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Random Blogging

. . . latest explorations near and far . . .

with thoughts on the journey of learning

© 2023 Clifton Corner


Corner Kids: The Light of My Life

Fall 2020

I am tremendously lucky. In the midst of a pandemic during many months of not

seeing my family in PA and while facing unprecedented challenges in our collective 

country--I get to work with kids who constantly inspire me. I am often in awe of their resilience and vision and quiet fortitude during these dark days, and am reminded that our youth set the example of how to lead us forward.  What a gift.

So today, I want to share a beautiful homework assignment that one of my clients created on tolerance, as she gave me permission to post her work here.  I hope it gives you a lift as we head into a very important week:

tolerance poster

business lady

So Honored:  Another Podcast!

Fall 2020

Recently, I was selected as a potential speaker for a virtual summit of star-studded personalities for Highly Sensitive People, and I was so excited!  But only five minutes into a conversation with the coordinator, I discovered that this honor was never going to unfold--because I don't have 5,000 followers on social media.  It gave me great pause for many reasons, not the least of which is that garnering that kind of "list" would take me away from the heart of my practice, which is very individualized and really quite private.  But there's a happy 'ending' to this story because another individual reached out this fall for an interview, and he didn't require anything at all--except that I show up exactly as Myself.

What is provided here today is a link to our interview, which I am honored to share with you.  Exchanging ideas with the host, Brandon Baker, was an opportunity to reflect on many twists and turns in my professional path, and looking back at our conversation is just another reminder that the Universe resonates with authenticity--I have never needed five thousand followers on a journey of chasing popularity...what has always mattered *most* is the one individual sitting in front of me.  May you hear that message in our chat today...

"If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain."

-Emily Dickinson is one of the web's most popular resources for learning everything this is to know about becoming a coach. From valuable information about getting certified to the recently-launched Coach's Circle Podcast, Life Coach Path's mission is to be the most trusted name in coaching career education. You can find their latest blog post here.


An HSP & 2e Podcast ~

Spring 2020

It's been a wild chapter and there is much to reflect on--but that's for another day.  For now, I'd like to share a podcast with my lovely friend, Reneé Pena Lopez, from The Magic of Littles.  Here's what Reneé writes in her column about our time together:

"On the podcast, I chat with my dear friend Sandra Clifton about Highly Sensitive Kiddos (it sounds so awesome when she says it), we chat about:

How sensitive students can be misdiagnosed, or their needs misunderstood.

How to “play detective” and figure out how to peel back that armor to better understand and support these super-sensitive Littles.

How to help your Littles decipher their “inner language” to help them make sense of their own inner workings -- and how to help their families understand this language as well!

Twice-exceptional kids, with their “super strength” and “super stretch,” and how to help them find a balance.

And how my own (late) dyslexia diagnosis helped me better understand myself and my students -- truly a game-changer!

You can listen to it, here:  The See-Saw of Highly Sensitive Kiddos "

Thanks for listening,

& bright wishes to all during this tough time~

George Bailey

You, Me, & George Bailey...

December 2019

Yeah, I know--Hollywood claims it's a wonderful life.  Even the kids like to say "it's all good."  But we know the truth...and so does George Bailey.  Life is hard.  You get the crap kicked out of you and go deaf in one ear.  Everyone else goes off to college and you stand on the sidelines.  It doesn't matter what the geography--life happens, and it isn't always easy.

But here's the thing:  this classic movie, my all-time favorite, isn't about winners.  No way.  It's about the guy with grit who still ends up losing everything on Christmas Eve, including almost his life.  Despair comes knocking even in beautiful Bedford Falls.  We all know that, in the depths of our hearts.

Deep inside each of us is still an explorer, a dreamer, a believer--someone who wants to travel, create new things, extend beyond their little town or the tightly built boxes of the system. But along the way we get obligations, in frustrations, in detours and desperations.  We make a wrong turn or two--or so we think.

But this is the tiny truth that burns bright each year in this movie:  your life matters.  It touches people you can't even imagine.  It brings light to those you have no clue.  I can promise you that.  You may feel as if you've missed the boat, the plane and the train.  But right where you're standing is offering grace and goodness to folks who need Your Spirit.  I believe that.  And it's the greatest gift any of us can ever give--or receive...To show up, right where we are (and where we haven't yet reached) and remember that, with all of its scars and sorrows, it's a wonderful life...when we have each other.

"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

-Clarence, Angel

teen girl

What Students Need--

Sept / Nov 2019

It's embarrassing to discover that this post of initial ideas was accidentally "published" before I'd even drafted out coherent thoughts--and I'm only now discovering this fact, several months November!  I guess that's a sign of how busy this fall has been after a move back to New York.  But I'm getting settled in a place some folks call "Borough #6," which (--having lived in Brooklyn for over 13 years--) of course is a term I love.  Westchester is a territory that I didn't know existed really, and there is much here to explore, including new schools.  In October, I attended four open houses in one weekend, as I'm heading towards the finish line of visiting 75 schools in five years to earn my re-certification as an educational planner with AICEP, the American Institute of Certified Educational Planners.

That said, I was on the phone this morning with an admissions rep at a small boarding school in the Hudson Valley, and we were talking about the very theme that I started back in September, "What Students Need."  One of the key ingredients is consistency.  Another is safe spaces.  And a third core reality is community.  I think you'll find similar thoughts in the articles provided below--and if you'd like to connect about what your particular kiddo most needs, don't hesitate to reach out for a consult.

This is a beautiful article about what teens need at school--and there are a few gems here that just might surprise you...In this link, we dive deeper into the relationship between teachers and students, which be can be complicated, but I love the reflections of this  high school English teacher, who of course seems like a kindred spirit.  Yet another blog highlights the exact ingredients I cited above, and echoes the message of our keynote speaker at the national annual conference for Educational Therapists in Redwood City this past October.  More than any other factor for successful students (and what every individual of any age truly needs) is the involvement of a "charismatic adult."  We all know this, but sometimes it's important to have the science backing the 'secret sauce' that binds us together and launches lives:  it's the presence of a person who truly cares.  That individual can be a bus driver, someone in the cafeteria, the school secretary, a librarian...Are there faces surfacing in your memory of people who saw you, really saw you, and kept you on their emotional radar? 

Our lives are chaotic and compressed, but at the end of the day, if we pause to look at these links, we'd realize that our kids actually already know what is best.  Let's do all we can to invest in the 'little things' that make such a big difference--with most of all, a renewed belief in ourselves.  You may underestimate the power of your presence, but let this be a reminder that each of the small gestures you give create tiny moments of connection that become the super-glue of every school, and the tie that binds our very society.


April Organization--

April 29,2019

I've been doing some major "spring cleaning" in an area of my life that I've nicknamed "The Hurricane Shed."  It was filled with quickly-packed boxes, because I literally moved to my current home just a few hours before Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina.  I was grateful for this option for extra storage, but--yes, it was definitely impacted by water last fall, and I needed to rescue what I could from total disintegration this spring.

I've taught my clients that this feat took (all told) a full twelve days--over several months of sorting and organizing.  Luckily, I had divided the shed into three parts already.  The right side was business materials, the left side was personal scrapbooks & letters, and the middle was holiday decorations.  Every time the sun shone this spring, I would trek out to The Hurricane Shed and bring in boxes of so many memories...and wade through what would stay and what needed to go....It was actually a  long overdue mission that was many years in the making--and a task involving enormous avoidance.  (Sometimes it's too easy to say, "What's in the shed, stays in the shed" and deny the mess that we've so carefully disguised...)

Needless to say, Marie Kondo was my guide, and I would watch her program on Netlix as inspiration.  And--although I became horribly sick at one point in the process--I can report that the finished product does *spark joy*.  I'm relieved that I now have everything worth taking into the future carefully stowed and properly labeled in sturdy plastic containers from Staples, and that the rest is being recycled or given away. 

But more than this overhaul of space and stuff, I now have renewed an appreciation of the journey -and- have made my peace with anything that was weighing me down. There's nothing like having a clear map of our landscape and knowing just how to navigate the details of our lives going forward.  We can gain huge control of our circumstances through sorting and sifting--whether it's a backpack, a desk, or a whole hurricane shed.  But here's the thing:  we can't do it all at once, usually.  It helps to divide the tasks and then give ourselves rewards for each stage of the upheaval.  I had small victory parties with each weekend that I made progress--and now this Friday, I am driving to South Carolina to celebrate the culmination of this final completion with a long-overdue spring break on Pawley's Island with my lovely niece. 

If you (or someone in your family) need help reaching a Herculean finish line, don't hesitate to reach out.  I'd love to help make a plan, smile with pride when you make progress, and cheer when you finally claim victory.


Lessons Learned (aka, March Madness !)

March 16th, 2019

One of the (many) hats I wear is that of a coach.  Not the kind on the basketball court--the kind in the arena of executive functioning.  The skills we need to organize our lives and reach goals are the ones that sometimes matter the most.  In fact, John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, has stated that, "The single greatest predictor of academic success is executive function.  It even trumps IQ."  But sometimes it's the coach who stumbles more than the student...

Here's the lesson I learned during March Madness, while working with one of my student athletes:  semantics matter.  And when we're talking about following directions, they can make or break our road to results.  Let me explain.  One of my strategies with this high school kid is to use study hall as a time to regroup, connect the dots, organize papers, review notes, and plan for the next big challenge.  We set up ten tasks that he would walk through each day, and one of them was to check his email for correspondence from colleges, teacher/handouts, and other important announcements/updates from the district.  (One thing that universities complain about is the fact that kids miss the chance to apply for scholarships, internships and leadership opportunities because they don't log into their email accounts!  And even before students are accepted to college, those schools are collecting info about their "demonstrated interest."  Opening email correspondence is one of those categories that can affect acceptance.  A hot topic, yes.  But I digress...)

At any rate, every time I've reviewed this routine with my client, he has confirmed that each of our "Take Ten" steps is being completed during study hall, every day.  Only--alas.  Several balls were dropped this spring which resulted in some missing work and low scores.  What had happened with our wonderful system?!  Well, the question, "Are you checking your email?" should have been rephrased as, "Have you *READ* your email?"  Big difference.  Huge!

I was humbled to discover that just one word can make all the difference.  My student had been "checking" his email.  But he hadn't always or thoroughly been clicking into the messages to fully read and comprehend them--and then apply the information--of what they communicated and/or requested.  It was an honest mistake.  Kind of.   We both messed up.  He had been in a rush of overwhelm and perhaps avoidance midst lots of assignments and being sick.  I had made the assumption that checking meant comprehending.  That's a whole other animal entirely.

Folks, this is the same thing as, "Do you spend time with your kids?"  The answer could most definitely be yes.  The better question is, "Do you spend time with your kids without technology?"  Ha.  You get my drift.  We are all on a learning curve.  As a coach of executive functioning skills (and former high school English teacher who should have known better) this was mine.  Here's to lessons learned during March Madness, and a commitment to continue practicing the delicate art of motivating our young people to go the extra mile--but up the mountain, not around it!  ;)


Meeting Myself--on the mat

February 28th, 2019

They say that to start any new habit, you need to do it every day for at least 28 in a row.  So when I got the opportunity to sign-up for 30 days of yoga to start the New Year with my favorite online instructor, Adrienne Mishler, I took the leap-- and said YES.

I'd had the opportunity before, but "when the student is ready" (as they say) and perhaps it was that this 30-day yoga journey for launching 2019 was called "Dedicate."  There was something palpable in that title.  I knew I may not be able to do every pose perfectly, but I could dedicate a portion of every day to trying...

So even though I was nervous that I wouldn't follow through and complete this task of dedication, I set the stage for success.  Taking a beautiful journal that had never been used, given as a birthday gift from my aunt, I lit a pink candle from my sister (a Christmas present) which she gave each of my family as a reminder to "shine."  Each day, I would place the match from my candle lighting in a glass jar and write a reflection of that day's dedication in my small journal.  Some entries were just one or two words--and others were deeper dives into where my heart and soul went on these mornings.

I have to say--even when I traveled to Richmond for a weekend--I took my mat and candle with me to my Air B&B and found myself getting up before 6AM to keep this promise.  Opening up Adrienne's video each morning gave me a sense of peace and possibility that was both humbling and inspiring.  It wasn't just the athletic endorphins that motivated this new habit...I found myself settling into my Highly Sensitive skin in ways that were truly healing.

I am happy to share that I did meet myself on the mat each day in January--and that I continue to turn to that place of solitude and strength as I continue to unfold into February.  No, it's not as stringent as my January routine, but this experiment of dedication has brought me to a new place of self-care in my journey.

One thing about this online yoga practice is that all I need are a mat and the internet--well, and perhaps that sweet candle that lights the way.  We don't have to do something elaborate to open new doors of possibility.  So I invite you to create your own dedication:  how would you like to honor yourself this year?  I am here to support that new ritual and celebrate the effort to create the space to breathe and just we travel together into 2019.

“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming.”

-Aadil Palkhivala

young woman

...and the award goes to--You.

January 31st, 2019

I recently saw a woman receive an award for being...herself.

At the recent Golden Globes, a whole new celebration was created, The Carol Burnett Award.  And for the first time in my memory, the woman who inspired the recognition--was actually given the award, while still alive.  It was a joyous moment, and it got me thinking...

Is there any other recognition we really want--or should aspire to earn?  And yet being ourselves--authentically, completely--is perhaps the hardest task of all.

There were not many models of comedy or improv for the young Carol Burnett.  She had to make it up as she went along.  But she kept experimenting and risking until somehow her quirky ear-pulling talent won over even the harshest critics.

You see, I know there were nay-sayers.  And I knew it before reading this synopsis from ABC:  "Burnett's story is a classic rags-to-riches tale. Her difficult childhood was marked by alcoholic parents, their divorce when she was 4 years old, her upbringing in a rundown, one-room apartment with Nanny, and the fantasy life she created for herself on the rooftop of her apartment building."  But I knew that Carol struggled because a) she is a woman.  And b) no one gets this kind of recognition without fighting some demons.

If you google her life now, you only see the awards.  But I want you to look into the eyes of the young woman in the picture.  She doesn't know the path.  She can't predict the process.  But talk about spinning straw into gold. 

You can too.  Yet if it's true, I have a secret to tell you.  That path and process won't look like anyone else.  So here's to a one and only YOU.  May 2019 be a year of delightful discovery of just what that already-won award may mean....

"The privilege of a lifetime is being who you A*R*E."

-Joseph Campbell


Hope is Alive ~

December 21st, 2018

On the darkest day of the year, it only seems right to send out a reminder that hope is alive.

It's been quite a year but I've been waiting to share a story to lift our spirits.  It's a simple tale about a school crossing guard.  Here's a moment that changed Sylvia Boorstein's life:

I encourage you to take this message to heart:  you don't have to change the world, you don't have to be a superhero.  Just show up.  Grab an umbrella, notice a child, and walk a soul to the other side of the street.  Take care of one little corner, and it will make a difference with ripples that never stop.

As we gather together during this holiday season, I want you to know that tiny acts of kindness have saved my life.  May you trust that your presence on this planet serves a purpose, and may we hold hands while crossing the street into this New Year--knowing that we are all in this journey together.

With wishes of brightness and joy--especially in this present darkness.

spring tree


April 5, 2018

It's a bit embarrassing to admit that my last post was in October--and now it's April...But I've been feeling the same kind of overwhelm that I expressed then.  It hasn't been easy imagining picking up the pen, as they say...

But the other day I had to take a break from work, and I was standing in line at the post office.  My usual tendency to "stay on track" by checking my phone was complete, as for once I was caught up on email. So I lifted my head from technology and took a minute to look out the window--when I discovered TREES...WITH LEAVES!  They had literally appeared overnight with a green-gold hue of spring surprise that took my breath away.  I stood in awe of the scene outside, grateful for having to wait a moment or two to mail my package.

This is one of the reasons that I left my beautiful Big Apple in New York--for more nature.  Now in Chapel Hill, I find myself pausing in the late-night breezes when I take out the trash at night, just to listen to the whispering pines and drink a sky full with a blue moon.  As an HSP, I know that nature is an incredibly important ingredient for stability and emotional well-being--and now there are studies that indicate that beautiful landscapes are valuable for other facets or our lives:

* Nature decreases stress.

* Nature decreases brooding.

* Nature decreases attention/fatigue.

* Nature increases creativity.

* Nature increases generosity & kindness.

* Nature increases vitality.

I once assigned a walk outside to my students in an Honors Lit class.  These juniors were studying Emerson and Thoreau with me and I said, "Okay, your homework this weekend is to go play in the leaves!"  They thought I was joking.  And when they realized I was 'for real,' these hard-working scholars replied, "You're going to have to write a note home.  Our parents will never believe us.  We're not allowed to go traipsing out in nature just for fun."  It was my turn to be aghast--and heartbroken.  How (just how?) can you teach the essence of Transcendentalism without experiencing the beauty of the natural world?

Today, I would have the art of science as my defense.  Here is an article that provides evidence-based research and "uppity studies" to justify what we all know is common sense magic:  nature and flowers and butterflies and bees are not just pretty ornaments outside:  they are our partners in health and happiness.  You can read more here.

And if you require a clifton prescription for a walk under the cherry blossoms, just stop by the Clifton Corner.  I'll be sitting outside on a break, lifting my head to the sun, listening to the birds--and happy to help you seize the day.

"As long as this exists, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts, I cannot be unhappy.  The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature..." -Anne Frank


Overwhelm in October--

October 20, 2017

Well, it's embarrassing to admit, but here's the truth:  I haven't written on this blog since....June 15th.  My first excuse was going to be that I took off a month (or two) for summer endeavors, which happened to be surprisingly demanding.  Then my second reason was a construction of a familiar phrase by all educators, "The beginning of the school year is just crazy-busy!"

While both of these scenarios are true, there is a deeper reason that I have not posted online....and it has to do with being a Highly Sensitive Person, as Dr. Elaine Aron has termed the trait, or an HSP.  You see, the world and all of its recent "turbulations" has been most upsetting and I have been, quite honestly, overwhelmed with the pain on our planet.

Every time I thought we'd catch a breath, another event unfolded with a ferocity that floored me--there wasn't a single natural disaster or national tragedy that didn't touch the lives of individuals I know well and deeply love.  We are all so incredibly and intricately connected...

But I am here, especially for our Highly Sensitive Kids.  I understand that they are encountering depths and breadths of feeling in the midst of these turbulent times, and need nuanced support and expert intervention.

If you'd like to learn more about what that could look like for your kiddo, please contact me.  Or if you're a school administrator who is concerned about the level of anxiety in your halls during the day and the hearts of your staff, let's talk.

In the meantime, here's a small and simple thought:  if you're reading this, just take a minute to breathe in love and exhale fear.  Three times.  Then pause.  Look at the sunlight in your window or listen to the rain falling outside.  I promise that in fifteen seconds, you're going to have a little more energy and a lilt of inspiration.  We need you here--and I'm grateful that we're on this journey Together.

Standing strong (though sometimes silent...)

here on The Hill--



The Grand Central Station--of your mind...

June 15th, 2017

Earlier this month, I focused my "Spotlight on Learning" at WCHL on the different parts of the brain.  While we tend to give a lot of focus to the higher functions of the cerebrum, we can often underestimate the other sections that are pretty important too--like the brain stem, which connects to the spinal cord. It is the lowest, most primitive area of the human brain—but without it, we would be lost.

The brain stem has many basic functions, including regulation of heart rate, breathing, sleeping, and eating. But it also plays a key role in conduction. All information relayed from the body to the cerebrum and cerebellum, and vice versa, must traverse through the brain stem.

I compare the brain stem to Grand Central Station, in New York City:   it’s where everyone and everything meets. This is the place where you connect to the Metro North for a weekend out in the countryside—or it’s the portal to a million places in the Big Apple.  Lots of signals are running in and out of the brain stem, just like travelers in this rail system.  And they all have someplace to go.  Pretty cool.

Tim Birkhead, author of Bird Sense:  What It's Like to Be a Bird (2012), explains it this way:  “Although we tend to think of the brain as a discrete organ - a lump of squidgy tissue - it is better to think of it as part of an elaborate network of nervous tissue that reaches out to every single part of the body.”

The brain stem is the portal to celebrate every single part of our intricate mind~!


"Tiny Touches"

May 15th, 2017

In my private practice here in Chapel Hill, I read a lot exciting discoveries in neuroscience, and study a great deal of information about positive psychology; I also teach some amazing tools of Social-Emotional Learning.  But, especially because May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, I also want to acknowledge the very real underbelly of anxiety, overwhelm, and intensity that is present in the lives of our youth.  

I have been known to say, “It’s never been harder to be a kid” and now I’ve been adding the other side of that coin as well:  “It’s never been more challenging to be a parent.”  In fact, I think it’s the hardest job on the planet.  Today's issues are complex, but whether it’s a situation of addressing test anxiety, prescribing medication for ADHD, or preventing a panic attack, our society tends to default to a “fix it” approach. We want to find a solution, and move on.

Some solutions are possible—but with kids, it’s often the minute we find relief with one thing, another situation surfaces....and the bar keeps moving.  So I'd like to offer a perspective from one of my little Brooklyn*Buddas—a six grader in Park Slope.  "Andy" doesn’t particularly enjoy learning…it’s drudgery, even at the progressive private school in his cool neighborhood.  But—Andy adores soccer.  He lives to play this game.  So I would always try to weave this passion of the sport into our sessions together.  One day, Andy taught me one of the keys to success in soccer:   it’s called “tiny touches.”  Andy’s coach instructed the team that the more they are able to make contact with the ball, the better confidence and command each athlete will have on the field.

Kurt Aschermann, in his book, Coaching Kids to Play Soccer, explains:  “Simply defined, dribbling consists of 'tiny touches' of the ball, usually in close quarters.  When dribbling, as in the performance of other skills of the game, players must be able to use all parts of the foot—the inside, outside, top, and sole.  Your players must be able to change speed, change direction, and dribble with their heads up.  There are only two times when soccer players should have their heads down:  when the player first touches the ball, and when it is last touched.  Keeping the head up is essential because otherwise your players will not be able to see their teammates, defenders, or the goal.”

How does this skill relate to mental health?  Well….'tiny touches' must continue throughout the game.  It isn’t enough to do them once or twice and then score—this technique has to become consistent and constant.  'Tiny touches' must become routine, almost like breathing.  If we were to approach support in mental health like “tiny touches” by providing many opportunities of education and encouragement, think how amazing our world might be—and how strong we could help our kids become. 

It's not a solution, but it is an amazing approach....and it just might be a key to winning the game.



May 2nd, 2017

This week on WCHL, I will highlight an article by Sheryl Sandberg on the loss of her husband.  It was published last week in the New York Times, titled, “How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a Loss.”

Sandberg says that she learned everything she could to help her son and daughter recover their footing after the loss of their dad, and her lessons are poignant. One of them is that children need to feel a sense of belonging. Sandberg reflects:  “...extreme harm and deprivation can impede a child’s intellectual, social, emotional and academic progress.  As a society, we owe all our children safety, support, opportunity and help finding a way forward.  We can start by showing children that they matter.

Sociologists define 'mattering' as the belief that other people notice you, care about you and rely on you.  It’s the answer to a vital question that all children ask about their place in the world starting as toddlers, and continuing into and beyond adolescence: Do I make a difference to others?

When the answer is no, kids feel rejected and alone.  They become more prone to self-destructive ('Hurting myself isn’t a big deal, since I don’t count anyway') and antisocial behaviors ('I might be doing something bad, but at least I’ve got your attention').  Others withdraw.”

You may be surprised to learn how I taught my students that they mattered when I taught high school English.  It was rare when a student crossed the line, but if that happened, he or she would get a detention after school—although never with another classmate.  He or she would come alone, and the first thing I would do is have them fulfill a chore—maybe it was washing the board, straightening desks, picking up trash, stapling papers...I had a lot that needed to be accomplished before I could leave, and on those days, they helped out.  Next, I would have them write a letter home about what happened that day—and trust me, I taught the writing process then too:  it had to be three paragraphs, with proper grammar. The first one explained what went wrong, the second addressed how they would prevent it from happening in the future, and the third outlined new goals for the rest of the quarter.  We would both sign it, and I required a parent’s signature on my desk--first thing the next morning.

You would think that these kids would resent missing football practice or spending time with friends or getting their usual ride home on the bus home, right?  Well, not exactly….You see, those same students would eventually, ultimately, stick their head in my door after school again some day.  And you know what they would inevitably say?  "Hey, Miss C—ya need anything?"  It still makes me smile.  I loved those moments.  My kids knew they mattered to me...and that their contribution to our learning community mattered.  A lot.  And I hope they never forgot.


The Buddy Bench

April 20th, 2017

"Kindness begins with me."  Yes.  But in what ways can we teach our children to reach out to others, when they might feel isolated themselves?  Do you know about The Buddy Bench? It was first started by Christian Bucks in 2013, who was preparing to move across the ocean to a new school in Germany, but nervous he'd get left out.   And that's not an anomaly, even when kids are on home-turf.  Did you know that 80% of kids interviewed in a study admitted to feeling alienated at some point in their school journey?  Christian was nervous about being "the new kid on the block," especially at recess.  He knew what it was like to be lonely, so he reframed his fear and created a safe space for kids to sit--and for other children to have the opportunity to ask each other to join in their fun on the playground.  It's called The Buddy Bench, and it's become a sensation and tradition across the country, with over 2,000 benches now in schools, preventing loneliness and fostering new friendships.

As a certified coach in Social & Emotional Intelligence, I couldn't be more proud of this kiddo.  And--on this 18th Anniversary of Columbine--I honestly can't imagine a better way to prevent future tragedies....It's difficult to revisit that awful event in our nation's history, but as we know, violence in schools happens much too often.  The reasons are complicated and multifaceted, but in research for my Spotlight on Learning with WCHL this week, I stumbled on some themes of warning signs for kids in danger of committing future violence, provided by the APA.  I'd like to share them again here:

* early childhood abuse of neglect

* having been a victim of bullying

* withdrawal from friends and activities

* regularly feeling rejected and/or alone

* feeling constantly disrespected

Do you see how having a Buddy Bench can improve school climate?  ((And what if we had a Buddy Bench in board rooms? )) Christian, who was initially nervous about going to school overseas is now realizing that he can make a difference because "kindness is contagious."  He reflects, “Amazing things happen when you share your hopes and dreams...and you may end up helping more people than you can ever imagine.”

By being a buddy to the lonely or the lost, kindness can begin with each of us.  Sometimes we just need to build a bridge over troubled water--or provide a bench in our own back yard.

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson Day~!

April 10th, 2017

Well, sports fans--it's a big time!  Last week, the UNC Tarheels became NCAA Champions with their Redemption in the Desert, and all of us here in Chapel Hill beat with hearts that were Carolina blue.

This week, we look towards a very special occasion on Saturday, April 15th, 2017:  the 70th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first game--and breaking the color barrier in baseball.  As a former Brooklynite, this story is near-and-dear to my heart because it epitomizes the values of equality and diversity that brought me to that borough so long ago....But in addition to becoming the first African-American to ever play in the majors, Jackie brought quite an impressive resume:  did you know that he attended UCLA and lettered in baseball, basketball, football, and track?!  There's no doubt that #42 was a force of athletic talent. 

As we know, Jackie was also a man of incredible integrity.  As I wrote this word (one of my favorites--) the letters grit leapt to the screen....So interesting.  Jackie Robinson faced tough challenges and taunts on the field--and heartbreaking alienation on the road.  It's hard to believe that this superstar was not allowed to eat at restaurants with his teammates or stay in the same hotels where they slept.  It's hard for me to even type that reality.  I don't want to believe it's true...and yet, we must remember this part of the story--now more than ever.

So on Saturday, in Dodger Stadium, a larger-than-life statue will be unveiled, in honor of this hero.  And we will celebrate this amazing man's journey.  But I'd also like to highlight the ways his memory still lives today.  Did you know that the Jackie Robinson Foundation is funding the college education of over 30 scholars?  Not only that, but JRF provides a curriculum of "42 Strategies for Success" to inspire and empower young people to reach for their dreams--including an initiative called Extra Innings for Graduate Fellows.

There's no doubt that Jackie Robinson created a new canvas for all of us in sports--but with the power of this Foundation, we have only begun to see a glimpse of his legacy in learning.


World Health Day Campaign

April 7th, 2017

As we begin a new month, April is abuzz with activity:  from Poetry Month to Jazz Appreciation; from baseball season to Stress Awareness--there's a lot going on!

This week on WCHL, I focused on Autism Awareness with the release of Sesame Street's character, Julia; Maya Angelou's birthday; opening day in baseball; and the fact that Ella Fitzgerald is the featured musician for this year's JAM (Jazz Appreciation Month).  But there's perhaps no more important message than that of the World Health Organization on Friday:  because the theme of their 2017 campaign is preventing and treating depression.

Did you know that the leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds is suicide?  This fact was brought home at the recent conference, "Transforming Lives:  Overcoming Stigma in Mental Illness," sponsored by our own Faith Connections at St. Thomas More Catholic Church this past Friday.  What was especially poignant to me, as a former educator, were the four young women from East Chapel Hill High School who spoke with courage and conviction about their own journeys of encountering challenges with mental illness.  Some of them dealt with issues of OCD, one is fighting an eating disorder, and another is working to befriend the gremlins of anxiety--but you would never guess it.  Each of them was beautifully poised and incredibly articulate.

I recently wrote in my quarterly newsletter about high-functioning depression, and I'd like to offer a highlight of that column here again today: 

I have learned that "high-functioning depression" can masquerade in the least likely candidates....Like Amanda Leventhal, a college student at the University of Missouri, who lives an all-American fairy tale. She has had the courage to speak out about her mostly hidden journey, writing that we can often miss the overachievers: "We don’t see the student with the 4.0 GPA. We don’t see the student who’s active in choir and theater or a member of the National Honor Society. We don’t see the student who takes on leadership roles in a religious youth group." Dr. Landau of Brown University understands the subtle symptoms of perfectionism that plague students like Amanda and coaches them to recognize that they are expert caretakers--of everyone but themselves.

Although I knew from other studies that young women tend to "internalize" their angst (vs. boys, who often "externalize" their frustration--) but recently heard about a study on NPR that depression among teen girls has risen substantially since 2011, partially due (researchers think) to pressures from social media. Of course this is not a gender-specific problem: the meeting I recently attended at Faith Connections in February highlighted the journey of a mother, Betsy Rhodes, who lost her (gregarious, talented) son to suicide. Her program, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, is called "Talk Saves Lives."

What is important about the WHO initiative and the young women at Faith Connections is that they are giving voice to this silent struggle, and helping us to reach out with compassion and courage.

Midst so much going on in April, let's take some time to have a talk with our young people about their journey:  the one who looks most "together" might be the one who needs you most of all.


Perfectionism....A Parenting Support Circle

March 29, 2017

Join us at InterGifted for a workshop that offers support and direction for parents of Gifted, Sensitive, & Twice-Exceptional Kids. 

Parents of 2e & HSP kids can have their own roots of perfectionism and struggle to reconcile an inner picture of impossible standards with the outer reality of their flawed family.  Join me for this two-session parenting circle which will help you explore how to manage feelings of frustration, limitation, and sometimes alienation related to parenting your non-neurotypical children. Learn tools of Social & Emotional Literacy to help navigate and negotiate the journey of your family and bring more harmony to your home.

In Session #1, we will explore what perfectionism is: how it shows up in ourselves as individuals--and now as parents. We'll do some team-building with other participants and exploratory writing to set the stage for growth and change.

In Session #2, we will look at some specific strategies and tools of Social-Emotional Learning to help both our collective family and our individual journey as parents.

Dates:  April 22 + May 13, 2017, 18.00 Central European Summer Time on Skype. Sessions are 75mn long.

Cost:  $75 USD per session.

children laughing

WCHL:  Week Two--From Nature to Nurture

March 27, 2017

This week on WCHL during the "Spotlight on Learning," we shifted from the power of nature to the importance of nurture.  One of the key voices in this exploration was Dr. Daniel Siegel, and his seminal work, The Whole Brain Child:  Twelve Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive.  A paradox of parenting is that, in order to help support our kids' growth, we must nurture our own well-being.  Seigel writes, "“As children develop, their brains "mirror" their parent's brain. In other words, the parent's own growth and development, or lack of those, impact the child's brain. As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well.”

We also explored the importance of social connections:  did you know that being cut off from friends or excluded from events triggers the same part of the brain as physical pain?  These angles are explored in an article in the New York Times by Niobe Way called "Middle Schools Need to Focus on Caring and Connections."  Nurturing those social connections and a sense of communal safety for our middle school students is their #1 need during these tumultuous (and changing) years.

For high school students, helping our sons and daughters develop an inner compass that guides them towards authentic decisions is paramount.  But that tool takes trial and error to navigate and negotiate.  We nurture them best when approaching "mistakes" as opportunities for curiosity, creativity, and courage.  You might be surprised to learn how much your high school kiddo thinks that a misstep now means that failure is fatal.  Our years down the road offer more perspective for the marathon that is life--but they need the support to see that life really is a long-distance sport, not a sprint.  Our friend, Dr. Daniel Siegel, gently reminds us:  “Too often we forget that discipline really means to teach, not to punish. A disciple is a student, not a recipient of behavioral consequences.”

With our Highly Sensitive Kids, nurturing their special spirit is one of the greatest gifts we can offer them on the journey of individuality.   You might think that they are "wasting time" when staring outside the window, getting lost in a video game, or puttering on an instrument in the garage.  Imagine if Bill Gates' parents had prevented him from playing around with his school's computer to practice programming a game of  tic-tac-toe as a teen.  Dr. Elaine Aron, who first coined the term HSP, writes that "...HSCs have a tremendous amount to offer the world. But they do need special handling. They need to be appreciated, to have their special needs and sometimes intense reactions and behaviors understood..."

We end this week with a focus on the family on Friday, and a little ingredient called dopamine.  It's the neurotransmitter that is released when we encounter a moment of novelty or surprise--and it can really boost connections in our immediate tribe.  Nurturing little adventures and explorations are not icing for our family on special occasions:  they're essential every day.  So let's find some time to celebrate the weekend and just the small joys of being together:  it can be through making an ice-cream sundae or a scavenger hunt--you decide.  Just don't doubt the benefits:   the bonds that are strengthened through dopamine dumps reap rich rewards with our relationships and our ability to risk and grow!  For many of us here in NC, next week is spring break, so you'll have some fresh opportunities to explore creating fun adventures together.

Here's to a new season of nurturing our kids, our families, and each other.  And thank you, WCHL, for nurturing this opportunity for me to share this spotlight on learning with our community!


WCHL: Week One--A Focus on Nature

March 20, 2017

"Come forth into the light of things,

and let nature be your teacher ~"

-William Wordsworth

This week on WCHL, we are launching a new two-minute "Spotlight on Learning," to be broadcast each weekday at 2:40PM. The theme for this week is nature, and how it can support students' growth. Here are some highlights:

* Children need time to play in order for their brains to develop to their full potential, but only 4.1% of states require recess today. No wonder our kids can become restless, disinterested or come home drained...Remember when your mom used to say, "Go outside and play!" It's not the same world today, but there is an organization right here in Chapel Hill that provides a safe and engaging environment for kids: Learning Outside.

* For middle and high school kids, it's important to know that (according to Psychology Today) time in nature can help to alleviate symptoms of ADHD. If your son or daughter is an HSP, it's especially important to detox from the sterile school setting and have access to the beauty and simplicity of nature. David Sobel writes, “If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, 'the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings' " (Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education).

If you would like to learn more about "green therapy" and its power to heal and support our youth in the journey of living and learning, here are some additional resources that I shared on the air:

Therapeutic Adventure: 64 Activities for Therapy Outdoors, by Roger Day

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv

Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality, by Eva M. Selhub

Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-being, by Esther M. Sternberg, MD

I am so grateful to WCHL for providing the opportunity to share this spotlight on learning, and look forward to connecting with you next week!


Launching into Spring!

March 14, 2017

I am thrilled (and a little nervous!) to present my first week ​of radio spotlights on education with WCHL this March 20th, the first official day of spring.

We will begin this new project with a focus on the value of nature: how it can help students tap into their inner wisdom, improve self-regulation, and provide a much-needed reprieve for Highly Sensitive Students.  Stay tuned for future posts!

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