- Be someone who makes a difference in the lives of those we touch.
- Allow kids to develop a positive mindset and executive function skills first.
- Instill a growth mindset for students. Create good habits and let go of bad ones.
- Pull your specialists aside and ask them your questions.
Be Their Difference!
Hello again, reader, and welcome back to the Better News blog series!
This is Brad Hughes, school principal and Chief Encouragement Officer from Ontario, Canada.
Inspiration and practical strategies are on the menu today as we get ready to serve up Episode 30 of The Good News, Brad News Podcast, with my guest, Erin Mengeu—parent, partner, educator, researcher, and newly-published author, a native Ohioan now residing in Michigan, USA.
Erin has been teaching and inspiring kids for 20 years. She’s been an elementary teacher and professional learning leader in a variety classroom settings, and now teaches education courses at the graduate level. She’s also the mom of three wild and crazy kids that keep her on her toes!
Erin spent many years researching developmental growth and brain development. She helps teachers learn effective strategies for developmental growth through her blog, Be Their Difference, and in her brand new book, Slow Down! Children Are Learning!
I spoke with Erin about her determination to shift the focus from children’s achievement scores to their foundational developmental needs, and about following her instincts to teach what really matters—even when it’s tough.Now I feel like through writing I can be their difference, as can so many other people. That’s where my heart is - just being a little bit better every day, and doing what's best, even when it's hard. Click To Tweet
What does Be Their Difference mean to you, and why might this call to action be more important than ever?
It’s important to me that I can be a difference in everybody’s lives that I touch. I can just see how people have been placed in my life for a reason at the perfect time. I just want to be that for somebody, whether it’s my students or my kids or my husband or strangers.
In education, there were moments in my career where I felt like ‘being their difference’ was being stifled. And I have felt like I could do more, but because of different circumstances, that was an obstacle. Now I feel like through writing I can be their difference, as can so many other people. That’s where my heart is—just being a little bit better every day, and doing what’s best, even when it’s hard.
What does it mean to you to go slow now to go fast later?
I have this theory that if we could just slow down and let kids be kids, and develop them as people and as learners first, we would get better overall achievement in the end. We need to leverage their natural curiosity and focus on developing positive mindset and executive function skills—all those developmental skills that equip them for learning. It’s like how an archer slowly pulls back to focus, then releases and can hit their target. It might feel like a risk to slow down at the beginning when there’s so much to do and so much at stake—but we have to be willing to take that risk.
You’ve written that we’re all capable of more than we think. But revealing capacity depends on reducing stress and increasing confidence. How can educators do that?
I firmly believe in instilling a growth mindset—that failure is not an end result, but an opportunity to move on and learn more. And that’s how we learn. I feel so strongly that it needs to be explicitly taught early on.
We know now that our brain can be changed, that we can create good habits and let go of those bad habits. Although they all still exist, the good has to outweigh the bad. Imagine if my kindergarten teacher had taught me that. What kind of adult would I be now? It has the opportunity to change everything long term.
How have you leveraged cross-disciplinary expertise to reveal the developmental importance of everyday classroom skills and tasks?
The call to action I give to educators is, “Use the resources in your building.” Pull your specialists aside and ask them your questions. You get great answers and great resources.
Our speech-language pathologist collected a lot of data showing that inclusive settings served all kids—not only the kids who were on IEPs. So as I worked towards a more inclusive classroom, the Special Education teacher would come in and co-teach lessons with me for several hours a day. Physical and occupational therapists and guidance counselors helped me understand the fundamental importance of emotional regulation and executive functioning. Watching them provide these strategies to students was amazing, and I learned so much about providing what all kids really need.
Has becoming an author clarified and reinforced your purpose and beliefs about education and caring for kids?
I don’t know what becoming an author is going to mean for me but I hope it means a bunch for other people! I would love to have an impact on educators and feel like that would be the way to reach a larger group of kids.
I’d also love to have an impact on parents now that I’m able to wear that parent hat and not just that teacher hat. I’ve cherished a couple of years away from the classroom and at home with my kids. I can feel the energy I have now that I didn’t have in the past because my patience was spent by the end of the day. It’s difficult to be the parent that’s a teacher because people think that teacher parents are perfect. And boy are we not! It’s a daily battle to do what’s right.
I’m kind of just trusting that there’s a plan. Whether teachers or administrators are getting their hands on it, or even if it’s just a small group of friends that end up buying the book, I just hope that it makes a difference for people.[scroll down to keep reading]
Many exhausted educators are leaving the profession. Could your book help them reconnect to their passion for teaching and reinvigorate their determination to stay in education?
My heart goes out to exactly what you’re asking. It’s no secret that teachers today are overwhelmed. The teachers that I see leaving due to stress and exhaustion are the best of the best.
I know the stress of what everybody is wanting from you versus what you know is right. There are so many situations where educators are caught in the tension between doing what is best for kids and what is expected by the state or the district.
Reminding yourself of why you first became a teacher is so important and reminding yourself of the growth you watched happen since the beginning of the year.
And the best growth is not even academic growth. It’s when children start believing in themselves and they tell you, and when you see their mindsets changing and you see that glow in their faces—that’s why we do this. That’s why we became teachers.
I’m hoping that my book will share practical strategies and tools to help teachers create good humans who believe in themselves and can achieve their goals. And people who use their creativity and be not who we want them to be, but who they were meant to be.
We know so much more about the brain now than we’ve ever known before. I hope my book will remind teachers that there’s a scientific purpose, and a spiritual purpose, for what they’re doing.
And that they’ll be reminded to hang in there. I hope the book will do that as well.
Connect with Erin!
About Brad Hughes
Brad is an elementary school principal in Ontario, Canada with 25 years’ experience in education. He is currently at Forest Hill Public School in the Waterloo Region District School Board. Prior to becoming a school leader, Brad taught for 16 years in classrooms from Kindergarten to eighth grade, most recently teaching middle school Visual Arts, French and Special Education.
Brad is a certified Self-Reg School Champion and has an ongoing commitment to reframing the joys and challenges of school life through a Self-Reg lens. He is passionate about improving kids’ lives by loving and supporting the adults that serve them.
Brad is a Teach Better Ambassador and the host of The Good News, Brad News Podcast on the Teach Better Podcast Network.