Decus in Labore
In the historic district in the city of Porto, Portugal is a beautiful bookstore that was frequently visited by author JK Rowling and which inspired her in creating the world of Harry Potter. This summer when Ms. Day and I visited the bookstore, we were fascinated by its elaborate design and especially by the stained glass ceiling which has a motto inscribed, “Decus in Labore” which translates to mean “Honor in Work.”
We knew this would be an excellent theme for our school year, a means to talk to our students and staff about the importance of working hard and giving our best in whatever we do – academics, sports, arts, relationships. The way we work at things is a direct reflection of our character and is what others will see about us. President Calvin Coolidge once said “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” Our final accomplishments are often less important than the traits we develop along the way. Author Melody Beattie inspires us saying “There is honor in all work, in all tasks, but take it one step further. Make what you do a labor of love. Then your work will truly touch and change the world.”
Make Kindness Loud
“I’m looking out for #1.” “If someone does something to me, they’re gonna get what’s coming to them.” “I’ve got no time for losers.”
Why have thoughts like these become so prevalent in the attitudes and actions of many adults and children recently? Why has the Golden Rule flip-flopped to treating others as they have treated you instead of how you would want them to treat you? Are we becoming less tolerant, less caring, and less compassionate?
This summer, I saw a t-shirt in a store with the simple phrase “Make Kindness Loud” on it. As I walked around the store, it kept drawing my attention, so I finally purchased it. Such a simple statement, yet such a profound directive. Not only does it challenge me to act in a kind manner to others, but to do it in a way that is noticeable to those around me. We decided to make this our theme for the school year. We have printed this on our House shirts. We are talking about examples of kindness in House meetings. We plan to do service projects for our community. We are noting examples of individuals doing kind actions in the school.
Is this really a reasonable challenge? Can we really show kindness in a practical way, more than just a Sunday School answer. Many of our leaders and humanitarians think so. Mother Theresa asks us to “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” President Abraham Lincoln tells us that “Kindness is the only service that will stand the storm of life and not wash out. It will wear well and will be remembered long after the prism of politeness or the complexion of courtesy has faded away.” In one of my favorite books, Wonder, author R.J. Palacio gives us several precepts or guidelines, my favorite being “When given the choice of being right or being kind, choose kind.”
As adults, are we modeling the trait of kindness to our children? Do they see this in how we treat each other and how we treat those we come into contact with – waiters, store clerks, coaches, seniors, employees? Can we be kind to our children and still discipline them? Yes, if we are disciplining with the goal of correcting and establishing good character, we can be both kind and fair. I can be kind when I need to correct a student or an employee. Though sometimes I do fall short, I CAN be kind and respectful yet still admonish poor behavior or performance.
Fortunately, we do see a great many examples of kindness every day, although they don’t always resonate as strong with us as those examples of things that hurt us. If we can take a pause, maybe we can do better to act and to react with kindness. As Bishop Desmond Tutu reminds us, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
How to Raise Our Kids to be Superheroes
With all the challenges of the past year and a half, we need our superheroes now more than ever. We need those people and ideals that we can count on, that give us hope, that don’t change like the latest fads, that inspire us and direct us. I have been very blessed to have a lot of superheroes in my life. Many were men and women of the generation before me. Some fought wars. Some fought addiction. Some taught, some preached, some worked hard at their jobs, some raised kids. Some were leaders and some were quiet examples who were simply kind. The best gift they gave me was the desire to be like them.
How can we now prepare our kids to be the superheroes of the future? Having worked with students for over 40 years now, I have both great hopes and great concerns. In many ways, kids are the same. They are curious. They test boundaries as they learn how to interact with the world around them. Most need to touch the hot fire to learn to avoid it. At the risk of sounding like an “old fogey,” I worry that today our kids have a barrage of influences constantly coming at them through the constantly increasing power of technology. Even as adults, we often fall prey to becoming obsessed with all that technology and social media lure us with. We can’t raise our kids in a bubble. So how do we prepare them for this high-paced, socially demanding world yet encourage and build their strength, resilience, and character?
One thing we need to do is teach our children to have grit, to work at things even when they are difficult. This is especially important for children with learning differences. We cannot allow our students to use their learning difficulties as an excuse or a crutch. While we do need to provide support, we must not fall into the trap of giving our children too much help. For example, we can’t give them answers on homework and tests thinking that will help them feel better about getting the good grade. If our students get used to someone always providing that help, they will quickly learn to disengage in class because they know someone will do the work for them later. We also need to learn to let them fail. All heroes have failed. That is how we learn. As much as we want to protect our children’s feelings, they sometimes must “hurt” to get stronger. Yes, we need to listen when they are upset. It’s important to be a sponge and just soak up what they are saying. Listen quietly and calmly without reacting strongly as children often mirror our reactions. Kids usually just need time to express frustration, especially when their beaker is full. Remember, you don’t have to fix everything; just listen.
Don’t rush to label your child’s problems with the latest trend. In the last 10 years, I have seen an increasing number of children diagnosed or categorized with anxiety. While I do believe that there are many children that do suffer a true chemical imbalance or have issues related to traumatic experiences, I think that we are often using this term as an avoidance from coping with regular life stress. Some stress is beneficial for us as it helps us to be productive. It also worries me to see an increasing number of students everyday who come to the office for pain relievers, Tums or other OTC medication. Have children truly become so much more fragile? Let’s encourage our youth to be strong as well as sensitive. How do we accomplish this? The best way to raise a superhero is to be an example of a superhero yourself. Make sure you are modeling the qualities of character that you want your child to exhibit. Spend quality time with your child away from other distractions. Get outside with your family. Encourage your child’s talents and interests. Show your child how to be generous. Remember, every superhero needs a sidekick; that is you!
Christopher Reeve who played Superman said, “I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” I believe heroes also should be willing to give to others, even when it is inconvenient for themselves. I am very thankful for my heroes, both old and young, and look forward to seeing many of our students as tomorrow’s superheroes.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
The last eight months have certainly been “times of challenge and controversy.” We have all experienced levels of stress and anxiety like few other times in our lives. Each month has seemed to bring new events to cause an accumulation of pressure in our already overloaded vessels. While faced with options of exploding or giving up, it is difficult to remember that tough times will not last, but strong individuals will. These moments that test our spirit can also build our character. Just as our students constantly face coping with things that are difficult and have to build those qualities of perseverance to help them succeed, we are now faced with the decision of how we are going to respond to those things which currently challenge us. Does denial or anger or blame or avoidance help find solutions to these complex issues? How do we find the strength and motivation to continue to press forward when faced with such adversity? As we tell our students, you take one step at a time. With each step, we get closer to achieving our goal. “A river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but its persistence.” Let us encourage each other to be persistent. Through steadfast effort, mutual respect, and hopeful optimism, we will persevere through these challenges while maintaining our character and values.
At Bedford, we have been encouraged by many examples of perseverance over the past 35 years. We have seen so many students that struggle with reading, writing, or math tackle their obstacles with determination and grit. Although we hate to see their struggle in the short term, we are often pleased to see the character traits that develop such as independence, confidence, and self-esteem. In his book, An Uncommon Gift, author James S. Evans recounts his story of living with dyslexia and hyperkinesis. Despite his inability to read or sit still, he refused to accept defeat and eventually with determination and faith turned a handicap into an unexpected blessing. Let us take a lesson from our children and despite the challenges we face, let us move forward with determination and faith to persevere through these challenges and emerge stronger on the other side.
Bedford Teachers Help Learning “Make Sense”: The Value of Multi-Sensory Instruction
Perspective families who visit Bedford’s classrooms often see students engaged in learning activities that sometimes resemble “play.” They might observe elementary students moving white and green foam circles on their desks as they call out consonant and vowel sounds to “build” words in their reading classes. Students might be assembling equivalent fraction towers with blocks to find common denominators or matching colored chips to model positive and negative “zero pairs” in math. Science students have been seen using playdough to model the ocean floor or studying energy transformations with lemons and steel & copper wires. Many alumni also fondly recall using memory boards that incorporate auditory, visual, and kinesthetic techniques to recite math drills or enhance their recall of vocabulary. Bedford students, past and present, have benefitted from lessons that incorporate multiple modalities.
Bedford teachers look to educational research that strongly supports the importance of implementing multi-sensory instruction for students with learning disabilities. An April 2010 edition of The Journal of Educational Research emphasized that “students indicated significantly more positive attitudes when instructed with a multisensory rather than a traditional approach, and performance was higher on the transfer of skills when students were instructed with a multisensory instructional method rather than with a traditional approach.” Multi-sensory reading instruction based on the Orton-Gillingham method of teaching is vital for students with reading disabilities. Using Bedford’s research-proven S.P.I.R.E. reading intervention program, teachers incorporate auditory drills while students work with print and manipulatives in a systematic, sequentially structured ten-step lesson that promotes mastery in the five critical areas of reading. Visit Bedford’s Facebook page, facebook.com/TheBedfordSchool, to see teachers making learning “make sense.”