Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Navigating blizzards with the aid of an Independent Educational Consultant

For those of you who don’t follow CNN 24/7, or if you happen to live in a cave, you may not know that those of us in the Northeast got slammed with a pretty significant snowstorm last week. I know I heard reports of 30 inches way south (you know, like New Jersey) but up here in Maine we had a rather pedestrian 12 inches.

For about 24 hours during the height of the storm, I spent a lot of time getting updates from and CNN on both my computer and television, I kept reading and watching stories filled with doom and gloom; airports being shut down, people being stuck in their cars on the highways etc. In my fervor of following the storm that day, I switched from CNN to my local NBC affiliate. Honestly I had grown weary of the national news and wanted to see how the storm how the storm was going to affect us here in Mid-Coast Maine.

I have to admit, it had been a long time since I had watched the local news. I found it refreshing to watch a station which took the time to tell me not only what is going on in the country, but also in my town. The most heartening stories I watched that night were the ones which looked at the good side of the storm, they did a segment on the kids sledding, and a wonderful piece on a young man who chose to take the afternoon to help elderly neighbors get their walkways and driveway cleared of snow. Yes, they did the obligatory pieces on the serious aspects of the storm, but I was glad to see that they also made sure they did the more personal stories as well.

I like to think that at Loeta we deliver our services like the local news. We pride ourselves on our personal touch, and we make sure that every family we work with feels that they are important to us. We make sure that we are available to them at every point of the process, and we understand that they know we are there for them throughout. Like the local news we make sure the important pieces and logistics are taken care of, but we pride ourselves on our personal touch and our local flavor.

Just as we like to think of ourselves as the local news, many of our families feel that of their situations are analogous to a blizzard. They feel blinded by their teen’s decisions, that they as parents may lose power, that no matter how much they prepare something will go wrong and that the “snow” piles up pretty fast and deep. Often times the storm just keeps coming and coming and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

But, as we know, blizzards always end. There is always that bright, sunny day afterwards when, if we prepared well, we can make it through the blizzard unscathed. We go sledding, we ski, we go for a brisk walk we learn to accept the snow, and make the best of it, and, despite our grumbling about the cold, we actually learn to enjoy it. So if our child is a blizzard, we need to prepare and get supplies. We also need to hold out, knowing that there will be that sunny day soon. And, well, we need to watch our local news!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Definition of an Independent Educational Consultant; according to a second grader…

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you know that my daughters are often the central focus of my writings, and this month is no exception. A few years ago, during a second grade presentation on her parents, my younger daughter was asked what I did for a living; while I wasn’t there to hear, she reported back to me the next day.

“Well what did you say sweetie?” In my naiveté, I was ready for her to spout the intricacies and subtleties of life as an IEC (independent educational consultant)

“I told them you’re a consultant, an educational consultant.”

“That’s right, did you say anything else?” I eagerly responded.
“Um…well…” she stammered, trying to find the right words.

And then as if the light went off she recited, “I told them you tell parents where their kids should go camping to some field somewhere, oh and you talk to them on the phone a lot…”

My head dropped.

My daughter isn’t the only one who struggles understanding just what exactly it is that we do, whenever I travel outside the bubble of our conferences and the schools and programs we work with, I find myself having to explain the role of an IEC. At first, I confess, I would explain it almost apologetically. I, like many new consultants, didn’t have the confidence to understand that we are not only a very important cog in the machine but, in many cases, the most important one. We are the only ones out there meeting the programs on their own turf, getting to know the admissions directors, seeing the kids on campuses and really getting a pulse of what’s going on. It is our job to look beyond the shiny brochures and to find those diamonds in the rough. At Loeta we tout that we are a team, not only within the firm, but also with our families, the professionals involved with our clients, and, most importantly, the students we serve themselves. Everyone brings their expertise to the table, and we work it out together.

A larger, but equally important team I’m a member of is the Independent Educational Consultant Association (IECA). Being a member of IECA is one of the proudest accomplishments of my professional career. As a recently elected board member I have had the pleasure to participate more fully in the running of this organization, and have been exposed to a group of colleagues whom I really would never have any crossover with if I hadn’t joined the board. I am always amazed at not only the depth but also breadth of expertise and knowledge within this group. Certainly when you get a group of 850 Independent business owners together, not all will agree on every issue, but what is so wonderful about my colleagues at IECA is the fact that beneath it all we all have the same drive; to help families realize that there are choices out there, and we’re going give them unbiased advice and recommendations based on our professional judgment of the student’s needs and abilities.

My daughter is now in 6th grade, and while she can recite the states and their capitals, do mathematics which dumfound me and name the starting lineup of the Celtics; I’m still not sure she can really explain what I do…

And miles to go before I sleep…..

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Remember the good old days back in 2010…

Recently I got sucked into one of those TV infomercials trying to sell music from the 50’s. I was amused as the overly botoxed hosts told me that this music defined a generation. Come on, defined a generation? This is the stuff my parents listened to; therefore it can’t be that good. Smug I agree, but that’s what was going through my mind. I mean really, how could Pat Boone and The Everly Brothers define a generation?

After skimming through the channels some more, and almost buying a Mr. T Flavor Wave Oven (that’s a story for another day) I got to thinking; it’s hard for someone of my generation to believe, but yes, at one point Elvis was banned from television (well at least from the waist down) because of his pelvic gyrations and that there were many people who found him, Rock and Roll (when was Roll dropped anyway?) and this new concept of teenagers to be very scary stuff. Many adults of that time felt that this was going to be the downfall of America as they knew it, and that we as a society were doomed. Of course we all know we did make it through that time, and now we all look back at those concerns as, well, quaint really.

When I hear adults these days talk about all teens today are disrespectful, or their music has no soul, or things were different when they were kids, I have a hard time. Today most teens in America are exhibiting their natural rebellion; just as their parents and generations before them did against their parents, and, just like our parents didn’t get us, we don’t get them. Rebellion is a normal, and I would argue necessary, aspect of growing up. Where I feel parents get into trouble is when they don’t counter this rebellion with natural consequences, and as a result I feel many parents find themselves in a position where they can’t differentiate between normal behavior and accepted behavior.

At Loeta we preach that just because a behavior is accepted does not make it normal. It’s normal for a kid to experiment with alcohol and pot; it’s not normal for them to steal from their parents to pay for the habit. It’s normal for a teenage girl to roll her eyes at her father when he just doesn’t get her, it’s not normal for a child to let loose with a string of curses which would make a sailor blush when asked to take out the garbage.

Part of our role as Independent Educational Consultants is to work with families to try to differentiate between these normal and accepted behaviors. Most of the time by the time a family calls us they feel they are at their wit’s end. Honestly in our first interaction with families we end up doing a lot of listening, trying to determine where the family is emotionally and and we make sure that any decisions being made are proactive as opposed to reactive. In short we want to make sure that whatever recommendation we make is appropriate to the situation. In some cases we end up steering families back to their home therapists or school counselors because, quite honestly, things really aren’t that bad; their children are simply feeling their way through adolescence. When we do end up assisting them in finding appropriate residential settings, whether that mean a wilderness program, a residential treatment center or a boarding school, it is always done with care, and the best interest of the child in mind.

The issues facing families today are different than generations before, yes. But I’d argue that is true of every generation, and we’re doing our teens today a disservice if we either underplay or overplay these events or factors and don’t do our job as parents, stewards and guardians of the next generation of adults. Just remember these famous words said recently,

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for
authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place
of exercise Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their
households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They
contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties
at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

Ok, not that recently, those words are attributed to the Greek philosopher Socrates, but you get the idea. This issue of how to handle or deal with adolescents has perplexed adults for literally thousands of years, and will continue for thousands more. Someday our children will look back on the good old days of the 10’s as fondly as other generations look back on the 50’s 70 or the 80’s and wonder what’s wrong with their children. Until then, however, it is our job to guide them, educate them, discipline them and love them until their old enough to actually have that epiphany.

Wait, the 80’s, the era of E.T., Rubix cubes and Mr. T. That reminds me, time to go check my Flavor Wave, tonight I made a cheesecake!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pick-up Trucks and iPods

A few years ago I was out looking to buy a used truck, I thought it’d be good for towing my boat and for occasional trips to Home Depot or, more likely, the dump. My then 7 year old daughter loved riding in the trucks, so I used to take her with me to go for test drives. When we stepped into one particularly handsome Ford, I asked her to roll down the window; she looked quizzically at the hand crank attached to the door, back to me, and then proceeded to press the middle of the crank thinking it would magically open the window. After a few more attempts, she turned to me to announce the window was broken…

I was taken aback, but after a while I realized that she wasn’t being spoiled, rather it was simply the fact that she had never actually seen a hand crank window. Once I explained it to her, she actually thought it was fun to crank the window up and down, and soon thereafter I witnessed the odd juxtaposition of looking over at her cranking the window up and down, all the while listening to her iPod.

I shook my head…

At the most recent IECA ( conference Executive Director Mark Sklarow presented a session on social media, and how it’s presently impacting, and will continue to impact, our profession. While I fully expected to see many of the newer consultants in the room, what was heartening to me was to see many of the more seasoned members of our profession join in. These more seasoned consultants obviously understood that while they have the traditional way of working with, and reaching out to, families down, they knew that times were changing. As I watched more and more seasoned professionals delve into the new social media in the weeks following the conference, I knew that the session was effective in its message. To me, however, what’s even more important than that is making sure that the newer consultants know that it’s a two way street. That we have a lot to learn from the more seasoned consultants about personal connection with their clients and that nothing can replace the human aspect of our profession.

At Loeta we certainly have embraced the internet and the new social media and have incorporated all of it heavily into our practice. We produce an e-newsletter, we are constantly expanding our presence on the internet through Facebook, this blog, Linkedin and our website, and, yes, we Tweet. Obviously we love the fact that we can keep people abreast of what’s going on through these various mediums but to us it’s important to make sure that this is balanced with the phone call to (or visit with) parents who are distraught about their teen’s choices or by spending some one on one time with a teen struggling with school or friends. We understand that we can reach thousands of people through the new social media, but if we don’t treat them with respect and dignity and can’t connect with then, it’s all for naught.

It’s all about balance; kind of like a hand crank window and an iPod.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Perspectives….

I spend a lot of time reading, and honestly I really love it. However I have a confession; up until last Sunday, I had never purchased – therefore never read- the New York Times Sunday paper. But after about the 50th person referenced an article with the phrase, “Did you see the Times this week?” I decided I needed to. You see, being a good Boston boy I, of course, have always been partial to the hometown Globe, and had the impression that the Times was really simply New York’s version of our local paper. I mean, did I really want to read about the goings on in Queens, or an opening of an art exhibit in Manhattan? Or even worse be forced to read a complimentary article about the dreaded Yankees; which to me is a fate worse than death…

I’ll admit it, right here, right now; I was wrong. The New York Times Sunday Edition is really (despite what USA Today would say) the nation’s newspaper. Of course there is a New York slant, but I found myself reading article after article which had a global or national angle, and was amazed at both the depth and breadth of the paper.

Now this blog isn’t about you reading the Times (although I think you should buy it at least once) it’s about gaining a new perspective.

As an Educational Consultants I need to make sure that I am as up to date on the inner workings of residential programs as I can be, and I can’t rely on hearsay, conjecture and my own, sometimes dated, information. I need to make sure that I have the most accurate and up to date information available so that when I make a recommendation to a family, I feel confident that I’ve done all I can to present an accurate picture of what the program is and isn’t. I can get that information from a variety of sources; colleagues, clients, websites, staff, really anyone who has a connection. I read pro school sites, and the sites which want to shut down many of the schools I refer to, I read blogs and newsletters. Sometimes I read professional journals and realize that there are many people out there who are much smarter than me. Sure a lot of what I get will be biased (like some of the articles in the Times) but if I spread my sources out I will get an impartial and fair assessment of the programs I refer to. I don’t always agree with what I read, but I am always opening myself up to new ideas and perspectives, and I feel that is crucial to being effective at what I do.

So go ahead, read the Times; just stay away from the sports section if you’re a Boston fan….

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I was looking through some articles to gain inspiration for my blog this month, and after reading this article, I was truly intrigued by the angle the author took.
So many times when working with families, I come across parents who feel that somehow they have failed as parents if we need to look into residential care for their children. I like this article because it asks the difficult and often unasked questions, and that it doesn’t immediately assess blame for a toxic situation upon either the parent or the child. As I often tell families, this is a family issue, and everyone must do the work…

Accepting That Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds
Published: July 12, 2010

“I don’t know what I’ve done wrong,” the patient told me.
She was an intelligent and articulate woman in her early 40s who came to see me for depression and anxiety. In discussing the stresses she faced, it was clear that her teenage son had been front and center for many years.
When he was growing up, she explained, he fought frequently with other children, had few close friends, and had a reputation for being mean. She always hoped he would change, but now that he was almost 17, she had a sinking feeling.
I asked her what she meant by mean. “I hate to admit it, but he is unkind and unsympathetic to people,” she said, as I recall. He was rude and defiant at home, and often verbally abusive to family members.
Along the way, she had him evaluated by many child psychiatrists, with several extensive neuropsychological tests. The results were always the same: he tested in the intellectually superior range, with no evidence of any learning disability or mental illness. Naturally, she wondered if she and her husband were somehow remiss as parents.
Here, it seems, they did not fare as well as their son under psychiatric scrutiny. One therapist noted that they were not entirely consistent around their son, especially when it came to discipline; she was generally more permissive than her husband. Another therapist suggested that the father was not around enough and hinted that he was not a strong role model for his son.
But there was one small problem with these explanations: this supposedly suboptimal couple had managed to raise two other well-adjusted and perfectly nice boys. How could they have pulled that off if they were such bad parents?
To be sure, they had a fundamentally different relationship with their difficult child. My patient would be the first to admit that she was often angry with him, something she rarely experienced with his brothers.
But that left open a fundamental question: If the young man did not suffer from any demonstrable psychiatric disorder, just what was his problem?
My answer may sound heretical, coming from a psychiatrist. After all, our bent is to see misbehavior as psychopathology that needs treatment; there is no such thing as a bad person, just a sick one.
But maybe this young man was just not a nice person.
For years, mental health professionals were trained to see children as mere products of their environment who were intrinsically good until influenced otherwise; where there is chronic bad behavior, there must be a bad parent behind it.
But while I do not mean to let bad parents off the hook — sadly, there are all too many of them, from malignant to merely apathetic — the fact remains that perfectly decent parents can produce toxic children.
When I say “toxic,” I don’t mean psychopathic — those children who blossom into petty criminals, killers and everything in between. Much has been written about psychopaths in the scientific literature, including their frequent histories of childhood abuse, their early penchant for violating rules and their cruelty toward peers and animals. There are even some interesting stories suggesting that such antisocial behavior can be modified with parental coaching.
But there is little, if anything, in peer-reviewed journals about the paradox of good parents with toxic children.
Another patient told me about his son, now 35, who despite his many advantages was short-tempered and rude to his parents — refusing to return their phone calls and e-mail, even when his mother was gravely ill.
“We have racked our brains trying to figure why our son treats us this way,” he told me. “We don’t know what we did to deserve this.”
Apparently very little, as far as I could tell.
We marvel at the resilient child who survives the most toxic parents and home environment and goes on to a life of success. Yet the converse — the notion that some children might be the bad seeds of more or less decent parents — is hard to take.
It goes against the grain not just because it seems like such a grim and pessimistic judgment, but because it violates a prevailing social belief that people have a nearly limitless potential for change and self-improvement. After all, we are the culture of Baby Einstein, the video product that promised — and spectacularly failed — to make geniuses of all our infants.
Not everyone is going to turn out to be brilliant — any more than everyone will turn out nice and loving. And that is not necessarily because of parental failure or an impoverished environment. It is because everyday character traits, like all human behavior, have hard-wired and genetic components that cannot be molded entirely by the best environment, let alone the best psychotherapists.
“The central pitch of any child psychiatrist now is that the illness is often in the child and that the family responses may aggravate the scene but not wholly create it,” said my colleague Dr. Theodore Shapiro, a child psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College. “The era of ‘there are no bad children, only bad parents’ is gone.”
I recall one patient who told me that she had given up trying to have a relationship with her 24-year-old daughter, whose relentless criticism she could no longer bear. “I still love and miss her,” she said sadly. “But I really don’t like her.”
For better or worse, parents have limited power to influence their children. That is why they should not be so fast to take all the blame — or credit — for everything that their children become.
Dr. Richard A. Friedman is a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan.


Friday, February 26, 2010

On The Road...

Sometimes the life of an educational consultant is like the Willie Nelson classic, “On the Road Again” When one figures I’ve been to 200 schools and programs over the last 5 years (a good number of the twice, or even three times), 25 IECA and 10 NATSAP National conferences, countless lunches, one day meetings or outings with colleagues and who knows how many trips to see clients at programs or schools, I am shocked that they don’t simply roll out the red carpet for me at the airport, or at the very least always reserve an exit row seat for me! Granted many of the travels I go on are to wonderful and beautiful places; I rarely complain when my travels bring me to the Wasatch mountains of Utah in winter (funny how I always time it that way) or to the beautiful Arizona desert in March, and I’ll confess I’m often looking for an excuse to travel to the southeast in late fall.

Visiting programs is a crucial part of what we do as consultants. Not only do we need to do program visits to keep up our membership in IECA, but we also tour for professional development reasons. So yes, we have to tour, but for many of us touring is an exciting and fulfilling part of our job. Most of us work in small offices, or alone, so visiting programs allows us to get out and see what exciting things our colleagues are doing at their programs. It is important for us to get our hands dirty as it were, so yes, we ride the horses, bust the fire, and even, occasionally, muck the stalls. It is imperative that we roll up our sleeves and get to know not only the staff but also the students at these programs; because when we refer our clients to them, many times it’s because we know the people and we can, for lack of a better word, see our kid at the school. Of course we need to do our due diligence when it comes to reviewing testing, speaking to therapists, parents and other professionals, etc. but we cannot lose sight that many times our gut tells us if a place is a good match or not, and, well, you can’t rely on your gut if you’ve never been there!

So for us, often times it is indeed life on the road, and for many of us, we wouldn’t have it any other way.