WWDD? Part 2

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I've been graced with some gifts of temperament that have made the children in my care regard me differently.

I am a watcher. I observe twice as much as I talk. When I do talk, I try to frame my questions using language that is modeled on how I understand them to understand things. This means I have listened to their conversations and am using their language and interests to inject myself into their brains.

90% of teachers have no idea what is really going on in their classrooms. By this I mean the important "stuff". The relationships, the rules of play, the things you can say and the things you can't say.  All of this "stuff" is not produced by the adults - it is produced by the culture of children. Most teachers simply don't hear it.  They don't listen.

I do. It is the first thing I do. Listen. Watch. Sit down and wait.  Sitting down on the floor can be a revolutionary act. So many adults never get on the floor with children. To do so would be to give away their power, their status as the privileged knowledge havers.

Not me. I am on the floor as soon as I am in a classroom.  In fact, here is a tidbit from one of my research journals:

Overall, I think the children are less accustomed to adults being on the floor with them - so this is a new approach for them - Me being right next to them as they play - being interested in their play in this manner. Both teachers mostly sit in chairs, or otherwise lead the class standing up. I have not observed either of them on the floor at any point yet 

I plop down and wait. Eventually someone will wander over. They approach, they retreat. They wait to see what I will do? Will I discipline? Will I spring up and become an adult?

Children who are accustomed to the "Stand up and talk and be busy and tell me what to do and when to do it" adults are suspicious when one who doesn't fit their mold wanders into their classroom. They don't believe you. They actively distrust you.

If they encounter a teacher who does not control their every movement, they aren't sure what to do. They either freeze, or go a little wild.  Both motions need to be decoded and managed with the child. The frozen children need reassurance that it really is all right. I am not going to offer the freedom and then smack their hand.

The wild children need help understanding that I am really not there to oppress them. The consequences to their actions must be very clear and very consistent. They don't fear punishment, but punishment isn't the goal. Self regulation is the goal.  If you take the entire box of goldfish crackers, you won't be able to EAT the whole box of goldfish crackers...so take a scoop and I promise that there will be another scoop if you are hungry.

Both sorts of children need one thing above all : Truth. Children will follow you when they know you are being honest. Not cruel. Not sarcastic. Honest.

My years of teaching myself to be soul exposingly honest have their roots in my work with children. Children know an honest adult. They draw to us.  Sometimes I think they are shocked to find the diamond in the coal bed of adults.

A phrase I share with my students is this - (and it has worked for the majority of children I have used it with): "I know what you are doing, and it is not acceptable. This may work with other adults, but I am not one of them. You need to rethink your strategy."

One of my students this semester came back and said "Oh my god. It was like (Child's name) saw me for the first time."

Yep. No sickening "It hurts my feelings when you....."  or any of the other mealy mouthed versions of adult speak.  Bump that.  My message is direct. It doesn't threaten false punishment. It doesn't even blame the child. It states the issue. It clarifies and it ends.

I am also the proud purveyor of a Look.  The best teachers can silence a room with a look.  My students don't believe me....until I use it on them. I show how I can stop conversation by moving my body near behavior I don't want to happen. I don't need to yell. I just need to watch.

I have a nephew who - last year when he was being sassy to his mother and I walked up behind her and stood, looking at him said: "I want Auntie Dawn to stop looking at me." My response was "I heard your mother ask you to do something. You need to take care of that."

He took care of it.

Adults who yell without cause, who threaten at every turn, who show contempt for the children with whom they share a classroom?  They demonstrate that they are not trustworthy. They are not emotionally safe. And what do we know about how humans learn? They can only learn/thrive when they feel emotionally safe.

So does this mean that I have a silent working classroom in which no children have conflicts? Oh, let me wipe a tear of laughter from my eye.

My classrooms are loud. Busy. LOUD and busy. I am not fussed by movement or noise - even with my Undergrads. My tolerance for productive noise is high.  Conflict is loud and messy. I want people to feel their feelings and name those feelings. I will wrestle with children on a wrestling mat. I will allow bristle blocks to be wrapped in my hair while I sit in a salon dramatic play. I give children access to my body and my brain as a play partner.  Even now, when I am in a classroom for observation of a student teacher ...I end up playing with the children. I can't help it.

When I move into that space - as partner in play/knowledge my locus of power shifts. I am not the ALL-GIVER-OF KNOWLEDGE, ALL RULE MAKER. I am on par with the children, but with a Plus. They don't forget that I am an Adult.  I don't forget I am an adult. I am an Adult with Child privileges.  This means that they get some adult privileges.

That adult privilege is power.  I step away from points of power over which I do not need control, or in which control can be negotiated.

 Do I need to tell someone if they are hungry for snack? Do I need to control if someone needs to use the bathroom? Do I need to say if someone can have a drink of water?  These are small steps. You build a negotiated power and let it fly for a bit.  If needed, you renegotiate.

As adult, I may need to bring specific concerns or knowledge to the table - for instance, we can't be out on the playground at X time because another class is using it....but perhaps I can ask the other teacher if we can swap times? Adult models the way to problem solve and involves the children in the process.  I don't magically fix something, but rather expose the thinking behind the larger issue.  Cripes, sometimes the children come up with better solutions than I've considered.

I retain certain rights in my classroom. However, they are rights that I have earned. I don't stop play unless it is genuinely dangerous. I will allow some games to go to their logical conclusions that I can see coming a mile away. BUT, I know if I step in and stop it then an important lesson in a safe environment won't be learned.  Instead, I voice my concerns...and step back. I don't abandon. I don't condemn when everything goes to hell. I wait and then say.."Yeah, I was worried that might happen. What should we do now?"

I am a partner.

WWDD? Part Three to come


Monday, May 25, 2015

There are some questions I am asked every semester by my students.

Of course, sometimes it is because they know I will launch into an entertaining tangent. Mostly, however, it is because they are genuinely confused by the chasm between what they *know* and what they *see* when they are working in classrooms with students and cooperative teachers. 

Our program in teacher ed sits in a unique place. The students will recieve a license to teach Birth-5th grade.  This means that, unlike most of their other elementary ed peers, they get a firm and thorough grounding in developmentally appropriate practice.  My students KNOW what should be happening in a DAP classroom. They understand developmental arcs of cognition.

Many of the questions have to do with why children are being taught in the manner in which they see in local classrooms. We talk about curricular mandates that don't make sense when you look at the brain development of a 6 year old. We talk about the pressure on 5 year olds who may not have fine motor development locked down.  I talk about how they need to be smarter than the curriculum guides they are handed and told to administer in order to comply with "Fidelity of Implementation"
regardless of if the children understand the concepts in the first place.

From the standpoint of child development, most of PK4- 4th grade curriculum is a shit show - aligned downwards from what a child should know when they graduate high school.  But that is a different blog post. 

The thing we talk about most, outside of bad curriculum, is behavior management. 

Now some of my students are going to comply with bad policy and practice. They are nice people who do as they are told. If the principal says "Do this", they are going to do it. They might not entirely like it, but they will do it. 

In other students I see the spark. The reflective spark. The "why?" that makes up a majority of my professional life. Why do we do what we do? Is it helpful? Is it harming? Is it my agenda? Am I sharing power with my students? Am I being rigid? Do I believe that children are thinking, active agents of their own learning who will lead me to their cognition if I pay attention?

These questions all boil down to this - "Do I know the students in my classroom and am I modulating my responses/actions/plans to what *they* need?" Not a mythical student who should be at any point in a curricular plan, but the humans in front of me.

For most teachers, they find a plan and stick to it. It is a human instinct. You find something that works once and you cling to it for dear life. If you disciplined one child a certain way and they responded in a way that pleased you, then Voila! There is your discipline plan for life!

Sigh. If only it was that easy. Cripes, some people make money off of selling behavior management kits, or books, or ridiculous behavior management curriculum based off of behavioristic models ( like Pavlov's dogs or Skinner's pigeons). 

The truth is that there is no magic bullet for a teacher when it comes to behavior management. The other truth is that if a teacher isn't good a behavior management then it becomes very difficult to see any learning happen in the classroom.

So, what do my students see most? Rigid rule following that is applied evenly and without consideration for the situation or the person.  

This can look like: Forget your homework once - lose recess.
Forget your homework twice - lose a week of recess. And so on.  

The teachers who believe that these strategies work believe that the transparency of the rule of law will act as a deterrent. 

Some teachers obsess over things like silence and walking in a very straight line down a hall. They fight with children over every perceived wrong in order to maintain control. They make up rules that you must walk to the slide on the right side of the playground and exit on the left hand side of the playground. They believe that one tiny inch of perceived power given over to children will equate to a Lord of the Flies scenario.

In their classrooms, they are the absolute power. The children are there to comply. Any non compliance, even minor, is a threat to their authority and will be crushed.

Now, some children do all right in these classrooms. They aren't generally children who have self regulation issues. They put their heads down and survive. 

The teachers who employ these methods...well, I don't think they like or respect children very much.

If I am honest, I have to believe that these teachers live in a sort of fear. A fear that the children will over take them and then what!?  I also find that they are rarely honest - with the children or with themselves. The reasons they give to children for why the rules are there? Invariably false or exaggerated reasons. 

Guess what? Children know when they are being lied to. They know that walking up the slide or swinging on their bellies will not lead to the collapse of human society. They know because they have done it hundreds of times and nothing has happened.  The adult in these cases becomes some bizarre harbinger of doom that never arrives. Sure, it could. A giant piece of metal could fall from the space station and kill me too, but I am not living my life in fear of that happening. 

At this very basic level, children are taught to disregard the adults. "Don't listen to them, they know nothing" is the whispered echo of the rule.  The adults get shriller. The children listen less until they have cocooned themselves inside against world in which it is clearly Adults Vs Children.

Then, a different sort of teacher comes into their life.  That teacher is a Dawn. 
She operates very differently. 

Part Two to Come

Narcissistic tantrum , deconstructed

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I have been waiting for it.

The angry outburst from my mother, the recriminations that I did not behave in the way she expected me to behave.

It's the pattern, of course.

My aunt killed herself in February. I mourn. Everyday.

When I talked to my aunt's husband in February, I asked him if *he* wanted a memorial service.  He laughed and said "Judy told me she never wanted a funeral. It was just a time for people you didn't really like to get together and talk shit about you."

I laughed when he said that - it sounds very much like my aunt.

Therefore, imagine my surprise when my mother informed my daughter that she was planning a memorial service for my aunt. A memorial that my aunt didn't want.

Of course, in the imaginary realm of a narcissistic person it doesn't matter what anyone else wants. There is no consideration given to the thoughts and needs and desires of others, so you will do what you want to do. This is true in everything, be it parenting or the wishes of your dead sister.

I talked to my Uncle once after my mother obliquely announced (through my daughter) that there was some memorial planned. He was not really on board, but my mother was rolling the train right on through regardless. I tried to tell him that he didn't have to participate in this, no matter what pressure my mother brought to bear. However, I know how single minded she can be.

I did not plan to attend the memorial in March. It wasn't what my aunt wanted. I was not playing obliquely games with my parent about who cared more, or whose grief was bigger. Just No.

So, I waited. I thought she would begin the assault on the day of the memorial, but forgot that she had the glory of the wounded sister to buoy her.  My mother is never more in her glory than when she is the victim, the bereaved, the wronged.

As my siblings have detached from her - one, by one, small spider balloons flying to safety - she has been the martyred, wronged mother. What did she do to deserve such ungrateful, selfish children? Can't everyone see how terrible her children are?

I cut her out after Terrance and I were going through a particularly hard time. As I was crying and telling her that I thought my marriage was over, she breezily said "Oh, that's too bad. Let me tell you about my new boyfriend."

It crystallized everything about our relationship.  It also sums up exactly the sort of insecure attachment that I am certain we had as infant and mother.

Infant Dawn: (Crying) I'm scared!
Mom: Let me tell you about how much harder my day was! And quit crying, it's annoying.

As a result of this attachment pattern, I retreat behind stoic silence. It is my bastion of safety. I say nothing, and she can't react. Show no emotion because the emotion will get you punished, in some way or the other.  Hide pain and vulnerability because it won't be recognized or helped..in fact, it will most likely be used against you at some later point.

Tonight, the shoe dropped after a month+ of waiting..  The first thing she tried was vague threats:

"Just to let you know I found lots of emails throughout Sis's stuff that implicated all three of you."

I read this as implicated us in her suicide which is, of course, ludicrous.  This is also a threat that she "knows" that my Aunt and I had a relationship in which we discussed my siblings and my relationship with her.  Um, Ok.  Yeah. My Aunt Judy and I discussed her parenting.  

Then some guilt:

I never had a chance...so much for loving children....hope the3⃣of you live happily ever after....I never deserved such hatred.... I did the best I could......


But here is my favorite bit:

Ps at least donnies wife sent me a sympathy card when my sister killed herself!! You and jessie did nothing!! Oh I'm sorry, is this taking too much energy from you?? I know you are so busy!! Your dint Judy was kind to you and you didn't even show up at her memorial? Pitiful!!

See all the masterful bullshit there? 

My mother slandered and was so disrespectful to my brothers wife that there has been no contact since BEFORE their wedding. My mother has never met her two grandsons, because my brother held the line and demanded an apology which my mother was never able to give. 

Guilt is in the middle of this shit sandwich. Also a provocation - because she is trying to get me to react in some way. My no contact has taken a toll on her. I don't feed her energy, so she picks and pokes at me until she hopes I do ANYTHING.  For those of you who remember the Great Facebook Banning, she employed this same technique - calling me names, berating me, telling me what a terrible daughter I was, taunting me to unfriend her, then saying that I was just like my father. The father who sexually abused me. I've also gotten messages about what a terrible mother I am with things I told her while I was in the middle of my terrible depressions.

Finally, I am a bad niece for not attending the memorial service to which I was never directly invited...(except a conversation she had with my 16 year old daughter) AND that my aunt didn't want. 

Sigh, again.

The saddest thing is that I love her. I really do. But she isn't healthy and can't find her way to understanding and accepting responsibility for her role in our particular family dysfunction. To do so would deconstruct her world so thoroughly as to obliterate her identity.  So I watch from afar as the molotov cocktails of my mothers words are lobbed at me. 

She would burn the world before looking inward.

I am not her kindling.

Two weeks ago

Saturday, February 14, 2015

My beloved Aunt Judy committed suicide.

I am not angry, because I feel too deeply what she may have felt. I know the urge.

It seems she was very ill, advanced breast cancer, and no one knew. Not even her husband who found her in their back yard once her task was complete knew about the cancer.  She would have turned 60 years old on the 7th of February.

I am not angry because I understand the impetus to just be done with it - no weird mourning or accolades or fuss. Just getting on with it all, because. That is what we do in my family. Just get on with it.

My aunt was 15 or so when I was born in 1970. She was not impressed with the loud interloper who shared her bedroom with she and my teen mother.

She was my godmother.

She loved me unconditionally and seemed to "get" all versions of Dawn Ann, even when the 7 year old me would bounce on top of her sleeping form. She would yell "RUDE AWAKENING!" and burrow under the covers. This meant I should bounce harder and attempt to root her out of her nest.

She would let me swim for hours, patiently watching all my tricks from the edge of the pool.

She married three times and had no biological children of her own.

She joined the Navy in the 1970's. She was a coal miner who integrated a mine as the first female employee.

She survived a domestic violence incident with her second husband that left her femur broken in more than one place.

 In 1998, she married her third husband, Kurt. She seemed very happy with him. He made her laugh and he thought she was amazing.

She was amazing.

I loved her.

She is gone and my heart is broken in a way I can't quite express in words.

I am not angry with her because I love her. She will always be my glittery, blonde, tall, beautiful Aunt Judy.

Papilio Machaon

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Once a week, I change my sheets. When I do this, I sprinkle lavender oil over the new sheets and pillowcases. For several days afterwards I sleep in a field of French lavender. I do this for you.


My therapist asked me what my plan was for school break. This was after I'd failed to make several appointments, having convinced myself that I was simply too busy to go to therapy from August to December.  These failures would be easily explained by the tumult of the semester, but I am too honest to name them for anything but avoidance.  I know myself. I avoid. 

She didn't ask what my plan was exactly, but she did kindly ask what obsession I intended to pursue. She, too, is honest.

"Korean Skin Care Regimes", answered I.  This, also, was truthful. 

"A rug", says I.  "Putting all of my shoes back into the boxes." 

"Playing stupid video games."

"Cleaning and organizing my eyeshadow and eyeliner."

"Buying Christmas cards and then feeling too tired to address them and send them out."

"Finding vintage cape clasps and re-fitting the vintage green wool cape from Germany I found in Montreal."


My obsessions - for they are little manic phases - are useful in their own bizarre way. They hyperfocus me on the pursuit of knowledge or skill. They make me nearly instantly expert on a whole range of esoteric knowledge. 

Mostly, I just have to ride them out and wait for them to fade.  Many do fade. Some never do. 


I experienced a strange delight in sending my child to Italy this winter school break. There is something so...beyond ... in that accomplishment. At 44, I consider her future in a way that I do not anticipate my own. I envy her time, but not jealously. I envy her being able to travel, having a desire to travel at her age. Her self confidence is evident as she easily traveled and spoke French and maneuvered through Italian Metro's and cafe's in a way that a 16 year old me would have never dared.


She returns and falls into a small depressive cloud. It is too small here. She is too worldly for this place.  I soothe. I speak words of support and clarity.  She will be 17 in May.

I see myself, sharply, in her transitioning persona. I tell her that it is all right for her to grow up and grow away from me.  She cries, and we snuggle. Her nearly adult body falls into me that same way that her toddler body did.

The following day I cry in my therapists office.


Tonight I sleep in my sheets that smell of French Lavender.  I close my eyes and think of fields in Provence where I lay with you. 

Invisibility = White

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Originally published 2/2006. This was part of my Master's thesis on Anti-Bias Curriculum. However, it was also a declaration of myself as a Social Justice Ally. 

As an Early Childhood educator, I recognized the importance of this work on behalf of the children and families we serve. Without an exploration of our internal bias and recognition of the privileges that come from being white in a white society, how can we hope to welcome all families and children into the classroom? If, as a White college educated woman, I cannot recognize and be aware of the advantage that I am automatically granted as a member of the dominant culture, how can I truly advocate for all families and children? How can these families feel welcomed in a classroom in which I teach?

My mother-in-law in Detroit will often tell me that white people are crazy. I used to assume this was a kind of funny endearment. When I asked my husband about this, his response was “White People are crazy. She means it”. I have come to understand the meaning of this phrase, not as an endearment, but as an extremely serious statement.

I am fortunate. I am the white member of a black family from Detroit. They love me as a member of their family and I am afforded a unique view into a family from a race and culture other than my own. They view my questions and inquiries about these obvious issues with patience and love. The white culture in which I was raised did not openly address these topics and I am asking things to find out. I want to know because they are my family too, and because I am the mother of a bi-racial daughter, who will have to navigate these unsteady racial waters in ways that I never was required to think about.

When my mother in law says this phrase “White people are crazy” this is what she means. White People are the dominant culture in the United States. They are the holders of nearly all the political, social and economic power in our society. They design and control our government, our schools, and our legal system. White people control most of the media outlets – radio, television, and newspaper and book publishers. White people have designed a total system that grants them implicit favors and privileges as they navigate these systems. Yet, they blatantly, as a group, deny this. White people point to a select few of other racial heritage that have been successful as examples of the equality and fair treatment afforded to all Americans. White people will tell you how all of that discrimination “stuff” was in the past, that they had nothing to do with that. Most of the White people who say these things truly believe them. However, for American persons of other non-white heritage, this is a glaring un-truth. To co-opt a phrase from a twelve-step group – The elephant is in the room and only the white people can’t see it.

For my mother in law and husband, the refusal to “see” on the part of white people makes them crazy and untrustworthy. Terrance’s wife, her daughter in law and mother of her granddaughter is one of these white people. I am a white person and admit that I spent most of my life not seeing the elephant.

For my journey into the issues of anti-bias curriculum, the beginning came with my relationship with my husband. While there had been no overt statements of racial or other bias in my family, I was taken aback by the vehemence of my mother’s reaction when I announced my relationship with Terrance. The stream of racist and hateful language that flowed from my mother shocked and horrified me. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if I was to go out with him that day, I could find another place to live and finance the rest of my college education. The threat was unveiled and clear. Walk away from the black man, or walk away from your comfortable life.

In those moments, I made a decision that would influence the rest of my life. I uncovered my mother as racist. I consciously walked away from the privileges of my white family. This action solidified my emerging sense that issues of race and culture were to be a crucial part of my personal and professional life. However, my liberal education and background was shaken to the core. My white liberal Democratic people were not supposed to react like this when confronted with issues of race. I was ashamed and embarrassed that my family behaved this way.

When I discovered the Anti Bias Curriculum shortly after my graduation from college in 1992, I felt as if it were a professional revelation. This was what I had been looking for! While the topic of “multi-cultural education” was broached during my teacher education at the University of Vermont, it was not a central part of the education of emerging teachers. Preparing white teachers in Vermont did not seem to necessitate the discussion of issues of race and culture in society. We were, on the whole, upper middle class white students, preparing to teach white students.

During this time, I was also falling in love with a man not of my racial heritage. I was experiencing, for the first time, the obviousness of race in an all white environment. Walking into restaurants or stores, I noticed other white people noticing us. My invisibility in my culture, of which I had never been aware, was no longer afforded to me when I walked beside Terrance. I had crossed over a line that I previously did not know existed.

With time, my assimilation into a dual cultural role became as second nature. I stopped noticing because life consumed my attention. A career, a marriage and then a new baby shifted my focus from issues of race and culture to those of every day life. Occasionally, I would be jolted from complacence into thinking about this uncomfortable topic. From the elderly white woman who approached me with my infant daughter inquiring when I “got” her to the white father who loudly inquired to me why the child care center was closed for Civil Rights Day when there were no black people here; these incidents were always unexpected and left me speechless. I had forgotten that as a white woman, without my husband nearby, I visibly re-integrated back into the dominant white culture. This invisibility seemed a tacit permission, allowing other white people to say things in my presence that they would not dare speak of with my husband at my side.

As an educator, I had done a fair amount of exploration into the topic of Anti-Bias curriculum while teaching in my own classrooms. In pursuing accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, it was a criterion to be integrated into the mission and philosophy of the child care center. As the director of this center, I led the conversations of this topic in order to infuse everything we planned with an awareness of the messages we were sending to all families. As a mother of a bi-racial infant daughter, I became more aware of the urgency of the message of Anti-Bias curriculum on the part of the families we served.

These were not always pleasant conversations with teachers or parents. I was accused of being Anti-Christian, Racist, a promoter of Homosexuality, and even told I was a person looking to psychologically damage young children by removing holidays from our center curriculum. I presevered. My personal agenda to make that child care center a place of welcome and support for all families and children became a consuming work. Those staff that did not agree with my vision of anti-bias curriculum eventually left and I found others who shared a similar vision and were willing to commit to it.

Our NAEYC validation visit was scheduled on Halloween of 1999. The validator remarked that she had never seen such a calm, peaceful child care center on Halloween in her career. There were no costumes or candy. There were no excluded children due to religious beliefs. While not perfection, we were living much closer to the intent of Louise Derman Sparks work in Anti Bias Curriculum. We were not standing on the traditions of “we've always done it this way”, but rather examining the motives behind our traditions. We asked, “Is this good for children and families?” and let the answers guide our curriculum and policies.

So, I unwittingly started this thing...

Saturday, November 01, 2014


Despite my worry that I am going to get sacked ( and not in the "sexy" way) meaning all of the dire predictions of Terrance finally come true (i.e. "Your smart ass mouth is going to get you fired, Dawn!")

I am so very proud and pleased by my other lady Ph.D. commenters.

Fight the patriarchy, ladies.
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