Which Parent Will I Be?

"I got two A's," the small boy cried.
His voice was filled with glee.
His father very bluntly asked,
"Why didn't you get three?"

"Mom, I've got the dishes done,"
The girl called from the door.
Her mother very calmly said,
"Did you sweep the floor?"

"I've mowed the grass," the tall boy said,
"And put the mower away."
His father asked him, with a shrug,
"Did you clean off the clay?"

The children in the house next door
seem happy and content.
The same thing happened over there,
And this is how it went:

"I got two A's,"
the small boy cried,
His voice was filled with glee.
His father very proudly said,
"That's great, I'm glad you belong to me."

"Mom, I've got the dishes done,"
The girl called from the door.
Her mother smiled and softly said,
"Each day I love you more."

~Author Unknown~


We Can Be Heroes...Every Single One of Us

We are all born the same, more or less. We do not all stay the same. Why? Why do so few of us seem to achieve our dreams? Why do so many give up, settle for less than our greatest happiness, and/or blame anything outside of ourselves for our limitations?

I really think it's because so few of us become heroes. Hardly anybody hangs on just one minute longer, hanging on UNTIL that happiness is created in our lives.

We received our national test results on a reading test before Thanksgiving Break. Two students deserving recognition are James, who scored THE BEST in 5th grade IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY...

...and Katie who ranked in the top 5%.

They are heroes, among THE VERY BEST OF THE BEST in America.

However, not everyone did so well. Some students did not do so very well at all and scored near the bottom of the country...and it hurt.

Shaquan started crying, saying he was "tired of always failing and being a mess up." I hugged him and told him his tears showed he had great heart...and I promised him that his heart was what would carry him to success.

“Given the warm, supportive environment of the quality school where there is no failure, and where there is almost always the possibility of tutoring, it would be more need-satisfying for students to work to raise their grades than to give up and receive no credit for the course.”
(from the book, "The Quality School - Managing Students Without Coercion", by Dr. William Glasser, p.111)

This is why I feel it's absolutely important for EVERY student to come into a classroom EACH day where they know they'll be cared for, believed in, and as long as they try, leaving at the end of the day more than when they came in. (Taylor was sad because she couldn't eat Thanksgiving lunch with her little sister....

And with Florencia also wanting to eat with her younger sibling....

We went through some special ops training....

And snuck em in :-)

“What doctor would prescribe an antibiotic for a patient with an infection – and also for a patient without one? How is it that such wasteful practice is commonly accepted routine in classrooms nationwide? What should students think of teachers who waste their time and who value the appearance of learning over learning itself?

What do pointless school activities teach students about the value of schooling, the value of doing as the teacher says? What do such activities teach students about how much the school culture values them as unique human beings?” (from the book, "Finding Freedom in the Classroom - A Practical Introduction to Critical Theory", by Patricia Hinchey, p.p. 11-12)

And this is why I write individual lesson plans for each student in reading, science and math. These plans are data-driven based on their individual needs, and allows me to basically tutor each student, providing the right antibiotic or specific strength training regiment much like a doctor or strength coach would.

It is much harder writing 17 lesson plans a day than one, but it produces much more growth than when I used what I call the shotgun, one-size-fits-all approach.

When difficulties are overcome, they become blessings.

Later in the day I noticed Shaquan sitting doing nothing. This isn't allowed. The classroom is like a weight room for the heart and mind.

You can be laughing, moving, standing on your head if you like while learning...but by God you better be struggling to lift the weight (working on improving the skills) you haven't been strong enough to lift up until today.

He said he didn't care, the work was too hard, etc. (just like Malcolm used to do last year, who came back to visit me and tell me he's overcoming all his challenges in middle school, just as I knew he would :-)

Before I knew it I had come up behind Shaquan and pulled him out of his chair, pinning him against me with my arm. I whispered in his ear with a low growl that he was not allowed to EVER give up on himself! I released him and he dropped back down in his chair.

(I wish I had a picture of that moment. I tell the students they can use my phone to take pictures of what's going on in class, but the moment happened so fast it had come and gone in seconds. I likely would have forgotten it ever happened without a picture to remind me, had what happened next not occurred.)

He started crying again....

Malcolm and his fellow classmates, who were one of Orange County's highest growing classes, know how I feel about this. For the past two years I've used a scene from the movie Armageddon to make a point. It's where Bruce Willis and his fellow astronauts-to-be are put in the back of fighter jets to prepare them for the ride into space.

The first clip is in English but takes one minute to get to this part. The second video has it right away but is in Spanish. It's worth seeing the first few seconds to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

Adapted for my students, I tell them...

Life can sometimes be a brutal assault on your senses, and this year I'm going to give you a taste of what that's like.

I'm gonna push you so hard it's gonna suck your eyes to the back of your head.

I'm gonna twist ya.

I'm gonna flip ya.

I'm gonna wrap your body till your bones hurt.

And when you squeal,

I'm just gonna go faster and harder.

(then I add)

But most of all, I'm gonna love ya....

for all the good that's inside of you already...

and all the good that you're capable of becoming.

I have two hands. With one I'm gonna challenge ya...and with the other I'm gonna hold ya.

If given with love, a handful is sufficient.

-Telugu proverb

So as I looked at Shaquan from across the room, crying tears of self-pity and hopelessness, I told him I was sorry. I told him...

I'm sorry that you didn't do well on the test.

I'm sorry you feel so bad.

And I'm sorry that you missed learning key skills long ago that are making it almost impossible for you to succeed now.

(and by this time barking loudly)









..........Dead Silence...No one was talking, no one was working, no one was even moving. They were afraid. I had gone too far.

So I spoke to the entire class (now that it seemed I had their undivided attention). I said, "Look guys, from what I can tell almost every problem we face can be overcome in two simple steps. Two steps that will keep us from ever giving up. What are they?"

No one raised their hand. They all looked at me like deer frozen in headlights. I had to lighten the tension so I began telling them a story of how a friend and I were hiking up a mountain one time, long ago.

How when we were at the top, my friend Mo had an idea..."Dream Big", he said.

""Yes, yes," I replied, "and Do Big!"

"That's right", Mo said. "If people just Dream Big and Do Big, they will Be Big!"

We were so excited we wanted to write it down but didn't bring any paper with us. Mo found two stone tablets to use. Excited to turn it into a book, we carried our two "rules" back down the mountain and showed his editor.

Looking at it, the editor said, "Two rules aren't enough. Ten would be better. And instead of rules, we should call them "commandments". Yes, commandments sound much better."

My mother was calling me for dinner so I had to go home, but Moses said he was going back up the mountain to see if he could think of eight more commandments.....

I never saw him again. I wonder what ever happened to him?

Laughing now at realizing I was referring to our class motto of "Dream Big. Do Big. Be Big!" (you can see part of the poster in the background) and incorporating the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments to make a point, everyone, including Shaquan, went back to believing they could learn what they were attempting to, and working hard to learn it.

Everybody wants to be somebody: Nobody wants to grow.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

And then came the next day, Friday's spelling test. For three months Shaquan has never received anything other than an "F". We tried everything, but nothing seemed to work. He has no concept of vowels...I mean this kid missed something long ago in school. But I asked him to not give up, and that knowing what you wanted was more important than knowing how you would get it. The way would show itself to us.

I gave the test, sitting a few feet away from him, knowing that after what happened the day before he needed something besides hope, hugs and hollers to help him keep going. He needed results, and I was hoping he would get at least a "D".

I gave the last word, a bonus word, and we switched papers for grading. I believe in immediate feedback. If there's improvement (Being Big), the student feels good and is willing to go tackle a weak academic area in a spirit of confidence (Believing and Doing Big)

If there's no improvement, the reasons for choosing the wrong answers are still fresh in their minds. There's much less, "I don't know" responses and much more , "Ohhhh. I see now." And the cycle of failure has a better chance of being broken.

When we were done grading, I can't remember if it was Kelly or Katie who had Shaquan's paper, said very quietly,

"Mr. Stuart.....Shaquan got an "A".

I said, "I'm sorry?"

"Shaquan got an 'A'. Actually an 'A+', a 110%!"

She handed the paper back to Shaquan, who just stared at it...as I did. Right there, in black and white, was 110%. I asked him how he did it. He told me he highlighted the vowels of each word every night at home, like we had done on the computer after his first failed spelling test at the beginning of the year.

He said, "I just tried it one more time."

I asked him what the definition of a hero is.

"Someone who hangs on one minute longer", he said.

"You, my friend, have become a hero. And what you've done is nothing short of miraculous, going from three months of "F's" to an "A+", without cheating. I was right there watching you, hoping for you, pulling for you. You have scored a valid 110%! You have created a miracle!"

I wish I had a trophy to give him. All I had was a plastic fork I was going to use to stir my coffee, so I gave it to him while Kelly drew a trophy for him on the white board. You can see in the picture I'm ready to cry.

At the end of the day before he left he said, "Mr Stuart, you know how you wanted to give me that trophy?"

I told him I did.

"I want you."

"What do you mean?", I asked.

"The trophy I want is you. I want you to keep teaching me."

Having unconditional love for the welfare of another means risking being hated in return. Sometimes it pays off. Sometimes it doesn't. I lost a stepdaughter over it, being told by her mother I was no longer to consider myself her father in any way. That hurt me a lot, so I don't take this risk lightly. This time it did pay off. A child used to constant failure has now succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams....and is feeling very, very good about himself.

"Leadership is not something that is done to people, like fixing your teeth. Leadership is unlocking people's potential to become better." -- Bill Bradley

How is the impossible made possible? How do you develop amazing abilities that make others stand back in awe at your miraculous results... as an athlete, astronaut, artist or anything?

You do what Shaquan did

You try just one more time

You become a hero

Be your own hero, it's cheaper than a movie ticket.
-Doug Horton

(Daiquan pumped up after getting a personal phone call from a friend of mine who is the voice of Rock Lee from the cartoon and video game Naruto. He had told me he had good news and bad news. The bad news is he wanted to hit someone on the bus. The good news is he didn't. He's one of the few who didn't get suspended. He has found his real strength, his Inner Strength!)

And this video is for you Shaquan. When you stopped seeing yourself as a failure, you stopped failing!

I am VERY, VERY, VERY proud of you young warrior!

You have become a real-life hero in this world, and for the most important person on the planet....yourself! Promise me you'll never forget this moment!


Thanksgiving Jokes

Thank You for This Food

A 4-year-old boy was asked to return thanks before a big dinner. The family members bowed their heads in expectation. He began his prayer, thanking God for all his friends, naming them one by one. Then he thanked God for Mommy, Daddy, brother, sister, Grandma, Grandpa, and all his aunts and uncles. Then he began to thank God for the food. He gave thanks for the turkey, the dressing, the fruit salad, the cranberry sauce, the pies, the cakes, even the Cool Whip.

Then he paused, and everyone waited--and waited. After a long silence, the young fellow looked up at his mother and asked, "If I thank God for the broccoli, won't he know that I'm lying?"

I Don't Want to Go

Thanksgiving day was approaching and the family had received a Thanksgiving card with a painting of a pilgrim family on their way to church.

Grandma showed the card to her small grandchildren, observing: "The Pilgrim children liked to go to church with their mothers and fathers."

"Oh yeah?" her young grandson replied, "So why is their dad carrying that rifle?"

Thanksgiving Blessings

All the grandkids were visiting for Thanksgiving. Before dinner, Grandma made a lengthy speech about being thankful for her extra-special blessings, her four grandchildren.

Two seconds after she stopped speaking, all hell broke loose and the kids were yelling and grabbing for the home-made rolls.Grandma sat there, eyes closed with a tight squint on her face.

When asked what was the matter, she replied, "I'm just praying for a little patience to handle all these blessings."


Happy Parrot Day

A woman recently received a parrot as a gift.

The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary.

Every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity.

She tried and tried to change the bird's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else she could think of to 'clean up' the bird's vocabulary.

Finally, she was fed up and yelled at the parrot.

The parrot yelled back.

She shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder.

So, in desperation, she threw up her hands, grabbed the bird and THREW him in the freezer.

For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed.

Then suddenly there was total quiet.

Not a peep was heard for over a minute.

Fearing that she hurt the parrot,

She quickly opened the door to the freezer.

The parrot calmly stepped out onto her outstretched arm and said

'I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions.

I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.'

She was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude.

As she was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic
change in his behavior, the bird continued,

'May I ask what the turkey did?'


Time Together ~ A Father/Daughter Thanksgiving Collaboration

lying here with you

on the floor
by the door

doing nothing

but lying in the sun

how can it be,

this much fun?

~ Dad

lying on the floor
by the door

I wish my time
with you was more

Bella (age 9 - who also came up with the poem's title)

It truly is not the amount of moments we're given, but the amount we give to the moments we have.

I give thanks for the moments I have with my children, and have created a year-round Happy Thanksgiving in "our" home.

My children and I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving...one that lasts all year long and for each moment you give yourself to.


My dad teaching my class

This post is from my brilliant daughter Bella (age 9, 4th grade). Her teacher asked me to speak to the class about what makes a good writer. I've been asked to speak on things ranging from weekend education panels to quitting teaching to become a professional speaker and writer with those who share the stage with Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, and Steven Covey, all of which I've turned down.

Right now being a father comes first, and giving time to my children is more important than money, fame or whatever else; and I will not turn down my children. Life may have taken my children from my home, but it didn't stop me from arranging my life to teach at my children's school, bringing me into their world every day. That's why Sofia being taken out of my everyday world again hurts so much.

However, I've come to realize that even when we're hanging on by a very thin thread, that thread will never break. We will break before that string ever does....And no matter what, I'm too tough to break, and I only know how to love one way, unconditionally and all the way.

So it's not a question anymore of, "Will I make it?"...of course I will...And I will make it big, because the size of my world is the size of my heart and mind. It's only a question of who and what do I give my love to?....and the answer is to what's real...to the "truth".

And what's real is that I have given my daughter a cherished memory of a time when dad spoke to her class, and the simple truth I shared with Iszabella's class is that a good writer likes and cares for the reader...

When my dad was teaching my class he spoke to everyone!everybody was touched by his words and he spoke well,He touched everybody in thought.

everybody listened in thought well of course i as well did to,He spoke so well and so bright and very soft.well he did speak English.

my friend got something stuck in her teeth so she wiggled her tounge around her mouth alout to get the stuff out of her mouth!

He did speak very wise and very well hmmmmmmmm very well.

*Thank you baby girl. I'm not looking for the world to love and appreciate me, only a few...and you are a very important part of that few.

~ I love you with my entire soul,