The idea that men are created free and equal is both true and misleading: men are created different; they lose their social freedom and their individual autonomy in seeking to become like each other.

– David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd

There are many times that we become friends with people because of things we have in common. Shared experiences and interests bring people together. When I think of the people that are the most important to me, though, I realize that I love them because of our differences. Their quirks, crazy ideas, bizarre interests . . . I love all of those things. They open new worlds to me, give me the chance to look at things from a different perspective.

In my classroom, I always try to create a community that values uniqueness. The message I want kids to hear is that they are loved because of, not in spite of, their core.

How do you encourage your child to let their light shine?

Melissa Spiegelman  is the founder of Tandem Teaching, where she provides strategies and solutions for parents whose children  are experiencing classroom struggles, and an expert consultant to the  USC/LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope and Wellness in Schools. Melissa also teaches art playgroups for toddlers.  Contact her for a private coaching session.

We’ve all got it. When someone messes with our kids it’s easy to switch into Momma Bear mode. It’s pretty hard for me to take a breath before I do it, and they’re not even my real babies. I have no idea how you, the real momma must feel when someone hurts your kid’s feelings!

There’s one thing I do know, though.  Things always turn out best for my kiddos when I remember to do three things:

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Assess the situation.
  3. Proceed by using humor or a heart-to-heart.

It always turns out better than when I switch into Momma Bear Mode.

The other day, Mr. Million Questions tapped me on the shoulder when his reading group ended and the other kiddos were going back to their seats.

“What’s up, Mr. MQ,” I asked, my back turned, grabbing books off the shelf for the next group.

“Miss L, I have to talk to you about something.”

I paused before I turned around, after hearing the quiver in his voice, knowing that we were about to have an important conversation. I turned around, sat down so that we were at the same level.

“What’s going on, bud?”

“Erick said I was weird!” he whispered, as his eyes welled up with tears.

I paused as I went through the three-step process above, before responding, “That’s awesome.”

“What Miss L??? What are you talking about?”

“Mr. MQ, do you think I’m weird?” I asked.

“No way!” He shook his head vigorously. “You’re awesome!”

“Bud, how am I different than other teachers you’ve had?”

He looked at me for a moment. “Well, I’ve never had a teacher that let us read to stuffed animals before. And you sing in class sometimes, and wear tap shoes. And you’re the only one that’s let us come up to the classroom to teach us martial arts or just to play at lunch.”

“Don’t you think that’s kind of weird?” I asked.

Our eyes met. “Mr. I’ve got to tell you something. I am weird, and it makes me happy.

Weird people are the ones who take chances, make crazy new inventions, march to a different beat. They make the world interesting.

I’ll be honest, kid, you’re kind of weird, too. That’s why I love you so much.

When someone calls me weird, I think in my head, ‘Oh, so you’re boooorrrriiiiinnnng!’

It’s actually kind of a compliment.”

His eyes dried up and a smile washed over his face.

“So being weird is good!” he exclaimed.

“Yes, friend. It’s one of the best kept secrets of all time.”

He gave me a big hug before heading back to his seat.

I didn’t lie when I told him that. He likes to sing opera, and knows everything there is to know about the Beatles. He build’s these crazy creations when he has the time, and daydreams like mad. He’s quirky, which really is why I love him so much.

When I was driving home, I was remembering when my uncle taught me that lesson when I was a kid, and it was pretty powerful.

I felt pretty blessed that I was the one that got to teach it to Mr. Million Questions.

Melissa Spiegelman  is the founder of Tandem Teaching, where she provides strategies and solutions for parents whose children  are experiencing classroom struggles, and an expert consultant to the  USC/LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope and Wellness in Schools. Melissa also teaches art playgroups for toddlers.  Contact her for a private coaching session.

How Was Your Weekly Ride?

by Queenie on February 4, 2011

Image of QueenieHappy Friday! I’m so glad you joined us this week, I hope you found the weekly thought provocative and compelling. Let me know if you did anything to explore Black History Month. As you know we end each week with our uphill climbs and our downhill celebrations, below is a glimpse of how my week went.

Uphill Climbs

Working out is not always easy, but I’m pushing myself to live a healthier life. I’m eating clean and feeling good. I’m waking up at 5am to workout every morning- (It’s definitely an uphill climb)

Coasting  downhill (celebrations)

My class finished their Writer’s Workshop unit on nouns and verbs. We published our stories this week. I’m so thrilled with their finished products.

I have Wednesday’s to work on Tandem Teaching full time- and that makes my heart smile. We have so much goodness that we would like to share with you!

I’m finally feeling settled in to my new home and I’m loving married life. I’m gearing up for my big reception this summer.

Let me know how your week was, I would love to hear from you. See you in a couple of weeks.


Mrs. Queenie

Image of QueenieAs a teacher I’m not a big fan of homework. I know its a big, bold statement but I remember  all the times when my teachers gave me useless homework assignments. The job of the assignment was to keep me busy, not to get me thinking. The Weekly Thought this week had to do with exploring the cultural achievements of African Americans, with this in mind, it makes me think about all the useless things that kids are being asked to explore in our world today. If there is anything that I can do about it, I know that its my job to send kids home thinking about something rather than giving them something to do.  Edith Ann, [Lily Tomlin] said it best, “I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.”

This week I challenge you to give your kids something to think about, engage them in high level thinking. This curiosity and interest  intrigues the amygdala and promotes dendrite growth. Did you know that learning something new or thinking about something in a new way “actually changes the structure of the brain… it rewires itself with each new reception of stimuli.” ( Eric Jensen)  Making synaptic connections between brain cells is the basis of your child getting smarter.

What will you give your child to think about this week?

I’m wishing you a Happy Wednesday sprinkled with a little bit of wisdom.



Image of QueenieBlack History Month is a time for America to celebrate the achievements of African Americans to this country. Yes! we advocate celebrating BHM 365 days a year, however February is the time that we take every year to look at the accomplishments of the people of African decent in America. Negro History Week  was initiated by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a graduate from Harvard, in 1926. At that time, Blacks were rarely if every recognized for their contribution to American society or even seen as counterparts to the building of the nation but they were rather seen as inferior and second class citizens. Dr. Woodson, noticed the absence of Blacks from history and established Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now called the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History) in 1915. He chose the second week in February to celebrate Negro History Week because it marked the celebration of the birthdays of Federick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Woodson felt that these two men influenced and contributed to the upward movement of African Americans.

Here are five things that you and your child can do to explore the culture:

1. Visit the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Exposition Park-

2. Do an authors study on Nikki Giovanni- she has written books such as  Lincoln and Douglass An American Friendship, Rosa, or Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat

3. Do a study on Black women who impacted America– Wilma Rudolph, Diana Ross, Madame CJ Walker, Coretta Scott King, Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, Cisely Tyson, Josephine Baker and Dorothy Dandridge to name a few.

4. Look at these major moments in history:

The Harlem Renaissance was a time where literature, arts, and music flourished from artists such as Zora Neale Huston, Langston Hughes and James Baldwin.

The  Civil Rights Movement,marked a time where Blacks marched for basic human rights, with activist such as Harry Belafonte, Malcom X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Marvin Gaye, Muhammad Ali, and Sidney Portier.

The Black Panther Party for Self Defense, a revolutionary group, with activist Huey P. Newton leading the troops.They implemented many programs in Black communities such as the breakfast program, an official newspaper and the 10 point program. Even my mom remembers getting breakfast from the Black Panthers in Harlem, New York

The Cosby Show- a show that started in 1984 about the Huxtable family, an affluent African-American family living in Brooklyn, New York. The Cosby Show was the first show that illustrated a Black Family as professionals, college graduates, having a solid family  infrastructure. The show is replete with fun facts, figures, artist and the like.

5. Explore the culture and answer these fun facts

-What is Kwaanza and who started it, and why?

-Who started Jazz, Blues, and Hip Hop?

-Name Three Black Inventors and their invention.

-Who is Walter Dean Myers and Romare Bearden?

-Name Three Historically Black Colleges

Take a class at the Debbie Allen Dance Studios or Lula Washington Dance Theater.      –

Have you had some soul food lately- If you’re in Los Angeles, try out:

M & M’s Soul Food,

Naturals Soul Food-http:


The Serving

Chef Marilyn’s Soul Food

Roscoe’s Chicken &

Try out Southern Girl Desserts-  (They specialize in southern baked goods)

This list is by no means exhaustive but it does give you a starting point. Have fun and let us know what you did and what you learned about African Americans.

Illustration of PatrickMy first year teaching I had a class of thirty students. I worked with them all year, and was asked daily whether or not they could make paper airplanes during math or eat their lollipop that accidentally fell into their backpack at school.

And yet, for the entire insane requests, at the most inappropriate times, I only said no three times.

All year, I avoided saying the dreaded NO like the plague.

And the few times I did say it, the class came to a screeching halt.

It wasn’t that I was compliant.

It wasn’t that I was a “Yes Man.”

I became an expert at saying no without actually saying it. I had a handful of easy responses. They either distracted the kid from what they wanted, or pointed out how it couldn’t possibly happen.

  1. “So you’re asking me to break a rule.”
  2. “You already know the answer to that question.”
  3. “I wonder what we’d need to make that happen. Write me a list and we’ll talk about it later.”
  4. “I got a lot going on right now. Can we talk about this later?”
  5. “Great idea, but wrong time to ask. Lets talk about it later.”
  6. “Do you see my face right now? Does this seem to be like the right time to ask me for something special?”

If your kid continues to push, repeat yourself. And try to avoid arguing AT ALL COSTS!

Asking for things is all about timing. If it’s the right time, you get a yes. When it’s the wrong timing you’ll get an absolute no.

One of the key things I  teach my students is when is the appropriate time to ask for something. I want to make sure their paying attention to what’s going on with me, and with the people around them.

Getting what you want is paying attention to your timing.

I had a class meeting when a child explained it like this, “Asking for something is all about timing. It’s like a cat stalking its prey. It waits for a long time. It knows what it wants. I can wait for right for just the right moment to make it happen. Like a cat.”

Your children can learn a lot from pets. So can we.

How Was Your Weekly Ride?

by Melissa on January 14, 2011

Patrick and I did a pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago. Walking was important, and amazing, and filled with wonder. But the special part wasn’t only the walking. Some magic happened at the end of the day.

As we rested and tended to our blisters in a new Albergue, we’d sit and laugh and share what happened along our journey that day. Sometimes it was wacky, sometimes sad. We’d talk about epiphanies we had when we were walking or riding, something we thought about, something we’ve felt. The sense of community we felt can’t really be put into words.

That’s why we started sharing our “weekly ride,” to try to recreate that magic in this new community we’ve started.

The Uphill Climbs (The Challenges)

  • We lost a very special soul this week. And my heart is aching. I don’t know what else to say.

Coasting Downhill (The Celebrations)

  • I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my family this week. We’ve cried and laughed as we thumbed through photographs and shared different stories. I’m celebrating the time we had with her. It was such a gift. I’m celebrating that we have so many sweet memories.

That’s it for me.

Please join in and help us bring back the magic of sharing experiences after a trek.

What were your Uphill Climbs?

What part of your week felt like you were coasting downhill with the wind blowing through your hair?

Join us!

Melissa Spiegelman  is the founder of Tandem Teaching, where she provides strategies and solutions for parents whose children  are experiencing classroom struggles, and an expert consultant to the  USC/LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope and Wellness in Schools. Melissa also teaches art playgroups for toddlers.  Contact her for a private coaching session.

Wednesday Wisdom

by Melissa on January 12, 2011

I can vividly remember my big brother and I asking our ma to read us Are You My Mother?  just one more time. It’s been 25 years since we moved from that townhouse on Killion Avenue, but it seems like yesterday that the three of us huddled on our parents’ bed as my ma read us that picture book.

When we grew older, my sister and I read, and reread, books until the pages fell out. I even brought in Anne of Green Gables to show my students last year what a well-loved book looks like. Tattered. Falling apart.

Now I’m all grown up. And I’m the one that gets to hear, “Read it again, Miss L!”

I’ve read my peanuts Mortimer, The Stinky Cheese Man, and Love You Forever so many times I know them by heart.

And now, after listening to Annie Fox interview K. Sean Buvala (author and award-winning professional storyteller), I understand why it’s so important to not roll our eyes, or grit our teeth when our kiddos ask us to read a story for the umpteenth time. When a child wants to hear a story again and again, Annie says “there’s something in  that story that the child needs to learn. They’re saying, ‘I need more exposure to that idea or that concept.’ What an honor that you’re the one transmitting that value.”

So many things that happen in our children’s world are out of their control. Children feel a great sense of comfort knowing that things are going to turn out ok, in this story at least.

I think back to that story now, and realize that every time our mom read us Are You My Mother? she was making a promise to my brother and I. She would always be there when we needed her. Even if we got lost, and confused, once we found our way back, she’d be waiting. We needed that life lesson then. And you know what? It still holds true today. She is.

To learn more about the many benefits of storytelling, or tips on how to make your stories better, visit Or read Buvala’s book: DaddyTeller: How to be a Hero to Your Kid and Teach Them What’s Really Important by Telling them One Simple Story At a Time. It’s a collection of eight fables, with helpful hints on how to easily learn the art of storytelling in a fun way.

It’s $15 on Amazon, 87 pages long, and it gives you the tools to strengthen your relationship with your child in the most amazing ways. Now that’s a deal.    

Melissa Spiegelman  is the founder of Tandem Teaching, where she provides strategies and solutions for parents whose children  are experiencing classroom struggles, and an expert consultant to the  USC/LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope and Wellness in Schools. Melissa also teaches art playgroups for toddlers.  Contact her for a private coaching session.

The Humane Mouse Trap

by Melissa on January 10, 2011

I sat up with a start.

Someone was in my apartment.

I knew I wasn’t alone. I just felt it.

Deliriously, I looked around trying to figure out what to do. I had fallen asleep on the couch, and I jumped up to run for the staircase that led down to my front door.

I stood still as a statue, not moving a muscle, barely breathing. I turned on the lights, one by one, opening up closets, checking under the bed. Nothing. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t alone, so I sat on the couch with the light on and read until the sun rose.

Then next night, I was sitting on the rug, leaning back against the couch reading, when I heard something again. It was coming from my Christmas tree.

I quietly crept over to inspect. The popcorn that we’d strung a few nights before was moving. A mouse was nibbling on it! I almost died. I was so grossed out. I packed a bag and headed over to Wild Bird’s to crash for the night.

I didn’t know what to do. I called Jim, my old roommate. He always took care of stuff like this when we lived together, so I turned to him for counsel.

“Just head over to the dollar store and buy those little blue poison pellets,” he said. “It’s better than a trap because where there’s one mouse there’s more, and you’ll want it to bring the poison back to its babies. But then you’ll have the concern that they might die in your walls and stink up the place.”

Now, I’m sad to admit that there was a time in my life that I might’ve taken his advice. Sometimes we teach kids, but more often than not, they teach us.

When Patrick and I were teammates, we had a very special class. They were so unbelievably kind and sensitive with one another. And with nature. It was the first time I had seen a group of children that were so humane. When a new student stepped on a spider instead of picking it up and releasing it outside, we damn near had a riot. Those peanuts taught me a thing or two about compassion. To this day, people give me a strange look when I pick up spiders and release them outside. Our hilarious student from the Philippines, who we called “The Spider Whisperer” taught us all how to handle them.

After working with them, I knew there was no way that I could follow Jim’s advice. I had to come up with a plan. A plan, inspired by that inspirational class. One of the things that made that class so very special was the fact that the majority of them came from families who valued the importance of authentic play. They were given open-ended materials and constantly used them to create and problem solve. I was going to have to take a clue from them.

I knew the mouse liked popcorn.  I got my biggest bowl. I greased the sides with butter. I put some popcorn at the bottom of the bowl. I headed back to Wild Bird’s for anther sleepover. When I returned the next morning, I saw my little pal at the bottom of the bowl. He’d climbed in to get the popcorn, and then couldn’t get out because of the slippery sides of the bowl!

I covered the bowl with a lid, carried the little buddy out to the woods, and let him run free.

I smiled as I walked back home. It was a small problem that I’d solved. But I did it peacefully.

As I walked,  I thought about my little peanuts that I had taught years before. I wondered what kind of big problems they’re using their creativity to solve.

Patrick once wrote that when kids are “given the time and space to experiment and encouraged to try new things without the fear of criticism, these materials transform children into problem solvers that will one day be able to fix the problems our global society is facing today.”

I guess the same is true for adults, as well.

Melissa Spiegelman  is the founder of Tandem Teaching, where she provides strategies and solutions for parents whose children  are experiencing classroom struggles, and an expert consultant to the  USC/LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope and Wellness in Schools. Melissa also teaches art playgroups for toddlers.  Contact her for a private coaching session.

How Was Your Weekly Ride?

by Queenie on December 31, 2010

Image of Queenie Whew, the week flew by so fast and like that tomorrow will be the start of a brand new year. Many of us are tying up loose ends and making new beginnings. I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to coast with you into to the new year.  On behalf of the Tandem Teaching Team, Melissa, Myself, Patrick & Megan. We really hope you have enjoyed the riding along with us as we dish out the latest tricks and tips on how to navigate your child’s school and the school system at large. We hope that we have helped you and your family in some way. And, from the bottom of hearts we say thank you for giving us the opportunity to share and work with you and your family. We really appreciate it.

Every week brings along with it its celebrations (Coasting)  and its challenges (Uphill) here is a sneak peak at what my week was like. Leave us a note and let us know how your week went.

Uphill (Challenges)

– I’m preparing to move, so I had to go through each nook and cranny and get rid of stuff that I had been holding on to for more than 10 years. I know its pretty ridiculous, but I got through it. I’ll never hold on to that much stuff again in my life.

-Did I mention preparing to move. It creates such a mental block, I had to mediate just to prepare my mind for itt. Uggh

– Attempting to work out amidst all the cookies and cake- Uhm….trust me, it’s no easy feat.

Coasting (celebrations)

-Making my dream board for 2011. I swear by them. If you want something radically different to happen in 2011, make a dream board.

– Working on Summer Camp 2011. I’m so excited about it.

– I’ve been doing lots of cooking as a new wife~ I’m taking all recipe suggestions. Send them in to me. I cant wait to hear from you!