Tonight, we are going to follow the blue and red to put it all together. My kids know that it’s their right and privilege to vote when they turn 18. They know that even if they decide to vote for someone different than me, I will still love and support them, even though it’s natural to feel disappointed when we feel strongly about different platforms.
They know it’s okay to change their party and vote for whom they believe is the best candidate according to their own values.
They know that voting to take away others’ choice is always wrong, even if it’s different from the choices we would make ourselves.
They know the truth about our history and voting suppression, which is real and still alive today! It just looks more legal and acceptable for some in power.
Did you know that it’s legal for astronauts to vote for President from space, but American citizens in Puerto Rico, Guam, and other US terrotories do not and have never beeng granted that right by our US Constitution?
They know these vocabulary words: platform, debate, ballot, running mate, swing states, Republican, Democrat, Independent, register, rights, civic responsibility, and representative democracy.
I am raising my kids to think for themselves, even if it’s different than my thinking. Truthfully, I expect them to be much wiser than I ever was. I wish so much that my own family had valued free thinking and that it didn’t take me 40 years to understand how propaganda and the religious right controlled me with fear. And that I allowed them to because seeking truth took work.
She could have said, “No.” She could have been too busy to even respond, and I would have understood, but I asked Kim Bearden to join my weekly bookchat anyway. I reached out to this amazing woman, educator, author, mother, wife, Believer, and leader because I had learned so much from her! I had met her in person in December 2015 at The Ron Clark Academy, a school she cofounded with Ron Clark, and is still teaching (her 34th year!) Language Arts and leading as Executive Directer. I had even been blessed to sit in one of her keynotes that year during my former district’s convocation. But to sit down with her to pick her brain and talk about her three books, well that was just a dream… until she answered, “Yes!” For weeks I looked forward to this time with Mrs. Bearden, and the night before our book chat, I couldn’t even sleep!!
Purpose Infused Stories
Kim Bearden shares how each book written had a unique purpose.
Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me is her first book, but actually the catalyst for her to write her latest release,Fight Song. Crash Course became a book about the woman and educator she became after leaning into some extremely difficult life events. She may be in the Teacher Hall of Fame, but it wasn’t without facing some brutal, personal hardships. Her honesty about what life and her students had taught her over the years is extremely easy to read as she tells it through engaging stories.
Talk to Me: Find the Right Words to Inspire, Encourage, and Get Things Done is so important to me, I packed it in my suitcase when we moved to Alaska from Dallas in 2019! In this book, Kim Bearden shares six princples that have helped her personally and professionally to have successful, open communication, even when she is “all up in her feelings.” She wrote it to help others understand that we can find some common ground with anybody if we are willing to learn how to listen, first. This book is not just for educators, either! It is a book I have written many notes in and refer back to, often.
Her first two books are important reads, but her latest book, Fight Song, has left me with the deepest impact. Like her previous two books, Mrs. Bearden weaves personal stories throughout, and they come from a place of complete vulnerability. I even admit that I had to put the book down after the first couple of chapters as many emotions from my own life came up. She begins her story from a place of complete brokeness, a brokeness that is no stranger to any of us, and her stories continue to build us up through the hope and life that comes when she chose to fight back. A choice we all must make if we want to know joy.
Like real life, we will be knocked to the ground more than once. Kim Bearden talks about this and how facing each challenge has given her a new perspective and hope. In spite of these challenges, she has actually learned how to appreciate life more deeply! She describes how her relationships, both personally and professionally, run even more true because she continually chooses to see purpose in each, sometimes crazy, life event. This message is for all of us!
In our conversation, she talks about releasing her book during this pandemic. While it wasn’t planned, it might have the been the best, worst time for it to come out. The truths revealed are even more relevant now as we face uncertainty. I was able to attend one of her Zoom Book Study calls this past summer, so I know it wasn’t just me who felt extremely touched and grateful for her words in Fight Song as there were hundreds gathered to reflect!
Forgiveness is a Central Theme
In all of her books, Kim Bearden addresses forgiveness. She even shares that forgiveness is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves. If you have read any of my blog posts this summer, you know how important forgiveness is to me, but honestly, dealing with forgivness is something we all must face in life. Because I am a person of faith, like Mrs. Bearden, I grew up with the knowledge that forgiveness was a MUST. In her books, she explains why it’s a gift.
After our conversation, I smiled for hours. I couldn’t help it! Kim Bearden is a source of brilliant light! When you read her stories, you know it came with a cost. If you look at her and judge, you might think she’s beautiful, she has fame, she’s got talent, heck, she’s got it all! But if you read her stories, you’ll find she is a woman who has been deeply hurt and abandoned by a life partner. She is a mother who has fought for each of her four children when faced with dire circumstances. She is a daughter who knows both intense love and grief. She is a woman fighting not to compare herself to others. She is a wife who found love again, after parting with the dreams she had in her youth. She has faced life with honest humility and she remains faithful, but she has fought with her entire being to remain faithful. That’s why I love learning from her. It’s the kind of legacy I want, too.
Here’s to each of our Fight Songs! I hope you will give our bookchat a listen and be encouraged!
Today was a good home schooling day. I sat at our large dining room table and worked with my kindergartner, second grader, fourth grader, and sixth grader. We finished schooling in two hours. But one thing really stood out to me as we talked through frustrations, especially regarding math. As I checked their independent work, I reminded my two oldest, “It’s okay if you get it wrong. It’s not like I’m going to ground you for it. It’s sometimes confusing for me, too. That’s why I like to check my answers in the back to see if I’m on the right track.”
When I check my kids’ work, I don’t mark it all up. I circle items that they need to go back over and try again. I don’t assign letter grades. Then they are commended for going back and finding their mistakes and trying again. This happens in reading as well as math. The best thing about my kids learning at home is that we aren’t focused on getting the “right grades.” The focus on all that we do is “Do you undestand? Why are you frustrated? How can I help? How can we move forward?”
Dealing with Frustration is FRUSTRATING!
We do get frustrated a lot, by the way. Home schooling is not perfect for any of us. I get easily frurstrated with them and they with me. They make each other mad super fast, too. The social emotional component is a minute by minute thing as we work through it all. There are days when I think they are the most disrespectful students I’ve ever had and for them, they think I’m the worst teacher they’ve ever had! hahaha! THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.
Grading Doesn’t Rule Our Learning
BUT. One positive thing that I’m truly grateful for is getting away from the wrong answer conditioning. My two oldest were in public school long enough to know that wrong answers bring down your grades. Wrong answers keep you back in one form or another. I love being able to encourage them through frustrating learning when things don’t come easily. In real life, that’s how it is, we have to constantly improve our skills because what really comes easily? Raising kids has not been easy, learning on the job is not always natural and inside of my talents, and marriage, well that has definitely been a challenge, too. So yeah, the best things in life, we often get wrong before we get right. Thank goodness my husband and kids aren’t grading me as a wife and parent! I’d be happy with a C but probably don’t deserve an average rating!
This is just a reflection on a good day of teaching my kids at home. I hope I will read it again and remember that getting the right answer isn’t the most important part of learning and be grateful I can pass this on to my children.
This summer I have written about making sincere apologies, and today I share one of the reasons why helping others understand its importnce matters so much to me.
When I was a senior in high school, age 18, I had already spent a lot of years wrapped up in bitterness. My biological father, a pastor in my hometown, and his absence in my life left me feeling very bitter after years of trying to be so good just to catch his attention. But no matter that I maintained a 4.0 grade point average, played well in sports (okay decent enough to get by), sang in some amazing choirs, or even had a leadership role in my church youth group, my biological father was never going to notice me. Not even if his church was across the street from my high school. Not even if he happened to be eating in the same restaurant as me. In fact, he didn’t even know who I was when we were in the same place, and it happened a few times.
But I knew who he was. I remember meeting him at his sister’s funeral when I was five and I somehow always knew that I didn’t share genes with my dad who raised me. I knew that my friends at school, who also had divorced parents, still saw their biological dads. All those years of trying to be good enough to be noticed (I was also the typical middle child) never paid off.
In fact, for most of my teen years, no matter that I did have a dad who loved me, I was bitter. I took it out on my family, especially my older sister. The few times we were around my biological father, or any family member from his side, my oldest sister seemed to be the only one they wanted to talk to. I never felt noticed. I have memories of being ten, sitting in my biological father’s huge car when he decided to see us a few times, and him never saying anything to me. And I was just too scared to start a conversation.
Why am I revealing all of this? Because it hurt so bad. It turned into a cycle of hurt and hate for me. It still hurts when I allow my mind to feel the pain of a young girl and adolescent who felt lost and unloved, despite that I did have love in my life, but we tend to define ourselves as humans by the negative instead of the positive.
When I was 18, I realized I didn’t want to hold on to this hurt and hate anymore. The hate that I felt in my heart towards family members was unnatural. So I sought counseling with a licensed counselor in my church. When I explained to him how bitter I was, he asked me some questions of what I hoped for if I could confront my biological father. I wanted my biological father to beg me for forgiveness. I wanted him to feel my pain and beg me for forgiveness! That actually consumed me and I didn’t know how to process these huge emotions or get out of this painful cycle that was interfering with my life and my relationships.
Even though it was an incredible release to talk about this with someone who knew me, saw me, believed in me, my counselor loved me enough to tell me the truth. What I hoped for was not reality. My biological father was not going to beg me for forgiveness because it wasn’t on his mind like it was mine. He had removed himself from the situation. The hurt I felt was mine. And while I deserved an apology, the way in which I hoped it would happen was unrealistic and unhealthy to harbor. This was in a church setting I am being counseled in, remember, so please receive this in that light without judgement, but I was counseled to pray about it intensely and allow God to take care of the situation that was out of my hands and when the right moment came, I would have His wisdom to guide me.
And that’s what I did. I prayed about it for over a year.
That year I learned how to let it go and to forgive someone who hurt me deeply. In the process, I embraced my freshman year of college and continued to excel in academics. I made so many new friends, moved out on my own, and kept a job that I did well in. I appreciated and loved my dad who wanted to be my dad, and it seemed to be less and less important that we didn’t share DNA. The bitterness started dissipating over time and I enjoyed my life in a way that I had never enjoyed it before. It was freedom. Liberation. The bitterness lost to an overreaching joy that started to blossom and helped me to follow my dreams of moving to Texas and going to an out-of-state school.
But wouldn’t you know, that two months before I was to leave, I once again found myself in the same restaurant as my biological father. In fact, he walked right past me and I knew that even though I knew who he was, he didn’t know me apart from anyone else. Honestly, it stung. It hurt, even though I was transformed by the forgiveness that had taken root in my life; it was forgiveness he never asked for, and certainly didn’t deserve. However, a peace settled over me. This was my chance to face him before I moved away to Texas, and I knew with complete certainty that this was the moment I had prayed for. I no longer expected him to beg me for forgiveness, and I didn’t need that from him either. But I wanted him to know that I made it. I was living the life I wanted to live and the pain I had carried for so many years did not define nor hold me back in any way.
So I marched over to his table with both confidence, peace, and legs that felt like noodles! I introduced myself. He was very surprised and so were the church members who were dining with him. When he told them he was my dad, I corrected him to let them know that he was my biological father but I already had a dad. I told him I just wanted him to see me. I was doing so well in school and was about to move to Texas, but I wanted him to see me and know that I was real. After a few minutes of awkward conversation, on even shakier legs, I walked away and we left that restaurant. I was proud of how I carried myself. I knew that my prayers were heard. Forgiveness wasn’t for my biological father. It was for me. How he neglected his children was not about me in any way, though I felt the pain of that, but I was worth everything even if he wasn’t going to be in my life. It was healing.
The Cycle of Forgiving
Through the years, I have had to learn how to forgive him over and over. When I met my first class of fifth grade students the first year of teaching, and I felt the protectiveness of a momma bear, I thought of him and how he abandoned my family and I had to forgive him again. Every time I carried my own children inside of me, it triggered hurt that he could so easily leave us behind. I had to forgive him because the cycle of hurt and hate could easily consume me. He’s never said he was sorry. He probably never will. Although, I hope for his own soul, he will take ownership of his wrongdoing and I wish him well. He isn’t my burden to carry.
Forgiveness is a cycle. My biological father wasn’t the last person I’ve struggled to forgive, but the example of how I was able to move on without him uttering a word has helped me forgive others, too. It’s not easy, even right now, I know I need counseling to help me process emotions for another family member who has hurt me my whole life. I have been shoving the pain aside because I know they will never own their actions towards me, but I want to move on in a healthy and whole way. When we are hurt deeply, we develop triggers and those triggers force us to deal with the pain all over again.
It reminds me of the cycle of grief. Over time the triggers are further away and less intense, but it’s still there and sometimes takes me off guard. The recent triggers have forced me to make the decision to seek help. Like so many other educators, I am loaded down with responsibilities to help others learn. For myself, I want to unload this burden that I can’t remove by myself so I can enjoy more parts of my life, like teaching and my family.
Choosing to Forgive
I chose forgiveness for myself and I will choose it all over again, for my mental and spiritual health. Unforgiveness, for me, turns into bitterness, and I know it can spill over into the other relationships in my life. It is too heavy to carry. People depend on me, my children especially. I’ve felt the burden of carrying around dead weight and I don’t want it. I want life. Liberation. A more clear mind.
Forgiveness is most challenging when the hurt runs deep. But carrying around a grudge can impact our lives in unhealthy ways that break down our mental, physical, and spiritual health. Learning how to forgive is a process. Had it not been for my counselor and my faith, I would not have known how to move through it. I’ve relied on my faith for years so that I would not get sucked back into bitterness from actions others have done that I cannot control. Other times, professional help is necessary. You may find forgiveness and freedom in another way and I respect that as much as I respect my own path.
But that’s what I wish for you: a life of freedom from hurt that was never your fault.
Melody McAllister is a wife, mother of five, educator, and author. She and her family relocated to Alaska from the Dallas area in 2019. McAllister is 2017 Garland NAACP Educator of the Year and author of the I’m Sorry Story, a children’s book about taking responsibility for mistakes and making sincere apologies.
Last month, my beautiful friend and colleague, Dr. Joy, published her first children’s book called Back To Zero. It was a story she originally wrote for her own son and its purpose is to help students learn how to understand and process big emotions that can easily instigate meltdowns. You can listen to our interview about this sweet book here:
But today, I received my own copy of Back to Zero in the mail! I joyously read it as it is a very quick read told in poetic form. In the short time it took me to read, I was very moved. This book needs to be in all of our home and classroom libraries. Not only can students learn how to name and regulate their emotions better, it gently guides us in ways we can help them through this process, as it offers follow-up discussion questions and activities.
3 Ways We Can Help Prevent Student Meltdowns
Read this book with our kids to initiate conversation with constructive vocabulary to help students name their emotions with common language that helps us teachers know exactly what they are communicating.
Provide a space where students can go when they begin to feel their control slip. We need to model how this space is used and what it communicates to the classroom community. Add activities there that students can manipulate easily like playdough or clay or a waterbottle with beads that help them focus on something other than their anger as they champion themselves back to a calmer state.
For students who need more help in this area, with parents, form a plan of action that might include another trusted adult on campus, or the school counselor, when emotions are at a level of 7 or higher and the child knows they need help to come back down to zero, or a place of calm. The number 7 might be too high for those students, so work out the number that helps your students, individually.
Giving Joy in the Form of Hope
The more control a young person feels, the less often they will be at a 10, or full melt-down mode. For transparency’s sake, while I implemented these strategies in my fifth grade and first grade classrooms, when students left to use the safe space, I had to teach myself not to react or exude some control. Sometimes letting go of control is hard for us in our classrooms. But oftentimes, it’s that control and compliance that sets our students off needlessly. We have so much to learn and do better in schools. This is a great way to start, and help all of our students process “big emotions,” as Dr. Joy says, in a way that empowers them instead of making them feel like they don’t belong.
Melody McAllister is a wife, mother of five, educator, and author. She and her family relocated to Alaska from the Dallas area in 2019. McAllister is 2017 Garland NAACP Educator of the Year and author of the I’m Sorry Story, a children’s book about taking responsibility for mistakes and making sincere apologies. She is also the Logistics Manager for EduMatch Publishing. McAllister has spoken at ISTE and ASTE about equity issues in education, and writes about her journey in her blog, HeGaveMeAMelody.com.
As you read this post, I pray it helps you navigate through becoming an anti-racist human, educator, parent, etc. We all have a lot of work ahead of us and we need to work together to bring about the change that is necessary for true equality for all people in our amazing country.
This past week, I was able to go LIVE on my social media platforms and talk with an educator hero of mine, Laura Gilchrist. Laura and I became friends from Twitter about three years ago and it was during a Twitter exchange we found out we were from the same city and state and my cousin graduated with her! Since then, we’ve connected on Facebook and have other friends in common. And while that’s amazing and makes me think we live in a small world, the coolest thing about my friend is her advocacy. After spending more than 20 years in the classroom, she is now a full time educator consultant and works with an organization called ParentCamp, where she helps connect families, schools, and communities.
Connecting these three entities has always been important to me as a public school educator and as a parent advocate. ParentCamps are in 38 of our states and is free to anyone who wants to learn more about being connected. Since the pandemic has shut down our public schools, they have gone virtual! Their work was not canceled! They are still working hard to connect because, as Laura put it, “Without connection, there is no collaboration.” We need each other. Our students need for their families, schools, and communities to be connected so we can educate “whole” children and they see themselves living out the lives they choose to live while feeling empowered to share their voices and abilties with the world.
Without connection, there is no collaboration.
Laura Gilchrist, Education Consultant & Parent/Family Advocate
When Laura talks about ParentCamp, you can feel her excitement and passion. When she talks about tearing down the old way of parent engagement, where we managed parents, and explains how a new system connects us and transforms our community, I couldn’t help but get excited!! She talks about how communities, schools, and parents problem solve TOGETHER to face the needs and challenges that are unique to their area, and I think to myself, “This is what it’s supposed to be about.”
Most of us love and support public schooling, even though we also know that it needs an overhaul to really grow ALL of our students. So if you find yourself invested because you are a parent, educator, community member, or all three, ParentCamp has found a way to help us tackle the challenges we face, together. I don’t mean for this to sound like a fairy tale because the work in front of us for equity, restorative practices, and remote learning/teaching are huge. It will take the whole village, and that’s what the work is all about. No one group should be shouldering the burden that affects each of us. Only together, can we find a way to transform a community.
Are you as excited as me? Sign up at parentcamp.org and let’s get going! They are offering virtual webinars over the next few weeks and my hope is that you will feel empowered to help bring about the change your community needs.
And I’m not referring to the Hollywood half-apologies that strongly rely on the word “if.” A genuine apology takes ownership of the burden we placed on another that they should’ve never had to bear. A genuine apology can soften the ground for real healing in a hurting heart. The truth and ownership of wrong doing can help a mind stop struggling or cycling on the “What did I do wrong?” thoughts that haunt us.
And because we are all human, we will all make mistakes. Because we have strong emotions, we will say things out of spite and arrogance. Our words will become gasoline on a burning building.
When we recognize the pain we’ve caused, we can choose to ignore our part, or we can choose to be humble. We can choose to blame others for how they made us feel or we can choose to take full responsibility for our actions. We often try to teach our children and students this lesson, but all of us have seen that many adults still struggle in this very process. It’s not an issue tied to age. It’s an issue tied to the conditions of our hearts and spirits.
Could you imagine the wave of healing that would begin in our communities if we liked, shared, or retweeted the humble words of a leader who took responsibility for unchecked power? No one is above a sincere apology. No one is above taking the blame for their part. No one is too good to start the peace process, and we can only imagine what it be like if our leaders all admitted that they have been wrong and then explained a path that would move us all forward out of the ashes of our burning cities.
You see, with true humility, action will follow. Words run hollow when behavior doesn’t change. Spirits are damaged deeply when apologies become more lies.
Honesty and deep reflection for our own actions is an important place to start. Courage to change will follow.