Giants in the Nursery: A game of who said it

February 25, 2015

David Elkind’s new book, Giants in the Nursery, tells the stories of the “giants” of early childhood education. These brilliant men and women helped create the theories and advance the ideas that are now know as DAP: Developmentally Appropriate Practice.

This new book brings the history of the giants and DAP to life in a way that shows the thread of historical and conceptual continuity that is often overlooked when discussing the individual schools of practice. It is a fascinating look at how we got from the concept of education as only males learning reading, writing, math, singing and culture, to Maria Montessori’s fight against sexism to become the first female physician in Italy, to the idea of child psychology and development as a field of practice.

From their hardships and wisdom came several gems of inspiration. Can you guess who said each one?

Giants in the Nursery

“The improvement of understanding is for two ends: first, our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver that knowledge to others.”

  Heinrich Pestalozzi – Fredrick Froebel – John Locke

“Receive the children in reverence; education them in love; let them go forth in freedom.”

Rudolf Steiner  –  Erik Erikson  –  Jean Jacques Rousseau

“A child’s play is not simply a reproduction of what he has experienced, but a creative reworking of the impressions he has acquired.”

Jean Piaget  –  Maria Montesorri  –  Lev Vygotsky

“There is in every child at every stage a new miracle of vigorous unfolding, which constitutes a new hope and a new responsibility to all.”

 Fredrick Froebel  –  Erik Erikson  –  Sigmund Freud

Find out the correct answers and see even more words of wisdom on our Pinterest Wise Words board!

The STEM series: Introduction to basics

February 11, 2015

s.t.e.m. ICONWe’ve been hearing from our readers and educators about how much they love STEM and are trying to incorporate it into their classrooms and lessons. The four STEM disciplines are often considered staples in elementary, middle, and high school curriculum, but the early years are a great time to introduce children to the exciting world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Young children have a natural sense of curiosity. They build knowledge of the world as they explore and experiment.

We recently talked with Sally Moomaw, EdD, who has dedicated much of her research and work to STEM education. She’s the author of Teaching STEM in the Early Years which provides more than 85 engaging, developmentally appropriate activities to maximize children’s learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

To help students connect math and science to other contexts in their world Dr. Moomaw believes you should keep four teaching practices in mind as you build your curriculum.

  1. Intentional teaching: Always keep math and science goals in mind when designing activities and curriculum.
  2. Teach for understanding: Learning isn’t about reciting rules from memory. You want students to understand the concepts and connect them to real world experiences.
  3. Encourage inquiry: Math and science are subjects built on asking questions, hypothesizing, and recognizing the relationships. Make children comfortable exploring and questioning.
  4. Provide real-world contexts: Children can understand even complex ideas when you connect them to their real life. Turn trips outside into science lessons or blocks into an engineering lesson. They want to understand their world you just have to help them make the connections.

With these principles in mind, Dr. Moomaw shared three tips that you can use to help create a more STEM-friendly learning environment.

  1. Try to make every moment a STEM learning opportunity. No matter where you are in the classroom, there is an opportunity to focus children’s attention on something interesting related to math or science.
  2. Follow children’s ideas. If your goal was to plant seeds but children suddenly become fascinated with earthworms, follow their lead.
  3. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge what you don’t know. Teachers and children can and should be co-investigators.

Each month we will be sharing a STEM activity as part of our STEM series to get you inspired for activities in your own room.

Tell us: What do you want to like about STEM? How do you already use it in your classroom?

Qualities of leadership: Inspiration and ideas

February 5, 2015

Did you set New Year’s resolutions? Have you already broken them? This time of year seems to be the time to evaluate our values and who we want to be in this New Year. Many of us have a desire to make a difference, connect more deeply, and invest in a better future by becoming a better leader.

Maurice Sykes, educator and author, has been in the same place and taken the journey to being a leader and is inspiring others to do the same. As Maurice says:

We each are a composite of what we believe, how we understand things, and the actions we take. As a leader, it is critical that your core values – your guiding principles – inform your leadership beliefs, thoughts, and actions.

Everyone has a core set of values. It is important for you to identify and articulate your core values to yourself and be aware of how they influence your thoughts words, and deeds.

Doing the Right Thing for Children: Eight Qualities of Leadership  

So what are your core values and where are they leading you? If you aren’t sure yet or need a place to start, here are Maurice’s recommendation:

  1. Belief in human potential: Recognize potential in others, both children and adults. Believe that there are no limits to a person’s potential with the right coaching, mentoring, and support. Have your eyes open to spot the hidden gifts inside others and nurture them into greatness.
  2. A love for knowledge: Have a hunger for knowledge and curiosity about a wide range of subjects. Desire to know           more. Knowledge helps you understand the world around you, but also creates the self-knowledge needed to build       strong relationships.
  3. Belief in social justice: “Be a mediator between the circumstances where one starts in life and where one ends”             (Sykes,14). Believe in equality and strive to create a place where everyone can have a voice.
  4. Competence: Take your knowledge and put it into action. Have the confidence in your own potential and knowledge     to create action towards goals that serve a greater good.
  5. Have fun: Lead with energy and enthusiasm and always remember to practice humility. As Maurice says “a broken spirit cannot lift another broken spirit”. Work should be fun and enjoyable; if it isn’t is it really worth doing? Value play not only for the children you work with, but for yourself and the adults in your life.
  6. Practice personal renewal: If you are worn out you cannot be effective at anything. Understand your own need for renewal physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually through simple enjoyment. Step away from time to time so you can bring your full self when you return.
  7. Believe in perseverance: Success rarely comes quickly and easily. If you have long-term goals you know you will face bumps in the road. Don’t’ give up and keep the vision of your goal in mind. The journey may not always be easy, but you will learn and grow as you go.
  8. Have courage: Know the mission and be willing to take bold steps for that purpose. There will be tough choices and you must be able to face them head on; even when that means taking responsibility for your actions.

You can find out more about these eight qualities and how to develop habits for becoming a better leader in Maurice Sykes’ new book Doing the Right Thing for Children. We are inspired to be better for ourselves and for those around us . . . what are you inspired to do?

Evaluating and Supporting Early Childhood Teachers: A conversation with Angele Sancho Passe

January 28, 2015

Teacher evaluation is a hot topic right now with many districts revamping their process. Author Angele Sancho Passe had perfect timing on her new book, Evaluating and Supporting Early Childhood Teachers, where she covers the topic in depth. Angele recently talked with us about her new book and where she hopes the teacher evaluation conversation leads. Below you can learn more about evaluations and Angele’s insights as she shares some of her advice for making the process a helpful and supportive experience.

paper and pencilWhy were you inspired to address the topic of teacher evaluations?

In this age of accountability it seemed that the topic was becoming urgent. I am concerned that the ideas we have about teacher evaluation are confusing. They are simplistic. We focus only on children’s test scores to determine if the teacher is good or bad without affirming what the teacher does well, or making a plan for what needs to improve. Or, we only look at what the teacher does (the act of teaching) but not what the children are learning (the results of teaching). If the children do not learn well, they tend to be blamed for not being teachable, and teachers do not get good support to teach better.

I have been a teacher being evaluated, as well as an administrator evaluating teachers. And I could analyze what made a good –or not so good- evaluation. Good evaluations affirm the value of the teacher and help teachers see how to modify their teaching to improve children’s learning.

In early education, we have spent a lot of time thinking about assessing children, with many good guidelines on how to do it well, with sensitivity. Yet we have not paid attention to how we are evaluating teachers. For children, we think of a process that helps them grow. For teachers, we often ignore problems and tolerate ineffective teaching without any support. This hurts both teachers and children, and the reputation of education in general.

paper and pencilShould evaluation be viewed more as quality improvement instead of judgment?

The title of the book is “evaluating and supporting early teachers”. Support is the most important part. It is necessary to prevent problems, and also to correct problems. So evaluation is part of support, it is not judgment without purpose. Evaluation is the vehicle to improve quality.

paper and pencilHow do you think teachers create this support/evaluation system for themselves and their co-workers?

If there is no evaluation plan in the program or school, I would recommend to teachers that they design one and propose it to administrators. First, to identify what is going well. Second to identify what could be better. The book has lots of practical ideas to do that.

paper and pencilAs teacher evaluations undergo changes across the country do you have any tips for teachers to take an active role in evaluations?

Yes, teachers need to know the tools that are used to evaluate them. These tools spell out what teachers are responsible for, whether they are a validated instrument, like the CLASS ™ or a site based checklist. When I work with teachers, I always ask them to self-evaluate first, and rate themselves. Every time I find that the teacher and I agree on most items. That makes it a lot easier to have a professional conversation. Teachers are very aware of their strengths and needs for improvement when they take time to reflect.

paper and pencilThis book was written more for the leaders who will be doing the evaluating, but what do you feel those being evaluated should know?

They need to know what they are being evaluated on. As I say in the book, there are three areas: the acts of teaching (what the teacher does- curriculum, instruction, classroom management, communication), the results of teaching (what the children have learned – academics and behaviors-), and the professional behaviors (how the teacher acts as a professional). These three aspects encompass the whole job of teaching. Recently, a director told me “Teacher B. is so good when she is here, but she is often absent”. The director did not know what to do. I recommended a full evaluation because teacher B. needs support and guidance. Regular attendance (professional behavior) is critical to being a good teacher. We need to see – with Ms. B- how her absenteeism affects the curriculum, and what the children are learning. Can the children learn as much when she is absent? This discussion will be necessary.

paper and pencilDo you feel this book could be helpful for teachers who are not currently in a leadership position? If so what do you hope they would get from the narrative?

Teachers who are not in leadership position can assess the quality of support in their center or school with the ideas in chapter 1 that define evaluation and support. The ideas in chapter 2 describe a caring community of workers. As they read and do the checklists, they may find that best practices for evaluation and support are indeed happening at their school. But if they are not, the checklists will provide a helpful conversation starter. And I know the conversations will lead to solutions.

paper and pencilYou note in the book “to find the value of” is a definition of evaluation and the teachers must find their own value and nurture it for evaluation programs to be successful. How do you recommend they do this from a professional standpoint?

It is very important that teachers assess their own teaching always with the three aspects in mind: acts of teaching, results of teaching, professional behaviors. Teaching is complex, but we can picture a good teacher. She is well prepared, has an orderly classroom, a good curriculum, and interesting activities. She knows what the children need to learn, and the children do make progress. She gets help from others to teach children who need extra support. She is reliable, and gets along with colleagues and parents. We must think of all these characteristics as skills, not just personal traits. It is difficult to effect personal traits, but skills are learned and can be refined and improved. To me, that’s a hopeful notion. Teachers can use the checklists in chapter 3 to self-assess, and think of what skills they already have and what skills they should improve. That’s part of professional growth, just like athletes or musicians who continue to practice and analyze certain techniques to refine their skills.

paper and pencilAre there any questions or topics teachers can bring up to their leadership to see if there is quality evaluation process in place?

The guiding principles in chapter 1 are a good place to start. Questions might include: Is our center or school a caring community of workers? What is in place to enhance our professional competence? Are we getting appropriate direction and support? Do we believe our skills are assessed fairly, and what is in place to help us grow? What are the opportunities for involvement in the field of early childhood education? The checklists on pages 12-13 are designed as a discussion starter.

You can find out more about building a positive evaluation system in Angele’s new book, Evaluating and Supporting Early Childhood Teachers, out now!

Let us know if you have any questions about evaluations or anything else. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Guest Post: Reflections on Spanking by Tamar Jacobson, PhD

November 24, 2014

specialguestbloggerWe’re delighted to welcome back guest blogger Tamar Jacobson. She is sharing her thoughts and reflections on the use of spanking when caring for children. 

In addition to writing “Don’t Get So Upset!” Help Young Children Manage Their Feelings by Understanding Your Own and editing Perspectives on Gender in Early Childhood, both published by Redleaf Press, Dr. Jacobson is professor, chair of the Department of Teacher Educator, and director of the Early Childhood Education Program at Rider University in New Jersey. She is also a frequent and popular presenter at international, national, regional, and state conferences and workshops on a variety of topics—and the recipient of the 2013 National Association for Early Childhood Teacher Educators (NAECTE) Outstanding Early Childhood Teacher Educator Award.

Jacobson.TamarI once bought a bumper sticker for my car that said: “It is never okay to hit a child.” The person I bought it from liked it, not only because it reminded adults about how to care for children, but most especially because children reading it would realize that someone out there was on their side! John Bradshaw, in his 1990 book Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, described how a child might feel when we spank them. He wrote, “Imagine how you would feel if your best friend walked over and slapped you.” In 2005 in a book titled Scolding: Why it Hurts More than it Helps, studying childcare across the United States, Denmark, China, and Japan, Sigsgaard wrote about why adults scold children. One of the reasons was simply: Because the adults themselves were spanked or scolded as children.

I understand that many parents, who use spanking as a strategy, believe they are providing guidance, like they received from their parents when they were children. They believe that it works. And in the short term it does seem that way.

However, whatever the intention, the outcome is for the child to fear power. Spanking serves no other purpose than to show a child who has the power. It is the stuff of control and dominance. And it models the same. That is why most children who were spanked or beaten grow up to be adults who spank or beat their own children. Children need adults for their survival –to guide them with kindness and compassion so that they will grow to be humane. Most of us filter our ideas and strategies about disciplining young children through our earliest emotional memories of punishment. I wonder why we hurt children to teach them.

I once read a saying somewhere that said, “Treat children as you would a guest in your house.” Think about that for a moment. If a guest in your house checked out your newest vase, would you head over and slap them, yelling at them not to touch it, not to break it? And yet, that is exactly what many of us do to our children.

Spanking violates a child’s sense of self. If we want to teach children to value and respect others, we have to model that same kind of behavior in our interactions with them. Naturally, this is very difficult to do if all we remember is being slapped and violated ourselves. If we remember that love came with a healthy dose of physical or emotional pain and humiliation, we will find it difficult to interpret love any other way. Being cruel to be kind is one of the most confusing messages we can give to a young child. Indeed, it makes no sense. Being compassionate to be kind is so much clearer. We can set boundaries in a way that helps children understand how to behave in a democratic society. But never through spanking.

For, indeed, it is never okay to hit a child!

Share Your Stories! Contribute to Holly Elissa Bruno’s Next Book: Post 16

October 21, 2014

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In her latest Share Your Stories post, Holly Elissa Bruno reflects on the controlling grasp of fear. Join in the conversation with Holly Elissa as you think about the latest news headline, Ebola, and how fear can alert yet blind us. 

Should I go to Dallas? Would you?

Thousands of eager and spirited early childhood professionals convene annually for a friendly, often crowded, bustling and eventful professional conference, sponsored by NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children). We fly in from around the country (and the world), riding shoulder to shoulder in trains, shuttles, taxis and cars. For four days, we interact, hug and sometimes sneeze, primarily in public spaces.

In our field, we share. We share rooms, cabs, meals, and intimate conversations. We are literally a touching profession.

This year, beginning November 4, our annual conference is slated for the Dallas Convention Center. When you think of Dallas, does either the Dallas Cowboy football team or a soap opera about rich Texans come to mind?

Not likely. We think instead of Thomas Eric Duncan who died from the Ebola virus at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. We think instead of Mr. Duncan’s two nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, who now suffer from the Ebola virus. We can picture the deeply mourning countenance of Mr. Duncan’s mother, Nowai Gartay, in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Photo Credit: johavel/iStock/ThinkStock

Photo Credit: johavel/iStock/ThinkStock

Newscasters tell us that an elementary school teacher in Maine, who attended another conference for educators (at a venue 9.5 miles from Mr. Duncan’s hospital) has been placed on a 21-day leave due to “parents’ concerns”. Middle school students in Mississippi were pulled out of their classes because their principal had visited Zambia. Zambia is 3000 miles away from the Ebola outbreak in Africa. As I wait for my car to be serviced in Auburn, MA, I ask an employee: “What’s your take on the Ebola situation?” As soon as she finishes telling me how afraid she is, she decides to wipe down everything around her with disinfectant.

Should I go to Dallas for the NAEYC conference? Would you go?

NAEYC assures us that health precautions will be “heightened” to keep us safe.

Fight, flight or freeze: These are our usual human responses to danger. We dig in our heels and crouch for a fight. We turn and sprint for the hills. Or we hold our breath and hope to fade into invisibility. When the bear lumbers out of the forest toward us or the guard dog snarls and growls, we seek safety.

More than anything, we want to survive and we want danger to go away. When threatened, we can’t think clearly. Our system, under the command of the protective amygdala gland, throbs with adrenalin and cortisol. If we speak, we might say something we may later regret. If we make decisions, those decisions are not likely to be reasoned.

In short, we are rarely philosophical when we are terrified. Regaining perspective takes muscular effort. Because our core commitment in early childhood is “Do no harm”, we devote ourselves to protecting children. Even if we don’t fear for ourselves, we may question whether our being in Dallas will put the children in our care in danger.

Fear spreads faster than Ebola. When I mentioned that I flew through Dallas a few weeks ago, the person with whom I spoke backed away. Approximately 5 million people fly through Dallas each month. In fact, the entire population of Dallas would be quarantined if we all followed the standard used by that one Maine school system.

Photo Credit: Ralwel/iStock/ThinkStock

Photo Credit: Ralwel/iStock/ThinkStock

As with the Black Plague and the AIDS epidemic, fear touches everyone. Ask anyone around you about the “Ebola threat”. No one has been untouched.

What we need more than anything else is accurate, useful data: Will going to Dallas put me in danger? What kind of danger? If I go to Dallas, will I in turn put anyone else in danger? What can I do to remain safe and virus-free if I travel to Dallas?

Consider these facts which have been obscured by fear:

  • Dozens of people in Dallas have completed the 21 day quarantine. They are not infected.
  • The World Health Organization declared that Nigeria is free of the Ebola virus. No new cases have been reported in over 40 days. Ebola can be contained.
  • Theresa Romero (in Spain), the 1st person to develop Ebola outside of Africa (from missionaries who had been in Africa) has survived her bout with the illness.
  • The health worker who quarantined herself on board the “Ebola cruise” has tested negative for the virus.

Will I go to Dallas? Yes. Will I give my 3 presentations? Yes. Will I enjoy connecting with old friends and making new friends? Yes. Will we hug one another? Probably. Will I go out of my way to wash/sanitize my hands? Call me crazy; but, I am likely to keep doing what I already do, use common sense, and use hand sanitizer before I eat a meal.

Would you go to Dallas? What facts would help you make that decision? If fear has ever controlled your life, how did you reclaim your peace of mind?

When we are overtaken by fear, we can’t examine the facts and reflect on our options. Fear can both alert us and blind us.

At best, fear can offer us a second chance to research, to learn, and to make informed decisions. I am not fearful of contracting Ebola in Dallas. I intend to enjoy the conference and my colleagues. I do, however, fear for the children of Liberia and Sierra Leone who will continue to suffer until systems and resources can be put in place to protect them.

BY LEAVING A COMMENT, I hereby give my permission to Redleaf Press to use my story and quote me (all names will be changed) in Holly Elissa Bruno’s upcoming book on second chances, including in all revised editions of the book, in all formats (including print and electronic) now known or developed in the future, in all languages and territories, and in any other subsidiary editions of the book, and in promotional materials published by Redleaf Press, as it sees fit.


Share Your Stories! Contribute to Holly Elissa Bruno’s Next Book: Post 15

October 7, 2014


In her latest Share Your Stories post, Holly Elissa Bruno reflects on the Honor Flight Network and unsung heroes. Join in the conversation with Holly Elissa as you think about the importance of celebrating the quiet and inspirational heroes in your lives. 

Hudson Valley Honor flight, September 27, 2014

National Airport’s Terminal C crackled electric. Fanning into a gauntlet from Gate 38’s open door, civilians like me swayed shoulder-to-shoulder with soldiers donned in crisply pressed navy and white or green uniforms. Children squeezed through us waving petite American flags like sparklers in the night. One gentle Golden Retriever working dog smiled in abiding patience at her place in line beside our knees. Musicians in the brass band seated to my right, reconfirmed the order of their sheet music.

We scanned that open door, all of us, for World War II veterans arriving from Hudson Valley, New York on an Honor Flight. Soldiers were coming home to the nation’s capital and to the welcome they never got and always deserved.

And then the wheel chairs, pushed by grateful volunteers, started to roll, transporting precious cargo: once young soldiers, now octogenarians and nonogenarians. Then came the men walking as tall as they could with tripod canes, including Jack from Staten Island and Rocco from Rochester.

Sixty-eight years ago, these same soldiers returned without fanfare, without the PTSD diagnosis that could bring relief, without help to face substance addictions, but with the expectation they would overnight return to life and work, putting the war horrors behind them.

Urged by the line around me, I flew to each soldier, offering a hug, thanking them, honoring them, crying with them. My heart burst with gratitude and love. War is not my answer; but, I will always appreciate the people who risk everything to defend the freedoms we hold dear.

So many stories to hear. Too many stories untold. Too many wounds to heal. Far too many years without praise.

My heart, spilling over, flowing through my eyes, aching with awe, wondered: Will I burst into a flood of tears? Do I have room for yet another and another hero?

Then she emerged, her snowy haired, hound-dog eyed, sassy self: Ms. Ruth Maillot, Marine. At 103 the oldest living female Marine on earth. All the Marines had wanted was a few good men. They got one 5 foot tall giant of a woman instead: Ruth the powerhouse.

“Thank you for your courage, ma’am. May I give you a hug?” I offered. “Of course,” she replied, eyes sparkling, if weary; heart strong, if weary. Ms. Ruth smiled the smile of a sage who has seen it all—and learned from all of it. As her body downsized, her spirit soared.

Hugging Ms. Ruth, I found myself confiding, “I became an attorney. I never could have done that if it weren’t for you.” And I kissed Ms. Ruth’s cheeks.

Ms. Ruth looked me straight in the eye, sister to sister, and announced in her timeless voice, “We paved the way. We paved the way for all of you who followed.”

I looked her straight in the eye: “Yes you did, Ms. Ruth. And, yes you do. Bless you. Thank you.”

Ruth and Holly Elissa

As I let her go, Ms. Ruth rolled on to more hugs and more applause and more salutes. She and the men rolled on to a full day in Washington, DC visiting World War II monuments, hearing praise by leaders, stopping at Arlington Cemetery to honor their buddies who either did not return alive or who have already come to the end of their days.

Maybe Ms. Ruth had a tear in her eye. She had more than a right. She and so many others went to war, fought their hearts out, and returned to a country that expected them to get right back to business as usual. For Ms. Ruth, what could “business as usual” mean?

PTSD. Doctors called it “shell shock.” Soldiers were expected to get over it, go home, go back to work, go back to every day days. How do you do that when you see the faces of your buddies who didn’t return with you? How do you do that when loud noises spark panic attacks and pain sears so deep no amount of love can fill the hole in your heart?

Honor flights help: They honor our unsung heroes. They give a second chance to all of us to do the right thing.

Do you have an unsung hero in your life, from any type of war, who could use a real or symbolic Honor Flight home?

To watch a compelling documentary on the founding of Honor Flights, go to or order it from your local public library. For more information on the Honor Flight Network, and to see more photographs, visit the Hudson Valley Honor Flight Facebook page.

BY LEAVING A COMMENT, I hereby give my permission to Redleaf Press to use my story and quote me (all names will be changed) in Holly Elissa Bruno’s upcoming book on second chances, including in all revised editions of the book, in all formats (including print and electronic) now known or developed in the future, in all languages and territories, and in any other subsidiary editions of the book, and in promotional materials published by Redleaf Press, as it sees fit.

Share Your Stories! Contribute to Holly Elissa Bruno’s Next Book: Post 14

September 23, 2014

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In her latest Share Your Stories post, Holly Elissa Bruno reflects on what happens when self-confidence can waiver. Join in the conversation with Holly Elissa as you think about the importance of facing fears and conquering doubt with the advice and life lessons of Eleanor Roosevelt.

What Eleanor Knew

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you think you cannot do—Eleanor Roosevelt

I know when my self-confidence abandons me. I’m not always sure how self-doubt seeps in; but, I am sure of the result: Work that felt so natural and so easy overwhelms me. When self-doubt takes over, a simple twenty minute task festoons into a full-day’s labor.

Perhaps you know how this goes? Even a promising long-awaited adventure like a day at the lake collapses into a heavy burden.

As I made the two-hour drive to Vermont to swim at my favorite crystalline lake with the hidden access through the woods, little worries began shooting darts through my joy. By the time I had parked my car to begin my hike down and up the circuitous, pine-forested hillside path to the water’s edge, clouds had elbowed out the sun.

“My” lake had become a stranger. Its once welcoming water felt cold to the touch and precipitously deep. Chop edged out placidity as the concerns inside me spread outside. And so, I stood at water’s edge of the clear lake I have always loved, poised to dive but scared. How could I plunge into a possible choking panic attack or a disabling leg cramp?

Catching on that the Bully of Fear was stalking me from within, I breathed in, closed my eyes, breathed out and asked for help. At times like this, the kindest thing I can do for myself is to surrender my illusion of control, ask for help, and wait.

Eleanor Roosevelt

As I waited and as I breathed, I recalled an image of Eleanor Roosevelt’s smilingly bold and determined countenance from a Ken Burns’ documentary. And I remembered that Eleanor knew hard times. I recalled what Eleanor knew:

  • She knew that when her heart ached, she needed to walk steadily toward and into the bathroom: To close the door securely behind her; to lock the door; and, to turn the sink’s hot and cold water spigots to full blast. Shielded by the gushing sound, Eleanor could allow herself to cry: “Every time you meet a situation you think at the time it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it, you find that forever after you are freer than you were before.”
  • Eleanor knew. She knew how it felt when her trusted personal secretary and the husband she adored betrayed her and became lovers. Eleanor knew that even with a broken heart, she could still claim personal dignity: “The giving of love is an education in itself.”
  • Eleanor knew to comfort hospitalized war-ravaged soldiers, regardless of her terror as their careening minds veered off the edge of sanity and their wounds refused to heal: “We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.”
  • Eleanor knew that her looks would not open doors and that her world was not necessarily open to a bright and questioning woman. “As for accomplishments, I just did what I had to do as things came along. A stumbling block to the pessimist is a stepping-stone to the optimist.”
  • Eleanor knew the risks as she steadfastly took action for civil rights, despite death threats from the Ku Klux Klan: “Staying aloof is not a solution, but a cowardly evasion.”

Eleanor, knowing and experiencing all of these losses and threats, kept weaving tragedy into wisdom: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face….You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Eleanor knew what I am still learning:

  • Confidence grows and confidence wanes.
  • As often as you can, kick fear to the curb, no matter how terrifying the circumstances.
  • Choose to love and to grow, regardless of having no guarantees.
  • Choose to be true to your dream, against all the odds. In so doing, inspire others to trust in their dreams.

When you can, look fear in the face. Not every second chance to reclaim joy or hope or confidence comes easily. The choice, no matter how clouded over, is always there. What second chances await you even on low-confidence wearisome days?

Do you see my red sandals there at the water’s edge? That’s where I left them just before I said “what the hey” and dived into my lake in the sometimes sun.

Eleanor knew: “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”


BY LEAVING A COMMENT, I hereby give my permission to Redleaf Press to use my story and quote me (all names will be changed) in Holly Elissa Bruno’s upcoming book on second chances, including in all revised editions of the book, in all formats (including print and electronic) now known or developed in the future, in all languages and territories, and in any other subsidiary editions of the book, and in promotional materials published by Redleaf Press, as it sees fit.

Share Your Stories! Contribute to Holly Elissa Bruno’s Next Book: Post 13

September 9, 2014

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In her latest Share Your Stories post, Holly Elissa Bruno reflects on what intelligence means and how it is different for every person. Join in the conversation with Holly Elissa as you think about the importance of recognizing and encouraging every person’s soulful intelligence.

Soulful Intelligence


I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.

I want to free what waits within me

so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear

without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,

but this is what I need to say.

May what I do flow from me like a river

no forcing and no holding back,

the way it is with children.

—Rilke, Book of Hours, I, 12


When you recall your worst teacher (do this only if you are willing; memories can spark unbidden feelings), what do you recall of that person’s behavior?

Can you remember that teacher’s name? How you felt in that person’s presence? What you learned, if anything (besides fear or anger or disappointment or how to undervalue yourself)?

We learn to define ourselves through the eyes of our teachers.

Raymond’s 2nd grade teacher warned him, “You can’t sing; mouth the words. No one wants to hear a fog horn.” Raymond’s singing ended on that day. Charlene’s teacher told her, “Zip your lip and for heaven’s sake, stop fidgeting!” Charlene learned to be ashamed of her bubbly toe-tapping self.

Ask anyone to tell you about her worst teacher’s behavior. You will witness the hurt or anger or both that still burn, no matter how many years have gone by.

If you want to witness a completely different response, ask someone (or yourself): “Who was your favorite teacher? Can you tell me about her or him? How did you feel in the teacher’s presence? What did you learn about yourself and about learning when you were respected for who you are? When your unique intelligences were honored?”

I recall standing in the hallway beside Nelle Smither’s tweed jacketed, curly hair-haloed, wrinkled professor self as she matter-of-factly stated, “You can write.” Decades later, as I dedicated my first book to Dr. Nelle Smither, I saw us again standing in the hallway on that day when she told me I could write.

No matter how old we students (of life) are, our spirit can be uplifted or crushed by a loving or dismissive adult:

  • Sidney Poitier was told, “Stop wasting people’s time and go out and become a dishwasher.”
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
  • Beethoven’s teacher told him he was “hopeless” and would never succeed as a violinist or composer.
  • Fred Astaire was labeled: “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”
  • Oprah Winfrey was fired from a job because she was “unfit for TV.”
  • Albert Einstein’s teachers said he was “mentally handicapped.”
  • Thomas Edison was told he was “too stupid to learn anything.”
  • Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for having “no imagination and lacking in ideas.”

Can you imagine? I’m sure you can.

“Everyone is a genius; but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, that fish will think it’s stupid,” Albert Einstein observed as an adult.

IQ, EQ, multiple intelligences, standardized tests: We have created so many ways to define our intelligence, primarily from the outside looking in. Get a high enough IQ score and you can call yourself a genius. But, what becomes of the child whose genius cannot be measured?

Each of us has to find our own brand of genius, that one-of-a-kind, no-one-can-do-it-the-way-you-do it, glowing capacity to leave-the-world-a-better-place genius.

Fellow travelers can support you and challenge you along the way. You, however, are the ultimate expert on you. You have soulful intelligence: that inner voice that reminds you why you’re here on earth.

My friend Karen tells me she is meant to care for other people’s dogs; yet, she questions the value of that: “Shouldn’t I do something more valuable for the world?” she worries herself.

Give it up, Karen. To that dog and that owner, you are the most important person. Christopher Reeves smiled and said, “I could have just been remembered as Superman.” Instead, his legacy helps researchers heal spinal cord injuries.

Soulful intelligence: We all have it.

The gift is in helping each child find her voice.

The secret is in listening to our own inner voice.

The magic is in believing that what we are meant to do matters.

BY LEAVING A COMMENT, I hereby give my permission to Redleaf Press to use my story and quote me (all names will be changed) in Holly Elissa Bruno’s upcoming book on second chances, including in all revised editions of the book, in all formats (including print and electronic) now known or developed in the future, in all languages and territories, and in any other subsidiary editions of the book, and in promotional materials published by Redleaf Press, as it sees fit.

Share Your Stories! Contribute to Holly Elissa Bruno’s Next Book: Post 12

August 26, 2014

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In her latest Share Your Stories post, Holly Elissa Bruno reflects on what it means to surrender to powerlessness. Join in the conversation with Holly Elissa as you think about the importance of overcoming guilt when life feels out of control, and embracing the feeling of powerlessness that results.

Powerlessness: Where’s the 2nd chance in that mess?

“The only devils in the world are those running in our own hearts. That is where the battle should be fought.”

–Mahatma Gandhi

2nd chances can show up in disguise, unannounced, and hard to take at first. I didn’t know when I listened years ago to this early childhood director from New Jersey that her words would change my life:

“Feeling guilty about what happened is easier than feeling powerless,” she told me. “It’s a lot easier to blame myself and beat myself up than it is to admit there was nothing I could have done to make things better. Look,” she continued, “having no control is too scary for most of us; it’s painful to stand by and witness suffering and not be able to do a thing to stop it.”

Her words darted straight into my heart.

When my son became addicted to nicotine, I couldn’t bear to see him shaking and agitated until he could light up his next cigarette. I winced internally when I watched him get his nicotine fix. My brain contorted with concern: What can I do to help him stop? How can I hold up the mirror so he can see he’s hurting himself?

As a mom, I felt guilty that I couldn’t help my son stay healthy. I couldn’t bear feeling powerless, unable to stop him from hurting himself.

And there it is: Guilt is easier to live with than powerlessness. Powerlessness means admitting I cannot change my son’s mind for him. God, grant me the serenity to accept that I can’t change anyone else, especially people I love. My son is an adult. Smoking is his choice.

Listen: Changing myself is hard enough. Trust me! I have more maturity gaps than a centipede has legs.

I’m an addict too, not to substances but to processes. Most of my life I have been a work addict. Working hard, working long hours, doing more than is required, aiming toward perfection; all of these seemed to help my career advance. So I kept doing them.

No one staged an intervention or recommended rehab for me. But I am an addict nonetheless. Work addiction is the one addiction that is not only accepted, it’s applauded.

Feeling guilty about overworking holds me back from getting free. The truth is I rediscover who I am when I admit I am powerless over my addiction. If I don’t admit my powerlessness, I can count on my addiction to creep on back in, waiting to “live rent-free in my head.”

Ever so painstakingly I am getting the message: Surrender the illusion of control.

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.”

–Kahil Gibran

Humor helps. I smile as I remember the Jesuit priest in Rome who, upon waking each day, greeted each of his addictions by name: “Good morning, lust. Good morning, envy. Good morning, greed.” The priest said his addictions were like old friends, always there waiting for him. They understood him so well. He was a savvy priest; by naming his addictions, he stood a better chance of keeping his distance from them. He chose not to be in denial.

Given the alternatives (denial, staying addicted, beating myself up) feeling powerless isn’t such a bad thing.

These days, when I can’t accomplish something or can’t stop something painful from happening, especially to a loved one, I have an option: surrender. Admit I am not in control. That admission doesn’t feel soft and fuzzy. It feels jagged and scratchy. But it’s also a blessing. Why?

Powerlessness leads to humility and humility leads me home:

  • I love my son; but, I am powerless over his addiction to smoking. What can I do? I can love him and let my guilt go
  • I love my work; but, I am powerless over how it can take over my life. What can I do? Admit I am powerless over my work addiction and take baby steps to take care of myself.

Baby steps help. Today, for example, I work out. Today I enjoy lunch and laughter with Wendy, my good friend of twenty-six years. Today I discover a new novelist to adore. I take time to let the sweet theme of Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” wash my spirit clean. I watch my Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays. So what if the Sox lose again? I’m powerless.

Today is starting to sound lovely.

Powerlessness over the things I can’t control? Do I hate that feeling? Often I do. But more often than hating the feeling, I accept it as the first step toward letting go.

“When I stand before thee at the day’s end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing.”

–Rabindranath Tagore

When we admit we are powerless, we give ourselves the second chances we all deserve to live a happy and freer life.

In the end, powerlessness offers a deeper kind of spiritual power: humility and dignity. Tomorrow I can say, “Good morning, humility. Good morning, dignity. Good morning, work addiction.” And yes, “Good morning, serenity”.

How about you:

  • Are you trying to control something or someone over whom you have no power?
  • What would it take for you to admit you are powerless?
  • What supports do you need to have in place to help you take this first step?
  • If you have been able to admit your powerlessness, how has taking that step changed your life?


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