Category Archives: Personal Growth

Talk Less, Smile More….Civil Discourse


This summer my daughter was asked to memorize a song from the musical Hamilton as part of an audition for camp. We downloaded the sound track and she proceeded to memorize the music from the entire first act. As I proceeded to listened to her sing it over and over, there was one line that stuck out to me, “talk less, smile more”. Honestly, when you listen to the song, the intended meaning of the completed line is a bit different then what I want to write about here… but those four words got me thinking.

Why did this phrase get me thinking? Because so often when we are having conversations with other people we are so focused on what we are saying, our perspective, and what our response is going to be, we never really listen for understanding. And if we are not listening for understanding, we are not truly communicating. True communication is about more than speaking, it is about talking less, listening more, and is accentuated by our body language.

Recently I spent some time with a person who loves to play the “devils advocate” and often challenges what other people are saying. Sometimes this is a great way to get a thoughtful conversation going, but in this circumstance it doesn’t, because the person is always preparing their next response and not listening to what other people are saying. She is more in her head with her thoughts, rather then listening and fully engaging in the conversation. Conversations with this person usually dead-end and leave the other participants frustrated.

According to and Wikipedia “civil (courteous) discourse (conversation) is engagement in discourse intended to enhance understanding”. There is nothing I like better then civil discourse, the opportunity to have a discussion with someone who hopefully has a different understanding or perspective then I have. It gives me a chance to consider and test my stance, and if I am lucky… it allows me to add something to my knowledge base… but it only works if my participation in the conversation includes listening for understanding. When someone else is speaking, I can not be half listening and half considering my rebuttal. I must be fully engaging in what the other person is saying. And then when I don’t understand the other person’s perspective or the information being presented, it is my job as a communicator to pause and to reciprocate with questions to dig deeper and gain understanding. Even if in the end we agree to disagree, my goal is to walk away from the conversation having a deeper awareness of the other participant’s perspective.

Another important aspect of civil discourse is maintaining a level of respect for the other communicator… even if your perspectives are at odds with one another.  How we listen, the tone of our voice, and the words we choose to respond with are important aspects to maintaining respect, but just as important is how we respond with our bodies. Are we leaning in, smiling, showing interest by looking at the speaker or are we crossing our arms, rolling our eyes (something my family has told me I do on occasion) and looking away? Are we telling the other communicator we are open to understanding their perspective or are we closed off and unwilling to really participate in civil discourse?

We are living in a time of divisiveness. More and more often friends, neighbors and family members are finding themselves at odds with each other over their perspectives of how the world should work and rather than participating in civil discourse we shut each other out. It can be a real downer. However, on a recent Sunday evening (September 24, 2017), shortly after I had started to write this blog post, my family was watching 60 Minutes. One of the segments called Divided was a conversation facilitated by none other then Oprah Winfrey, the newly hired 60 Minutes part time commentator. The conversation examined the polarization of the United States and included 14 panelists from the state of Michigan with widely varying perspectives. I can not say there was much shift in perspectives, but it was an example of civil discourse on national television and I loved it.

Engaging in civil discourse, by respectfully listening for understanding and responding with openness is not always easy. It takes awareness and discipline. It is something that requires ongoing practice over a lifetime. But I truly believe if each of us talks less and smiles more while participating in civil discourse, great things can happen.





Growing Minds Together



To my amazement, this week marks the end of my daughter’s tenure as a 4th grader. It has been a fantastic year and I have witnessed so much growth in her cognitive ability and confidence. It is such a joy to see that with the support of her family and teachers along with hard work and determination she is developing into a remarkable young woman.

Rewind 9 months to the beginning of the 4th grade school year, like so many other families across the country, we were invited to come to our daughter’s classroom to meet her teachers and hear about the academic year ahead. During the evening’s presentation the teachers shared their vision and commitment to creating a culture of growth mindset in the classroom based on the Carol Dweck’s research and book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. They wanted to create an environment where the students believed they could grow their brains or develop their intelligence by embracing the challenge, putting forth effort, seeking input from others, and trying new strategies. Furthermore they wanted to help the students realize mistakes are part of learning. They wanted the children to recognize when they were challenged by new concepts they can grow their understanding by asking for feedback and looking at different strategies (Dweck, 2015).

That evening at the end of the presentation as a way to model a growth mindset for our children, each family member was asked by the teachers to write on an index card one skill or practice in our lives we would like to develop further, something that could be developed through effort, new strategies, and skill building.   I immediately wrote down public speaking.  It is not that I am a bad public speaker, but it is a skill I use often, I feel challenged by at times, and I want to improve.  What intrigued me about focusing on public speaking from a growth mindset was the possibility of becoming better through intentionality.   Not just hoping I would become better with practice, but by being genuinely open to learning.

Over the course of the school year I have had quite a few opportunities to engage in public speaking through my leadership development and facilitation work, which has allowed me to work on my practice. What was particularly helpful is that in several instances I used the same outline and content more than once.  This provided me with opportunities to make adjustments based on feedback from others and personal observation, but only when I moved away from wallowing in my personally perceived shortcomings and embraced the feedback as a way to get better.

Last weekend I attended the NAEYC Professional Development Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. During the Institute I had another opportunity to speak in front of a group and facilitate a panel discussion.   Most of my life I have leaned toward a fixed mindset, often being my own worst critic and in the habit of identifying my incompetence rather then looking for opportunities for growth, even when the feedback has been very positive. Saturday, following the panel discussion, I began to fall into this learned trap once again, but I stopped myself and I began to tease apart the opportunities for growth instead. Specifically, I took some time to identify how I felt physically and mentally when things were going well compared to when I was feeling challenged. Stopping to refocus allowed me to be curious and eager to learn from this experience.   What was most amazing to me was over the course of the rest of the Institute, in more then one session, I was open and able to hear presenters discuss ideas and strategies that I plan to use to continue to grow my confidence and ability to speak in public.

Now I am back home and as with most transitions in my life I am feeling a bit sad about the end of 4th grade because I so appreciate the teachers and what the experience has given to my daughter and quite frankly me too.  At the same time I am more excited to watch and experience the next stages and steps of the journey knowing each of us will continue to grow because we know we can.


Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the ‘growth mindset.’. Education Week, Retrieved from:

Change in Three Equal Parts

Successful change can be seen as an equation of three parts. It takes intellect, behavior, and emotion, not necessarily in that order, but always the sum of the three in equal parts.  The equation begins when one part leads the way. For instance when a person falls in love, emotions charge out as the leader often over riding the other pieces. It is when clear thinking and behavior catch–up a person is able to participate in the new relationship in a way that is sustainable and successful. Consider another example, the ability to successfully change a personal habit like smoking. A person may want to quit because they possess information about the benefits of not smoking, but it is when the information is coupled with motivation and a plan for a new behavior that eventually permits successful sustainable change to occur.

The same is true in the places and systems where we work and volunteer. Data and information (intellect) can lead a process of change, but without a clear and adaptable plan on how to get there (behavior) and a let’s give it a try attitude of the people involved (emotion) then success will be difficult.

How many of us have been given a top down instruction to change the way we are doing something because the data says it will be more productive, but have not been given a plan or the resources to do it? Or on the other hand we have been given instructions to do something in a new way without the data to support why? In both of these situations people react with emotional negativity loaded with the fear, frustration, and mistrust that notoriously stifle successful change.

When systems change is approached from an understanding of the three parts equation, then it stands a much better chance of being successful and sustainable.   When information is available and a clear plan is developed then emotional resistance comes around much easier. When information and positive attitudes come together then a plan or new process can be developed.

Life is a series of ongoing personal and professional changes. The next time you are faced with change rather then dragging your feet and trying to stop it, use the three parts equation of intellect, behavior, and emotion. Be curious and gather information for understanding, develop an adaptive behavior plan, and face forward with openness and positivity. Remember it does not matter which piece leads the way, but to be sustainable the other two must follow.


Mas Conoceimiento – Menos Discriminacion


The cornerstone of our experience, based on practice, theory, and research, is the image of the child as rich, strong, and powerful.  The emphasis is placed on seeing the children as unique subjects with rights rather than simply needs.  They have potential, plasticity, the desire to grow, curiosity, the ability to be amazed, and the desire to relate to other people and to communicate.  

                                                                                                                                              ~ Carlina Rinaldi

More Knowledge – Less Discrimination

luz groupo

Last month, I had the honor of spending 7 days in Honduras as a service team member at Montana de Luz (, a non-profit organization that provides a loving home, education, and a hopeful future, for children with HIV/AIDS. The priority of Montana de Luz (MdL) is to help the children who reside there heal, thrive, and grow. The staff functions as a family, providing loving relationships and opportunities for each child to develop to their full potential.

In Honduras, as well as many other countries around the world, HIV/AIDS has a terrible stigma and those who are inflicted with the infection are often marginalized due to lack of knowledge and misunderstanding.   As a way to defend themselves against this stigma, the teenage children residing at MdL have created a group known as Luz: Para Las Personas Con HIV who have designed an interactive presentation on the Myths and Truths of HIV/AIDS. As part of our MdL service team experience, we had the opportunity to attend the presentation that included PowerPoint slides, a pre and post quiz, humor, and detailed facts, completely presented by the children. For me it was one of the highlights of the week. I was amazed how poised the children were as they shared insightful information in a way that was on par with any of the professional presenters I have experienced in my life. I saw beyond each of the children’s strength and potential to become contributing citizen of Honduras, I witnessed their abilities as current and future leaders of Honduras.

Although one of the uses of the presentation is to educate service teams while on the grounds of MdL, its greater purpose is its use beyond the gates, in churches, schools and community centers, to dispel assumptions, educate with facts, and advocate for all people who are infected with HIV/AIDS.  Each time these children who are 13-17 years old, leave the safety of their home to take their presentation to others, they exhibit their ability to face forward and to be strong leaders. They exhibit bravery, facing their own fears, as they head out into a society who stigmatizes them. They exhibit their readiness to take risks as they face audiences who have assumptions about who and what they are. And they exhibit confidence as they work together to share the facts of HIV/AIDS and advocate for their rights and the rights others.

The following YouTube clip has been created by MdL and the Luz group. It shares a small portion of the information in the hour-long live presentation and stars many of wonderful children who call Montana de Luz their home.  I hope you find it as inspiring and hopeful as I do.


Early Childhood Care and Eduction: A Field of Leaders

The following is an article that I wrote and was published last fall  in the California AEYC journal Connections. 

A Field of Leaders

When we think of a leader, most of us think of the President, the Quarterback of our favorite NFL team, the CEO of a major company. But when you look closely at the definition of a leader – a person who directs or guides others, you see that any person who works in the field of early childhood care and education (ECCE) is in fact a leader because they guide children everyday. It does not matter if you are a lead teacher, a home care provider, a classroom assistant or the staff person preparing the meals, the work you do with children is leadership and as a field we need to begin to recognize and take the role seriously. Further, ECCE must go beyond simply being a field of leaders to becoming a field of effective leaders so our status can be advanced in the public eye. Here are some steps to get us started.

Effective leaders are intentional in what they do. In ECCE this means you are intentional in the work you do for and on behalf of children and families.   You establish routines based on current research and best practice so the children you serve can develop to their full potential. You recognize how your work is supporting the individual development of each child in your care and how it will affect their future. You maintain a high level of professionalism at all times.

Effective leaders share what they know. In ECCE this means not just being effective with the children, but communicating with others about what you do. You talk with families each day about your approach and their child’s progress so you can work together to support their child’s development. You collaborate with ECCE colleagues to support each person’s professional growth. You showcase the field of ECCE in your community to advance public awareness. You share your expertise with your elected officials so they support policies and practices that positively affect young children and families.

Effective leaders take risks. In ECCE this means you get out of your comfort zone and take a step forward to becoming a more effective leader. Although you are scared, you commit to taking a class or entering a certification program to increase your professional knowledge.   Although you are shy, you commit to talking to each child’s family everyday.   Although you are busy, you invite colleagues to meet regularly to network and share ideas. Although it means more work, you contact a local business and ask them if they would host a Week of the Young Child exhibit. Although you have never done it before, you send your congressperson an email asking them to support a piece of important legislation.

As a field of leaders, the ECCE workforce must be intentional in our commitment to advancing our field, taking one small risk at a time until we have the status we deserve, wages that are worthy and all children and families have access to affordable, high quality, early childhood programs.













The Rocking Chair: A Leadership Reboot

Last week, I summited the 13,770 foot Grand Teton. I had attempted the climb over 12 years ago, but was turned back because of weather. The climb remained a personal goal of mine over the years. Thanks to a push from my cousin, Kate Carlin Giller last February, we decided we were going to attempt the “Grand” together at the end of the 2015 summer. I once again set my focus on the goal of reaching the top of the “Grand” and this time I successfully met the physical and mental challenges it took to complete the climb.

The morning following my 14-hour climb, descent and celebration dinner, I pulled myself out of bed because my friend Luis Hernandez, an early childhood specialist from the Western Kentucky University, was facilitating at the Children’s Learning Center staff retreat and I did not want to miss him. I was delighted I did because we had a fantastic morning focused on early childhood leadership… my favorite topic.

When I returned home that afternoon, I began to feel the “blues” caused by the emotional letdown from my huge accomplishment the day before. I had spent so much time preparing for my climb. I had set my vision more then 12 years prior, taken steps to reach the summit, both literally and figuratively, and now the accomplishment was behind me. I had been leaning into the process for a long time and now there was nothing to push against.

A couple of days later, when my body felt good enough to take a walk again, I began to reflect on my feelings of letdown and my thoughts brought me back to Luis, leadership, and a book he co-authored with Holly Elissa Bruno, Janet Gonzalez-Mena, and Debra Ren-Etta Sullivan called Learning from the Bumps in the Road: Insights from Early Childhood Leaders, specifically the chapter titled The Great Impostor: Unmasking the Burden of Self-Doubt in Our Professional Lives. It occurred to me during my emotional letdown I had begun to question my accomplishment… had I really been good enough or was it a fluke? Did I have it in me to gear up to take such a risk and meet similar challenges again? And more importantly, do I need to set a new vision and start working on it immediately?

Last winter I attended a dinner where we had an intentional conversation about the idea of leaning in, a concept made popular by Sheryl Sandberg in her book of the same name. As part of our discussion some of us decided it is physically and mentally impossible to lean in all the time. Life is more like a rocking chair, you lean in rocking forward with persistence and determination for periods of time and at others you rock back and reboot.

As I detailed in my March 17, 2015 Blog post, 4 Characteristics of a Leader, I believe great leaders must have the ability to set and lean into a vision. Based on my successful Grand Teton climb and later reflection, I also know that if you are lucky enough to reach your vision, or even a significant milestone along the way, it is time to rock back, reflect, and breath. Give yourself a chance to celebrate who you are, why you made it, and remind yourself what is important to you. It can be a time to live and work focused on daily goals and challenges rather then long term visions. By taking time to rock back you give yourself the ability to reflect on your past accomplishments while creating fresh dreams and ideas, before you know it a new vision will spring forth to inspire you to lean in again.

Grand Summit

Colby the Exum climbing guide, Kate and Betsy (Me) on the Grand Teton Summit

Bruno, H. E., Gonzalez-Mena, J. Hernandez, L. A., & Sullivan, D. R. (2013). Learning from the Bumps in the Road: Insights from Early Childhood Leaders. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead (First edition.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


Caregivers Need Self-care!!

A caregiver is defined as a person who gives of him or herself to help another person.

Based on this definition, anyone who works in the field of early childhood care and education, whether they work directly with young children or in some other capacity supporting children and families, is a caregiver! When working as a direct care provider and teacher you are giving by leading and supporting groups of children so they can develop to their full potential cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically. When working as an administrator you are working continuously to lead and support programs to be of high quality while remaining fiscally sound. As a mentor or coach you are leading and supporting other early childhood educators by observing and sharing your expertise to help them reach their full potential as a teacher and caregiver. Simply said, people who work in the field of early childhood care and education give a piece of their emotional, physical and cognitive self to the important work they do everyday.

Based on this understanding the question I pose is, how are you caring for yourself and replenishing what you give to others?

Taking care of ourselves is often a difficult concept for people who are caregivers. We see ourselves as nothing less than strong, capable, knowledgeable, and able to meet all challenges. We often choose to put our needs and mental health on the “back burner” so we can lead and support others.

As caregivers, we must come to understand we can not effectively care for others unless we are taking care of ourselves! When we are running on empty we can not be at our best. Just like the children with whom we work, we must be “refilled” on a regular basis. It is important to keep our own needs and happiness as a priority, so we can do our best to lead and support the children and adults we serve.

Summer, with the warm weather and long days, is a great time to reflect on what reenergizes and provides you with joy, and then to be sure those activities are regularly part of your life. Whether it is walking, gardening, reading, getting a manicure, taking a nap or the thousands of other things that make an individual happy, allow time for it to be a part of your life. Remember you can do more for the children and families when you replenish and care for yourself!

Reflections on Joy, Strengths and Being

I am just returning from New Orleans where I have been attending the 2015 NAEYC Institute for Professional Development. It was this year’s theme that drove me to attend The Early Childhood Profession We All Want: What Will It Take To Get Us There? As a person who is continually thinking about leadership and leadership development there are many ideas swirling in my head which will manifest themselves into various blog posts that I can share, but for today I want to keep it simple.

During one of the sessions I attended, the presenter recommended asking people what in their work gives them the most joy? She suggested, in their answer you will find their strengths. For me, my immediate answer was people and relationships. Later on I asked a group of colleagues I was talking with, “what gave them joy in their work?” As each person shared their answer, such as organizing, research, technology and building relationships, I began to see by using this simple tool; a leader could begin to build a collaborative team with diverse strengths. It also provides a natural opportunity for collective leadership allowing members of the team to lead a portion of the project using their strength. Knowing my strengths lay in relationship building and setting vision, a good organizer, researcher and technology lover would be necessary to lead other aspects of a project not in my skill set. Once again this demonstrates the sum of the parts of a team is exponentially greater then the individuals.

Perhaps even more importantly by using this tool to identify what gives a person joy in their work, they can make sure they are able to use that strength as much as possible in their daily efforts. Of course as a child care center director even though I was not crazy about creating a budget and number crunching, it was a necessary piece of my work. I could not get away from it. However, when the number crunching was starting to get me down I would remember to get up and go do a classroom visit so I could interact with the teacher and children, which always provided a little dose of joy.

Reflecting on this notion that using our strengths brings us joy, I am drawn to think about being. Being is defined as all the physical and mental qualities that make up a person. Our strengths are our most well developed qualities and part of our being. They are simply part of our authentic self and should be easily available. These qualities are not static. As part of our journey it is possible to add to and develop other qualities as we need them and they too will become part of our being. It seems logical then, when our best qualities are simply part of who we are and we are easily able to use them in our job, we are able to feel contentment and satisfaction in our work and life.

Consider then, what brings you joy in your daily work? Do you recognize it as one of your strengths? Can you add more of it throughout your workday? Is it part of your being? I hope you will take a moment to reflect on these questions. I know I plan to some more.