How Mantras Reduce the Stress of Parenting

Kimberley Moran is a parent, a former teacher, and an editor at We Are Teachers and We Are Parents. As a teacher, she found herself being asked question after question about parenting.

During conferences, she spent more time discussing parenting than student work. Even teachers would ask her what to tell the parents of their students. The more questions she was asked, the more she developed easy ways to talk about some of the most important aspects of parenthood.

In order to help parents remember what to remember, she coined the term Parent Mantras. “This will be your mantra,” she would say to them. “Begin at the end.”

After reading lots of the books in the hack learning series, she realized she wanted to write one about the kids in those classrooms and the parents they went home to at night. The result was her new book, Hacking Parenthood: 10 Mantras You Can Use Daily to Reduce the Stress of Parenting.

Available now

What Moran says about Parent Mantras

In this book, I’ve gathered 10 mantras for cutting out the stuff that doesn’t really make you a better parent, instead focusing on what you need to do in each moment to move your parenting strategy forward.

Each mantra shows you how to assess a situation and your child in it and then make a plan or use your intuition to help you and your child grow.

Mantras were created thousands of years ago by people in ancient India who understood that sound is a pathway to reaching enlightenment.

Mantras became medicinal sound formulas to calm the self.

I hope to help you use mantras to drown out the noise of the world a bit like sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting “La la la la, I can’t hear you!” These mantras should also help you hone in on what matters when things seem out of control.

When we decide on a mantra to guide our parenting, the simple act of repetition takes us beyond our everyday boundaries and allows for our mantra to seep into who we are as a parent.

We create an intention behind our actions. We strengthen an extremely powerful tool, our voice. When we commit to the act of using mantras in every aspect of our parenting, we are staying in touch with our deepest desire about who we want our children to be.

It allows us to release, relax and surrender to our parenting intention.

I really do use every one of these mantras to help me in my parenting. I love them because they aren’t judgmental. I get to decide what I’m going to do, but my mantras help me focus and be consistent.

This is the key to good parenting I think. If one of these doesn’t work for you, let it go. Being flexible is also a great parenting skill.

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What Is Your Inspirational Story?

While it may seem cliche, tragic times require inspirational stories. Sometimes the tragedies breed the story. Other times, we need an inspirational story to help us cope with daily stress.

In Episode 98 of the Hack Learning Podcast, embedded below and available on iTunes, Mark Barnes shares a story about Emily–a seventh grader who, shockingly, came to his class as a young teen who had never before voluntarily read a book.

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The Problem: Many kids hate reading. When kids aren’t surrounded by books and read to from very young ages, they will likely become reluctant readers.

If teachers force feed classroom novels on students, never giving them choice in what they read, their reluctance often turns into hatred, and they may never voluntarily read a book.

The Hack: Spark their interest. The easiest way to inspire even the most reluctant readers to gravitate to books is to help them find something that interests them, no matter what kind of book it is. Show them books. Invite them to hold them, smell them, peruse them, and take them home.

What You Can Do Tomorrow: Start building a library. Surround your students and your own children with books. Build a library in your classroom, no matter what subject you teach. Kids must see books, if they are to join the culture of readers.

Building a classroom library is easy and can be inexpensive. For great strategies on building a classroom library, check out Hacking Literacy, by Gerard Dawson.

Share your story

Please share your own inspirational story in comments below or on the Hack Learning Ambassadors Facebook group or on Twitter at #HackLearningStory.

Battlevant and Sturtevingo

Your Students Will Love Battlevant and Sturtevingo

Listen to “68-BattleVant and SturteVingo…Two Zero Tech Ways to Engage Kids” on Spreaker.

A great way to engage students is to just have some fun with content. Accomplish this by mimicking two iconic American board games…Battleship and Bingo.

Certainly, most of your kids have played, or at least are familiar with both. I reworked both games for my classroom. Of course, I renamed them Battlevant and Sturtevingo. I encourage you to create your own labels for your versions of these activities.

Any time there’s material you’d like to review, Sturtevingo and Battlevant are wonderful engaging options that can be employed frequently. Battlevant is a team game.

I’ll demonstrate it as a two team contest, but it could be used with multiple teams. In Sturtevingo, every man and woman is on their own.

Two team Battlevant is played in the following way:

  • Divide the class into 2 teams
  • Secretly assign students in Team 1 a number from 1-20. Select 5 numbers as misses and assign the other 15 numbers. If there are less than 15 students in Team 1, you can award extra numbers to various kids. Repeat the same process for Team 2 with numbers 21-40.
  • Prior to the contest, project the game board.

Battlevant Game Board

Team 1 Team 2
1 2 3 4 5

6 7 8 9 10

11 12 13 14 15

16 17 18 19 20

21 22 23 24 25

26 27 28 29 30

31 32 33 34 35

36 37 38 39 40

  • Ask individual students questions about the material. If they get it right, they can select a number from the other team’s range of numbers. (Team 1 kids will select numbers from 21 to 40)
  • If they successfully uncover a student’s number, you cheerfully announce that Johnny or Janey has been sunk and put an X through their number. If a student guesses a number that is a miss, circle that number.
  • Johnny or Janey, if sunk, must then slightly turn their desks to demonstrate their damaged status. They may not answer general questions, but I like to issue “Back from the Dead” questions periodically to keep the sunk students engaged.
  • The contest ends when the questions are exhausted, or all the kids on one side are sunk.
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Sturtevingo is a game that takes a bit more prep, but is easy to execute. Create at least 25 matching questions. I like to create 30 because it makes obtaining Sturtevingos even more challenging. The first portion of the period, students are working individually, or in small groups, matching concepts with descriptions like below:

  1. ______ Karma
  2. ______ Dharma
  3. ______ Khyber Pass
  4. ______ Aryans
  5. ______ Bhagavad Gita

a. Northwestern passageway for invasion and migration

b. The Hindu concept of duty

c. The law of action and reaction

d. The Hindu scripture that describes and promotes Dharma and Karma

e. Invaders, or migrants, from the west that transformed the culture of the Subcontinent

After kids have answered as many as they can, or the allotted time has expired, handout a blank Sturtevingo board:

Students will then populate the board with number letter matches. Encourage students to place the matches in a random fashion. That way, each student’s Sturtevingo board will be unique.

The matches must be accurate to count. If a student put the letter A with number 1 when the answer should be C, they cannot be awarded the square if “1C” is called. Once kids have their game boards arranged, play commences in the following fashion:

  • The teacher asks a question from the list. If a student guesses correctly, “I think letter C goes with question 1” all the students that have the 1C match on their board can place an X on that square. You write 1C on the board.
  • The student that answered correctly then walks up to the teacher and subtly points to the next question they want asked. I frequently limit the number of times any student can answer to share the wealth.
  • Play continues till a student get 5 Xs in a row.

  • Unlike regular bingo however, don’t instruct kids to clear the board after the first Sturtevingo. Just keep asking questions and announcing number letter matches. It’s even okay if some kids get 2 Sturtevingos.
  • I like to up the intensity by rewarding Sturtevingo winners. It could be classroom privileges, a free homework coupon, or any coveted reward you can think of.

The Problem:

Teachers struggle making dull content engaging.

The Solution:

Play Battlevant, or Sturtevingo.

What you can do Tomorrow:

  • Create a number of questions based on the content. If you’re going to play Sturtevingo, make the questions matching.
  • Decide if you want teams…Battlevant, or all men and women for themselves…Sturtevingo.
  • Craft some additional questions (trivial and or interesting) that can be thrown out to supplement the material. These could be used to engage students sunk in Battlevant, or could spice up the competition of either game.
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These games are a way to take dull content and make it fun and engaging.

Cancel your participation plan and create speaking events instead

Here’s an embarrassing story that taught me a lesson:

Setting: my old classroom in northern NJ, sometime in the 2010s, 9:43 AM

As I rounded the back left corner of desks, a student elbowed another.  Feeling the nudge, she covered her notebook. On the page I caught a glimpse of the words “Mr. Dawson” and some tally marks. They traded nervous smiles.

Then it hit me. They were counting something about me. And if they were keeping a log in a notebook, it must be something I did A LOT.

“So, I’m pretty sure I know what that is.  If it’s something I say or I do over and over, I’d really like to know. I’d really like to try to work on it.”

They hesitated, but one girl let it out: “It’s every time you say ‘you know what I mean?'”

Just to emphasize, there were A LOT of tally marks.

My face felt flush, and I was self-conscious for the rest of class. But in retrospect, that was a great day. From then on, I knew the impact that my speaking ability has on my students. Because if they are counting my verbal tics in their notebook, they aren’t learning.

Since then, teaching students to speak with confidence has become important to me. In fact, I’ve probably spent a disproportionate amount of time on it. This spring, I received this email from a student, which showed me that it may be time well spent:


An email from a student who noticed an improvement in her speaking skills.


I’d like to highlight one phrase. Can you spot it?

This student did not thank me for “a magic trick for better speaking.” No, she thanked me for doing “so many class discussions.”  Like many parts of life, getting better at speaking requires putting in the practice.

This article is about a big shift to the way we have students practice speaking. Don’t panic, though. There are two simple steps at the bottom of the article. If you like the big ideas that follow, you can get started using those first steps. 

How does speaking in class usually happen? I think back to my time as a student and it varies.

Class participation vs. speaking events

Three types of speaking I experienced in college:

  • A class where students had to speak 2-3 times daily for an “A.” The teacher asked a question then called on every student with a hand up. Students did not have to interact with each other. They just had to speak.
  • A sociology class where a student accused another of doing charity work only to feel good about himself. The accused student responded to everyone’s surprise, “Yea, you might be right.”  This was after a long exchange between the students as the rest of the class listened.
  • The presentation of my final teaching portfolio to Mr. Mahoney and another gentleman. I gave a presentation on my student teaching experience, then fielded questions.

What can I learn from these three memories?

In the first example, speaking was a chore, a rule. It was a box to check.

In the second, the teacher created conditions where students could interact like that. They gave each other honest criticism. And they were willing to accept it. I don’t know remember those classmates’ names, but I remember the learning from that class.

In the third example, I had to battle my nerves to speak well. I had to plan, prepare, and practice. There were real audience members. I wanted to impress my teachers.

The first example is class participation taken to the extreme. The second two examples are speaking events.

To get clear on terms, consider the connotations of requirement vs. event:

A requirement is something we have to do. It’s bureaucratic. It’s boring. It’s a motion. It’s done. Next.

An event is something that we look forward to. We plan for it. We prepare for it. If we are in the audience, it excites us. If we are on stage, it excites and scares us. Afterwards, we’re satisfied. We talk about it. We review it. And we look forward to the next time it happens.

Some examples of speaking requirements turned into speaking events:

Forget typical debates or discussions. Use pop-up debates instead.

What is it: It’s a discussion protocol I learned about from Dave Stuart. It asks students to discuss a debatable question or topic. The catch? Students must “pop up” from their seats and stand before speaking to their classmates.

Why it works: The typical class discussion becomes a public speaking opportunity. When students pop-up, they take an active role in showing others that they have a point to make. They need to take the initiative to speak.  I recommend Dave’s Pop-Up Debate Starter Kit (I did not get paid to say that). I used the slides he includes in the Kit dozens of times last year.

How to start: Ask students to stand up before speaking instead of raising their hands. Some students will find this awkward. That’s ok. The shift that this makes on the mood of the discussion will surprise you.

Forget boring PowerPoints. Use Ignite talks instead.

What is it: This is a five-minute presentation with 20 auto-advance slides.  Slides feature images or phrases, not bullet points with a sea of text. Generally, speakers do not use notes or any other aids.

Why it works: The Ignite talk dramatically raises the stakes of presentations. This cannot be under-emphasized. There is no winging it. These presentations compel students to learn their material. They need to rehearse over and over again if they want to succeed.

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I gave one of these talks to my sophomores before they delivered theirs. It was one of the most challenging presentations I’ve given.

Disclaimer: the auto-advancing slides have ruined some student presentations. Students who underestimate the task stare at me for the last 45 seconds of the presentation. Emphasizing rehearsal is essential for this speaking event.

How to start: Ask students to give one-minute talks on a topic of their choice without using any notes or guides. Ask students to use images or phrases on their slideshows instead of bullet points.

Like with cold calling, students feel nervous before these speaking events. Raising the stakes puts positive pressure on students to deliver their best in class.  

We must provide clear guidance and instruction when assigning and planning these events. Then, we can trust that we’re helping students build speaking skills for life.

Have you used pop-up debates? Ignite talks? How do you turn speaking into an event? Share with fellow teachers in the comments.

5 Parenting Ideas to Make the School Year a Positive Experience for All

In August of 1978, I was ten years old. My new uniforms, crisp white shirts, and brown loafers sat in the closet waiting to be worn.

I must’ve checked my bag 500 times to be sure my list documenting the 42 or so books I’d read over the summer was ready.

My mother had allowed me to buy the new Chocolate Soup Swedish messenger bag I’d been coveting, a dozen yellow number 2s, and a composition notebook.

I had no idea who my teacher would be; I’d find out when I arrived at school.

Fast forward to August of 2017, nearly 40 years later.

My kids barely read this summer, so there wasn’t much point in documentation.

They say they like their summer clothes for the first day of school and that their old LL Bean backpacks still seem new. They already know who their teachers will be. The excitement, it seems, is nonexistent.

But, really, for me, there is this pressure. Each school year seems to bring with it a shift in parenting responsibilities and my children’s needs.

So this year, I’ve armed myself with this:

5 ideas to make the new year a positive experience for all of us

1 – Don’t be disappointed

My kids do not do things the way I want them to be done. There I’ve said it and now, as my therapist has promised, I can let it go.

If I know they will want to do school their way, I will not be disappointed when they don’t come home thrilled that they get to read a book every week and write about it. But that won’t stop me from hoping they’ll let me read the books with them.

2 – Buy exactly what’s on the required supply list

I will not hem and haw this year over every single item on that list, wondering if it will last the year. Remembering that many of the items I purchase will be lost or destroyed. My kids don’t need to have the prettiest, best school supplies on the block. No one will notice. For real.

3 – Make a list of morning tasks

There has never been a morning when my kids have woken up on their own, gotten dressed, brushed their teeth, come down to breakfast, and had an already packed backpack by the door.

This year will be different! I have purchased alarm clocks for both kids and taken the time to make a checklist with them that covers all morning tasks. The list will be in their bedrooms and in the kitchen, mostly so they don’t complain every time I ask them to check the list and they remember it’s still upstairs.

4- Model what you’d like to see

I am a model of an active learner and an organized person. I remind my kids to go after their curiosities and to think about making lists.

This year, I will not do that stuff for them so that they will start to do it for themselves. I want them to feel the joy of discovering that they can take care of themselves and ask questions to make things more clear.

5 – Have gratitude for life

I will remember to be grateful for the kids I am allowed to raise each day. Through the bickering and hysteria, I want to remember their quirky personalities that made me laugh all summer. I’m also hoping to take the time to point out the things I see that they might enjoy.

Childhood memories affect us like no other memories. Mine may be of books and reading and shiny loafers, but they are no more or less important than the memories my children will have of different things that they will deem important enough to share with their college roommates and potential life partners.

And let’s not forget our parenthood memories. We have the power to make them feel great or always feel like we missed the mark.

You be you and let them be them.

Featured image credit: giloudim

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