Happy, happy holidays!

Dear friends, readers, and fellow reformers,

As the year winds down, I wish all of you a wonderful holiday season–and renewed energy for the new year.

We share many blessings–as scary as the news may be and sometimes, the realities out there are. This is the season to celebrate our blessings with whoever we choose–friends, family, neighbors, fellow club members, acquaintances, strangers, those in need, and even those we only know through media.

The days start to get longer again. The light will be back! Life is good. Enjoy! Enjoy!

Our teachers are heroes

Our teachers are heroes. We saw it in Connecticut last week. We see it every day in our schools.

Teachers work for our children–our future–even though they are often disparaged in the media, with its hand wringing and blame games.

I hope that this horrible event will allow us to acknowledge the above reality about our teachers and move forward in a far more positive way than we have. It’s time to honor our teachers.

My mother was not a reader. She was a looker! She observed her world.

Once, when asked what book she would recommend to others, her answer was, “the Book of Nature–just look around!”

I’ve thought of that idea often. Of course, mother seemed to assume that she couldn’t do both: read books and read life. To me, there is no such conflict, but she lived as if there were. She’d look around, and not down into pages. She’d be the adventuress, and not the armchair adventuress.

And her legacy? I believe I learned to observe and I hope today’s children learn to do that also. As a result, in February/March, the Boston Children’s Museum will exhibit my collection of street crossing signs of children from around the world! As I’ve traveled, I’ve observed that signage (of the two children going to school) in different countries is very different; reflecting different cultures.. More on this show later. The power of observation! Most of my friends told me they never noticed street signs–and now they do.

But mother’s legacy lives on. Open your eyes! See the world! Get out of the IPad and IPhone—check the passing scene. She would tell us to do that. And, I have to say, there’s wisdom in her words.

Here’s a really important piece about the fact that little children have way too much screen time. Their noses are in the screens–not outside doing life. It’s bad for children. Yet, many parents think it’s great and are proud of how well their little ones can push buttons….

Pass this article on–especially at this time of gift giving. Buy blocks instead of IPhones. Give them crayons instead of televisions. A ball instead of…you get the idea. Let children be children, creative in their play, not programmed to follow some preset agenda on a screen.

Shop smartly for the future of all of us. Please!

Several years ago, I was at Starbucks, buying a pound of coffee to take home. I then asked the barista, “Don’t I get a free cup of coffee when I buy a bag in bulk?”

“It’s only if you ask,” was her reply.

I was taken aback. Apparently, the system was set up to create a conversation. (Starbucks’ policy seems to have changed. The last few times I’ve asked I was told that I can only get a free cup of coffee with my purchase if I use a Starbucks card…). Too bad for me, as I don’t have one (or intend to get one).

But the lesson remains. It’s also the one that my mother left me with.

“Ask!,” she’d say. “The worst thing they can say is ‘no.'”

So, too, in special education! The law is set up to have a conversation. Parents are to ask for services or placements or whatever for their children. Yet, schools are often stymied by these requests (sometimes even demands). They should do what the barista did and my mother said: Consider the request and respond according to what is needed and required under the law.

Just because someone asks, doesn’t mean the answer has to be ‘yes.’ It can be ‘no,’ and the start of a conversation.

Several years ago, when I took the “T” (Boston’s subway system) on a crowded afternoon, I saw the token guy standing near the turn style with a basket. He said, in a rather loud and friendly voice,

“If you have exact change, put it in here. Don’t give it to me or I’ll go to jail. I you have exact change, put it in here. Don’t give it to me or I’ll go to jail. If you have exact change, put it in here……”

Wow. What excellent in-service training.

His job was to help the public. He did.

His job was to move people quickly. He did.

His job was not to take the public’s money in the wrong way. He did.

And he added a lovely twist–humor! Going beyond his job and lightening the spirit of those who heard him.

I, for one, have not forgotten that mantra, “If you have exact change, put it in here. Don’t give it to me or I’ll go to jail.”

Overheard at Subway

I love Subway sandwiches–especially the tuna with everything on it except onions and green pepper.

So, I walked into the Subway at the student union at Stanford.

I say to young man at cash register. “Wow you are always busy.”

“You should have seen it 30 minutes ago, ” he replied, pointing to the door. “The line was out to there.”

“Well, you have a good product.”

He, with a big smile. “You gotta eat fresh!”

I was so impressed! He got the company message. “You gotta eat fresh.”

Subway must be doing something very well.

And, of course, I thought of our schools providing special education. How about training staff to say–with a big smile, “We proudly work with you to provide your child with a free appropriate public education (FAPE)?”

–with a hat off to Starbucks. Have you noticed those coffee kiosks at hotels? “We proudly serve Starbucks coffee.”

HMMM. We proudly (or gladly or joyfully or consistently or competently or –pick your adjective… provide your child with a FAPE.”

Overheard at Starbucks…

“We don’t have dogs in here.”


The ‘customer’ started to walk away…

The young, and obviously clever, barista responded, “Would you like me to bring your coffee to you out here?”

“Sure.” The customer was smiling now… and the dog was happy, too, I presume.

Problem solved. Fabulous customer service.

We need more of that everywhere–including in schools.

And sometimes, it’s not even that hard!

I happened upon a citizenship ceremony in San Francisco’s Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium. It was 2005 and 1445 new citizens were to be sworn in. I watched along with families and friends and crying babies and balloons and flowers and flash cameras.

“This is the country where you can achieve anything that you set out to do,” the presiding official told us.

When we stood to sing the national anthem, I choked up. More than 50 years since I landed on these shores in Hoboken New Jersey, I am still so moved by coming to America.