Don’t Take Seriously the First Words Out of the Mouth of a Confused, Embarrassed, or Panicked Adolescent..advice from Fred Strong

Fred Strong (1)My next contributor was my first boss.  This person plays an extraordinarily important role in your life because they are the first person to evaluate your abilities outside of home, school or activities.  Looking, back, I was so lucky to have Fred Strong as my boss when he was the Middle School Head at Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences.  He know how to bring out the best in people.  He pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of and gave me opportunities that tested my self-imposed limits.  I can’t tell you the amount of times that I have used the lessons he taught he as a parent and employer.  Fred has years of experience working with adolescents, and the sincerity of this advice will show you why I cried the day I told him we were leaving Seattle for our next adventure. Thank-you, Fred, for being my best, first boss and a champion of middle schoolers.


That’s fundamental advice for teaching Middle School. Adolescents will say the craziest things at times. But actually, a “crazy” remark is pretty easy to spot; we smile at those and move on.

A kid saying something “outrageous” is a different matter, however. We adults are more likely to flip out and demand an explanation, elaboration, or apology.

Avoid being that adult. When something outrageous pops out of a kid’s mouth, pause and then ask a polite question. “Um, did you really mean to say ____?” or “Is that what you really believe?”

Your first step in that moment should be to offer a kid a chance to jump back out of whatever 50-foot hole they just dug themselves into. And offer a second or third chance, if necessary. That’s a humane response, and kids will appreciate and trust you for it. Which is not the same thing as giving a kid a chance to make up an excuse or a lie about something.

Just don’t overreact; adolescents often have no idea why something came out of their mouth in a moment of confusion, embarrassment, or panic.

Yes, someone did give me that advice when I was working with Middle Schoolers. But I actually knew it already, because I had personally experienced the flip side as a 7th grade kid. It went like this.

I was in a drama class and I was goofing off when I should have been paying attention. The teacher, quite reasonably, asked why I wasn’t paying attention. Well, I had no idea what to say. Plus, I was embarrassed.

So I rolled my eyes in front of her.

Bad idea.

The teacher flipped out and demanded to know why I was rolling my eyes. I had NO IDEA why I was doing what I was doing. And in my panic, I kept rolling my eyes even more. I wished I would stop but couldn’t really manage to make that happen.

When the show opened, I had one line: “Make way for the king.” I never took another theater class in all my school years.

That’s OK. I survived, and I have spent my career teaching middle and high schoolers. I love the crazy and outrageous stuff that comes out of their mouths. And I hope that my responses help them reduce that craziness over time. Give kids space to figure out themselves out, and they’ll figure themselves out.

My Life is Just as it Should Be…advice from Valerie Winborne

Valerie2“Mom. Did you know Mrs. Winborne is in the Smithsonian, has been in a Salt N Pepa video, worked with Spike Lee and was named the National Dance Society’s Master Dance Educator of the Year for 2016?”  My answer to my daughter, “Of course. Valerie Winborne  can do anything.”

After a successful career with international dance companies, including Urban Bush Women, she also owned successful dance studio in Brooklyn, New York. She now is the chair of the Dance Program at Brickell Academy, a pull-out dance program which provides studio training in ballet, modern and creative dance, as well as history and theory of dance to more than 350 students.

Truth be told, I want to be Valerie Winborne when I grow up.  She is one of those people who oozes cool, but can command a room of 400 children in the snap of a finger.  She brings out the best in people by pushing them to be truly who they are and be guided by their truth. Her advice comes through the page and makes you want to rock your inner child and go out and be a positive light in the world.  

 Initially, I said to myself this is a piece of cake. I’ll write this in an hour or less but as I conjured thoughts around what I’d say, I realized I was stumped. Days went by, sleep was lost and hours were preoccupied with what is the single most important advice I’d ever received. As I write this, I realize it wasn’t one piece, it was the realization that my life with all its imperfections, challenges, hurt and sometimes heartache, my life is just as it should be. Furthermore, it’s all the lessons, parables, visions and almanac-like tidbits shared from family, friends, co-workers and strangers.

Phrases from my parents like, “What you don’t learn from me, you’ll learn the hard way from the world, take it from me… cause I love you.”;  “A lie is a reflection of the truth if you know what you’re looking at” ;  “You throw a brick in a pack of dogs, the one that gets hit is the one that hollers,” ;  “A woman can’t even understand or be beautiful until she’s 50,”;  “With regard to relationships/marriage… your work is to stay in the room ,” on and on.  Advice quotes from strangers like, “why are you worrying about people who know nothing about you”, or “what’s wrong with falling, getting up is the hard part” or “instead of looking around, look up, see the clouds, feel the sun and seek beyond.”

What I realized is there wasn’t one single piece of advice but the openness to hear, the humbleness to receive knowledge from any source as long as it was uplifting and the love that eeks out of moments when advice is given, whether it’s a moment of anger, concern or someone being a busy body. Take every moment and take the most positive interpretation of that moment while finding if that moment supports you. If it doesn’t don’t walk–run away.