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Lead from the Start: August 2008

Friday, August 29, 2008

Preach Ms. Pappas!

Writer emeritus, the original Ms. (Sophia) Pappas wrote an Op-Ed to McCain that has been posted on Inside Pre-K. Here is just a pinch...
Perhaps his running mate, Alaska governor Sarah Palin, will encourage him to (increase federal support for pre-k) do so. Federal pre-k incentives could help Alaska start a state-funded pre-k program, and Palin has proposed increasing her state's investment in Head Start.
She also writes...
Pre-k also fits well with McCain’s broad education framework of innovation, choice, and accountability. At its core, pre-k empowers parents to provide their children with rich educational and social experiences during the most critical period of brain development. States are building voluntary programs that let families choose from a wide range of pre-k providers, including public schools, Head Start centers, community-based child care, and in some states faith-based institutions.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What good readers do

Check out Karissa's new post on Inside Pre-k. It includes a list of what "Good Readers" do created by her students.

Good readers:
read because they like to
read because they want to learn something
read because they like books
read when they want to rest
read when they want to laugh
read because they wrote it
read because their mom and dad do
read because there are boxes of books
read because there are Sponge Bob books


Kiddie-Carnival of Education

Welcome to the Kiddie Carnival!

Entries for the 187th edition of The Carnival Of Education (Hosted this week here at Lead from the Start.) are due. Please use this handy submission form.) Submissions should be received no later than 6:00 PM (Eastern) 3:00 PM (Pacific) September 2nd. Contributions should include your site's name, the title of the post, and the post's URL if possible.

Visit last week's midway, hosted by SharpBrains, right here.

Photo from Padawan_1970's Flickr site


Thursday, August 21, 2008

This I Believe MEME...

My friend and mentor Bill Ferriter tagged me a while ago before I moved to Inside Pre-K to participate in a blog MEME. He asked me to write a post based on the National Public Radio seriesThis I Believewhere individuals share essays they have written that enumerate their philosophies.

This I Believe...

Education is the thread that creates the tapestry of America. Teachers spin the strong yarn of many colors, shades, and tones of America’s people by pulling, stretching, and expanding students’ minds. The lives of America’s people, woven together, are varied and bright, and when seen from afar, create a tapestry that shows the most important philosophy of the American experiment: possibility. The tapestries of countries without a strong educational system are pictures of what has always been. Poor farmers’ children grow up to be poor farmers, factory workers’ children grow up to be factory workers. Because of teachers, these children can grow up to be inventors, scientists, or teachers. But most importantly, no matter where the children come from, they are able to pursue happiness through gainful work that contributes to society.

I have seen the truth of this philosophy in the community where I teach. My former pre-k student Zasheen’s mother came from a family that did not value education. She works in a low wage job that she does not value, because when she was a teenager, she saw a lack of possibility in the pursuit of education. But, Zasheen’s mother chose to emphasize the importance of education as a means to a brighter future by enrolling Zasheen and his brother in pre-k. Now Zasheen’s thread is strong--each new teacher contributing to its strength--but it can be broken by any teacher along the way, especially in the early years. The importance of a high quality education to the thread of Zasheen’s life, as it is passed from teacher to teacher, is part of his mother’s dream.

Because of the American right to education for all, teachers can expand our horizons to the wider world. Pre-k is a part of that right, the right to choose what is best for our children. We are not bound by our personal histories or those of our families and our communities. Because of education, we are able to see past what we have always known. The tapestry of education shows us what can be. In every child, America’s teachers spin as strong a yarn as they know how. Each teacher in a child’s educational career adds their personal strength to the yarn that will become a child’s future. It is up to the child to determine where he or she will fit in the tapestry of America, but it is teachers who make it possible to have a choice.

This I Believe

Uh, What's A Meme?

Here is a brief description of what a MEME is.

Some of you out there don't know a meme from a hole in the ground but that's ok. I'll bring you up to speed.

The short definition is "a unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another."

However, that definition is incomplete as it relates to an Internet meme which "occurs when something relatively unknown becomes increasingly popular, often quite suddenly, through the mass propagation of media content made feasible by the Internet" technology.

Here is the challenge: A Pre-K Now Mini-MEME. Please leave a one sentence comment about what you believe over at the INSIDE PRE-K blog and join in the fun. It could be about Pre-K, teaching, learning, family, children, or life. It can be a long sentence or a short sentence. You could even make it really hard and write just six words like the members of the Teacher Leaders Network did for Teacher Magazine recently.

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Will Michelle Rhee become the next education heroine?

I read this morning about Michelle Rhee's reform efforts in D.C. and couldn't help but be reminded of my experience in a school that has been turned-around by a "Turn-around" specialist in the past three years. The process was painful, exciting and scary. I also have the same thoughts about what will happen next as I do about Rhee being successful. What will happen to school systems that are failing. Will "turn-around" specialists be hired to transform school systems? What if they don't have as much authority as Rhee has been given? Read about it here: In Second Year, Rhee Is Facing Major Tests
She seems poised to become the first modern day education heroine to really change a failing system. I wonder if the slash & burn tactics are necessary or just her style. Will the tactics work or will the same old habits grow back like weeds eventually choking the system as it has for the past 30 years. I also hope that her reforms stick when someone makes her queen of all education.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How to Raise an Evil Genius

This video shows exactly what preschool is not about but it is hilarious. It reminds us to consider the goals of preschool and education as a whole.

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Picking a pre-K Curriculum

Over at Inside Pre-K Jennifer has posted a response to me response to Sarah Mead.
Read and comment.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Local boy makes it big!

Thanks to Alexander at This Week in Education I learned about what is happening in my own state.

One of my favorite politicians, Mark Warner, will be the Keynote speaker at the Democratic Convention. If people knew what Warner did for this state they would have elected him president. Too bad we didn't have a chance. I think it was because of that scary New York Times portrait of him.

photo from wikipedia


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Moving Inside Pre-K

I am very excited to announce that I have begun writing for Inside Pre-K. I will continue to publish here but I will focus more on teacher leadership and perspectives on education issues here and most pre-k content will move to Inside Pre-K and will occasionally be cross posted here.

Here is a link to my second post: my first was a cross post of the Michael Phelps ADD article.
Thanks to everyone who has supported my blogging on Lead from the Start since February 2006. Its because of your support and comments that I have come this far.
Why does it matter what works in Pre-K?

Olympic Carnival

A carnival of Olympic proportions at Joanne Jacobs this week. Check it out.

There are some great posts by Scheiss Weekly, where a surly Mamacita G is fuming about standardized tests and what isn’t measured.

We should be nurturing our young artists and musicians and scientists, not relegating them to the back of the room so we can look good on paper in the subjects that are easy to measure for a bunch of withered humorless twits with no balls and no guts and no gumption.


Nancy Flanagan who writes:
John McCain doesn’t use them new-fangled computers. Does it matter if a president doesn’t surf or e-mail? Nancy Flanagan of Teacher in a Strange Land notices that McCain’s education platform includes “virtual schools.”

photo from:

Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympian Michael Phelps and Preschool - (an ADD Story)

When does a deficit become a strength? When does who a child is become more important than society's norms? When and how do we decide if a child, especially a pre-k student, needs a medical intervention for behavior? When does a bunch of energy become "too much" energy for a parent or a teacher?

My beautiful wife told me about an interview with Olympian Michael Phelps' mother in the New York Times. It was arranged by a pharmaceutical company that Ms. Phelps is representing as a "celebrity mom" of a person who grew up with Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder or ADD . The strange thing is that Michael never took the drug company's medication. He was, however, on Ritalin for two years from age 9 to age 11. Then Michael and his mother decided he didn't want to be on it anymore. His mom, a teacher, listened to the advice of his doctor and teachers who identified his lack of focus and attention in school as ADD. The "signs" were identified early.
Starting with preschool, teachers complained: Michael couldn’t stay quiet at quiet time, Michael wouldn’t sit at circle time, Michael didn’t keep his hands to himself, Michael was giggling and laughing and nudging kids for attention.

As he entered public school, he displayed what his teachers called “immature” behavior. “In kindergarten I was told by his teacher, ‘Michael can’t sit still, Michael can’t be quiet, Michael can’t focus,’ ” recalled Ms. Phelps, who was herself a teacher for 22 years. The family had recently moved, and she felt Michael might be frustrated because the kindergarten curriculum he was getting in the new district was similar to the pre-K curriculum in their old district.

“I said, maybe he’s bored,” Ms. Phelps recalled saying to his teacher. “Her comment to me — ‘Oh, he’s not gifted.’ I told her I didn’t say that, and she didn’t like that much. I was a teacher myself so I didn’t challenge her, I just said, ‘What are you going to do to help him?’ ”
In my years as a pre-k teacher I have encountered true ADD only a handful of times. Every time a child I taught was put on medication it was because the parent couldn't handle a kid, not because I couldn't. Often parents have asked me, do you think she needs medication? I always have to say I don't know, she seems to be able to learn just fine. There are some things about ADD and attention that we confuse when we talk about learning. When we look at the description of Michael's pre-k experience his learning is never an issue. It is only behavior when he is not learning and how he effects other kids that is an issue for the teacher. Many times teachers confuse attention with learning. When we move our perception of learning from what kids do to what kids know as shown on age appropriate assessments then we take the child's "behavior" and separate it from learning.

When Michael's mom told his teacher, "Maybe he’s bored,” the teacher was offended. She thought that if he was bored that he was not within the range of normal child development. That he couldn't be bored unless he was gifted. This isn't the way it works. As many pre-k teachers can tell you active learners need to be engaged physically and intellectually. Michael's mom mentions that in Kindergarten the curriculum was similar to the pre-k curriculum Michael had just completed. This happens to children who are in pre-k all over the country. When a child leaves my class knowing all 26 upper-case letters, lower-case letters, and letter sounds and then goes to Kindergarten with kids who don't have any of these skills, the teacher can't stretch far enough to keep up the accelerated pace pre-k students expect. Many times pre-k kids expect appropriate teaching as well, which may include center work, gross motor learning games, and alternated active and passive learning through out the day.

So here are the questions at hand:

If you teach pre-k or have a preschooler, when and how do you decide what is normal energy and what is ADD? What are some steps to take before medication? What has worked and what hasn't? What is the difference between ADD in girls and boys? Finally, when are the teacher or the school at fault for creating the circumstances where a child is not successful and when is a child's behavior so "out of the ordinary" that is prohibits success in the classroom? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Photo from:

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

How does this help children? (An Educational Hero Story)

Have you ever had a teacher that had such high expectations you almost gave up but, because you cared what she thought so much you persevered and grew? I had a teacher like that this summer. She also happened to be that kind of leader for Virginia. Dr. Jo Lynne DeMary was state superintendent for Virginia from 2000 to 2006. She was the first woman state superintendent in Virginia. She was also a non-partisan advocate for children first appointed by Republican Governor James Gilmore and then reappointed by Democratic Governor Mark Warner. She lead our state through the growing pains of an accountability system designed to, as she once said, "raise the floor of achievement" in our state. For that, she is one of my education heroes but, she taught me so much more this summer. She helped me to think about education in such a pragmatic and sensible manner that I don't think I will ever approach educational issues the same way again. Her first question about a solution to an issue always seemed to be, "How does this help children?"

When Virginia began the Standards of Learning, as could be imagined, there was a lot of opposition. Although the standards were put into practice in 1995 they didn't "count" towards graduation until 2004. The time period from 2000 to 2004 was a crucial time in our state. Dr. DeMary made a huge difference towards creating a better educational system in Virginia. She helped to create an environment where students could be successful and still meet high standards.

I guess the story that has most impacted me was a story that Dr. DeMary told at the Pinning Ceremony for National Board Certification in 2004.
She told a story about her local superintendent coming to her school. In those days there was time for that. He would come every couple months. When he came to her first grade classroom her first year she was beside her self with anticipation. He asked her how her students were doing. She said, "Great, almost all of them can read." He asked, "Who can't read?" She responded the way a teacher of the time might have, "Oh, well Jimmy." He asked, "Why can't Jimmy read?" She didn't know what to say. Did it matter that Jimmy was from a broken home, played in class too much, or had older siblings who got in trouble? Did it matter if he was poor, black, white, or deaf?

When the superintendent came back she was ready. She had redoubled her efforts. Jimmy wasn't reading yet but he was getting there. She was so proud. When he came the second time he asked one question, "Can Jimmy read yet?" She had to say, "No." It crushed her. She never let it happen again. When he came at the end of the year she could say with confidence, "Yes."

That is what Dr. DeMary taught me. It is not about getting the 70-80-90% to pass the test. Teaching is about every child not just the ones that are easy to teach but the ones who are hard to teach too. After hearing that story I decided it was no longer my job to make sure my students passed the PALs test in preschool. It was my job to get 100% of them reading or ready to read by the time they leave my class. That is the difference between being a good teacher and the teacher we are trying to be, excuses.

Not only did Jo Lynne DeMary lead the state she also helped to save failing schools. She helped to develop and implement the "Turnaround" principal program at the University of Virginia. Sadly, our state no longer funds the program but, it was a great program. You see, a turnaround specialist saved my school.


If we hadn't gotten a turnaround principal 3 years ago we would still be failing our children.
So in a sense Dr. DeMary saved my school and my students through reforms she implemented from the top down. How did she do it? I think she did it by continuing to ask that simple question, "How does this help children?" I will keep that simple question with me for the rest of my life. No matter whether the issue is charter schools, national standards, teacher pay for performance, or universal access to preschool. I will ask that question and try to stand on the side that has the best answer.
That is why Dr. DeMary is one of my educational heroes.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Meme: Five Things Policymakers Ought to Know (Guest Blogger)

One of the many hats I wear is as a faciltator for an online community of accomplished teachers in Virginia. I offered to post a response from another accomplished teacher to the MEME Five things I wish policymakers knew about my classroom. Thanks to Nancy Flanagan for starting this MEME at Teacher in a Strange Land.

My friend Dawnette Fuller offered these insights but does not have a blog yet so I offered to post for her. Please leave a comment so she can see how much fun blogging is. Dawnette is a National Board Certified special education teacher in Chesapeake Virginia.

1. There is a reason my students are in special education, because they
are not learning on grade level or they learn in a different manner. So,
why must they take the same standardized test for the grade they are in, not
for the grade that their learning ability currently is?
2. The alternate assessments that are available for these students are
involve many hours of teacher time, and only reflect pieces of what a
student has learned. They are not a true reflection of the student and
their learning.
3. A lower class size would make remediating special education
students more efficient. Perhaps they should try to teach 18 LD/OHI/ED
students for a day and they would see that even having an assistant doesn't
make it easy, or efficient, or best for students.
4. That a "mild disability" class is not in the best interest in
students. Grouping students by disability is best for their learning. One
ED student in an LD classroom can impede the learning of the rest of the
5. That I teach for the love of teaching. Please try to reduce the
paperwork that seems to increase twofold each year so that I may actually
focus on student learning, not the paper trail that seems to get longer by
the year.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Once: Musical Reality

Many folks get it when you say, "I'm a visual learner" or my kid needs kinesthetic learning. This movie was a perfect visual representation of how a musical learner might see the world. It is not for kids but it is mild. If you love love, check it out. This won an Oscar for best original song.

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Meme: Five Things Policymakers Ought to Know

Five things I wish policymakers knew about my classroom. Thanks to Nancy Flanagan for starting this MEME at Teacher in a Strange Land.

1. Preschool is not baby kindergarten, nor is it play school or daycare. We do hard and important work that benefits every child who attends. Everyone talks about how preschool is supposed to get kids ready for "real school. " Real school meaning innaprpriate curriculum based on prior experiences students haven't had, taught as if every student is an 8 year-old girl, and tested to make sure it measures what students don't know and what the teacher didn't teach. If kids were taught the way they learn the first 4 years of school would look a lot more like preschool and a lot less like "real school."
2. Social skills are THE most important thing we teach in preschool. Without social development you get immature brainiacs in 1st grade or borderline psychopaths in high school.
3. The important academic content covered in preschool using materials like letter beanbags, plastic fish, blocks, dolls, crayons, fake food, and matchbox cars include: reading, writing, algebra, economics, geometry, scientific inquiry, democratic processes, creativity, problem solving, and citizenship.
4. Imagination is important, not only to children's development but to our national economy.
5. A child's brain develops at its quickest pace from birth to five years old no matter how rich or how poor a child is.
I am going to tag some folks to participate in this MEME. Karissa at Pre-K Now, Vanessa, Preschool Punk, and Melissa B. at Scholastic Scribe.

Child image:
Image from United Way: