Ironically, I forgot to tell Mom the topic for this week the several times I saw her this weekend. I ended up having to call her just minutes after visiting with her in person.  I don’t having any delusions of grandeur… I’m forgetful. I often blame Diet Coke because I read articles telling me the Aspartame might be linked to memory issues. I think it more has to do with the amount of activities in which I’m involved. Aging is another possible culprit! Regardless of the reason, more and more I find myself forgetting things… including entire conversations and some actions. While my forgetting makes for some confusion and sometimes some embarrassment, it is nothing like the forgetting I see occurring nowadays with students.

     According to Nelson Dorta, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist answering questions on, a site for learning and attention issues, memory occurs in three storage systems in the brain.  The first network encodes the information, and that encoding depends upon how closely a person is paying attention.  The second network is the long-term storage, and the third network is in charge of recall.  It is my theory that many children today have trouble with the very first part of this memory system - the encoding, and the reason I believe they have trouble here is because of the attention requirement.  

    There is not a teacher alive who would tell you it is easy to keep the attention of students nowadays.  If one researches the topic “attention span,” he would be lead to believe that the average attention span has shrunk to below that of a goldfish’s.  Deeper research reveals that this research is mythical and that researchers say that attention span is determined by the activity… there is no average.  

    So why do we teachers have such a harder time holding the attention of students?  Because, compared to the plethora of entertaining videos on the Internet, we are amazingly boring!  Paying attention to a teacher spouting facts, organizing those facts, and evaluating, synthesizing or analyzing them is higher-order thinking, and students must be taught to do that.  And, of course, educators across the world are doing that, right?  With the adoption of Common Core and the increasing number of teachers who are evaluated by how well their students test, I guarantee that this is not happening as much as it should be.

    The answer doesn’t lie in theatrics, though.  We educators, and you parents, have an obligation to teach our students/children how to think.  By doing this, we equip our children to not only remember, but to utilize, analyze, and create with the information learned.  

     Now, if you find that your child does well with memory in school, but he cannot remember to do his chores, then you probably should look at how you are getting him to do those chores.  Are you reminding him?  Then why does he need to remember?  He has you to remind him.  My father taught me that back when my son was about ten.  I decided it was time I quit reminding him to do his chores.  He still forgot, of course, but for two weeks in a row, I “forgot” to pay him allowance.  The first time he reminded me, I shook my head and said, “Oh, man!  You’re right.  I forgot.”  And then I walked off.  The second week, he declared, “Mom, this is the second week in a row you’ve forgotten to pay me allowance.”  I answered, “You’re right!  I’m turning into you!”  Again, I walked off without paying him.  He didn’t forget a third week!

    Parents, as you can tell, we adults play a large role in how well our kids remember.  This means that we must pay attention to their needs.  If we turn off our distractors (gaming, phones, social media), our kids will never forget what they learn from us!


-       Michelle

What am I talking about this week? I forget. Oh that’s right forgetfulness. As we age, our memory of specific occurrences in our lives dwindles. We have trouble remembering what was said to people, what we’ve done, and even simple things like what we’ve had for breakfast. As the brain gets older, forgetfulness is a natural part of the aging process. Forgetfulness caused by aging is not the worst kind of forgetfulness. Forgetfulness that comes from a lack of caring or sense of responsibility is much worse.

Parents, how many times a week do you have to remind your children to do their chores or their homework? Is it more than two? Having to be reminded is not a good habit to instill in them. Providing these reminders enables your child to be forgetful and to avoid responsibility. Rather than reminding him more than one time, you need to let your child face the consequences of what happens when he forgets to do something he is supposed to do.

The real world will not remind your child of his responsibilities. While there are certain things for which I’ll send a reminder email or set an alarm, many things will not remind more than once. Bills, taxes, insurance enrollment periods, homework, assignments, and much more are not going to care whether or not your child remembers to do them. However, they will punish your child in one way or another for not doing them. This is why it’s important to teach your children to be mindful of their responsibilities.

An easy way to start this process is with the weekly chore. This doesn’t have to be something that’s a serious situation if they don’t do it. It just needs to be something that you will notice if it’s incomplete. This task might be taking out the trash, walking the dog, or vacuuming the floor. None of these tasks are life or death, but if they’re not happening, you will notice. Depending on your parenting style, you might want to punish your child after the first offense or simply give him a warning. Either way, you need to acknowledge that you noticed that he did not complete his task, you were upset about it, and there will be consequences. Establishing this behavior chain at an early age can help your child form positive habits about his responsibilities.

-       Bria

    Forgetful is an adjective with which I am often associated since I am both a blonde and have reached the age of seventy-five.  I don’t take any of the blonde jokes seriously, though, since I know I am an intelligent person.  Besides, I know most of the punch lines since my son once sent me about one hundred of the best blonde jokes known to man!  Now on the other hand, I must admit that being a senior adult does bring a lot of senior moments!  My shoes are always wonderful on the top sides… but well-worn on the soles since I have to retrace my steps more and more often to gather my thoughts!

    People often use the term forgetful as a negative character trait.  However, I often count it as a blessing.  As a survivor of childhood abuse (not from my immediate family), I am thankful that I was able to forget many horrifying experiences.  Like most people, I can choose to remember or choose to forget.  I choose to remember the really wonderful experiences and neat people I’ve met during my life. 

    My students use the term quite readily to excuse any misbehavior in which they find themselves.  When asked about the situation, these first graders usually look perplexed and say, “I forget.”  I guess some parents accept that excuse, but I don’t.  I take the time to help them remember why we have certain rules and expectations.  I also use the example of how our classroom would be if I chose to “forget.”  It usually works…at least for a little while.

    Our world is dedicated to remembering and not forgetting as we witness horrible crimes and then see the incredible memorials set up to keep us remembering.  Yet, we have many “university elites” who try to claim there was never a holocaust.  The people who dedicate themselves to removing any proof of that horrible crime are as evil as those who committed it during WWII.  We must remember so that such an outrage can never happen again!

    The rise of the use of drugs in our nation may be proof that many people are trying to bring about forgetfulness.  Maybe they have a job they hate or a relationship or marriage that is not fulfilling their needs.  Whatever it is, the use of drugs has increased rapidly…even with the blessings of government as per states allowing recreational use of drugs.  It appears to me that they are wasting a life which could bring happiness and fulfillment.  So, what can I do about it?  For one thing, I am praying every day for my nation and its people.  I am actively teaching my students about wise choices and good work ethics.  I live my life based upon the Ten Commandments which teach us good relationships with God and our fellow man.  I also take to heart the teachings of Jesus and then try to follow His ways.  Do you know the results of this life style?  I don’t want to forget!  Each day is exciting and new and worth remembering!   

-        Kay


Team Player

Are you a good team player? That’s a skill that has become more and more important as technology has fostered an increased culture of collaboration in the workplace. Training for this skill starts early with group sports and other competitive group activities. But the behavior is first introduced even earlier in kindergarten when we learn how to interact with others.

Kids learn how to share space with others and work together kindly and share with each other. We teach our children to respect each other, to contribute, to establish clear boundaries, and like the song says, “everybody do your share.” This is the foundational ideology of being a team player. So, if we begin learning these principles so early, why do people still have a hard time being a team player?

As children grow up, they decide which values they will carry with them from their education. Ideally, they remember what we teach them and maintain these principles throughout their work. This is not always the case. Have you ever had to do a group project in college or high school? It seems like every time you find yourself in this scenario, one, or more likely, several of your partners do not do their parts to make the project successful. These people are not team players, and while they might be able to skirt by with this behavior in school, it will eventually come back to bite them.

If you notice that your child is not a team player, try to correct this behavior early on. There are very few jobs that can be done singularly anymore. There’s a good chance that your child will have to work collaboratively in his career, and not having developed this skill can set him back. Encourage your child to participate in group activities such as sports, choir, plays, and the such that force your child to learn how to work with others towards a common goal. This is a skill that will greatly benefit him in the future.

-          Bria

    Being a “team player” does not seem to carry the prestige or importance as being “the star.”  I am reminded today that our attention is almost always focused upon the star rather than the team as a whole.  Tiger Woods just made a tremendous comeback today at the Masters Golf championship.  The crowds applauded him loudly as he triumphed once again after his unfortunate mishandling of his marriage seemed to halt his success.

    This evening I attended our church observance of The Lord’s Supper (communion), with noted emphasis upon the events of the coming week which climax with the celebration of Easter.  As I looked around the church building, I saw that we were missing about 75% of the members.  Have we lost out as a team of Jesus’ followers?  Even Jesus had one disciple who turned out to not be a team player.

    Many people are alarmed by what the social media shows as a reflection of our society.  It does not appear that sportsmanship and team loyalty and effort are as important as they once were.  Many of our athletes are in a “dog eat dog” race for fame and fortune.  For me, this has removed some of the joy of watching sporting events.

    Children in school display the behaviors of their family members.  We learn a lot about the inner workings of families by just observing the children on the playground at recess. It is also apparent to us in the classroom which children see themselves as team members who are working toward a common goal, and which children do not.  

    It has been my experience that children can be taught to be “team players.”  By assigning roles for each child working in a group…then rotating those roles, children learn how to be a valuable part of a team.  More work can be accomplished in a shorter period of time when a team works well together.  I’ve shown this rule to my students in countless ways, such as working together to clean, oil, salt, and wrap over a hundred baked potatoes for lunch.  

    Another proof of the efficiency of being a team player is the two to three minutes it takes my students and me to pick up clutter and trash in the classroom after a cutting and pasting project.  The same task takes the teacher alone about twenty minutes to accomplish.  I am always ready to reward them for their cooperation since I want the lesson to stick.  Usually, they are quite proud of the way in which they worked together.

    Some students aren’t team players because they have never mastered some of the necessary skills for an activity.  To remedy that situation, I have students who volunteer their time and instruction to help those students during playground and recess times.  The student mentor is most proud when the goal of attaining the needed skill(s) is reached and the student can then be comfortable in the role of being a “team player.”  This is much more rewarding than continuing to give the child poor grades up until the skills are mastered.  The student mentors usually gain new friends in the process!      

-          Kay

    One of the signs that a child is truly gifted and talented is the inability to be a team player.  Gifted kids learn early that others are likely to reject their ideas… or beat them at the game… or be better or more popular than them.  When in a group, it often only takes one rejection to cause the gifted child to disengage.  Being a “team player” is a desirable comment on a recommendation for camp or college or a job, though.  So, how do we get our gifted youth to risk rejection and realize that being a part of a team is not “selling out”? 

    When families tour our school, one of the first things they notice is the absence of individual student desks.  All of our classrooms utilize tables.  We do this on purpose.  We are teaching our kids to be team players.  Some of our instruction falls under the label “cooperative learning,” but we rarely make the grade a group grade.  Individuals can disagree.  It’s the process that utilizes the grouping.  In my vocabulary groupings, I encourage the kids to express their disagreements, to argue their points, I might say.  Doing this repeatedly, the students learn how to make their points without angering everyone or getting angry themselves.

   Within the student bodies of both the elementary and the secondary, we also have multi-aged houses similar to what you see in the Harry Potter series. These groupings allow for mentoring and modeling opportunities and create camaraderie and team pride. 

   All of this will make our gifted students more likely to be team players in their work.  Why be a team player?  Because, hopefully, the gifted adult will find a job that aids others in some way, and a team working to meet these needs is always better than just one person.

   There is a growing trend in many colleges that does not build team players.  This trend is “group projects.”  It would seem that a group project would be just like a department working together on the job to complete a task.  The only problem is that the stakes are much higher on the job than in college, and because of this, many employees can work together to succeed because their jobs or bonuses or such are on the line.  In college, it’s just a grade, and unfortunately, some college students don’t care about theirs.  Many college students have figured out that this is just a way for teachers to keep from having F students.  I tell my gifted students that professors will put them into groups of three with one mediocre partner and one that the professor fears will fail.  The idea is that the gifted student will want so badly to succeed that he will carry the dead weight of the slacker member.  Then the teacher gives the gifted student an A and the slacker a C.  The slacker is happy, the professor is happy, and the college president can brag that he has successful students.  Only the gifted student is upset. 

    If you don’t believe that gifted kids value workers, you need to come visit my school.  My kids will be nice to slackers, but they will avoid working with them like the plague.  For their sake, I’ve made a rule that students in 8th grade and beyond cannot stay if their GPA is below 2.5.  Am I preparing them well for the outside world?  You bet. 

    I have warned them that, in the early years of their careers, they will have some slacker fellow workers.  They will have to make decisions regarding making up for the slack, visiting HR and risking being hated, or quitting.  I’ve encouraged them to get the experience they need, and then go be their own boss.  After all, leaders are what we are making at our school.  The best leaders have been under some of the worst bosses.  It takes seeing the worst to know what not to do.  So, I ready my kids for the inevitable and tell them how to use the experience for their growth. The idea is to have a group of all “team players,” not a Little Red Hen situation. 

    Many people marvel at the fact that two generations of our family work together at our school.  Believe me, it was hard at first, and there are still rough days.  But not so many nowadays.  The trick is to be team players.  We each have different duties and different strengths, but we all have one goal:  the education of gifted children.  I feel very confident that the addition of my daughter and her fiancé will only strengthen our team!

-          Michelle


    Yearning is exactly what I am doing at this moment!  Yes, I am yearning to get over to my TV to watch the women’s final four championship game between Baylor and Notre Dame.  However, I will take the time to address this emotional state which often overcomes both my students and me.

    We have just completed our annual achievement testing this past week, and now everyone yearns for school to be over.  Yet, we have about thirty-one more school days before dismissal for summer.  This is a trying time since students know their achievement scores are now set on hard copy.  Is there any way to change that in the coming weeks?  No.  However, I can question them to find areas about which they feel uncertain and shore up their skills for the future.

    There’s nothing like a test to point out to a student that noting weak areas and then fixing them is prevention for future failure or shortcomings.  This time is probably the most serious time for a student to reflect upon his/her skills.  During the regular school year, social activities, sports, and just plain day-to-day living all scream for attention.  However, the seriousness of achievement testing seems to grab student attention like no other time.  I will use it to gain advantage in their educational journeys.

    Our weather has finally changed enough that the lawns are being mowed again, flowers are blooming everywhere, and the trees have put on their beautiful attire of leaves and blossoms.  Yearning for summer break becomes a staple emotion now.  It is during this push for summer that I must be most cautious about playground rules.  It is true that the sap is rising in the trees…but it is also the adrenaline rush in the students that is most obvious at recess times!

    Other than the aforementioned-yearning, I yearn for a time of peace.  I am tired of the political wars and the divisions in our land.  I yearn for simple times of the past.  Yet, I realize that one can never go back to “what was once.”  Rather than become depressed by the political banter, I can choose to be optimistic like my daughter, put on a smile and hope for better things ahead.  I don’t worry as such…I believe the Bible and all the prophesies I’ve read thousands of times.  I know God is in control.

    I am happy to report that my students have done well on their testing.  I am yearning for the world to be ready for these young people who have so much potential for changing our future.  Thus, to know I had a small part in preparing them for their contribution to our future…that’s an emotion like no other!     Kay

    Well, I have to say that it’s been awhile since I’ve actually yearned for something. I hadn’t really noticed until this week with my daughter’s visit. As I watched her, searching for the perfect house with her fiancé, I felt the twinges of yearning again for the first time in a long time. I wanted it so badly for them, and I hurt tremendously for them as they waited for news of loan pre-approval.

    I can’t say that I’ve missed it! Yearning is painful. Yearning for love to bloom, yearning to get the acceptance letter from a choice college, yearning for summer vacation.  I’m not sure exactly when I reached contented, but I kind of have. The last thing I really yearned for, I still want: a new building for my middle and high school. I just don’t yearn anymore for it. I trust God will provide in His time, and I’ve placed it on the back burner. I’ve got so many more immediate issues on which to concentrate.

     Maybe that’s what stopped the yearning: I just don’t have time to yearn! I’m hanging on for dear life to keep up with what is already here!

     I think there is a real distinction between yearning and just wanting something.  I’ve just returned from State Speech Competition.  The top six competitors from each region in each division for each style of speech and debate met to determine the overall champions in each event for their school divisions.  It was easy to distinguish those who wanted to win from those who yearned to win.  The evidence was in the reaction.  My students commented as one after another student broke down in tears as he was declared State Champion for his event.  But when one of my students was then declared State Champion for Monologue, we better understood the emotion.  She was overwhelmed, and tears were the natural reaction.  She had wanted to win so badly that she had employed fellow students to critique her and had asked me to re-evaluate her piece several different times.  All of that extra work had led to this great moment.  It moved me to tears!  Our little group of four stayed wound up and excited for almost an hour.  We were so proud of her.  I truly believe that she yearned for this success, and I am so happy she achieved it.

      I think yearning from this point on will be vicarious. I will yearn for those blessings in my kids’ lives that my husband and I have enjoyed. We have had such a wonderful life; I hope they enjoy theirs as much. I can honestly say that I yearn for their happiness… so I guess I do still yearn! I just have to remind myself that it’s there… peeking up behind all the busy-ness of each day!!

                                                                                 -- Michelle


    Exhortations have always been a part of my life.  I guess being born in 1944 near the end of World War II, it was normal for me to take seriously exhortations to be prepared for a possible atomic attack on our city of St. Louis.  I studied the maps and information guides which exhorted us to get at least thirty miles outside of the city center to avoid radiation effects.  

    When I babysat for our neighbors as a young teenager, I was aware of life and death even more so as the young police officer father often told me of cases he was trying to solve.  His wife, a telephone operator who had to ride to and from work on a city bus late at night, even shared the news that her friend and fellow worker was stabbed and raped one evening as she returned home from work.  Need I say that exhortation was not necessary to convince me to be very cautious on the city streets in the dark of night.

    My father’s many accidents as a long-distance truck driver over a span of sixty plus years served as exhortations to be very cautious when driving a vehicle.  His admonishments about proper passing of trucks and other vital information about traveling on busy highways caused me to be super cautious.  I must admit that his warnings have saved my life on more than one occasion.

    As I think of exhortation, I see that I am a motivator who is constantly trying to exhort my students to learn lessons well so that their life choices may be successful.  I don’t just teach lessons…I seek to convince my students of the necessity of reaching benchmarks successfully, and then setting new goals for achievement.  My job of teaching does not end just because the end of the book has been reached.  I must tie learning to life choices and life lessons to enable my students to be prepared for the world of tomorrow…a world which none of us have ever seen!

    I’m afraid that many educators have given up on exhortation, and they have settled into a daily routine of read, write, and regurgitate.  They have allowed standards of learning to be replaced by fads, textbooks to be dumbed down and made pretty, and requirements for graduation to become a farce.  Is it any wonder that our nation is reeling in an abyss of educational scandals?

    The vast numbers of students who are enrolling for online courses (so they can study what they wish and when they wish) is bothersome to me.  I believe the face-to-face encounter of people is desirable for learning at a higher level.  Mentors have been able to motivate people to reach for the stars as they actively engage in meaningful challenges.  It is most often the exhortations of someone dear to us that cause us to reach for the seemingly impossible and step out to great achievements.

    So, I will say it again…I will do whatever it takes to exhort my students to take the road less traveled…and find some of life’s greatest blessings!       Kay   

    I’ve always thought my spiritual gift was teaching, but this morning I learned through the preacher’s sermon that my strongest gift is exhortation.  Oh, I am very strong in teaching, but the definition of the gift of exhortation fits me to a T.  According to the dictionary, an exhortation is communication that emphatically urges someone to do something.  Synonyms include encouragement, persuasion, pressure, pressurization, pushing, insistence, incitement, goading, egging on, beseeching, admonishment, warning, appealing, lecturing, entreating, and charging.  Pretty much my tools of the trade!  You see, I was that kid asking, “When am I ever going to use this?”   Now that I am a teacher, I make sure kids know when and for what they will use the knowledge.  If I can’t think of anything, I don’t bother teaching it.  Very rarely do I not find a purpose, though. 

  I happen to believe that every circumstance is useful for instruction.  Because of this, I rarely have secrets.  Even my most embarrassing moments will teach.  Another example:  I tell my kids that they will leave LAAS either a legend or a cautionary tale.  It is up to them to decide which.  Like I said, every circumstance will teach. 

As parents and teachers, it is our job to exhort our children.  We needn’t dictate their lives, but we can certainly urge them to make good decision, to plan, to think things through.  I do not understand the parent who does not “parent” anymore than I do the one who “over-parents.”  There’s a balance.  Let me give you an example.  My kids had to clean up their rooms; however, within their rooms were large storage crates.  The rule was that no food or clothing could go in those crates.  Everything else was fair game, though.  I know that often everything BUT the food and clothes went into those crates in a mad dash to get done.  I got what I wanted… a clean room, and they got what they wanted… to be done quickly.  The teaching in this scenario is back-handed.  When one of my children needed an item that had  been on the floor and then hastily shoved in this box, finding it became a big process.  The kids never got totally organized, but they did start shoving less in so they could find things later.  Everybody’s happy and a lesson is learned. 

    Where is the exhortation in that example?  I never missed letting my kids know why their rooms must be cleaned, and the reasons ran the gamut between “because that’s my room; you just live in it,” to “we’re practicing for when you go to college.  No one wants to live with a health hazard.”

    You are a mentor to your children.  Please do not miss the chance to persuade, encourage, and charge them.  Also, do not fail to admonish, warn and insist.  They are worth every bit of effort you put into raising them!

-          Michelle

Do you have someone in your life that is always asking you for advice, but they never take it? Many of us have an example of a person, maybe a friend, coworker, or significant other that constantly asks for our advice and ignores the opinions that we give. This is an incredibly frustrating scenario because you feel like you’re investing a lot of time and thought into this person’s life for it just to be for waste. What if you could influence others without them asking?

Some people have a natural ability and desire to inspire change in those around them. They see a barrier or challenge that is keeping someone from progressing to the next stage of his life, and they want and need to help solve this issue. In some situations, the obstacle to one’s success might actually be himself. People that have the gift of exhortation are keen to perceive these issues and help that person break down the barriers that hold him back.

If this doesn’t sound like a characteristic of your behavior, think about the people in your life to which you go to vent your frustrations. Some of these people are not happy to just listen to you vent. They immediately throw out several solutions to your problem. Welcome or not, these people are solvers, and they need to provide you with solutions.

I remember as a teenager getting frustrated with my mom because she’s a solver. I would go to her with the problem wanting her to just listen and validate my frustrations, and instead in her head she’s putting together an action plan of how to solve the issue. Now in my adult life I actually really appreciate this trait of hers, but at the time I didn’t know how to use it as a superpower.

This gift of exhortation is a really important skill to have as a manager. If you don’t have it now and you see yourself managing others in your future, take the time to develop this skill. Your direct reports are not going to want you to just listen to their problems. They will look to you to solve their challenges. Similarly, whether your children like it or not, you should use this ability with them as well. Especially for young children, they are still developing their problem-solving abilities. I’m not saying that you need to solve all of their problems for them; it’s healthy to develop survival skills at a young age. But there are situations that your children will not be prepared for, and you need to be extra-perceptive to notice their challenges and help them with solutions.

Think about challenges those around you are facing. Do you take the time to notice their struggles? If the answer is no, make it a priority this week to look around at the people in your life and discover ways that you can ease their loads. You might find out that you are actually causing a very solvable issue for them, or you might just help alleviate another stressor in their lives. Either way, I think you will find it to be a beneficial and productive activity that will help someone else and grow your skills at the same time.

-          Bria


Normally, when talking about pretenses, it is in the context of false pretenses. In legal terms, false pretenses refers to a misrepresentation of something that was presented as a fact. In day-to-day use, pretenses come with the inference that deception is occurring. While deception and pretense go hand-in-hand, ill intention is not an automatic part of pretenses.

In many circumstances, a false pretense comes from a place of wanting to be perceived in a certain way. We as humans spend a lot of our life adapting to various social situations. There is an innate desire to fit in and to be liked by those around us. This feeling is especially strong in our adolescence. There is a lot of pressure for young people to fit into a certain box. Beyond expectations for appearance, there are standards of what people should like and how they should act.

For teenagers and preteens, these expectations can lead to a feeling that they need to conform and modify the way in which they present themselves to better fit in. Operating under these pretenses can negatively impact that person’s self-esteem and concept of his own personality. It can also make that person come off as ingenuine and keep him from forming deep emotional connections with other people.

Be cautious of changing yourself to fit in with others. While there are appropriate things we can do to censor our qualities that are more rough around the edges, changing the way in which you present yourself is not healthy or beneficial to your mental health. Remember that the people that really need to be in your life will accept you for your true, authentic self. Do not conduct yourself with false pretenses; a sign of maturity is discovering yourself and living a life that is true to who you are.

-        Bria

    A pretense is defined as a false appearance or action intended to deceive.  I know that definition very well, and that is why I tell parents upon their entry into our school that “I make no pretense about the education your child will receive here…what you see is what you will get.”  If you want a quiet, passive educational setting, this school isn’t the place for you.  We have a school of energetic learners who are often driven to check everything out, to question things as they are, and who know the art of manipulation and use it often.

    Because of the types of students we teach, our teachers must be bold, sure of their own convictions, and pretty self-assured.  The average teacher might wilt when a student looks at him or her and says in class, “You need a complete make-over, Mrs. Johnson.  I think you need to dye your hair red! I also think you should wear a mini-skirt!”  I just answered quickly, “I don’t like the color choices I’d have in my wardrobe as a red head,” and I went on teaching.  Needless to say, a good sense of humor and comedic timing is quite an asset.

    I tell parents that I will guide and direct my students to learn and to make every effort to put that knowledge to good use.  I will give every effort to challenge their thinking and to make available any resources which might be helpful to these students.  However, I will often use a great big heaping tablespoon of mother’s guilt when it is necessary to back a child down from behaviors that impede the class from learning as a whole.  I refuse to let chaos reign in our school classrooms.  Far too many teachers have thrown in the towels at their schools, and the misbehaving students seem to enjoy preventing good, well-intentioned students from learning.

    In the same manner that I make no pretense about the fact that I am a disciplinarian when it is needed, I expect my students to make no pretense as to their understanding of the skills taught in my classes.  It takes honest cooperation and evaluation for student and teacher to work together to master the skills being taught.  In the same manner, I teach students to evaluate their mistakes in math and to tell me what mistake they made in their calculation.  Many want to change their answer quickly and just say, “I got it wrong. I don’t know why.”  I have to show them that such pretension doesn’t help their brains to understand how to correct their thinking for the next problem they will solve.

    Since we are a school for the gifted and talented students, many students feel the need to make a pretense of how smart they really are.  It is our task to help them to realize they are unique and we do not want to compare them to others.  It is our desire for them to learn something new every day. At the same time, we want our students to feel comfortable when they make mistakes…all people make mistakes and live to talk about it!  Our task is to teach them to reach the bar and then go to the next level.  If our continuous progress model is used correctly, the child learns to measure his progress against himself.  Then and only then will he/she be comfortable in evaluating his/her own work and making corrections to perform correctly next time.  No guilt…no shame…just on-going progress!

    Parents are surprised to learn of our desire for them to visit our classrooms at any time.  We seem to be unlike many schools who desire to keep parents away.  However, with a “what you see is what you get” attitude, we don’t have to worry about pretensions, and thus parents are welcomed.   Kay

     “Do you want to play pretense with me?”  Hmmm… that’s an odd question.  Perhaps a malapropism?  Any child can play pretend, but a pretense requires some higher-order thinking.  According to the dictionary that comes up when I google pretense, a pretense is an attempt to make something that is not the case appear true.  It also says that a pretense is a claim, especially a false or ambitious one.

   Since February 1st, I have conducted 39 tours for roughly 60 student candidates for attendance at Lawton Academy this next academic year.  Every day, I am amazed to listen to the pretenses being sold to these students and parents under the guise of education.  Here are the three most oft-repeated pretenses I’ve heard and my answer to each claim.

1)      Students do not need spelling.  There are doctors out there who do not spell correctly.

     Not any doctor I’d go to!  After twenty-eight years of schooling, if spelling is still a problem, that person will not be handling my health!  The problem with this theory is that spelling teaches sounds, not letters.  Students learn spelling because it makes them better readers.  They become better spellers in the process, but that’s just an added benefit.

     Spelling is important in the writing.  Some who advocate not teaching spelling have said to me, “They have spell checkers and auto correct.”  Those tools only work if the speller gets close enough for the auto correct to guess the intended word.  My favorite cautionary tale is about a middle school student I had who was writing a scary story for my composition class.  His story was supposed to be about enemy ninjas.  When he typed it, though, the spell checker alerted him that he had spelled enemy incorrectly.  He chose the first word it offered him.  I about died when reading the story as I came upon his choice:  enema ninjas.  Now that’s a whole new level of scary!  I would be scared to death if someone snuck up on me and did that!!

  One teacher even told one of my parents that her daughter would not need to know how to spell because she would have a secretary.  I asked, “What if your daughter is the secretary?” 

    These are all insufficient pretenses for ditching a spelling program.

2)      Students do not need to learn cursive writing … or even penmanship, for that matter.  They will type everything in the future.

      No, they won’t.  Banks still require a hand-written signature to open a bank account, and they will not accept a printed one.  Advanced Placement tests still require over two hours of essays (with no break), written in pen.  If one were to write in manuscript, his carpel tunnel would be flaring by the end.

     According to Dr. David Sortino, a psychologist and the current director of Educational Strategies, “cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing, keyboarding or typing” (“Brain Research and Cursive Writing”).

       The elementary students in our school write stories and essays that get sent up to my middle and high school students to edit twice a month.  Recently we’ve added some new students, and my secondary kids have been appalled at the handwriting.  I tell them to do the best they can to read it because some of these kids have not even been shown how to hold their pencils correctly.  We will teach them, but it will take time. 

      About five years ago, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer did several studies on the different outcomes for students typing lecture notes compared to those hand writing them (May).  What they found is that those who typed the lecture tended to type every single word the professor said… kind of like a stenographer, only they don’t use shorthand.  Because handwriting is slower, the students are forced to listen more carefully so that they can summarize the information, and the consequence is that they learn the material more effectively.

     The same ideas hold true with young learners.  I was recently trying to help a frustrated mother understand why, after a year of preschool and half a year of kindergarten in her son’s school, he still did not know his letters.  The whole time we had been touring, the five-year-old kept asking me where the “pads” were.  I asked him how often he used the iPads in his class, and his answer was basically “all the time.”  It was very easy for me, then, to explain why her son did not know his letters.  A typed “a” feels just like a typed “b” because all the keys feel exactly the same.  If he wrote them, he would know them.

    Think about it:  how often do we actually use that little note we jot down to remind us?  Unless it’s a long list, most of us don’t even reference it again because we can envision ourselves writing it.  I see this with the “cheat sheets” I used to allow for hard cumulative tests.  I would give the students each an index card and tell them they had ten minutes to write any notes from their studies that they wanted to on one side of the card, and I would instruct them to turn the card in with the test.  Over and over, students would tell me that they didn’t end up needing the card.  Writing it again had made it stick in their heads. 

   Yet, I will look back at the typed DYI steps or an itinerary sent to me or the such a hundred or more times.  The words don’t stay with me because I haven’t written them.  My own typed lists don’t fare much better.

   One of the saddest things about not teaching kids to read cursive is that most won’t even try to read it.  I get students all the time who have not been taught cursive.  I try to point out that only a few letters are really that different, but many insist they just cannot read it.  I make them take a course.  They do not have the option to just give up. 

    Many of the documents that were written in the beginnings of our nation are in cursive… including the Constitution.  If we cannot read that document, we are susceptible to others telling us contents that are not really there.  Isn’t this what gave the Taliban such control?  They lied to people about what was in the Koran, and because the people could not read it (at no fault of their own – years of war had left much of the country with no schooling), they believed the lies.

    If we cannot read the Constitution, how will we know that someone in authority is not just making stuff up?  I will know.  I can read cursive.  If that doesn’t provide enough motivation, I just tell kids to learn it so later they can write notes about their employees or customers, and none of them will be able to read it!

3)      Accelerated Reader is a great way to motivate kids to read books. 

Accelerated Reader was never intended to be used by literature teachers.  It was designed for librarians to be able to quickly assess whether students truly read a book or not.  The questions are knowledge-level, and most intelligent kids have learned how to fool the system.  Students new to my school laugh about how they could get enough answers right just looking at the back jacket and the cover pictures to earn the points necessary to get the great prizes.  Reading teachers:  AR is a lazy substitution for reading in the classroom, but it is an excellent tool for librarians.  Leave it for where it was intended.

4)      Silence is golden.

    One of my favorite parts of our tours of our campus is the part where I tell the kids that our school is not a quiet school.  Oh sure, we’re quiet when the teacher is instructing.  But we’re noisy when we’re working projects… or coming or going to different classes … or coming in or going out for one of our three recesses.  The interviewee’s eyes light up and a great big smile crosses his face.  Three recesses?!  Yep.  I tell them that we have gifted kids, and gifted kids like to process what they just learned with their friends.  So, we give them breaks to discuss the cool experiment they just did in science or what they learned about sarcophasguses in history. 

    Teachers are not quiet.  I often tell kids who talk a lot that they will one day be a teacher because we teachers can say, “Shh!  I’m talking” and have all the attention just to us!  Next time you find yourself in a school, walk past the teacher’s lounge at lunch.  I guarantee you it’s not quiet in there!

    So, what pretenses about Lawton Academy to we perpetuate?  We try not to do any.  Once we’ve made a claim and it is found to be false, we go back and make sure everyone we ever told knows that we were wrong!  Maybe that’s a co-dependency issue!  I think it’s just we don’t want people to think we baited-n-switched.  When we get a teacher who uses too many worksheets, the claim that Lawton Academy is a hands-on learning environment looks like a pretense.  We do our best to help that teacher see the need for hands-on instruction, even going so far as to get subs for ours and stand by their sides to instruct as we go.

    My point is this:  if the claim seems illogical, it’s probably a pretense.  If the claim goes against your gut, check it out to make sure it’s not a pretense.  Just because someone in authority says it in a teacher voice doesn’t make it true.

-        Michelle


Works Cited

“Brain Research and Cursive Writing.” Dr. David Sortino,

May, Cindi. “A Learning Secret: Don't Take Notes with a Laptop.” Scientific American, 3 June


Fresh Start

    “A fresh start” is usually a welcomed experience for most people.  We all make mistakes or find we have failed to complete certain tasks, and instead of facing ongoing consequences, we are relieved to hear someone say, “Let’s just make a fresh start.”  I feel this way more and more as I try to maneuver my way around this technological world of gizmos and gadgets with their multiplying passwords and codes!  The only relief I get from this crazy maze of platforms which do not seem to talk with one another, is to force quit and shut down…then start over!

    This feeling of frustration in the above-mentioned instance helps me to understand the relief my students might feel as we come to a new nine-week period of grading.  We have gone a step further by making the first nine-week period and the third nine-week period reports just a paper with a note about how things are going in each subject.  This is far less threatening than the formal cumulative report that prints the semester grades.  

    Although we explained and explained, we couldn’t get parents to relax and accept the 1st  and 3rd reports as “progress reports.”  Perhaps some of the pressure is due to banks and commercial establishments offering free prizes or awards for straight A’s on all grade reports.  Thus, parents looked at this 3rd report as do or die!  Some of the weaker students just accepted it as the crushing blow and gave up on any further effort.  Now, we hope, it will just serve as a wake-up call to start over with a better grip on finding success.

    As a Christian, I am very aware of how important a fresh start is.  Jesus came to show me how to accept God’s love, and to show me how to love God.  I got a fresh start!  My life has never been the same since that moment.  

    I tried in my previous school district to help students achieve more by starting the A grades at 85%.  I reasoned that in a norm-curve test situation, 50% was considered average or the norm.  So, why wasn’t 85% considered above average enough to merit an A?  Yes, quite a few people yelled “foul,” but during the few years I was able to keep this standard, something very neat happened!  Students who had never before received an A were so proud that they worked harder than ever to keep an A, and even asked me, “Can I do the work needed to make a real A?  It was giving them a fresh start at being an excellent student.  The ones who really hated the idea were a few of those whose ego didn’t want any “unmerited company.”

    This week I’ve listened to the news as a musical celebrity has begged his accusers to stop their charges against his past abuses.  He cried for mercy.  It has been a gut-wrenching sight for everyone to see and hear.  It reminds me that just like forgiveness by Jesus, a fresh start doesn’t always stop the crop of consequences that grow out of previous mistakes.  David, a man after God’s own heart, found that he had to live with the consequences of his chosen sins.  And although the pain was great, he still was able to find a fresh start from God.

    We have a book in our school called, “Have You Filled Someone’s Bucket Today?”  Giving others a fresh start may bring you joy as well as fill someone else’s bucket with joy.  Try it.    

-         Kay


For many people, the idea of a fresh start is completely transformative. There is a concept of moving to a new place, getting a new job, and starting a whole new life that is comforting and appealing to those dissatisfied with their current lives. For some, the fresh start may be graduating high school. For others, it’s moving to a college in a different state. All of these experiences are complete life-changing fresh starts. But there are ways to have a fresh start without making major changes in your life.

Today is Daylight Saving Time. While many of us are feeling extra tired today, I think I can speak for everyone when I say I’m really excited about spring time and more daylight. In many ways, this is a fresh start. Coming out of this brutal winter, Daylight Saving Time marks promise that there are better times ahead.

While many of the examples above of fresh starts are centric to the idea of huge transformations, there are a lot of ways to have smaller fresh starts in your life. A fresh start can be as simple as a new haircut. For anyone who is trying to eat healthier, it’s easy to fall off the bus of your diet plan. A good mindset for dieting or other gradual life improvements is the concept that every day is a fresh start and a new chance to try again

This mindset can apply to a lot of situations in our day-to-day lives. Did you have a terrible day? Use your morning tomorrow as a fresh start and begin the day with a positive attitude. Similarly, if you messed up today, see tomorrow as a fresh start to try again. This perspective takes away a lot of the gravity from situations that feel really bad in the moment, but ultimately will not negatively affect you long-term. Try to keep this idea in mind. Remember that every day is a fresh start and use that information to bring peace to your life. What are you going to do with your fresh start tomorrow?

-        Bria

     Woo-hoo!  The last quarter of the academic year begins tomorrow!  Actually, I cannot believe that the last quarter begins tomorrow!  Where did the year go? 

      Besides the teaching part of my job, I love the way the academic year offers so many “fresh starts.”  Nine-week grading period didn’t go so well?  Oh, well, here:  try again!  I love being able to clean the slate and make a new attempt at success, and I especially love that my students have that same opportunity.  I love that no two quarters are exactly the same, and no two years are exactly alike.  I like that students’ interests change, and I love to watch our program evolve.

     I find myself wondering how I would do in a job that just kept going.  As a kid, I used to get myself all worked up at the thought of eternity.  I didn’t want to cease to exist, but the idea of going and going and going scared me equally.  I’ve put that thought on the back burner because I’ll understand when I get there.  In the meantime, though, I love being able to start fresh.

     Parents of gifted children appreciate the fresh start as well.  You see, when gifted kids mess up, they mess up big.  Their faux pas usually are passion-driven, and they make monumental gestures that often require very public apologies.  The idea that our kids can wipe a slate clean is very welcome!  It is so very important that we, as the parents and teachers, show our gifted kids the error in approach while applauding the thought behind the protest.  That’s generally what occurs:  the reasoning for acting out is justified; the means is not.  It’s tough being a gifted kid!

     The key to granting “fresh starts” is mercy.  If we remember the mercies shown us, we are much better prepared to walk our child through that which requires mercy for him.  I’m not encouraging a no-consequences approach.  There should still be consequences.  I’m only encouraging a chance to try again… no preconceived worries; just a fresh start. (Of course, repeated offenses of the same type don’t get a fresh start.  These are not that of which I speak.)

     So, in this last quarter, I will evaluate how the year has gone, and I will spend the summer making plans for changes that need to happen.  By the time the school reopens for the next academic year, I will have made significant changes in the hopes of bettering our program.  The students will come to school that first day, shiny with their new haircuts and wardrobes, and we will begin again… fresh and excited for new opportunities.

-        Michelle


If I had a word to describe my adolescent years, it would be “unaware.” I was unaware what most couples were “doing.” I was unaware of any prep I should be doing for college. I had a college roommate nicknamed “Pete” who was the girls’ softball pitcher and who used to have “sleepovers” with the team’s catcher. Totally unaware of what was really going on there!! How can one person be so unaware?!

    Easily, I think. I was happily ignorant of all of that stuff. Naive is probably a better term. Some would say “stupid”!

    I was just as unaware of other things that were good. I didn’t know I’d actually scored a 31 in English on my one attempt at the ACT till I was around forty years old. I probably “knew” it, but I was unaware how impressive that was since I didn’t do any kind of studying. I was unaware I was smart, even though I was in honor classes. I just thought I was a really hard worker.  The list goes on… I was a pretty unaware person!

    Sometimes I find myself missing that state. It was very freeing. Being aware brings new responsibilities. Maybe that’s why so many teens avoid the news and thought-provoking discussions. It’s a whole lot easier to live in a reality created online or in a game.

     So how important is it that teens be aware? I think much more today than ever for one reason: surveillance. There is a camera to catch everything one does today. An innocent shift of one’s underwear can become the next viral faux pas. Couple that with the fact that kids are under much more supervision than ever in history, and teens have a lot to lose from being unaware.

      We haven’t even talked about college prep. I have parents of one-year-olds calling to see when the earliest they can get on a list for our school is. It seems to take early and consistent prep to help your teen reach the small percentage of those who make it into an Ivy League or one of the other upper echelon schools.

       I think happiness lies somewhere between the two. Helping your gifted teen to know that rewards come with hard work is preferable over making him painfully aware of the fate of those who didn’t work hard. Gifted are typically tender-hearted as kids and teens, and depression over not being able to solve the problem will outweigh the drive to do better. It is important to involve your teen in solving what is solvable, of course. Helping at a food pantry is solving the solvable. Making your teen aware of a starving people group with no ability to help them is not going to help him work harder.

       I think the most dangerous “unawareness” lies with parents, though. Parents today seem unaware of how much more their kids know than we did at their ages. The Internet literally teaches them anything and everything. If you don’t talk to your kid about the difficult issues, the Internet will.  Parents, if you want an eye opener, watch the movie “Eighth Grade.” The writer has done a phenomenal job of letting us know the difficulties teens of today navigate. Unfortunately, they are a whole lot more aware than many of us would like.

-        Michelle