seconds was it clear that she was speaking to students.  Then again, writers are all students, walking similar paths, following a similar process with unique challenges and joys.

One year while I was teaching third grade, I put myself to the test.  The writing test, figuratively speaking.  During our daily writing workshop, I committed myself to spending part of each of those 50 minute blocks to my own writing. That brought on it’s own inherent conflict (How will I conference with writers? How will I assess their progress? How will I be able to observe their work to offer reminders and reinforcements?). Eventually, I admitted this was a lofty and unrealistic goal, so I revamped that to spending part of one writers’ workshop writing AND  two personal blocks of writing outside school hours.  It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always fun. But within a few weeks, was hooked.

Writing became a challenge I looked forward to but yet was still reluctant to share it with others.  I soon decided the only way to get over this fear wasn’t, in the words of Pema Chodron, to “itch it” and let it grow larger, but to be with it and share it with others so I could witness where it would go.  By letting go of my attachment to “it” (i.e., my writing), my blog audience grew and I learned many lessons.

Here are just 13 things I’ve learned from writing like we ask of children:

1. Writing is hard. Really hard sometimes.

2. Writing is messy at first, but then often brings great clarity.

3. Writing can bring up feelings of insecurity and fear, but also pride, joy, satisfaction and relief.

4. Writing can serve the writer, the audience or both.

5. Writing is a process. A time-consuming one. And sometimes an all-consuming one. It needs to be scheduled and that time revered so the process can unfold.

6. Writing can offer quite solitude or feel like solitary confinement.

7. Writing can be enhanced by technology and it can also bring up a whole crop of new, technical issues.

8. Writing needs to be a commitment to be rich and meaningful (See # 5 above).

9. Writing often never feels like it’s over. There is almost always more (Again, see #5 above).

10. Writing offers so many ways to consolidate and synthesize experiences and information, and just as many ways to continue growing.

11. Writing is a goldmine. Keep digging, be persistent, and you’ll be rewarded.

12. Writers – all of  us – need support. Good organization and planning, a cheerleader to keep your spirits up and a mentor to ask you tough questions that move you forward when you’re stuck and validate your hard work.

13. Writing is to be shared. Somehow, someway, even if it’s something you read aloud to yourself and bow to yourself in gratitude and appreciation.

I’m writing a lot these days and I’m reading a lot of other writers.  I look to the work of Lucy Calkins for inspiration, along with other writers and observers of life and learning,  such as Caltha Crow, Chip Wood, Peter Bregman, Jonathan Fields, Jennifer Weinser, Maya Angelou, Malcolm Gladwell, Jonathan Kozol, Anne Lamott, Anna Quindlen and many, many others.

Who do you read for inspiration?

What have you learned from writing?

How have you learned to empathize with child-authors?

I’d love to read about either in the comments…