7 Things I Want My Child to Know Before She Starts School

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 4.06.05 PM

For seven years I worked with some of the most amazing educators I’ve ever met—teachers, principals, paraeducators, professional development specialists, secretaries, school psychologists, and technology gurus. People who devote their lives to the task of giving young people today the academic tools they need to succeed in the world.

That job experience not only changed my perspective on my own life, it changed my perspective as a parent, especially when it comes to my child’s learning.

With this new perspective, there are some things I want my child to know as she heads off to school each year.

You can learn anything if you believe you can.

Everyone has a learning “mindset”.  A “growth mindset” means you believe that your brain can learn and grow. A “fixed mindset” means you believe that you are born with a certain level of intelligence and you can’t change it. For example, if you are a growth mindset, you believe that, even if you are not good at math, you can get better. If you are a fixed mindset, you believe that you’ll always be bad at math.

Research shows that some of the people who excel at what they do–professional athletes, authors, scientists–do so because they have a growth mindset. That means they might not have been very good at what they did when they started, but they knew if they worked hard they would get better. So they did.

You can do anything if you set your mind to it. Don’t forget that.

The most important thing you will take to school with you is a good attitude.

You get to choose how you “show up” at school each day. No one else can make this choice for you. You may not always get to choose everything about your school day, but you can always choose your attitude. You have the power to make assignments that might be boring be fun. You have the power to make classes that feel hard feel exciting instead. It all comes down to your attitude. Choose wisely.

You can do hard things.

Sometimes learning will feel easy. A lot of the time it might feel really hard. That is perfectly normal. Don’t give up just because something isn’t easy at first. Learning how to do hard things is one of the greatest skills you could ever acquire.

I will be happy as long as you are doing your best.

Please don’t cheat yourself out of learning by not trying. If you are going to do something, do your best. If you do this, you cannot fail. Because if you did your best, then you learned something, and that is never failure. Yep, you heard me right. If you do your best on a test and you fail, I will still be proud of you for giving it your all. And we will have learned what it is that you still need to study. If you don’t try and you fail, then you wasted your own time and energy. Don’t do that. Time is precious. You owe it to yourself to see what you are capable of. So do everything you do with your whole heart. If you do this, I will be happy.

School does not measure your worth.

In school, you will take tests. Tests are a way to measure what you know and what you still need to learn. THAT IS ALL THEY ARE. You should do your best when it comes to tests so that they can be an accurate measure of what you know. But never forget that that is all they are. They do not measure what a good learner you are. They do not measure what a good person you are. Don’t give them more power than they deserve.

The same is true of grades. Grades are a way of measuring progress. They show us what we are doing well at and what we still need to practice. If you have a lower grade in science, it does not mean you are bad at science. Grades are information we can use to learn about how we learn best.

Schools use tests and grades and levels and scores to measure a lot of things. But there are also a lot of things they don’t measure. Tests will not measure your passion or your drive or your determination. Grades do not reflect what a kind and thoughtful person you are. Don’t believe for a second that any letter or number could measure your worth. You are more than the sum of your scores.

Your curiosity is your greatest strength.

Your curiosity is what drives your best learning. It drives you to question things you don’t understand. I hope you always keep your fierce curiosity. It is when we stop being curious and think we “know” things, or when we simply give up and stop asking questions, that we stop learning and growing.

Others may not always appreciate your curiosity, but don’t let that stop you. You may have to learn to hold your curiosity until an appropriate time to seek your answers. You may have to learn a respectful way to express your curiosity. But beware of anyone who tells you your curiosity is bad. It’s not true.

The thing that will make me more proud of you than anything else is your kindness.

School is important. You will learn things that will open doors to more things and more doors and so on. But there is so much more to learn than science and math. If you graduate and you don’t know algebra but you have learned how to feel empathy for another person, I will be immensely proud. If you can’t remember what the scientific name for rain clouds is, but you know how to be kind to others, even when they aren’t kind to you, then I will know you have succeeded.

Learn as much as you can from school, but don’t limit your learning to the information in your textbooks. Because the things that matter in life are so much bigger than that. Let your sweet light shine and do all the good you can for the people around you. As your mother, I love to see your brilliant brain in action. But I am never more proud of you than when you show the world your kind heart.

I’m Not the Expert 

(Previously posted on Open-Ended Parenting)


When I explain the intention behind this blog, I get mixed responses. Most people love the idea behind trying to raise authentic children. Once in a while I get less positive feedback, the most recent of which expressed skepticism at my ability to actually parent in alignment with my intention. After being slightly caught off guard with the feedback, I decided perhaps a disclaimer was in order.

Let’s be clear here. I don’t write this blog because I know how to raise authentic children. I write because I don’t know how. Because this is my exploration of a question I don’t know the answer to. I write because I don’t have all the answers. I’m simply sharing my exploration and thoughts as I discover them in case someone else is on a similar journey and can relate.

I can understand the confusion. Society places an emphasis on “knowing”. It is considered bad to “not know”.  Our school system is based on the “expert” model. The teacher has the information and the student is acquiring it. The teacher has the power because they have the knowledge. To be the expert is to have the power.

But seriously. THAT WAY OF THINKING IS AN ANTIQUE. The teacher is no longer the expert in the classroom because every child in the room has a smartphone in their pocket that can tell them more than any teacher ever could. The power no longer lies in the possession of knowledge but in the search for it. The most powerful among us don’t necessarily “know”, but they know how to find out.

Those who still cling to the “expert” model actually find themselves at a disadvantage. The first step to acquiring this new kind of power is to admit you do not know. Admitting you don’t know is the first step in seeking. If you already believe yourself to be in possession of knowledge, then there is nowhere to go. No journey to be had.

And the truth is, there is always a journey to be had. The world is changing at a faster pace than every before. Information is changing with it. There is always something else to learn, if only you can first admit to not knowing.

So if you came to this blog thinking that I have all the right answers, I apologize for the confusion. I’m just like any other woman and mother, taking this parenting thing one step at a time and hoping at the end of the day it’s a journey I can look back on and be proud of; not because I knew what I was doing but because I never stopped trying to be better.


What You Bring

I have worked in education for 6 years. One of my primary goals during that time in working with students and teachers was to shift the mindset of what real learning is. In the age of “high stakes testing”, teachers are taking more and more responsibility for children’s learning. This may sound like a good thing but, in fact, it’s a very dangerous cycle.

If the teacher believes he or she must control the learning, they get swept into a cycle of control. They ask questions for which there is only one right answer. In some cases, this is necessary, for example when memorizing facts. However, we’ve started taking it too far, trying to sculpt ever answer that comes out of a child’s mouth to match exactly what the teacher deems “right”. Some of the most painful moments I’ve witnessed in education are when a teacher stands in front of a group of students, hinting and prodding them to parrot exactly what her or she considers to be the “correct” answer, dismissing the creative variety of answers from the students as “wrong”.

It was this cycle of control that I wanted to break using the idea of open-ended questions as a foundational tool. In an age where a student’s cell phone knows more than the teacher ever will, the playing field evens out. It’s no longer about how much information you can “contain”, it’s about how much information you can access. So as the circumstances shift, so does the process. I challenged teachers on a daily basis to ask questions that even they didn’t know the answer to and see what would come up. The goal was to let them get comfortable with not controlling the answer.

Because truth is, we can’t control what students learn. We can encourage, present, empower, and offer. But if they don’t want to learn, they won’t.  We can only control ourselves and what we bring. To focus on controlling what we get sends us into an exhausting cycle of drama.

The good news? How you ask the question determines the answer you get. Even if we can’t (and don’t need to) control what we get back, we can still control what we bring to it. And what we bring will change what we get.

How would your teaching or parenting change if you focused on what you bring to it rather than what you get from it?