The Dance.

Graham

My soon-to-be third grader, who is 8 years old, just approached me about enrolling in a tap and hip-hop class (insert tears of joy here). I’ve suggested dance class before because he is always joyfully dancing around and has a natural sense of rhythm. In many ways he reminds me of some of the kids I use to teach dance to. He’s always declined and on occasion has told me, “I already know how to dance.” No confidence issues here, Folks.

Firing up the search engine for hip and tap classes in the East Bay made me think about when I started in dance class. When I was 3 years old, covered in a shades of pale pink from head to toe, complete with a tutu, my mother lead me into a local dance studio. I’m pretty sure she pushed me through the classroom door, where for the next hour (which surely seemed like a lifetime to both myself and the teacher) I clung to a corner of the room under a barre and cried while a very patient assistant with a kind smile tried to coax me out to the center of the floor. Nope. I wasn’t buying what she was selling. I wanted my Mother and wanted nothing to do with standing in first position. I’m pretty sure the drama of it all left a lasting impression for all parties involved. Case closed. We did not return to the ocean of pink.

My Mother shared that story with me many years later while helping me get tights on for a dance competition. It was one of those moments where your heart smiles and you think, “Who would have thought?” It wasn’t until I was my third grader’s age that my Mom suggested a jazz class. Of my own free will, I waltzed into class and I was hooked. Jazz was my gateway drug to the arts.

Dance class brought something out of this shy girl. As soon as she stepped on stage, she beamed with confidence– a confidence that carried over into other things she did (and continues to do). I would often get comments on score sheets about how I “light up on stage” and how I’m a “natural entertainer.” I think for many years, especially my elementary years where I struggled academically, it is fair to say I was most at home performing on stage.

Nothing about my experience was typical in dance- just as the evolution of my dance career wasn’t by any means typical. I didn’t start off in ballet. I didn’t start when I was 3 or 4 years old. I wasn’t tall and certainly didn’t have a ballerina build. I was always more muscular, strong and have a longer torso than legs. I didn’t sport a bun (that happened after I became a Mom). I remember going to a convention and seeing Mia Micheals and thinking, “Hey! She has strong legs like me!” As I grew older and wanted to become better, I branched out into ballet and technique classes. But, it was always the music, not the dance, that moved me. To this day when I hear a song, I see a dance. Much like some musicians see music in colors.

I started teaching as an assistant for jazz class at the age of 14. That assistant teacher that tried to coax me into ballet class as a 3 year old grew-up to own her won studio. She offered me my first dance job. I worked for her for 13 years– and worked at other Chicagoland area studios too– a total of 16 years. I choreographed for shows and musical theatre. I even taught a Saturday class when I moved to Minnesota. I don’t teach anymore, but a song or two are still left in my heart. Despite my aging legs, my feet fall into place in any technique class to.this.day. I’m pretty sure I can still drop it and pop it with many of which are now half my age.

Those early days of dance, both victories and rejections, would strengthen my resilience for future years– the ability to jump in and make new friends, the passing of my mother at 47, a stressed relationship with my family, returning to school as a married woman and mother, walking cultural tight-ropes, the courage to love fearlessly, raising babies, moving across the country, parenting with courage and never giving up on myself. In later years, I would learn that life wasn’t about balance. No, life itself is a dance. It’s the constant push, pull, tug, sway, pivot…ever shifting, keep on moving…the front and back, shift of balance that keeps us moving. I mean, think about it. When you balance, you’re often on one foot- you aren’t moving. Like the heartbeat, life doesn’t happen in the highs and lows. No, life happens in between the marks of the pulse… the movement from one point to another. It’s that sweet spot where we are able to peel back the layers, expose our vulnerability and share connections which engage the mind, body and spirit.

In a world where society pushes for kids to start things younger and younger and often leads us to the impression that if you haven’t started playing baseball when you were 3 years old, perfected your axel by 6 years old, or graduated by 22 and landed your dream job…your hopes are already washed up and have little chance at success… I’m living proof that it’s okay to start “a little later.” For many years, my livelihood was teaching dance… despite starting at 8 years old (gasp). I finished college “a little later” too (with honors). Maybe it’s because I started later in dance that I wasn’t burnt out by 13 years old. Maybe it’s because I wanted to return to school that I achieved much more than a degree– but an education.

As I shared with a friend in my kitchen a few weeks back, you CAN discover your passions and purpose at any age. It’s your story. You have the power to reinvent yourself if you don’t like the story. Life is canvas- it is up to you to find the tool that suits you to create and give life to that canvas. There are no rules on the steps, the order or the pace. In case you think you are too old, or you’ve missed your “chance” to make your mark on this world, here is a little inspiration from some folks that are 40 and older to show you, it’s never too late.

Digital Citizen Tips For Educators

digital citizens

While there has been a lot written about how to help students (minors) be good digital citizens, not much exists to help guide teachers, administrators and school volunteers on how to lead by example. Far too often, things are posted by mistake, educators don’t realize the implications of “open” social platforms and are not familiar with district policy. While no educator would ever intentionally put a student in harms way, even the most technically savvy educators need a reminder. Here are some simple ideas that you can do now to ensure that you, as someone who either works or volunteers at a school, is making good choices that align with policy, privacy, safety, respect and courtesy.

  1. Personal devices are just that- personal.  Tablets, lap tops and smart phones purchased and registered by schools are appropriate devices for teachers, administration and volunteers to use to document and “share” student progress and work. By storing student photographs (and videos) on your personal device, you risk student confidentiality.
  2. Aware before share on open platforms.  If your school or classroom has an “open” (meaning, any one can view them) Twitter, Instgram or Facebook account, be familiar with the school district’s social media policy on open platforms for teachers, administration and volunteers.
  3. Get permission in writing. With a full disclosure of your intentions, ask permission from parents and caregivers, prior to posting material involving their child. Teachers, administrators and volunteers simply don’t know the history of every child. With a plethora of facial recognition software available, it’s easier than ever to find someone online.
  4. Be respectful, selective and creative.  Focus on the work or project, not the student(s) with a creative camera angle. Always ask your subject (student, volunteer, fellow teacher) if you can take a photo before you do. Angle your camera to reflect the profile, from behind or zero in on materials being used in the hands of the student. If you can identify the student, save that photograph for an individual email to parents or to share at conferences. Be aware of what is in the photograph- crop out any street signs or license plates. Just as your students are to present their best work, be selective about what you share- only your best.
  5. Be mindful of digital footprints. A digital footprint is created when data is collected without the owner knowing. We aren’t sure how this information can be used, but if you are tagging companies or using hashtags, it makes it a whole lot easier for marketers to learn more about not only the gate keepers of student safety, but students themselves.
  6. Know your audience. While social media platforms can be used as a tool to collaborate and share with other professionals, remember to keep your school accounts separate from your personal accounts. Especially, if you are the community social media manager of the school. The school account shouldn’t reflect what is happening with you, but rather the school.

Contact me for

  • speaking opportunities
  • workshops for your organization
  • a social media audit of your school, teachers, administration and district

Till the Cows Come Home.

Hiking up, around each bend…

C U L T U R E  G R O W T H

Renewal, rebirth, game plan Zen.

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I rarely make New Year resolutions, but I do take time to pause prior to Spring to dream courageously as I venture to set new goals.

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The renewal, rebirth and awakening of the Spring lights a fire of hope in my belly that echoes, “all things are possible.”

Fear

I recall reading in junior high about Hathor, the Egyptian Goddess of the sky, love, beauty, joy, motherhood, music and fertility. She was commonly depicted as a cow Goddess.

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Yes, she was a divine cow.

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Divine.

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 Can you imagine being such a beautiful, happy heifer?

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The words “cow” and “heifer” aren’t exactly associated with love, beauty and joy in our society.

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Yet, this is exactly how I would describe my hike, side-by-side, with these cows.

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Renewal. Rebirth. Hope.

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As I sprint toward Spring, I’m trying something new. I’m now in day 23 of (a hopeful!) 40 of abstaining from alcohol and exercising every.single.day. This hike has become my Saturday ritual. I am back to being able to leg press 400 lbs. Yeah, I’m mooooovin’-

That makes from some strong hiking legs.

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I’ve also come to the realization on these hikes that I’m not doing this because I hate my body; I’m doing it because I love me! I’m not sure what the path ahead will bring, but I know up on these hills, I feel divine!

“I could dance with you till the cows come home. Better still, I’ll dance with the cows and you come home.” Groucho Marx

Life is a Highway.

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Not all of California’s State Route 1 is actually designated a scenic highway. It may have taken me 18 years to finally complete this particular stretch of Highway 1, but I believe, it’s the most scenic part of the highway. For many years, this stretch of Highway 1 was my missing link. Alas, no more- mission complete!

Perhaps my love for iconic American roads such as Highway 1 and Route 66 stem from the fact that I grew up in a “car family.” My father has had several classic cars including a 1955 candy apple Chevy, 1956 Nomad and 1957 Chevy that packs a powerful punch. I learned how to drive in my mother’s 1966 mustang coupe at the age of 13. My 1965 Fastback is direct from the line off Dearborn, Michigan. I grew up thinking I was going to be the next Cha-Cha Muldowney that taught dance, on-the-side, of course. Cars and racing is just something in my DNA. (Maybe it’s something in yours too and that’s why you’re reading this post!)

Nestled between San Francisco and L.A. is where you’ll find Pismo Beach, California. We hit the road Thursday and made it to SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel in Pismo Beach that evening.  There were roughly 100 steps from the hotel down to the beach below. Below is a picture taken closer to the Pismo Beach Boardwalk, looking back in the direction of our hotel. We woke up early to watch the sunrise.

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The beach offered lots of opportunities to explore tide pools. During low tide our family spent time not only collecting sea shells but saving sea creatures stuck in tide pools off to the right of the stairs on the beach.

The stairs from our hotel that led down to Pismo Beach.

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No matter where we are, we can all use a little sunshine for the soul.

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After exploring and playing on the beach, it was nice to return to the hotel and relax poolside. The  complimentary continental breakfast is also served up in the main area of the hotel with seating outdoors, oceanfront. While the breakfast offerings are pretty typical (waffles, danish, fruit, coffee, cereal, etc.), you can’t beat the view!

The hotel offers an outdoor heated pool and hot tub that is family friendly.

Sunset on Pismo Beach.

While in town, we took a short drive to the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove. If you drive south on Highway 1 leaving Pismo towards Garden Grove, on your right side just past Pismo Coast Village and the campground is where you will find the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove. It’s truly a magical experience that lasts from October to late February.

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The next stop on our tour of Highway 1 included a trip to a genuine salt water taffy store called Crill’s in Morro Bay. Just down the street from Crill’s offered the perfect spot to view the historic Morro Bay rock.

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Just over thirty minutes away was our next destination, Hearst Castle. This was the first time my husband and children were visiting “Casa del Mar” (Spanish for House of the Sea). Being that we had two children with us, it was recommended that we take the “Grand Room Tour.” This was a 45-minute tour with 173 stairs on the tour. This worked out well, as by the last room our youngest was pretty tired. Many of the tours were already sold out by the time we arrived at 11a.m. – we were lucky enough to get the last four tickets for the 11:40a.m. tour as the next available Grand Room Tour being sold was at 4p.m. that day. So, if you have your heart set on a certain tour or time, it may be best to purchase your tickets in advance online.

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One of my favorite details about the outside gardens.

 One of the highlights of the tour is taking the shuttle bus to the castle. The bus climbs up a curvy, scenic road in which was designed so the castle appears and disappears before your eyes. It’s hard to not imagine would it would have been like to have traveled this path as an honored guest of Mr. Hearst. If you do plan a visit, be prepared to see an empty Neptune Pool. It was shared that it was being repaired and due to the California draught, the California State Park decided not to refill the pool. While there are mixed reviews on this, it does reveal an impressive marble floor of the pool.

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Hearst Castle Tour: $70 for 2 adults/2 children.

Traveling along Highway 1, you can make stops to see the elephant sea lions and you may spot a zebra (a descendant of Hearst’s original flock). One neat place to grab a bite to eat is Ragged Point Inn. This was the plan, however, this joint was really jumping on this day! A classic Corvette car show on site combined with Valentine weekend made for a long wait to be seated. So, we shared a snack and continued on.

We ate unch at The Whale Watchers Cafe in Gorda Springs Resort, directly on Highway 1. This also happened to be where we would spending the night on Valentine’s Day. This place was all about the view! There were no TV’s in our cabin or cell phone coverage here. The ocean truly ticked us in at night as we fell asleep under a bed of stars. The most stars we have ever seen at night!

Our patio.

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The sunset didn’t disappoint either.

Truly, the most amazing sunset we’ve ever seen.

 The next morning we woke up early so we could catch the sunrise over Big Sur.

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Rise & Shine: Academic Awakening.

My 8th grade graduation cake read, “Bev, Thank God You Made It!” As if there were some divine intervention that made it possible. Maybe the divine intervention wasn’t that I graduated, but rather, I escaped my elementary years and lived to tell others about it. Sharing with others wouldn’t happen until many years later though. I felt pretty ashamed of those years.
 We expect children to be well rounded and excel in every subject. They are expected to do well academically, athletically and socially. The truth is that we as adults do not excel in every subject. As adults, we know how to build off of our strengths. Children should be allowed to do so as well. -Beverly Verner, “Philosophy of Education” (Circa, 2002)
Most of my teacher conferences never focused on anything I had done “right.” They always started with: “Beverly is so shy” but “very cooperative.” As if being passive in education was a good thing? Perhaps, I was shy because I lacked the confidence to speak up. Being very cooperative was usually the highlight of my school conference as it just kept going downhill after that. Teachers shared that I was “someone who despite having the ability, consistently chooses to not apply herself,” a daydreamer, lazy and has a poor memory.
If you tell a child something long enough, odds are, they will believe it.
 Then something happened in 7th grade “mainstreamed” English. I had an awesome friend, Heather, who asked me if I wanted to work with her and another girl for our class project- a group interpretation of humorous poetry. We had to memorize material and present it to the class. Heather didn’t realize it, but her nudge did for me what no teacher up to that point even came close to doing. She helped give me a platform to find my voice.
The following year, I auditioned and was placed on the school speech team. Suddenly, the girl with the poor memory, the daydreamer who didn’t apply herself felt valued and proud. It was as though I found a sanctuary upon a raft in the ocean that saved me from a rip tide.
Every child is gifted and talented. It’s up to parents and teachers to help children discover their gifts and build upon them. Teachers and parents are a guide to show a child what is possible. -Beverly Verner (Teaching Philosophy, circa 2002)

High School offered so much more than just academics. For me, it was an opportunity to pursue interests like theatre, photography and dance. As a matter of fact, if it weren’t for the Arts, I may not have been invested in high school at all. The Arts, for me, provided a platform to build and learn off of. A place to share my gifts and shine that extended far beyond the stage and into the classroom.

My parents had my academic records sealed from my elementary and junior high years prior to my entrance to high school. Something amazing happened  to me in high school.  Teachers were suddenly describing me as outgoing, talented, creative, polite and smart.

My Freshman year English teacher gave me an 86% on an essay and she called me up after class to speak. She said that I’m smart and she expects more from me. While my parents always told me I was smart and talented, this was significant to me. Up to this point, after 9 years of being in school, this was the first time I ever heard a teacher say to me that I was smart.

Words are so powerful. They are active! With so many people describing me with such powerful, positive words my personal expectations for the work I produced went up. As a matter of fact, for the first time in school, I wanted to do well. The arts didn’t only give me an education, they saved my education.

One of the main reasons I went to college to become a teacher was because of the poor teachers and broken system I experienced growing up. As teacher candidate in the College of Education my sophomore year, I went back to my first elementary school to earn my pre-service hours. The principal, who was a teacher at the time I was in school remembered me. He lead me outside of the school, across the playground to the basement of a house the school district purchased for additional classrooms. He welcomed me to the “LD” (learning disabilities) classroom where he assigned me to work.

My heart sank a little. I remember thinking that after all these years, he still doesn’t see “me” but rather the label I wore while here. It was at that moment that I understood how someone in a wheel chair must feel when someone notices their chair before they notice them. Or, how a child that comes from another country must feel when they need help with learning English, but their high aptitude for mathematics is ignored. I knew if I were to be the best teacher I could be, I had to confront those demons- those feelings and move on.

Below the music class, in the basement of a bungalow, I would report every day. On my last day, I had a candid conversation with the teacher. She gave me an excellent review in addition to a referral. I shared with her that I was once a child labeled early on with a learning disability. She looked rather surprised at me and said, “But you are so articulate and smart.” I felt my head tip down but I forced it back up and replied, “Thank you. These kids are too.”

I took all my notes from my classroom experiences and I wrote an assigned paper for one of my professors. I didn’t just turn in that paper to my professor. I submitted the same paper to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, who faxed me back asking permission to publish it.

Despite it’s condition, I’m glad I saved it all these years!
 It wasn’t until I was going through boxes of things from my past as I packed to relocate to another state that I came across something that made me pause…

Remember how I mentioned that I was selected to be on the speech team in 7th grade? Here is the letter signed from the “Gifted” coordinator. Gifted. I let that sink in my bones a little. Let that sink into your bones a little too.

So here’s the deal, I was a kid who was labeled early on in school and struggled academically. In fact, there is a whole slew of people that you may know of that are successful and even famous, that were labeled with a learning disability just like me. Perhaps, just like you. That doesn’t mean you aren’t smart. Just in case no one has ever told you this…You ARE smart.
While I am not an expert, if your child has been identified as someone with a learning disability, my inner elementary student has a few things to share with you:
1. Question how your child has been identified. What was the process? Was this based on a formal test or observations? When was this done? In what environment? How well does this person know your child?
2. For recommended intervention that removes your child from his or her current classroom ask what will be the subjects and activities your child would be missing while receiving support? The last thing you want to do is remove a child from a subject that they love and look forward to.
3. How is progress charted? Is your child assessed again and by who? What is their success rate in the past?
4. Ask how much additional funding per child the school receives in regard to learning disabilities.
5. Remember, education is a partnership: the student, teacher and child. No one is to carry the sole responsibility of a child’s education on their shoulders. Be a stakeholder in your child’s education.
6. Be an advocate for your child. Far too often people think that advocacy is a confrontational approach. Be an active, engaged parent. Show the teacher that you are not only supporting your child, but his or her role as well. Win-win.
7. Never allow anyone to forget that your child IS smart, unique and gifted. Share these powerful words with your child often.
8. Tap into how your child best learns. Be more interested in how they came to the conclusion of a wrong answer than a right one as that is a clue as to how they learn. Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences state many different ways in which we all learn.
 9. Remember to see the big picture. Getting additional help doesn’t mean that your child isn’t smart. This is just one small piece in a very big puzzle for a lifetime of learning. We all need a little help once in a while- even as adults.
While in the College of Education, when ever I saw my advisor, mentor and professor she would say to me, “You are a firecracker!” We would both laugh. She was right. All I needed was a little spark and then BAM! Unstoppable! After relocating to a different state, getting married and having kids, I did complete my college degree…as a member of an honor society.