When I was young, my parents took me and my two sisters camping every weekend during the summer months. We lived in the city, so having the ability to spend time in the mountains with fresh air and a cool, swift moving creek brought pure delight to our senses. We looked forward to this getaway as a unique diversion to summers in the city.

The almost three hour drive provided a self-directed sightseeing adventure through the hills and sleepy towns of northwestern Pennsylvania. Silos, cows grazing, corn stalks blowing in the intermittent breeze that carried with it the unpleasant farm smells reminded us that we were no longer in the city.

Once there, we unpacked and set up our camp grounds. In the early years we pitched tents. Later in our camping evolution, we slept in three connected cinder block cabins. This raised our comfort level quite a bit as we were on higher ground and a little farther from most of the creepy crawling creatures that often invaded our tents.

A direct view of the moon glittered creek, a warm cracking fire, and sparkling stars strewn over the night sky provided the perfect setting for roasting marshmallows, telling stories and singing silly songs. The swift moving creek served as one of our fun-filled afternoon adventures as we drifted downstream on large inner-tubes catching the warm rays of the bright sun along the way.

A two mile walk into the little town grocery store was filled with multiple surprises and discoveries.  Along the route we stopped to watch snakes slither across the road and butterflies lighting on the colorful wildflowers that dotted the hillside. We paused for a cool refreshing sip of mountain spring water spouting out of a pipe embedded in layers of shale and rock on the road embankment. Wherever we found ourselves; in the creek, on the dirt road, or in the makeshift outhouse, it was definitely out of our city comfort zone.

Camping brought into view a different and new perspective of our world. We became keenly aware of what we typically took for granted, things like plumbing, electricity and the ability to pick up a phone to call someone. The need for those essentials faded along side the spectacular benefits of fresh air, nature in full bloom, and the rugged joys of outdoor life.  The trade-offs were worth the slight inconveniences. The lessons learned far outweighed our perceived need for the familiar. It was a matter of…

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Perspective is what life gives us if we are open to receive it.

I am thankful that over my lifetime, various and vast experiences have greatly enhanced my perspective. It happens to all of us, whether good or bad experiences, they shape how we think, feel, and sometimes react. They become our lens through which we see everything.

For most of us, the ability to see perspectives other than our own is challenging. It requires us to listen with an intent to understand, as we ask questions and seek clarity. Too often, rather than fully engaging in an open and reciprocal dialogue, we are more concerned with crafting our response or rebuttal. We miss an opportunity to learn from one another. The dialogue shuts down. We choose not to listen ascending to and condescending from a camp we’ve created on our higher, more comfortable ground.

If you have read any of my blog posts, you’ll know that I strongly believe in one’s freedom to choose how to become educated. I am pro any kind of environment that promotes authentic and meaningful learning. Unfortunately, while many in and around schools tout the same sentiment for authenticity and meaning, the actual occurrence of such is spotty at best.

The measuring stick of testing accountability and the over reliance of coercion and bribery tactics suck the life out of what could be a rather positive story.  These unfortunate practices continue to permeate the world of schooling with no real end in sight. Even with all those visionary educational cheerleaders telling us about the importance of creativity, physical activity, and meaningful, self-directed learning, we refuse to listen. We refuse the change. We hunker down in our camps refusing to budge.

Within the various educational camps we fly our banners proclaiming the one, right and only way it should be done, demonizing all those who dare to disagree with our perspectives.  It doesn’t have to be this way if we would allow ourselves to really hear and understand different perspectives about learning. Don’t fall for an “us versus them” scenario perpetuated by our various media outlets, union organizations, or governmental entities. Use your own powers of observation and listen with an open mind.

I know some great public school teachers, public charter school teachers, private and religious school teachers, home-school teachers, and those who guide their children in self-directed learning. They have several things in common. They will do anything to ensure that each child in their care is respected, nurtured and allowed to learn in their own way. Granted it is difficult to do this in a formal school setting simply due to the rigid constraints, but there are a few brave ones who rise to the occasion. I know, I worked with some of them over the years.  I wish there were more.

Browsing through educational articles and websites one notices how often they beat the drum of change. Topics like grading, more time for recess, more physical activity, course offerings that tap into a young person’s interest and creativity, and the need to branch out of the four walls of a regular classroom are among the most noted topics. They are offering us a much needed and different perspective on the way we do school.

We hear from well-respected voices like Sir Ken Robinson and several others about the need for more creativity and authenticity in our schools. We see educators flocking to these conferences and returning to their schools utterly baffled at how they might implement such ideas within the strict curriculum pacing guides. Grade level standards  must be taught before the looming state tests in the spring.

Strong teachers try to infuse authentic and creative access to learning for their students. They work very hard within a structural format that does not lend itself to this kind of flexibility. They spend more hours outside of their school day, without reimbursement and without recognition, just to ensure that they can offer their students a peak learning experience. They are trail blazers. I will always admire those kind of teachers.

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Perspective is everything.

Camping connections for those learners who prefer non-analogous examples.

We didn’t just talk about how great summer camping would be in the hills of western Pennsylvania. We didn’t imagine the fun we’d have or the lessons we’d learn. We didn’t just read about outdoor life or attend events showcasing campfires, tents, fishing, or rafting down a steam. We didn’t practice camping in our own backyards first to see if it would work, we just did it! 

Message to every teacher, principal, school board, parent and tax paying community member reading this:

  • Be open and willing to learn from another perspective whether public, private, religious, home-schooling, or self directed learning
  • Work with those around you to make your particular learning environment more authentic and meaningful for the children you serve
  • Lighten up on the self-imposed constructs that choke the joy out of learning*

Just do it! Children will thank you and they will still learn – I promise!


*These self-imposed constructs are outlined in my book.

Learning Unleashed – Re-Imagining and Re-Purposing Our Schools

Make ’em Laugh

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I grew up in a family of clowns. Well, not literally, but enough of them kept all of us laughing most of the time.  Clowning was a way of life for my dad, a few uncles, my sister and at least three or four other folks in the extended family. We simply appreciated a good laugh which often led to tears rolling down our cheeks.  The jokes may have been self-deprecating or at the expense of family members, but regardless of the punchline, we didn’t take offense.

I still remember one liners that my dad often said while driving. Like the time a woman cut in front of him on the highway and he mumbled, “She must thing her name is MERGE!” Or when he saw a sign warning “curves ahead” and he lovingly looked at my mom saying, “Honey, look they must have known you were coming.” The “Right of Way” sign was reserved for anyone who edged over the median strip. My dad quickly reminded them that it didn’t mean help yourself to the highway.

Another comical memory was when our large family met for Christmas Eve Dinner at the home of my Uncle and Aunt. The tables were set for 15 or more as we prepared to enjoy our Italian vigil, seven fish meal together.  My Uncle asked for the bread and instead of passing the plate, a young cousin picked up a dinner roll and sent it on its way down the table. By the time it reached my uncle, at least seven people had touched it. Keeping a straight face as he quietly waited for the roll’s arrival into his hands, he took a look at it and then threw it on the floor asking if we could try that again. He suggested  this time sending the entire plate of bread so he could choose his own roll. We all laughed so hard it took us a few minutes to regain our composure and get back to our food that was getting cold.

The various stories, practical jokes, and infamous one liners are too numerous to mention. Growing up with major doses of humor was a natural way of life for me. I continue that tradition today. At this point in my life, the self-deprecating kind is the safest and most reliable form of humor since the perks of aging provide plenty of material.

Laughter is the universal language that everyone understands.

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Just by way of a reminder here is a list of laughter benefits from the HELP GUIDE

Physical Benefits of Laughter:

  • Boosts immunity
  • Lowers stress hormones
  • Decreases pain
  • Relaxes your muscles
  • Prevents heart disease

Mental Health Benefits of Laughter:

  • Adds joy and zest to life
  • Eases anxiety and tension
  • Relieves stress
  • Improves mood
  • Strengthens resilience

Social Benefits of Laughter:

  • Strengthens relationships
  • Attracts others to us
  • Ehances teamwork
  • Helps defuse conflict
  • Promotes group bonding

My purpose for writing this short blog is to challenge all of us to find some laughter in our day, especially those who work with children. In case you need help getting started please click on the links below. To avoid the cynical folks who must post every possible negative comment on these links, I suggest you watch the video only, remember it’s laughter we’re after not sour grapes.


Make ’em Laugh

Make ’em Laugh

Make ’em Laugh