Laura Gilchrist & ParentCamp: Connecting Families, Schools, & Communities

Check out our LIVE session! (I didn’t see my spelling error until after our LIVE session;)

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. 

So much fun going LIVE with Laura! Hope we can do it again, soon!

Connected 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.”  

Transformation Awaits

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 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. 

Community Builder

I want to be known for advocating for community.

In functioning community, people can learn, thrive, and be seen.

They see their voice matters. They bring others up with them.

They grow through challenges.

They apologize and seek forgiveness for wrongdoing.

They see past labels and learn beyond the superficial.

That’s what I want my life to stand for and everything in my life to work towards.

No One is Above an Apology

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.

S’more Math & Science, Please!

For many the school year is officially ending. Students and their families are breathing sighs of relief from the pressure felt during this teaching and learning crisis caused by the pandemic. But many teachers’ kids all over the country are not screaming with joy because they know they are still going to learn this summer! In fact, many parents who aren’t professional educators have decided that this summer is going to be spent exploring different areas of learning because of the way this pandemic shut down regular schooling.

Making S’Mores turned into a math & science talk with my kiddos!

Do parents need to invest in expensive and boring curriculum to maintain healthy learning this summer? PLEASE, for the love of learning, DO NOT! For the love of children, do not! Then what is a parent to do? My answer, turn everyday life into learning sessions. Don’t worry about hitting every academic area daily, but inviting meaningful conversations and thinking through ideas you come across are absolutely going to help your child’s brain stay engaged and learning. Reading and playing can be your focus together this summer break. Umm…and eating, too. Kids love to eat (and many parents also LOVE to eat), so reading, playing, and eating, those are the areas to focus on this summer!

My son was able to describe the growth of marshmallow size increase because the oven heat sped up the atoms inside!

Today we made S’Mores in my house. We counted by twos, divided wholes, and problem solved in a natural way. We talked about states of matter. We even used our observations to explore the physical and chemical changes taking place. Most importantly, we had some fun, and then ate a yummy snack together. No one was fighting. There was some peace in our house, and as a mother of five, this is super hard to come by these days. This “lesson” took about 20 minutes altogether, so none of us are stressed.

So pack the learning and fun together in the ordinary things. It might not be fancy, your kids might be like mine and be wearing the same clothes for days, but the likelihood they will remember these learning moments is very high. The stories of students and families checking out of crisis learning, or not even having the opportunity are real and dismal. While we can’t change this overnight, we can make the moments we have with our family count. The connections we make now will have an impact on everything they learn from here.

For a few minutes today, we had some fun and no one was fighting!

The present and future are unpredictable in these unprecedented times. But one thing we can bet on is that our children and families are going to need more social emotional support from this day forward! So, yummy math and science lessons are definitely needed wherever they can be found. I would love to hear how you and your family are finding moments of social emotional support, and if you need more resources, please reach out to me and I will help you find a starting place.

In the meantime, stay well and stay safe. And have a delicious snack!

Also, you can follow @EveryoneCanMath on Twitter for fun math learning moments!

You deserve something yummy today for working so hard;)

Sincerest Apologies

Right before the pandemic, the I’m Sorry Story was published. The greatest part of its release has been sharing it with young people all over the country, and even in Germany! Kids have a lot to say after we read this story together. They may be young in years, but they have already felt the pain of insincere apologies. Their youth and honesty are refreshing to hear. Their voices SHOULD be heard more often and hopefully, we’ll have many more #ImSorryStory read-alouds!

One important takeaway of this story is addressing the “It’s ok” response after an apology. When asked if that response is a good one to use, there is quite a bit of thought and discussion. For many, they’ve never thought about how often they’ve said, “it’s okay” but one young man spoke up today and said, “If we always say ‘it’s okay’ then people will still do wrong stuff all the time because they know we will say ‘it’s okay.’” He wasn’t wrong. This happens all the time in real life. Do the words “it’s okay” mean automatic forgiveness? Is automatic forgiveness sincere forgiveness? Young people sense the truth when they are involved.

Another question that brings up more thoughtful discussion is “Do you have to forgive?” For some, it’s a matter of faith to always choose forgiveness. While that is understandable, just because the words “I forgive you” are spoken, it doesn’t mean the heart work has truly been processed to genuine forgiveness. Young people talk about things that can’t be forgiven. They talk about how moms shouldn’t forgive some things. There is even discussion that we can forgive others, but we don’t have to keep people in our lives who perpetually hurt us and expect us to get over it. This is deep and something we all have to think about.

Today a very important question was brought to our attention when reading with Mr. Dene Gainey’s class. This question was offered by one of his fifth graders. His student asked “Does it help to use the word IF in your apology?” The discussion went on to acknowledge how that tiny word separates responsibility from the person who caused hurt to the person who was hurt. That tiny word is actually a huge reason why I wrote this story. This tiny word is a reason to teach social emotional lessons because we’ve seen how this tiny, insincere word ruins an opportunity to show hurt people that a person is truly sorry. Mr. Gainey offered this question, “What if you asked the person, ‘Did I hurt you?’” That question right there takes the IF off the table and guides us to the sincerest of apologies.

The I’m Sorry Story has activities and follow up questions that a person of any age can reflect and learn from. If you would like me to do a virtual read-aloud with your class, please contact me and we will set it up. For all of the teachers and students who have let me tell my story and share in discussion, I want to say thank you from the depths of my heart! It has been the greatest joy of having the #ImSorryStory published!


As Mother’s Day 2020 approaches, comes, and leaves there are so many emotions to process. Through this pandemic, I’ve analyzed my failings in motherhood, but one thing brings me back from the pits and that is knowing my kids are safe and sound.  God doesn’t give us the future, just day by day, and since there is no way to know the future, it’s the deepest blessing to have all of my children here with me.  Well, all but one.  My Angel Baby is in Heaven with other loved ones, and while I think more of my loss today, I also reflect that without this precious and short life, I would not be enjoying the blessing of my youngest son’s life.  God doesn’t give us the future, there was no way to know what would come from the pain of loss, but day by day, the deepest blessings find their way to us. 

There are Mothers mourning the loss of their children for the first time during this holiday. There are Mothers mourning the loss of their children for years, and the loss is just as fresh as it ever was.  Maybe “Happy Mother’s Day” isn’t the greeting that fits, but the honor of your role as mother is still worthy of deep celebration.  

There are Mothers who’ve lost their only babies before they ever took their first breaths outside of their wombs. Mother’s Day may not feel like the event you are invited to join, but the honor of your role as Mother is still worthy of deep celebration. 

There are Mothers caring for children whom they did not biologically give life to, Mothers who could not care for their children and made a way for them to be raised by others… and Mothers who have a combo of biological, step, halves- adopted- and choose to love like their own without labels.  The honor of your role as mother is worthy of deep celebration.  

For the future Mothers, the ones who’ve been trying for so long it hurts, and for the ones who wanted to be Mother but that dream (for whatever reason) was never realized…for the Aunties whose love has shaped the lives of so many children, your role as Mother is so worthy of deep celebration! 

For the Mothers who are doing this job without a life partner, feeling lonely and needing a break, needing some encouragement, hoping someone sees them, we see you! We love you! We are awed by you and virtually draw you into a safe embrace.  

This holiday can be full of joy and full of loss at the same time. Some of us have waited so long to be invited to this one that not having an invitation, or feeling like our invitation has been revoked, is devastating. While I don’t have the answers or the ability to mend broken hearts, I do have words. When you can’t hold your baby, hold to your memories. You are deeply loved by a Creator who understands your pain.  And while it doesn’t change your reality, my prayer today is that you experience the deepest level of love from God that you’ve been waiting for and didn’t know was possible. 

And if you feel like me, and struggle with all sorts of emotions like feeling unworthy of the precious lives placed in your care because of all your mistakes, I pray for us, that we allow God to help us forgive ourselves.  Each day is a new day to start fresh. The honor of being Mother is not to be taken lightly nor hinges on the amount of time you’ve spent in the role. For the first-time Mommies, still in the midst of days of no sleep, it’s okay if all you do is sleep on your day!  Giving life, pouring into life, sharing life, and more often than not, putting life ahead of your own happiness are all aspects of what we do daily, though our roles can look so different, as diverse as we are as humans.  Wherever you find yourself today, your role of mother is deeply honored.

It’s Ok To Have A Bad Day

A couple of days ago, I had a really bad day. That’s not entirely true. Since we’ve been practicing social distancing, I’ve had several bad days. But two days ago it felt worse. The day began okay but when my husband came home from the grocery store, worry set in. All my worries and the reality that my kids might have to face came crashing down on me. Then the physical symptoms began: fever, chills, and fatigue. I ended up going to bed with a headache.

Before I went to bed, one of my friends tweeted me asking me how I was doing. It’s a typical thing we do in our #PLN but I decided to be honest and admitted that I was having a bad day and there wasn’t anything I could do to get out of it. In response, came messages of support. It was definitely needed and appreciated.

Fortunately, when I woke up the next day, I felt better. Wanting to share my experience, I posted an honest summary of my bad day because posting those truly honest emotions of feeling anxious and sick are not things I usually post about. But maybe someone else needed to know it’s okay to have a bad day? The response from my community was of overwhelming support and love. Friends messaged me on my post, texted, and sent direct messages asking me how I was doing. It truly made me feel loved, encouraged, and strengthened. If you are reading this and you are part of my community, thank you.

However, I don’t normally post about those kinds of feelings. Why? Because I am afraid that I’ll appear weak, that my faith in God is lacking, and fear that others would assume wrong things about me. And while I did receive some well-intentioned messages along those lines, I chose not to feed that kind of spirit.

This past week we celebrated Easter. When you read about Jesus and the hours leading up to His arrest and eventual Crucifixion (Mark 14 or Luke 22), He prayed with His friends in a garden. His friends, unfortunately, did not stay awake and pray with Him as He hoped they would. His prayers were of desperation that God would take this cup from Him if there was any other way. He was emotional, to the point of sweating blood, about what He knew He was going to face, and understandably so. I mention this because being scared and feeling anxious is part of being human, as we see in our Savior. It doesn’t mean our faith is lacking. It doesn’t mean we are ungrateful for all we have. It means we need support, and like my friend Mandy Froehlich says, it’s our responsibility to get the support we need. Sometimes just sharing what we are feeling helps us, but other times, we need to see a mental health expert. Because we are human.

Two days ago, I had a bad day, and I know I’m not alone. This pandemic is proving to be a roller coaster of emotions for many of us. It’s wonderful to find the good things that come with social distancing, but it’s also okay if you need extra support. It is not a sign of weakness to reach out. It’s a sign of strength.

Letting Go Of Control

When I began teaching in the early 2000s, to earn high marks on my teacher evaluation, I needed to show that I was the boss and first in command in my classroom.  One of my principals in those early years compared me to a teammate, who taught in a way completely different than I did. My philosophy was always about building relationships and letting kids have choice and voice, so when my boss walked into my classroom, it was too noisy and I was labeled too nice.  I was told to work on my classroom management, in a way that felt foreign to me, and within two years, I quit and didn’t think I’d ever return to the classroom.  

When I returned to the classroom about four years later, and as a mother of four young children, I wasn’t the same person who walked out. Older and wiser, I realized that what I offered young people was exactly what they needed.  The relationships I still had with many former students and their parents was proof. When I joined Twitter that first year of going back, it was validating and incredible to find many educators who were like-minded and like-hearted: relationships first, student-centered, and fun! 

But, I had to work through a mindset that said I was lacking if I wasn’t entirely in control.  I had to hope that my principal would see the beauty in, what times seemed, chaotic. She did. The more I learn from my amazing professional learning network (PLN), the more I learned what giving the reins to students,  for the deepest form of learning, really looks like. But they didn’t teach us this in college. For many of us, it really is a mindset change from what school used to look like to what it could be if we would just let go of the control.

The current pandemic has educators teaching from their computers and finding as many ways as possible to connect with their students and families.  It’s to be expected that we are learning more than we can actually teach. 

One huge lesson to take from this season is that we can’t expect to replicate school routines in students’ homes.  We can’t have ridiculous expectations of being the center of a student’s world. There’s a pandemic going on! The lessons we give need to be more about flexibility than control.  It’s extremely hard to get into this mindset when, for years, we’ve been evaluated on being the boss of our classrooms, but we are no longer the boss of our classrooms. We are no longer in our classrooms. 

A message many parents need to hear from Educators and Leaders is that the well-being of students and families are top priority, not lessons, not virtual meetings, not assignments, and definitely not grades.  Life is priority right now, and maintaining the best health in all areas is what we need to focus on. Now is not the time to exert control and consequences.  It is the time to exert flexibility and compassion. 

Parents, I’m writing on behalf of so many educators who feel this way, and we know you work hard to meet every expectation, and we thank you for that.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, cut back. You don’t need our permission, but you have it. You have our support.  Take care of you and your children. If that means that not all assignments are complete, we understand. Lessons are not priority.  Life is. 

There will be so many gems we will learn in this season…if we let go of the control.

Prayer for Today

Heavenly Father,
Thank You for seeing us through another day. We come before You with humble hearts.

We lift up all the doctors, nurses, and all people working in healthcare and their protection. We lift up their families. We pray they will be reunited soon. We pray for Your supernatural wisdom and strength to guide them as they face this virus and all the challenges it brings.

We lift up all the farmers and migrant workers who are making sure we still have food on our tables. We lift up all those working in grocery stores, for city sanitation services, truckers, railroad workers, and all those making sure our country still functions in its basic and most important needs. Please protect them and send them safely back to their families.

We lift up the forgotten and lonely. We lift up those who are losing their lives in this moment and for the ones who wish they could be with them. We pray they feel Your peace and presence. We pray the mourning will find ways to honor those they have loved and lost in this time of distancing.

We lift up those who are scared and uncertain, especially our children. Especially parents. We lift up the most vulnerable, the ones who desperately depend on all of us to stay home.

We ask You, Jesus, to heal our sick. We ask for wisdom for our local, state, and federal leaders. Please infuse them with empathy.

Lord, we especially lift up children and adults who are trapped in abusive households. We pray they are rescued, even in this pandemic. We pray we see them as You see them.

Even though we see so much vanishing, give us eyes to see new and better days ahead, Father. Help us to anchor our hope and thoughts on You in this storm. May we never forget how You held us through it all.

Thank you that we have our families and resources. Show us how to help others in meaningful ways. Help us to remain open hearted even while our hearts are breaking.

Thank You for this day. Thank You for our lives. Thank You for our freedom. Thank You for giving us a way to see all of it more clearly. Help us, Lord, to stay focused, strong, and together even while we are apart. Bring an end to coronavirus, please!

Forgive us, Lord, for hoarding and for wasting time. Forgive us for our blindness.

For all these things, we ask in Your Name, Jesus, Amen.