Steve Heisler

Teacher Author Speaker


"Every single child wants to be successful. The problem is, if they can't be successful at being successful, they'll be successful at screwing up. Our job as educators is to change the latter to the former."    

- from the The Missing Link by Steve Heisler

Two Parenting and Teaching Truths

So much about high competency teaching and outstanding parenting that I believed was incontrovertibly true has fallen by the wayside in my almost quarter of a century in public education and being a parent. However two strategies have proven to be almost universally applicable, even to adult relationships. They are:

  1. don't argue in the moment and; 
  2. the more you talk, the less they hear.

Tired of arguments every time there's any kind of controversy? Me, too.  Ironically my mind goes back years ago, long before I became either a teacher or a parent, to a woman standing outside of a play cave at the Central Park Zoo reasoning with her child to come out because Mommy had an appointment and being a good cooperator was actually a nice thing for him to do because good cooperators have lots of friends, and do well in school, and drive high end sports cars and live in triplexes overlooking the park (ok, some of this I made up). 

These are the times to have discussions and there are times to cut the chatter.

"You have two options," is one approach that Mommy can take, "come out willingly and we can go on with our terrific day or I come in an get you and there will no television tonight. I'm counting to five."  After such a statement, nothing more than numbers need be said. The discussion about the genuinely highly important issues the mother was addressing are critical but must come later, when everyone is calm and receptive. In the middle of an argument, or a power struggle, nobody is receptive.

However even when that conversation happens, what I have leaned is that clarity, brevity and a soupçon of your child's attention are critical components. When it comes to talking to kids (sometimes even adults) less is usually more. Think whole cloth when talking!  Remember that even the richest, most beautiful, most dense fabric is still only multiple strands of thin, single threads woven thickly together over time.

As a teacher I "dumb" nothing down.  What I do try to do instead is weave the eventual whole cloth of complexity one simple strand at a time. What simple idea can I teach, how can I check for understanding, what will I see or hear to know that the learning is taking root, what's the next thread?  Likewise, as a parent I can do the same thing.

Assume for instance you have a child whose disorganization reveals itself in mounds of clothing, papers and empty candy wrappers covering the floor of his or her room. If the remedy you have chosen is a consequence driven ultimatum to clean the room by the end of the day, save time and just start the consequence at the end of the sentence. Alternatively though you could ask for a simple action such as 'pick up you socks'. A sock hunt can actually be an entertaining activity and a sock hunt today might lead to a underwear search later and a game of Candy Wrapper Detective after that. 

Simplifying? Absolutely. Dumbing down? Hardly.

The reality is what you are actually doing is teaching a manageable organizational strategy simply that, over time. your child may be able to learn and internalize in a complex way. From my perspective, not a bad long term outcome in the classroom or in the home. Teach a layer, check for understanding, observe application (praise!!!!!!) and slap on another layer. 


  1. don't argue in the moment and; 
  2. the more you talk, the less they hear.

Trust me: these things are absolutely true. And I know because every time I forget and get to the point that I want to scream, I remember that I should have done exactly this and just try to do better next time.