Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Music Magic: Using Music and Movement to Create Optimal LearningEnvironments

Meet Jennifer Newingham!  She's an early childhood administrator and she's pretty awesome!  She allowed me the opportunity to co-present with her at our state IAEYC (Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children) Conference.

We had as backed house as we blended developmentally appropriate music and movement strategies and Conscious Discipline to create a rocking professional development opportunity for all these ECE professionals!

As promised, I've uploaded the handouts here so you can get a glimpse of what we shared!  We also uploaded the song lyrics and images you could use to create your own song box or binder.  You can find the song lyrics here and the images here.  Feel free to contact me if your like more information or if you would like to bring this training to your staff!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Conscious Discipline Book Study Chapter 2: Getting Fit from the Inside Out

As many of you know, we are in the midst of a year long book club here on the blog.  We are studying the work of Dr. Becky Bailey in her new book Conscious Discipline:  Building Resilient Classrooms.  In March we read chapter 2.  This chapter is about how the internal state impacts behavior.  Dr. Bailey goes into great detail about the Brain State Model and how each state impacts behavior and the need of each brain state.

My personal goal in leading the book club is to more intentionally implement the things I'm learning into my daily life.  As I reflect on the chapter each month I will share with you how it is impacting my personal life.  Since Conscious Discipline is an adult first approach to discipline it is essential that we look at how it impacts our lives and our personal skill set before we can move forward in implementing these concepts with children.


As I shared with you last month, I have begun a journey toward a healthier lifestyle.  2016 is my year to get fit!  This is not something new to me.  For many years I have had a desire to live a healthy balanced life.  As we learned in the chapter this month the difference between wanting to live a healthy lifestyle and actually doing it has a lot to do with our internal state.


Last week my gym buddy and I finished the twelve week program we began in January.  We were so excited to reach that goal and wanted to find a way to celebrate.  It was interesting because we talked about several different ideas for how we could celebrate.  Everything from zip-lining, margaritas, and a shopping day to horse back riding or going for a drive in a convertible while jamming to 90's music.
The interesting thing is that none of it really sounded satisfying.

I think most of us would agree we were raised in environments that that relied on rewards and punishments to manage behavior.  It seemed to work at the time and get the results that the adults in our lives were hoping for--STOPPING BAD BEHAVIOR!  The question I would ask is did it really teach us the best possible skills for life success?

As Dr. Bailey mentions on page 51 in our chapter, "I would offer the following food for thought in regard to simple behavioral systems based on rewards and punishments..."  She goes on to describe the impact of relying on rewards and punishments to govern behavior.  Although these systems work temporarily for children who come to school feeling safe and loved these systems hinder their executive skill development.  We exchange long-term success for short-term compliance and obedience.  As most parents and teachers have experienced, these systems don't work for children who don't have the security of feeling safe and loved.  No matter what we do, they will fall short and end up feeling discouraged.  The future often looks very grim for these children.  Finally, reward and punishment systems have a huge impact on school and family culture.  Research indicates that negative cultures impede learning, foster bullying, increases dropout rates and teacher turnover rates. (Hoffman, 2008 pg. 51)

Although I fit into the first category, I can see the long-term impact that those reward and punishment systems have on the way I manage myself as an adult.  I felt very safe and loved at home and at school (well most of the time...there was that one teacher in 5th grade that scared me lol!) and I would have been labeled one of the "good kids."  I had very good grades and my behavior was a model for others (other than the fact that my conduct got marked down occasionally for excessive talking :))!  As an adult, I can see how often I have this reward/punishment mindset in how I manage my own behavior.  I often rely on external rewards to make me feel good or help me celebrate an accomplishment.

In reflection, I can see how much Conscious Discipline is transforming this mindset for me personally.  I am beginning to experience a greater sense of "reward" from the internal experiences I am having rather than having to have some sort of physical reward to make me feel good.

As we chatted about how we would celebrate our accomplishment in the gym we finally came up with an idea that was not only fun but very rewarding.  We decided to celebrate our success by celebrating our trainer, Connie.  By celebrating Connie, we would be celebrating us!  Connie has been the trainer at our gym for years and she is so faithful and encouraging...sometimes just the kind of tough love we need when we need it the most!  She has educated us, cheered us on, and held us accountable to our goals.  We don't always like what she has to say or how hard we have to work to get healthier, but her guidance and willingness to walk along side us gives us the extra help we need to believe we can do it and actually DO IT!  To celebrate our accomplishment, we decided that we would decorate her office, make her a gift, and let her know just how thankful we are for her love and support!  It was so much fun planning our celebration and sneaking into her office on the weekend to decorate and prepare her surprise, but the best was yet to come!  When she got to work on Monday she was just THRILLED by what she saw!  She loved every bit of it and even saved our crazy signs to hang on her wall as a constant reminder of the impact she has on everyone at the gym just by doing what she does best!


This journey hasn't been all kicks and giggles!  It has been very difficult and discouraging at times.  A couple of weeks ago I was talking to my husband about my fitness journey and how difficult it was. He said he didn't think I needed to do all that work. I should just be happy with how I look, live a comfortable life, eat what I want and not feel like I have to go to the gym all the time.  He's right, I could do that.  I could be happy with how things are and live a comfortable lifestyle just like this, but my goal isn't necessarily a skinny body, it's a more disciplined life.  I don't want to allow the impulses of the food I love, lack of desire to go to the gym,  or emotions be in charge of me.  I want to be educated and be in charge of my body.  I want my body to represent the best of me and right now it really doesn't.  Without discipline it is easy to let internal upset and external stuff drive me.

So no, it's not the easy way of doing things and it's definitely not comfortable all the time, but discipline helps me be in charge of me!

On page 40 of the Conscious Discipline book Dr. Bailey discusses some of the false messages we have on our CD-ROM regarding ourselves.  When I miss the mark and fall short of the goals I've set it is very easy for me to get stuck in the emotional state and listen to the false messages that say, "I'm not good enough.  There's something wrong with me.  I'll be rejected.  Everyone thinks I'm a loser."

As we learned in the chapter, the need of the emotional state is love/connection.  I have to value myself and living a healthy life enough to make it worth the time, energy, and sometimes even the pain!

Part of the reason that I didn't feel such a need for an external reward for completing the workout was because the feelings I had on the inside were rewarding enough!  Was it fun?  No not always.  It was actually even a little bit disappointing at times.  I was working my tail off and building muscle but not losing any weight.  I knew changes were happening on the inside, but I really hoped for visible results too.


I tend to be a pretty independent driven person.  When I started out I purchased a workout regimen and set a goal of completing the 12 weeks IN 12 WEEKS!  A few days into the workout I invited my friend Stephanie to join me.  She agreed and we began working out together.  Over time it became a habit and we began to hold each other accountable and actually had fun working out together.  Sometimes other patrons in the gym laughed at us and commented that we shouldn't be having that much fun at the gym!  :)  There were so many times I didn't want to go, but I knew Stephanie was there waiting for me and we would get through it together.  As we laughed and sometimes even cried we developed so much more than muscle.  We discovered a deeper purpose in workout out-- friendship.  One that is full of love, safety, and trust.  Stephanie demonstrates friendship in ways that I admire...like the time she came and sat with me while I worked out.  Although she had already worked out that day, she volunteered to come and cheer me on since I couldn't come till later.  Over time I noticed myself doing the same thing for her--because that's what friends do!  At the end of the 12 weeks not only were my muscles were more toned, but I had gained a close friend and a change of heart.  I have also developed a new sense of what it means to be a friend.

So what does getting fit have to do with the Brain State Model?  EVERYTHING!

Over the course of the last 12 weeks there were many times I didn't WANT to go to the gym.  I didn't WANT to eat right.  I didn't WANT to do more burpees!!!!  I know I need to do all these things, but the difference between KNOWING and DOING is RELATIONSHIP!  That was the key to my success and ability to change.  As a result, I was able to meet my goal and complete the program.  Next week we are starting a new workout plan and this time our goal is to educate ourselves and be more intentional about our nutrition.  Working out is actually the easiest part for me...eating right is the bigger challenge!  Wish us well and enjoy reading Chapter 3 in April!  Looking forward to learning more about School Family!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Conscious Discipline Book Club: Chapter 1--Transformational Change

When I first started using Conscious Discipline I thought it was something I would just be using in my classroom.  Initially, I thought it was going to help me get from point A to point B and help my students be better prepared for kindergarten.  I also thought it would give me new strategies for how to handle the challenging behavior in my preschool classroom.

I really had no idea how much it was going to change me.

It has been five years since I jumped off the Pamper Pole at Conscious Discipline Advanced Institute.  That ball that hangs just out of reach represents your goals and dreams.  The things you want most in life.

As I climbed the pole, my whole focus was on the step that was just in front of me.  I didn't look too far ahead nor did I dare look behind.  I just focused on the next best placement of my hands and feet so I would be secure.

When I got to the top of the poll and stood myself up with only the ropes holding me I froze.  For what seemed like a lifetime I just stood there.

What if I jumped and fell?

How do I get my feet to move?

Are they really going to catch me when I go?



Trust...the people on the ground have got me!


Just about the time I mustered up the courage to jump a dove flew over from the tree and landed on the cable that held the ball.



Stretching forward I smacked that ball and then slowly floated to the ground where I was surrounded by the warm embrace of friends.  They were the ones holding the rope.  I had to trust the people on the ground in order to have the courage to jump, but ultimately I had to trust the source of all my strength--God

My journey with Conscious Discipline has been much like my experience with the Pamper Pole.  As Dr. Bailey reminded us at the end of the chapter, if we focus on the goal the journey takes longer.  To experience transformation we have to focus on the step that is right in front of us and take the next best step.  We can't do it alone.  We have to lean in to the community of friends and family around us--the cheerleaders in our lives help us along the way.  It's not a sign of weakness to ask for help--it's actually a sign of strength.

Ultimately, for me, it is my faith that has brought me through this journey to where I am today.  I don't need to hide my weakness or pretend like I'm perfect in order to be the best mom, friend, or employee I can.  It is actually through my weakness that He is strong.  When I trust Him with my weakness and seek His help in becoming the woman He created me to be, that is when I find peace and the courage to JUMP!

Chapter One in our book study starts out with this quote from Mahatma Gandhi.  "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Over the last month and a half I have been on a very intentional journey to get healthier.  Not only physically healthy, but also emotionally, and spiritually healthy.  It hasn't been easy, but I am so ready for a change!

Self-discipline takes work.  It can be very labor intensive and having a strong support system makes a huge impact on your success.  Just like when I jumped off the pamper pole, I have to really work at it to "trust the people on the ground."  When I trust them enough to be vulnerable and share my journey with them I find encouragement, joy, and success!

The truth is that when I left my classroom three years ago to "take the leap" into being self-employed there was a lot of fear involved.  I was leaving the only job I had known for 18 years.  I left many friends and families that I had grown to love and who were a part of my daily life.  Many of these people were my support system.  We did life together for many years and now our paths were headed in different directions.

Long and short of it is that fear can do some crazy stuff to our behavior.  As long as I stayed lost in the fear or unaware of the impact it was having on me my progress was going to be stifled.  It seemed like I was so isolated and alone.  I knew how to do better, but I wasn't doing it.  I found myself way off track from where I really wanted to be.  I felt very frustrated and sad.

I imagine that the same is true for many of you.  When you first began learning about and implementing Conscious Discipline there was a lot of fear involved.  Maybe you were excited about the possibility of learning a better way to discipline your students or children, but didn't realize how much work it was going to be.  There may have been tools in your "discipline toolbox" that weren't very helpful and now you were trying to let them go.  Maybe it seemed like you were alone.  Perhaps the only person in your school or home who was trying to learn a better way.

Fear isolates us.  It makes it hard for us to feel safe and trust other people or even ourselves for that matter.   Most of us were raised with discipline that relied on fear to make us behave.  Rewards and punishments were the norm.  When we begin learning about Conscious Discipline we are making some HUGE shifts.  Instead of slamming shut that fear-based discipline toolbox and sealing it with a lock, we are making a shift in our mindset and adding practical skills so we can be the change we want to see in the world.  Essentially, we are giving our toolbox a makeover.  Becoming aware of what is in the old toolbox and upgrading it with the necessary tools so we can be the best person possible and have the self-discipline necessary to TEACH Conscious Discipline tools to our children.
For me, the only way that can happen is if I rely on the Maker, not myself.

I am so excited that each of you have joined me on this journey toward a better way.  This is just the beginning.  Whether you have been using Conscious Discipline for many years or are just beginning, I am certain that you will make new discoveries and take new steps in your journey that will help you be the change you want to see in the world.

I can't wait to hear what you are learning!  Please be sure to comment below with your questions, reflections, and insights from Chapter 1 and join us on BLAB on February 26 at 8:30 pm Eastern Time for our live chat!

Here is the link:  https://blab.im/jenny-conscious-discipline-book-club-chapter-one

"See" you there!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The "Little Things" Aren't Always So Little

My heart melted as we walked away and my daughter squeezed my hand and said, "I like it when you're here because you do stuff like that!"

It's the little things...

It was her second volleyball tournament of the season and after their first win, the coach rounded up all the girls for a team photo.  As you can imagine, the parents were gathered around like the paparazzi excitedly taking pictures of the team and I was right there front and center snapping away!  

You see, I didn't get to go to her first tournament because I had nursery duty at church that Sunday.  My husband happily stepped up to the plate to play the role of chauffeur, chef, cheerleader, and family reporter!  As hard as he tries, something was still missing...

It's the little things...

When I went to a Women's Expo a couple of weeks ago with a friend we had the opportunity to hear Rachel Stafford from Hands Free Mama. She spoke about her journey from being over whelmed and distracted with life to becoming hands free and more present and purposeful in her relationships and the way she lives.

She shared an excerpt from her blog post titled:  "The Life of the Party is Closer than You Think."  She points out that as we become present with our children and spend time nurturing our relationships we become the life of the party.  The heartbeat of the family.  The little things really do matter!

"You are the party because of the love you offer in small, daily doses.  So don’t worry about how you look.  Don’t worry about what you did or didn’t do yesterday.  Don’t worry about that long list of flaws and failings no one is keeping but you.  Your love and presence are the highlight of someone’s life—the highlight of someone’s life.  Keep waking up.  Keep showing up.  Keep picking yourself up from off the floor.  You are the party—the Life of the Party.  Your daily doses of love and presence make it so." (Rachel Stafford, Hands Free Mama)

I started reflecting on what that means for me.

Could I be the life of the party?

Could it really be as simple as putting a note in your child's lunch box, stopping for a hug, taking a team photo or sitting down to listen while your daughter settles into bed for the night?

Of course it is!

In fact, my friend and I were so inspired by Rachel that we decided to start putting fun little notes in our teenager's lunch boxes every day!  We've had lots of fun coming up with creative ways to surprise them when they open their lunch and find a message from mom!

I've written on sticky notes, napkins, fruit and baggies!  You never know where you'll find a little "party" in your lunch box!

I did a little searching on the internet and found TONS of blogs with FREE printable lunch box notes.

I'm going to include links to those sites for you, but keep a couple of things in mind!

1.  Keep it personal!  A hand written note that has meaning for you and the child is better than anything else!
2.  This is a great way to remind your child that you are thinking of them throughout their day.  It reminds them of the connection you have with one another.  If they like jokes, make sure you include some joke notes!  If they find strength in scriptures include those too!  I even found lunch box notes with beloved characters such as Legos and Frozen!

These are just a few of my favorite posts that include FREE Lunch Box Notes Printables!

I think sometimes we make Conscious Discipline too complicated.  At it's core it is about being safe, present, and connected with your child.  It doesn't have to be complex.

The TRUTH is that more often than not it's the little things that matter the most!

Keep it simple.

After I shared with you last week about how difficult it can be for me to connect with my teenagers, I realized that it's not as hard as I make it sometimes!

There are many times throughout our week that offer us special opportunities to connect.

My son is now 14 years old and he's about 6 foot 2.  He is a pretty typical teenage boy, who, at least once a day, gives me a huge smile and looks at me out of the corner of his eye as he charges over for a BIG HUG! Even though he has to lean over to hug me now, it's our little ritual.  As he snuggles close, I feel so happy.  I can't help but think he does too!

Remember, the little things aren't always so little.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Brain Smart Connection Activities: What I Love About You!

As you may have read in my last post, connection is the key to cooperation...

BUT it's so much MORE than that!

The connections we build with children through loving rituals and traditions help us set aside a sacred space to create a climate of love and acceptance--A time to focus on what really matters!

When I was a child my mom had a way of making even the smallest "holiday" special in some way.

Two of my favorites were Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day.

There was heart-shaped cakes, love notes, and everything pink on Valentine's Day.

And it wouldn't be St. Patrick's day if that pesky little leprechaun didn't turn the milk green!  We also had the traditional green eggs and ham and wore as much green as we could so we wouldn't get pinched on St. Patties Day!  Even when we were TEENAGERS!

Is it any surprise that when I became a teacher and eventually a mom, I carried those traditions into my teaching and parenting practices?

Every year we still have heart-shaped food, love notes, and as much pink as possible on Valentine's Day!  And that sneaky little leprechaun still manages to turn something green in our house!

These rituals still hold a very special place in my heart!

I'm reading the NAEYC publication titled Rituals and Traditions:  Fostering a Sense of Community in Preschool by Jacky Howell and Kimberly Reinhard.  Although it is focused on the classroom, the same principles apply to the home.  In the book it states, "Rituals and traditions are part of everyday life.  A ritual can be reading a book in a special chair before bed.  A tradition can be a special food that is served only at celebrations.  Rituals and traditions have the power to shape classroom routines into times that build meaningful connections and bonds among children, families, and teachers, creating and strengthening a sense of community in early childhood settings."

That's what my mom did!  She took the ordinary and made it extraordinary through meaningful and fun rituals and traditions!

During the month of February I am going to be sharing various activities that could help you focus on building rituals and traditions into your family, whether at home or school!

A couple of years ago I found myself very frustrated with the environment in our home.

My children were growing up and I it was very challenging to figure out ways to connect with them.  I was a pro at connecting with preschoolers, toddlers, and infants, but not so much with these "teeny boppers" that were now living under my roof.

There was an increase in the amount of conflict in our home and I knew it was because we weren't connecting.  I wanted to find ways to connect with and encourage my family that would be age appropriate and meaningful.

I needed something to help me shift my focus from the frustration I felt to being more encouraging to myself and my family.

Since it was February, I decided we all needed a bit more love and intentionality!

I cut out some heart-shaped notes and wrote something different that I noticed about them every day for the whole month!

Each morning before they got up, I would hang a new note on their door so they could start their day off with some encouraging words.

The phrase I like to use is:  "You _____ so _____.  That was ____!"

It is helpful language that we teach in Conscious Discipline because it is 100% focused on the beauty you see in the child and their actions.  I try to avoid phrases such as, "I like the way you..."  or "You did a good job with..."  Those phrases make it more about me and can be about approval rather than the qualities in the child that are valuable.

I also got my husband in on the fun and made sure there were plenty of hearts so everyone could share the love!

It might be helpful if you number each of your hearts as you add them!  By the end of the month you'll have 28 (unless it's a Leap Year like this year)!

It amazing me how quickly the whole climate in our home/classroom changes when we shift from focusing our what's missing to seeing the beauty that's right in front of us!

Not only did I experience more joy, so did they!  They couldn't wait to get out of bed and see what I noticed that day!  It raises everyone's awareness of the impact they have on others!

Since today is only February 2nd we are just on our second day, but it has made a difference already!  My husband wanted to know where the "stash" of hearts was so he could write me some notes too!  And my son went out of his way to tell me thank you for the kindness he saw expressed on his door today!

Whether you are in the classroom or home I hope this idea inspires you to remember what you love about those around you and not just remember, but express it to them too!