4 Ways Parents Can Help the Outcasts

Nelly Yuki
Nelly Yuki had a horrible high school experience but thrived at Yale. Courtesy of Gossip Girl Wiki

What do Kurt (Glee), Toby (Pretty Little Liars), Nelly Yuki (Gossip Girl), and Dale (Greek) all have in common?

They don’t quite fit in.

It can be an awkward or even painful experience for an adolescent to live on the outskirts of their high school society. It can also be awkward or painful for parents. What do you say? Do you push them to be “normal”? Do you try to force them to change so as to save them some heartache? Or do you let them be themselves and suffer?

Parents have the power to make the world bearable for high school outcasts. There are some concrete ways you can ease the pain of not fitting in.

Don’t make it about you

Seeing your child go through an awkward adolescence can bring back flashbacks of your own turmoil. If you were the odd man or woman out and it caused you pain, you may want to push your child not to be the same way. If you were pretty popular or had a lot of friends and enjoyed your time in high school, it can hurt and be confusing that your child isn’t having the same experience. But your child’s high school experience is not about you. So, throw your focus on your child and what you can do to help him.

Choose pressure points wisely

This is basically another way of saying, “Pick your battles.” There are times when you should push your child to behave differently. And there are times when you’ve got to back off and let them do their own thing. I’m not going to tell you which situations are which–it depends entirely on you, your child, and your family’s dynamic. But you with both end up frustrated if you try to micromanage your child’s behavior. They need outlets in which they can be themselves.

Celebrate ways your child is different

Your child is likely an outcast because he’s different somehow. Maybe he prefers to spend time in the chemistry lab than on the dance floor. I was the kid who spend hours upon hours with my head in books rather than chatting on the phone. When you figure out what makes your child different and unique, celebrate that! If your child is a bookworm, buy her more books! And encourage her to talk about the characters she meets and the things she’s learning about life. If your child feels that you’re okay with her difference, she’s more likely to accept herself.

Learn about what your child likes

There’s an episode of Grey’s Anatomy in which one of the patients is a teen and a passionate dancer. His father admits that when he had a son, he was looking forward to hockey games and cheering in the stands. When his son decided to become a dancer, he turned his focus toward that.

He cheers at recitals and has learned the names of various dance moves. He didn’t allow his disappointment to ruin dance for his son. Do the same for your child. Learn a little bit about whatever it is that they enjoy. It doesn’t mean you need to become an expert in the subject. But know enough that you’re able to have a conversation with your child about their passion and understand what they are saying.

Your child’s adolescence can be a time when they pull away from you and assert their own independence. But despite the fact that they are pushing you away, they still need you. Your unconditional love, support and nonjudgemental guidance can be crucial to your child getting through the last rough years of youth in one piece.


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6 Ways Teachers Can Help the Outcasts

Egbert – the mischievous badger who loves a good adventure

I have a 7 month old niece with whom I spend a lot of time, so Sprout TV (owned by PBS) has become a significant part of my life. One of my favorite shows is Poppy Cat. Poppy Cat (a calico kitty) has a group of friends that include an owl, a dog, a bunny, and a mouse. They go off on these great adventures and sometimes learn a little something about life in the process. Poppy Cat and her friends are great, but I love this show because of Egbert.

Egbert usually plays the “villain” in Poppy Cat’s adventures. I love watching him because he’s that kid who doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the group. He’s probably a very sweet boy, but he just doesn’t quite fit in. So when Poppy Cat asks if he wants to join in on their adventures, he always declines. But he still wants to play and use his imagination, so he basically crashes the adventure party.

I have a special place in my heart for kids who don’t quite fit in.

Alexandra Robbins takes an adventure that is both personal and intellectual as she finds support for quirk theory in The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.

“Quirk Theory: Many of the differences that cause a student to be excluded in school are the same traits or real-world skills that others will value, love, respect, or find compelling about that person in adulthood and outside of the school setting.”

In the book, she follows high school students (and a teacher) in different parts of the country throughout the school year. They are each part of the “cafeteria fringe,” as she calls it. They, like Egbert, don’t quite fit in. She writes that she hopes parents and educators can use the information in the book to learn about the kids who live on the fringes of their high school society. And she hopes that the stories can give some hope to current members of the cafeteria fringe, so that have concrete proof that things do, indeed, get better.

I don’t know if Robbins knows anything about Poppy Cat and Egbert, but I have a sneaking suspicion she would agree with me that Egbert may be mischievous and socially awkward now but has the potential to be a CEO or politician.

As a former member of the cafeteria fringe and an educator, I think Robbins’ message is a wonderful one. Her book inspired me to share some ways in which teachers can help the outcasts in their schools.

Talk to the quiet kids.

I’ve been in front of a classroom of 30-something kids. So, I know it’s easy to concentrate on building a relationship with the kid who shouts, the kid who throws things, the kid who decides to paint her nails during a vocabulary lesson. They push themselves to the forefront of your mind and therefore get most of the attention. But the quiet kids need attention too.

Make an effort to ask them about their day or write a positive note on an assignment they completed well. If it won’t cause too much trouble, make things a little easier on yourself and put kids who demand attention in groups with kids who don’t. Having them in the same vicinity may make it easier for you to spread the love.

Keep an eye out for warning signs that a kid is in trouble.

You see your students several times a week, maybe even for several hours each day. You may notice if a child has gained or lost a lot of weight recently. If a student appears visibly upset or has shown a significant drop in academic performance, step in and ask what’s going on. If the student won’t talk to you, try to make sure they have someone to talk to by directing them to someone else (another teacher, the principal, a guidance counselor) who they can trust.

Take note of cafeteria structure.

Some schools require that teachers monitor the cafeteria during lunch periods. On your lunch duty day, take note of who is sitting with whom. What kids are sitting alone? Where are the popular kids? The jocks? The gamers? The goths? And make a note when these things shift. If the number of kids at the popular table suddenly drops in half, there may be some social turmoil going on that can spill over into your classroom. The cafeteria can also tell you where tensions are between groups which can help inform you about tensions you notice in your classroom during group activities.

Encourage the odd passions.

Our society tends to throw support behind mainstream interests. Sports are a big example of this, but your “mainstream” clubs and activities may differ depending on your school’s culture. If you find out a student has an odd passion, do what you can to encourage it. For a student who wants to design video games, an English teacher could encourage that student to use a video game idea as the subject for a creative writing assignment. Just showing interest in something a student loves can really boost their confidence.

Don’t let bullying go unanswered.

If you notice a student is being bullied, do something. Talk to the bully. Talk to the victim. Talk to parents. You’re in a position to help improve the situation before things get out of hand.

In order to help fight a bullying problem, you have to know about bullying. The infographic below gives some helpful information.

Celebrate your students’ differences.

Every student has the potential to bring something good to your classroom. Celebrate the ways your students are different by occasionally highlighting some of these positive differences. It may not be wise to call a student out in front of the class depending on the dynamics at your school and in your classroom. But you could call home and praise a student for how they offer different perspectives in class or how their diligence really shows even if they aren’t getting straight A’s.

Teachers are overworked (and in my opinion, underpaid). I get that. Believe me, I do. You don’t have time to be best buds with all 60 of your students. You can’t be an advisor to 15 student clubs. I’m not asking you to. Do what you feel you can do and get some of the other teachers in your school to cooperate. If everyone is looking out for bullies and helping support the cafeteria fringe, you can really make a difference in kids lives.

Photo Credit: the Villains Wiki


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Report Card Time! What to Do With Your Child’s Report Card

report card
Don’t glance at it and toss it away. Report cards are full of handy information!

For some, report card day comes with a feeling of trepidation…a nagging sense of impending doom. For others, it’s a glorious day, a day to celebrate with cake and ice cream. Whatever kinds of emotions come up for your and your child on report card day, it is an important day.


I’ve already talked about why your child’s data is important and how you can keep track of grades, progress reports, and other forms of data. Report cards are the culmination of months of hard work. They show you where your child stands in school. Report card day can be incredibly emotional for both children and parents, so I encourage you to take a step back from the emotion and try to look at it with some objectivity.


Things you should do with every report card:


1. Pick out the positives. Even if your child isn’t doing well academically, in the early years of school, report cards will oftentimes put behavior grades as well. If your child isn’t doing well in math but the teacher notes that she plays well with others, play that up! Show your child the ways in which she is competent in school and she will be motivated to do better.


2. Make a note of any major changes. If your child went down a full letter grade in a subject, it might be cause for concern. But don’t panic just yet! Ask your child a couple nonthreatening questions about what might have caused the dip. Think back to when you were in school. Chemistry may have been a breeze first semester but killer second semester. Your child may be having issues with friends or had a long-term substitute for part of the semester. Play a little detective and determine the cause of the change.


3. See if there are any trends. If your child is consistently struggling in math, it may be time for you to step in and get some extra help. Or alternatively, if she’s blowing English out of the water, you may have a budding literary genius on your hands! You can do things on the weekends to encourage that interest or talent.


4. Read everything. It can be tempting to skim over your child’s report card, especially if you have more than one child, and check out the grades in key subjects. But you might be missing out on valuable information if you don’t pay attention to the other parts. Remember those behavior grades that I mentioned? They can tell you if your child is having trouble socializing, hates to share, is becoming a bully, or is being bullied. Each of these can turn into massive problems later on if they’re not caught and addressed early. Every inch of the report card matters.


5. Create a follow up plan. This plan doesn’t need to be heavy or truly detailed. If your child came home with great grades or improved in an area you both were really working on, your plan could be simply to celebrate and continue doing what you’ve ben doing. Or you may need to hire a tutor or academic coach for your child. If you’ve been tracking your child’s data and something doesn’t quite add up, don’t hesitate to set up a time to chat with your teacher and go over anything that doesn’t make sense to you.


Report cards don’t have to be stressful. These strategies, with the exception of the last one, require you to look at the paper objectively and do a quick analysis. If you take a couple deep breaths and approach them with a positive attitude (regardless of what letters you see), you and your child will be in a much better place to tackle the academic obstacles ahead.


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3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Child’s Data

Data can be a scary word for people who aren’t used to it. But in a sense, data is really just information. Your child will have data/information attached to him all through school. It comes in the form of report cards, test scores, benchmark results, progress reports, and parent teacher conferences.

It can be important for your child’s future that you take this data and use it to inform your decisions.

How does this work? Great question! Here are some examples:

  • You notice your first grader’s test and quiz scores are slipping. So, you check in with him and find out he’s showing some warning signs of stress that you need to address.
  • You get a letter from your child’s teacher saying that he’s doing great on tests and quizzes but isn’t turning in homework. And his grades are suffering. This prompts you to check in with him and you find out that he’s losing his homework on the way to school.
  • Your child consistently underperforms on oral reports, and you know this because you keep track of these things. For the next oral report, you spend extra time practicing with your child so that he gets used to speaking in front of a group.
  • You and your child are keeping track of his high school courses and you notice in the beginning of junior year that he is not on track to graduate. You’re able to work with the school counselor to figure out what he needs to do to graduate on time.

If you’re a numbers person, you can really dive deep into your child’s data and use Excel documents or other software programs to keep track of test scores, homework, attendance and more. Even if numbers make you a little nauseous (*raises hand* …that’s me!), you can still create your own simplified system that will help you use the data to your child’s advantage.

Schools across the country are becoming more and more aware of how important it is for students and parents to have access to their data. A few years ago, the School District of Philadelphia created a program called StudentNet, which is an online portal that shows students their grades, benchmark scores, attendance record, and much more. Lots of private schools now use programs like Edline where students can view their grades and homework assignments.

You probably know why grades are important. Attendance might be less obvious. Attendance Works created the following info graphic to show how important it is that kids attend school regularly in the early years.

attendance infographie
Attendance Works’ Inforgraphic on why attendance is so important

What should you do?

Here are some things you can do to get a handle on your child’s data.

1. Check to see if your school has a software program. Ask your child’s teacher or a school administrator if there’s a way you can see homework assignments, grades, etc online.

2. Create a system of keeping track of your child’s data. You can create a simple chart on pen and paper. If you know how to work Excel, you can create a workbook. Microsoft has many different templates in Excel and Word that can make tracking grades easy.

3. Connect with your teacher. There are certain things you can do to build a great parent-teacher relationship. When it comes to making sure your child is on track, the teacher will be your greatest ally.

This doesn’t have to be hard. You’ll want to work with your child as well and get them to understand why keeping an eye on grades is important. As they get older, you’ll want them to take over the tracking system and shoulder that responsibility.


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14 Awesome Reasons to Encourage Kids to Read

Do you read with your kid?

Here are just a few of the plethora of reasons to encourage kids to read. As a parent, teacher, educator, tutor, or whatever connection you have to students, hopefully this list inspires you.

  1. It sparks the imagination.
  2. Reading often can help with standardized tests later in life (i.e. the SAT, AP Tests, and the ACT)
  3. Fiction opens doors and windows to new worlds and often tell us things about life and human character that we wouldn’t otherwise know.
  4. Non-fiction can provide expertise in new fields. Knowledge in most fields can be obtained through some form of the written world.
  5. We get an inside peek into people’s lives. By encouraging your child to read biographies, they might find someone who inspires them.
  6. The more you read, the easier it gets to read and understand.
  7. Reading improves vocabulary.
  8. Reading helps with other skills like visualizing, which is a useful trick for enhancing your mind-body connection.
  9. Reading helps with writing. It improves how kids understand language and sentence structure, so they’re more likely to mimic what they read in their own writing.
  10. It can be contagious! If you kid is talking about the Hunger Games, it can be a great example to other kids and encourage them to read as well.
  11. Reading can help with social skills. Studies have show that children who are poor readers early in life tend to show signs of aggression later in life (I have some theories about this which may be explained in a later blog post).
  12. Reading saves money. Well, this might be a benefit more for parents than children. Reading is cheap. With libraries being free and now offering an array of e-books, the country’s most popular titles are at their fingertips.
  13. For young kids, the reading habit can start early–by you reading to them. By reading books to your kids, you help them grasp the language faster. This will help them be better communicators when they get older.
  14. It’s an excuse to bond with your kids. They may not want you watching iCarly or Gossip Girl with them (and you may not want to watch those shows either). But adults read young adult novels just as much as young people.
There are many, many more reasons why kids should read. I, personally, attribute much of my success to the fact that I learned how to read early. What are some of your reasons for wanting kids to read widely and abundantly?

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Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): What are they?

Free online education? Who could pass that up?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a growing phenomenon in higher education. News outlets, blogs, and educational studies are all raising the question of whether MOOCs will change the face of higher education. Haven’t heard of them? Don’t worry, an explanation is forthcoming.

What is a MOOC?

MOOCs are online courses offered by some of the most prestigious universities in the country. As a MOOC student, you watch lectures on your computer on a variety of topics, and the professors set up assignments and online assessments. Schools like Yale University, Princeton University, Stanford University, and MIT are all participating in online portals that offer these free courses.

What’s the difference?

Online courses are not new. What makes MOOCs different? Well, to start, they are free. Furthermore, they do lack a connection with the professor. When 160,000 students took a MOOC on artificial intelligence last year, the professor didn’t interact with all of them or grade all their tests. But those professors were able to reach large numbers of students and open a Stanford classroom to people all over the world. MOOCs are a wonderful way for international students in particular to gain knowledge in various subjects. Topics for these courses range from history to computer science to english.

Duke’s Center for Instructional Technology calls them “casual” courses. You choose how much you’re involved. You can simply watch the lectures. Or you can take advantage of the online forums and assessments.

The Good and the Bad

With any education options, there’s some good and bad to consider. MOOCs are no exception.


  • Access to great minds and great teaching. Schools like Duke, Penn, and other highly ranked institutions spend a lot of time and effort recruiting great minds and great teachers for their students. MOOCs give you the opportunity to get information from these experts in their fields.
  • Immense geographic flexibility. As I said before, MOOCs are a great option for international students. You can access the courses from anywhere you have a strong Internet connection.
  • Time flexibility. There are no set times for classes. Class can be at 8am, 12pm, 7pm, or even 3 in the morning. It all depends on the time you decide to download the lectures and when you decide to post on forums.
  • Work load flexibility. You decide how much you commit to this course and how much work you have to do. If you only want to watch the lectures, there’s no penalty.


  • No credit and no degree. Yes, you get access to courses at Duke, Penn, and Princeton but MOOCs don’t offer you course credit or any sort of path to a degree.
  • Requires your immense self-discipline. You are your own boss when it comes to taking a MOOC. There’s no professor threatening failure if you don’t show up to lectures. There are technically no due dates or finals, so it’s up to you to stay on top of the work. This requires more self-discipline than traditional courses.
  • Technological woes. Your entire MOOC education depends on your Internet connection (and your access to programs like Flash and Quicktime). Make sure you have a backup plan: a second computer, library computers, or something like that. It’s also handy to have the numbers for your Internet providers close by in case you need to quickly get something fixed.
  • Lack of campus. One of the downsides of online education in general is the lack of a traditional campus. Without the campus, you don’t have the resources colleges have to offer, like libraries, scholarly databases, and places to study. You’ll have to create your own space to study in order to make sure you’re as productive as possible.

I’ve been on the fence about MOOCs for awhile. But I think I’ve generally concluded that they can be wonderful for personal enrichment or even professional development. I may take a course or two myself. But I don’t think MOOCs are anywhere near the point of replacing an actual degree like some news outlets claim.

Resources for MOOCs:

Photo Credit: jgoge in Flickr Commons


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