Wizards of Ed

The Epi-pen Pushback and Early Childhood Education

What can we learn from all these angry parents?

I should start by saying I am deathly allergic to bee stings. I have carried an Epi-pen since they first came out. I’ve noticed that for the past few years, the co-pay has gone up and up. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen articles in newspapers and read emails about a major national push to get the price, which has gone through the roof, to come down. People are up in arms and furious and are petitioning, making videos, speaking to the media, and it’s starting to have an effect. This is a grass roots protest and it’s working!

The number of people who have to buy Epi-pens is far smaller than the number of people affected by negative early childhood practices. Where are all of these parents and educators? Where are the petitions? Where are the letters to their elected officials? How many people who post to social media about the endless studies showing that shaming, punishing, and forcing young children to sit and write for long periods of time are harmful to the children actually also write to their elected officials saying the same thing?

If all of us who are outraged at the current practices that make school dreaded instead of anticipated would write 1 letter a month, we would not be in this predicament. Yes, I know there are some local improvements scattered around. Just imagine the effect of literally millions of writers. We can make a major groundswell.

Try it. Write 1 letter this month. Share any answer you may receive. Let’s see if we can make a real difference.

Strength-Based Coaching or Supervision

For several years, the term “strength-based” has been used often. What, exactly, does it mean? It means literally, to focus and discuss what’s going well and what is working well for the situation and to bring about change from that perspective. Here’s an example from athletics:
A runner has a coach. After the race, the coach notes that the time is a full second better than the last time. Then the coach points out that the runner made some sort of arm movement going around turns that could have slowed the time a little. The runner wasn’t aware of it, and the coach schedules some sessions to videotape the runner and work on arm movements.
What was the main take-away from the runner/coach meeting? The arm movement and what could be done to “fix” it. The fact that the time actually improved over the last race was not the focus, although it was mentioned first. I call this the old coaching model. The focus is on improvement and what needs to be done to make the improvement happen. The idea is what was wrong and what needs help.
After spending years working in the old coaching model, I’ve begun my journey on the strength-based road. Know that the strength-based road takes longer. No superhighway here. Let’s go back to our runner. Supposing the coach pointed out the better time and asked the runner something like, “How do you think that happened?” or “What do you think contributed to the better time?” “What can you practice to get this time again?” The runner leaves this session proud of the improvement in time.
While watching (and taping) the practice for the next race, the coach may praise the time improvement – perhaps it’s the same time as the last time, so the coach would point out that the improvement that made it happen before is still working. Then the coach may say, “Look at your arms here.” The runner may say “I never thought about that. Maybe if I kept them a little straighter, the time would improve.” The coach says, “Great idea. I have some tips that may help you with this.”
Yes, this takes a little longer, but the feeling of accomplishment and wanting to work harder to reach the goal is much improved. The runner is a participant in the solution and is much more likely to keep at it.
A strength-based focus can yield all sorts of great results, at work, and elsewhere.
Do try this at home, and please share how it goes.

What’s In a Name?

Consultants are in business to help their clients. It’s important to relate to the client in a personal way. The first part of this relationship is about connecting to the customer by name. If the customer has an unfamiliar name, say it over and over again until it’s right. And remember how to say it. Sometimes, I make little tips for myself so in between contacts, I don’t forget.

My first name is Ellen. It starts my business email address: ellen@earlychildinfo.com and my main social email address starts with the letter E. Yesterday, I was on the phone with a customer service/email/domain “consultant” who helped straighten out my email accounts. There are a few domains with emails attached to each. As the prices for email addresses have risen, it was time to prune, move, and otherwise work on them. We were on the phone more than ½ hour, talking about all of the email addresses, some of them starting with “ellen” and some starting with “e”. With all of the deleting, moving, and keeping, the name “Ellen” had to have been said more than 50 times, and other emails starting with “e” close to the same number of times. While she was waiting to make changes happen, she told me how making connections with people was so important to her. A few minutes after the phone call, she sent me the follow-up email she had told me about, to an email address which started with “e”, with the correct account and phone number.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the greeting: “Hello Helen”!

Here’s part of my reply to her: “My name, as in all of the emails we spoke about, is ELLEN, not Helen. Here’s a tip: Customers don’t usually notice you getting their name right, but they always notice when you don’t.


A kind student from my alma mater called this afternoon to solicit the annual donation and we discussed her ed classes and frustrations of trying to tutor children in what’s called “Common Core math”. She’s having a really hard time understanding it, and of course, she is having a hard time explaining it to children so that they can actually “do the math”. I told her about “new math” which was the latest, greatest failed math instruction that came and left a few generations ago.

We KNOW that children learn best by use of manipulatives and real world problem solving. There have not been ANY research studies that prove that children learn math best by sitting at tables or desks and filling in worksheets, or answering questions in texts or even online.

Now, we have all sorts of brain studies and even more proof that children need to move, to talk to each other, have free time to play and work out problems, and still we are seeing little children pressed to perform above their abilities in math and in other key subjects.

For years, I’ve been going to conferences and listening to educators give the same talks – I’ve even given lots of them myself. Then why, after all these years, are MORE children unhappy to be at school? Why, after saying these things over and over and over again, are we still yelling into the wind??

I know there are pockets of excellent education out there, and I know that change is in the air. How will we make the necessary changes to make early childhood a time of wonder, happiness, and learning for more of our children? What will YOU do today to make your voice heard?

Resilience by Example

When I was director of preschool programs, I saw that gifted children, who were used to “getting it” the first time, would quit doing activities that they didn’t immediately “get”. I asked parents to attempt a new physical skill that takes some time to “get” and let the child see the parent struggle at it.


Talk about how hard it is and how it’s worth it to try again. Let them know that everyone struggles sometimes. When you get it, invite the child to help you celebrate, even if that celebration is just doing a “happy dance” or singing a “happy song”. When you are their example, it makes it “more” okay for them when they struggle.

Of course, this advice works for children at any level. There’s just too much pressure to succeed. Children need to learn that everyone struggles and often fails before succeeding.

Adjusting Children’s Internal Clock – at least twice yearly

I have heard parents say, “He ALWAYS gets up early. clocksWinter and summer, he’s up at 6 AM.” The same parents who say this in despair have successfully changed their child’s internal clock twice in the previous year.

How do I know? Because twice a year, OUR clocks change – to and from standard time.  If we can change a child’s internal clock in November and April, we can do it any time of the year.

It takes about a week or so to get the change to work. A one day try just doesn’t work. The keys to successfully adjusting a child’s inner clock are:
1) Don’t expect more than an hour’s change at a time.
2) Wake the child at the same time each morning for about a week.
Soon the child will automatically wake up at or near the target time every day.

Of course, if the child is sick, she will need extra rest. If you keep the child out late, she may wake up at the same time anyway, but be VERY cranky. Or, she may wake up fine and get cranky later. It’s the same idea when traveling to another time zone – and back again.
PLEASE also remember to slightly adjust meal times for the first week of a clock change.  More adjustment at the start of the week, gradually changing to less by the end of the week.  If the children nap, adjust those times slightly as well.  Hungry and tired children are cranky children who can present us with all sorts of (preventable) challenging behaviors.

Consulting – Part 2 – Hired by an Outside Agency

If scores on a particular rating system were low or improvements are needed for funding or accreditation, an agency often hires a consultant to help the ailing center. When the program administrator doesn’t hire the consultant, sometimes the role of the consultant is not clear.

When this happens, the consultant can be seen by staff as an outsider imposing change on a “good” program. The program view is “Who does she think she is coming in here and wanting this great program to make changes? We’ve been here for x years and we always get high ratings. This new system doesn’t know how great we are and the good work we do. That low score is ridiculous.”

The consultant may also be constrained by the number of funded consulting hours to make these changes – most often not enough. The dilemma for the consultant is whether or not to accept the assignment in the first place. Usually, the consultant doesn’t know the full picture until being on site.

The times I have been able to make it work, I’ve spent some (unpaid) time talking to the person who hired me, getting more clear about the program – what’s already been done, what can they tell me about the climate there, the history of the program, anything I could use to help me decide whether or not to take the assignment. I’ve also asked the key question – what happens if, when I get there, it appears that the requested assignment would take at least twice or three times the allotted budget?

I make it clear that consultancy is my job and that I get paid for my work. (Of course, I give away plenty of time, but that’s MY decision – not the decision of someone who wants to pay me for 24 consultancy hours and expects 48 hours of my time.) I then negotiate reasonable objectives and make them clear to the hiring agency BEFORE I even step into the program. I also ask the hiring agency to contact the program about why they hired me, what they expect from me, and what the consequences to the program would be if the program decided not to make changes or accept most of my suggestions.

This way, when I get there, the program knows why I’m there and what I’m supposed to do. Even when there are egregious situations, I can usually find things to support and ways to help administrators realize the importance of making the changes.

Has this happened to you? How have you handled it?

Consulting Part 1 – The Magic Wand

A consultant is hired by clients to help the client improve something or some things and/or services. This is rather basic. Usually, people at the top hire consultants to help fix things that people somewhere in the middle or even lower within the agency are not doing well. The most frequent and important problem of consulting is that the people who hire the consultants either haven’t tried to fix the problems themselves, haven’t shared the results of some evaluation with the staff, and/or have no idea of the specifics of the problem.

Some would-be hirers see the problem and think a few hours of consulting will either solve it or set them on the road to solving it themselves. It’s so much like, “Come, Ms. Consulting Expert, visit our wonderful program that scored low in just this tiny area. You can fix this in a few hours or even less. We have great staff, and if you tell us what to fix, you can be off on your merry way.” Then consultants go there and see multiple problems that will need lots of time and effort to make real improvements.

Sharing what really needs to be done has scared off many a prospective client. Not sharing what really needs doing sets up the entire process for disappointment all around. How should a consultant proceed?

Why, just wave the magic consultant wand, fix the stuff instantly, charge a tiny amount for wand maintenance, and get rave reviews in every possible way. What? The magic wand is in the repair shop? Oh dear. What now?

I’m writing these articles in my 16th year as the owner of a successful consulting practice. If you are a consultant, take a ride with me as we explore win/win/win ways to make consulting work well for all concerned.

Story Telling

For most of my life, I’ve been telling stories – to my younger sister to help her get to sleep, to more classes of children than I can count, to my own children, and to my grandchildren.  There’s something so magic about starting with “Once upon a time…”  When my daughter’s third child was old enough for a go to sleep story (she usually fell asleep before I told the stories to her brother and sister), the older ones begged for a favorite and I started in.  Before I got to “time”, the little one wanted to know, “Where’s the book?”  She was not happy to hear there was no book this time.  She thought a story HAD to have a book.  After a while she sort of got used to it, but the concept needed time to sink in.  One day, I visited when another child was there.  I knew I had reached her when she told the child with some pride that her grandmother “could tell ‘mouth stories’ where there isn’t any book, only her mouth” as if it were some sort of really special skill!

I urge you to include “mouth stories” as well as “book stories” in your repertoire.

What’s on Your Walls??

Many have said that we display what we value.  Yet, in so many programs, the walls tell a different story from the written materials about the program.  Brochures and websites are about children’s creativity and individuality.  But, when I visit some sites,  I see the hallway and classroom walls covered with things either purchased or created by adults and/or with adult-made projects that all of the children have done, such as pre—cut bugs with pre-cut parts that children are allowed to paste on “however they want”.  In one accredited site, the hallways were full of purchased decorations.  I gently suggested to the director that children’s creative work could be displayed in the hallways and he said that in the classrooms, children do their own thing, but the hallways are where the staff likes to “make things pretty”.  So, does it mean that the staff thinks that only purchased things are “pretty”??  It makes one wonder.

There are programs where some of the art is really art – it all looks different and each piece is unique.  There are some where different children clearly have different ideas about whatever is being studied.  Those are the walls that excite me.  These are the places where I know right away that children’s uniqueness is valued and children are encouraged to explore and create.  What’s on your walls?