The Importance of Modeling Behavior and Values for Young Children – Part 2

What’s a parent or educator to do? Earlier this year I wrote about the importance of modeling for our children ways that will empower them to be empathic leaders of the future. As I was watching the news and reading my local paper about the allegations regarding a well-known sports franchise owner this past Saturday morning and hearing comments from students and parents, I realized that, like they do in Hollywood all the time, I needed to write a sequel.

It is not easy to filter the news that is on the radio or on the television so that our children are not exposed to the graphic details that seem to be so prevalent; they just should not hear some things. When the news is about a high-profile person such as a politician or an entertainer, there may be ways to apply a filter; if however, the news is focused on the owner of a popular local franchise that has just won another championship, all bets are off.

The multiple layers of the current allegations should not and cannot be taken lightly, and professionally, I feel it is my duty to address what all of us should do to help our children through what I consider is another challenge to the type of decency we at Brimmer are trying to instill in our children (through our Life Rules and our theme of Empathy and Ethical Thinking). Parents know their children better than anyone, but sometimes they are not sure what their children can handle developmentally. I prefer the less-is-more approach. Lower School students are concrete thinkers and see their world in black and white terms, so it is difficult to explain certain adult interactions–thus less is definitely more! Dr. Beth Meister, Director of Counseling Services, is a great resource as well, so if you have questions, please feel free to contact her.

This brings me back to empowering our students to be empathic and ethical future leaders. We need to be strategic not tactical…proactive not reactive. Personally, I am struggling with how I feel about someone who can do so much good for others in need (not talking sports) and who allegedly participates in actions that abuse people. Professionally, I will continue to seek ways for our children to navigate a world that offers both good and bad examples of human interactions.

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The Importance of Modeling Civic Responsibility for Young Children

For forty-four years I have worked with elementary-age children, and one of many things I have learned about young children is that they really hang on to adults’ actions as they try to act adult-like. Yes, children do want to act like adults! Never mind that being a child is undoubtedly one of the highlights of life…what’s the expression? “Youth is wasted on the young.” My point is, however, that if you want a child to do something, model what you want them to do–don’t just talk about it.

Brimmer’s theme for this year is Empathy and Ethical Thinking and it comes at a good time. The world around us is providing us with many challenges as we try to educate our youth. From apathetic voting habits to hateful rhetoric to violence, it is difficult to maintain a positive spirit or to be optimistic. I know most parents are able to filter out the worst of the news from their young children, but it is impossible to filter out all the mean-spirited happenings in day-to-day life. As a result, it is important for all of us to model for our children actions that will empower them to empathetic leaders in the future–leaders who will take charge to make the world a better place.

With the mid-term elections coming up on Tuesday, I would like all families to talk about the importance of elections, and why it is important to vote; however, there is something else I would like you to do. Remember how I said it was important to model what you want children to do because they hang on to our actions? Well, on Tuesday, if at all possible, take your child(ren) with you when you go to the polls. Make a big deal of it–a favorite activity or treat after voting may help reinforce the desire to vote! See you at the polls?

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Literacy Education in the Lower School

In the letter that Ms. McGillicuddy and I sent to parents in August, we briefly mentioned her expanded role as Assistant Head of Lower School, which now includes overseeing Grade One. On a regular, rotating basis, the Lower School Curriculum Committee, Ms. McGillicuddy, and I look at different areas of the curriculum. This year, one of the areas for review is our Early Childhood Literacy Program. With her strong background in reading education and our plans to evaluate Literacy in Pre-K through Grade One, expanding Ms. McGillicuddy’s role was an obvious move to make.
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Photo by David Baron

Literacy education has changed a good deal over the last twenty years, thanks to the developing field of neuroscience. There has been greater emphasis on how to offer more personalized learning platforms, which includes starting this work at an earlier age. Physically, children grow at different rates of speed.  By third grade, teachers see the reading range narrow. Thanks to small class sizes and our personalized approach, we are able to work with each student at his or her instructional level.

Teachers have many more tools to assess and teach students than 10-20 years ago. Using assessments and literacy programs that are designed for classrooms of students whose reading levels are different, teachers are able to provide targeted, systematic, and quality instruction. We want our children to view themselves as readers and writers and build their self-esteem through personal success.


Of course, literacy begins at home, so please make sure you read with your children on a regular basis!

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Thinking and Doing Begins in Early Childhood

The following post is the text of my remarks at Brimmer’s Opening Convocation on Monday, September 11, 2017.

Good Morning Students, Faculty, and Administration,

It is great to see so many former Lower School students sitting on the stage at the start of their senior year!

I would like to start by sharing a poem that may help you understand how to be a thinker or a doer.

All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten

by Robert Fulghum

Most of what I really need

To know about how to live

And what to do and how to be

I learned in kindergarten.

Wisdom was not at the top

Of the graduate school mountain,

But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.

These are the things I learned:

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don’t hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Wash your hands before you eat.


Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life –

Learn some and think some

And draw and paint and sing and dance

And play and work everyday some.

Take a nap every afternoon.

When you go out into the world,

Watch out for traffic,

Hold hands and stick together.

Be aware of wonder.

Yes, it all begins in Lower School; for a number of you on this stage, it started in Pre-K with Mrs. Bos and Mrs. Bentley! Whether you started in Pre-K or Kindergarten here at Brimmer or at another school, you took the first steps to becoming thinkers and doers in those early grades. Early Childhood classrooms have always been innovation spaces in which students have enjoyed tinkering.


I want to thank the fourth-grade teachers for giving me a leg up on an example of inspiring thinkers and doers. They have created a Human Body Arm Design unit in

which the students are thinkers as they research how an arm works and then make plans using their acquired knowledge to build a movable arm. The doers use the design process to actually create an arm that works and can pick up an object. The students learn the importance of being both thinkers and doers and as importantly collaborators.

When I asked the fifth-grade teachers for an example of how they inspire thinkers and doers, they were quick to point to the Fifth Grade Capstone Exhibition and said that it challenges the thinkers to do and the doers to think! The students need to identify how a person, a group of people, or an event demonstrates “Strength of Character,” which takes a lot of thought, and those of you who attended Brimmer in Fifth Grade have to remember being doers completing your written and visual components while honing your three- to five-minute oral presentation.

Finally, I always feel that the faculty tries to mirror what we want our students to do, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I remember one time when the Lower School faculty, as part of our Critical Friends’ work, was asked to create a game. We were given a ping-pong ball and a table space, and we were told that the game we developed could be anything we liked, except it could not be anything like table tennis! Well, trying not to make a long story longer, we had a lot of thinkers in the group and the discussion regarding rules went on and on and on. Finally, one person said, “Let’s stop talking about what we want the game to look like, and let’s get up and try playing it!” I’ll let you all figure out who the doer was…

As this year progresses, be thinkers or doers or better yet, be both!

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Summer didn’t pass us by…

Earlier this summer, while I was watching the news on TV, I felt myself chuckle when a commercial ran that showed a young teacher struggling with engaging a class of kindergarten students as she and the students were dreaming about the upcoming summer vacation. The ad promoted a travel company that promised to take the teacher away from all of her troubles. My smile faded very quickly when I started thinking about how this company was portraying my profession and the way some tend to stereotype teachers. Education is a profession that demands a considerable amount of classwork and training, especially over the summer.

When I first went into teaching, I remember how I was always asked rhetorically, “Boy, it must be really nice to have the summers off?!” Forty plus years later, I am still waiting for that summer off. For most teachers, the summer is a time to take classes, attend workshops, take part in webinars, and to work to supplement their teaching salaries.

This summer, Brimmer’s Lower School teachers were involved in a variety of education-related activities, which included the following and more:

  • Leading four specialty programs at our Summer Camp, all of which had a decidedly science and nature theme
  • Providing summer academic reinforcement for students through tutoring
  • Attending classes/workshops covering a breadth of topics, including writing, engineering, learning how to take advantage of a maker space when teaching a world language, “Lego® Mindstorms®, and an online course on “Playwork,” which emphasized how play influences child development

Changes in the way we teach occur much more frequently than ever—technology has brought exponential growth to what our students will need to be successful. As a result, teachers need to use the summer to stay on top of their practice. Education is truly a year-round profession…no matter what the commercials show.


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