About ADHD: Thinking Fast and Slow

Still true!



I’ve had a theory brewing for a few decades.

It’s about ADHD.

My theory is that some people have been gifted with the adroit ability to think and move quickly; they ride life like a stallion, seeing, hearing and experiencing everything in magnified ways.  It is a gift.  In the right hands, these people emerge out of childhood as curious, lifelong learners who understand deeply and creatively.  They are bright.  Intuitive.  Daring. Perceptive.  Sensitive.  Interesting.   They learn how to manage their strengths well; how to avoid the deleterious consequences of being who they are.  

ADHD is listed in the Center For Disease Control and Prevention;  it is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, all revisions.  Disease and disorders have negative connotations.  Science says it is a “thing”; I won’t argue that.  Instead, I wonder if there isn’t another…

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17 Life Hacks for Families with ADHD




  1. The world can be brutal for a kid who moves differently. Parents engineer their kid’s environment and help them negotiate the forces pushing on their self-concept, motivation and goal-attainment. The forces will be many.  Life is like that (for everyone). Most children with ADHD are not disabled.  Their brains are not damaged.  They move through life a little differently than most peers.  So, what?  We all belong.  If we love them well and help them through the hurdles, they can be the most interesting, engaging, creative and innovative people on the planet! I refute the medical model that places them in the victim role.  Right or wrong, it is in their best interest that everyone stays positive, focusing more on strengths than weaknesses. And remember: 75% of parenting is about just showing up, day after day.  They will become exactly who they were meant to become unless their environment brings forth trauma.
  2. Kids with ADHD look different at every age.  Early childhood and elementary can be a whirlwind as their brains are still trying to organize and manage. They have less self-control and aren’t great at organizing.   You will chase often, remind frequently and be exhausted by 7pm. They will not see the target; they will miss the targets they see.  Be there to help them interpret and recover from that.   We fret, but remember: everything prior to 9th grade is “practice”.  High schools toss the records and the slate is wiped clean. Each hurdle is an opportunity to learn and grow. A magnificent goal is that they leave the K-12 educational system liking themselves and knowing what fuels them. The rest?  Small details.  A lousy 2nd grade experience won’t break them.  Nor will that time you lost your temper. These things make great family jokes in adulthood.  Relax. They are watching how you respond.
  3. The first 8 years will be most difficult.  You will have to remind and reteach 1000 more times than your friends, but so what?  Be the calm, broken record. Ignore the future accountant next door. Everyone is on their own path.  They won’t (likely) climb on cars or jump on the couch when they are 18. Adolescence is also tricky.  Be firm about a consistent dinner time every day.  Keep them engaged in activities. Cross your fingers they find good friends. Don’t be afraid to say “no”.  Say it again and mean it.  
  4. The world will want to amplify (and “fix”) their weaknesses.  The world will be urgent about how disastrous it will be if……….(fill in the blank).  You need to be louder than the world.  Know what motivates your child.  Know what kills their motivation.  Know their strengths.  Advocate fiercely for these things. Be vigilant about this, please. Curriculum was written for the average kid.  Average is a myth. So is the arbitrary timeline.  If they don’t offer a course she/he needs, make it happen!IMG_2615
  5. Know what scares them.  Know what puts them in shame.  Protect them from these things .  Teach your kid to identify the source of fear and shame; give them words to understand it all; teach them strategies to avoid, prevent and respond. They will build a life that works for them if they are resilient in the face of fear and shame. 
  6. Don’t put them in places that kill their spirit.  Don’t send them to people who want to  punish them into submission.  There is a whole group of adults out there who believe punishment changes behavior.  They don’t know your kid or how damaging that can be.  Do not be afraid to call it when you see it.  If not you, then who?  Make necessary changes when you do. Move homes, change teachers or change schools if you have to.  There are plenty of spaces and many people who understand. Find them. They will help grow your kid into an awesome adult.  shutterstock_370944752
  7. Seek teachers who are kind, predictable, firm and consistent.  A good sense of humor goes a long way.  Ditto the ability to minimize small problems.  Avoid those who shame, blame and get anxious over small fires.  Most all of the fires are small in elementary school.  Request the right teacher for your kid.  When you are told “all teachers are good” for your kid, request the right teacher for your kid, again.  This single intervention is GOLD. 
  8. Don’t be afraid of temporary medication, especially while young and impulsive. It could save their souls from 100 redirections daily.  See #6 and 7.
  9. If lucky, you will be their “person” for life.  Your vision is large, yet they are writing their own story.  Teachers see them for 9 months and can get anxious about details (tests, curriculum, unfinished papers, preparing them for the next teacher).  You want them to be decent, productive humans at age 30. One test, one missing assignment, one bad day is only a blip. Help them recover well.  Don’t let one person diminish their story.
  10. Don’t ruin your relationship battling about homework and grades.  They either choose to invest in school or not.  Crazy, right?  If they leave the system liking themselves and knowing where their passions lie, they will figure it out once they have to buy their own toilet paper. (see #14)
  11. CHORES and a McJOB teach work ethic. Work ethic is taught at home.  Start early and be consistent. Create chore schedules and be vigilant.  Teach them to do it well. Give feedback and make them do-over until they get it right. Soon they will be on auto-pilot. Jobs at 16 are also important.  Taking direction from someone other than you will prepare them for next steps. #winwin.

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12. ADHD does not make kids angry, aggressive, lazy, disrespectful or mean.  Poorly engineered environments with punitive/non-restorative practices do.  Unresponsive humans do.  Non-restorative practices do.  That said, focus on teaching core social-emotional literacies.   Kids who are self aware can self manage. Kids who are aware of who and how  they are in the social environment build better relationships.  Emotionally literate kids make responsible decisions and build healthy relationships.  We need better humans.  These skills are taught.

13.  Their inconsistent timetable may not jive with other kids.  They are on their own path.  They don’t have to go to college (the US has a shortage of skilled trades).  They don’t have to start college right away. They don’t have to finish in 4 years.  Be clear you will support as long as they continue educating themselves . Do not allow basement dwellers over age 18. Key point:  be transparent about this at about age 15.  

14.  Teach and model life hacks.  Help them take pictures of everything important (social security number, directions , invitation dates, etc).   Store it in google drive. Obtain multiple copies of textbooks (home and school). Have multiple copies of car keys and burying them everywhere.  Automate bill paying (and get overdraft protection). These hacks are like health insurance: they save your hide. This will be a lifelong endeavor. TRUST ME.

15. There is a reason people with ADHD aren’t great with details:  the world only needs so many compliance officers, accountants and lawyers.    Their gifts lie elsewhere.  They need to engineer  their life so that they can pay others to do their taxes, weed their garden and clean their house.  OR be ok with a weedy garden. There are worse problems.

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16People with ADHD often  think “messy”.  Creativity happens in that tangle.  Innovation is born out of that mess.  Remember:  Einstein’s desk was a mess when he died!

                                      Everyone else                                            Person with ADHD

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17. People with ADHD may approach problems in fits and starts (this will always be true).   Others will be more linear. Take breaks while you process things.  Get back at it soon. Create a life that supports this need. You will produce more when the rhythm is right.   Your work day may be longer, but more engaging. 

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Schools Should Worry

I just read an article by EdWeek entitled:  “The Future of Work Is Uncertain:  Schools Should Worry Now”.

Weren’t we already worrying?

The article contains a graph that explains how the future may innovate and delete current jobs in favor of automation.

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What were politicians worrying about when they made many of the changes over the past decade?

I see some major, preventable flaws in the current environment surrounding public education.

  1. Politicians create policies that cripple public education.  Some policies are prohibitive; others do not have to be.
  2. Within that, some local administrators interpret state/federal policies in ways that prohibit innovation and progress and diminish educators.

Solution?  Choose administrators wisely.

  • Some will interpret literally, snuffing out motivation to innovate and preventing progress. They will fail to give permission for their teachers to move into the future. They will use evaluation to create unhealthy competition and punishment.
  • Others will remain minimally compliant, multiplying the talent that surrounds them . They will use evaluation for growth and improvement.  They will give permission for their teachers to do what is best for their kids and the future.
  • Both groups will avoid lawsuits.  Only one will prepare our kids for the future.   

    Let’s stop talking and start doing.

    Delete the fear!








The Engaged Classroom Isn’t “Managed”

In the early 80’s when my teaching career began, the term “classroom management” was widely used to describe the multitude of things teachers do to minimize disruptions and maximize learning.  I learned to increase my effectiveness through trial-n-error as almost no time was spent discussing and practicing the variables that mattered.  Courses designed specifically to support student teachers with “management” did not exist; the conversations were about the subjects and the “how” of teaching.


During the early 90’s, as a school psychologist, I was called in when individual students were communicating displeasure about their situation by acting out, physically and/or verbally.  They had “behavior problems” in need of  “fixing”.   Classroom management was the cure.  A rigid behavior system that included appropriate consequences was the focus.  I have been a primary author of thousands of individualized behavior plans, and yet I could see the forest behind the trees.

The forest was problematic.  



To help solve the real problem, I had to set my eyes on a larger concept that included not only the humans in a classroom and school, but also the physical environment itself.  I reject the term classroom management and have adopted a more appropriate, supportive and prescriptive notion

Classroom Culture


The culture of the classroom teaches

Ron Ritchhart, Principle Investigator for the Cultures of Thinking Project at Harvard Graduate School of Education, believes there are 8 cultural forces  that define our classrooms:

  1. Time
  2. Opportunities
  3. Routines and structures
  4. Language
  5. Modeling
  6. Relationships and interactions
  7. Physical environment
  8. Expectations

These cultural forces exist at all times.  The argument is that we should intentionally design the culture with the students so that what we value and believe around teaching and learning is immediately evident.  The culture does,  indeed,  teach.  Some important questions to ask:

  • Who holds the power for decision-making?  Students, teacher or both?
  • Have we anticipated variability in advance, offering options for students to engage with new content, master the concepts and show understanding?
  • Does thinking and learning trump work completion and grades?
  • Are there consistent routines in place to help students think and engage in meaningful conversations?
  • Does the physical environment provide options for seating?  Is there adequate natural light and ventilation?
  • Have we created an inclusive, interdependent tribal community where we learn from one another?
  • Do we take time to thoughtfully solve conflict together, as it arises? Do we help ensure equitable resolution?
  • Do we show that we value understanding by taking the time to adequately explore topics?
  • Do we avoid unhealthy competition, shaming, blaming and other interactions that are defeating?
  • Is there plenty of opportunity for time spent solving real problems?  Do all students experience mastery?
  • Do we have lists of teacher-generated rules or have students identified norms for how we will be together?


Students in thriving, engaging  classroom communities do not need to be managed. 


The Engaged Classroom: Current State

The data we have about trends in student engagement are worrisome. A 2015 Gallup poll of more than 800,000 students nationwide in grades 5 through 12 found that, while 50% of all the students polled reported feeling engaged at school, fully 29% of students overall reported not feeling engaged, and an alarming 21% reported feeling actively disengaged at school.  

Engagement decreases steadily from fifth grade through middle school and high school.  The lowest point occurs in the junior year of high school.   In fifth grade, three-quarters of students feel involved in and enthusiastic about school, but by 11th grade, the same is true for only about one-third of students.







Attention varies within an individual, across the day and over time


Phillip Schlecty’s theory on engagement dictates that even highly engaged classrooms will have students who are not committed and whose attention is diverted.  His model reveals a continuum of engagement, going from Rebellion (low committment-diverted attention) to Engaged (high commitment-high attention).  In between we have Retreatism, Compliance and Strategic Compliance with varying levels of commitment and attention.  Many of our most academically successful students do what they need to earn the grade but do not see the value and do not retain what they learned.  These Strategically Compliant students associate value with the other extrinsic things (parental approval or grade) but are not learning at high levels.  They are not truly engaged.


What can we do?

For answers, we can look at the student, parents and/or community.  We can look at the whole school.  Research, however, suggests that the most powerful influence on outcomes that educators can impact relies on the classroom teacher and the culture that is created within.

The classroom teacher is among the most powerful influences in learning.  –  John Hattie

  Next up:  The Engaged Classroom Isn’t “Managed”

A Model for Student Engagement


Authentic smiles from engaged students

A tremendous amount of research has concluded that student engagement is one of the key contributors to academic (and life) success.

We also know that engagement is influenced by context.  Learners are more likely to engage if their learning environment is supportive, compassionate, attentive and responsive. Just as students need support to be engaged, classroom teachers may require support to be successful in the challenging work of cultivating and maintaining a high level of student engagement throughout the year and across years.


We asked students and staff all over our county what student engagement mean to them.   Students from Huron Valley, MI created a song to accompany the varied pictorial responses in a video you can view here. 


According to the Glossary of Education Reform ,

In education, student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education. Generally speaking, the concept of student engagement is predicated on the belief that learning improves when students are inquisitive, interested, or inspired, and that learning tends to suffer when students are bored, dispassionate, disaffected, or otherwise ‘disengaged.’ Stronger student engagement or improved student engagement are common instructional objectives expressed by educators.”

Model For Engagement


Members of the Culture/Climate Unit at Oakland Schools, including Karen Gomez, Dr. Jay B. Marks, Dr. Julie McDaniel and myself, created the model above to depict important features of student engagement.  Work out of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Archambault, et al (2009) facilitated our thinking.  Students (and staff) experience varying degrees of affective, behavioral and cognitive involvement.

  • Affective engagement:  the experience, feelings, attitudes, and perceptions a student has towards school, including their sense of belonging, interest, willingness to learn, and general sense of liking school.
  • Behavioral engagement: a student’s willingness  to follow rules and adhere to cultural norms and  involvement in the classroom and with extracurricular activities.
  • Cognitive engagement: cognitive functions involved in learning

Four other major contextual features were identified.  These either inhibit or support engagement for students and staff.  We must intentionally attend to these features,

  1. Culture Is the environment inclusive and learner-friendly?  Are cultural forces intentionally designed to support belonging, thinking and learning? Are there predictable routines that remove roadblocks and facilitate smooth transitions?  Does the physical environment provide access to resources; create an inviting backdrop for deep learning? Is the culture collaborative, void of unhealthy competition?
  2. Student Voice Are students stakeholders, articulating their perspectives and directing activities? Do they have a collaborative role, leading change and contributing to data sources?  Do adults share authority, demonstrate trust, protect against cooptation, learn from students and facilitate equitable conflict resolution?
  3. Relationships  Are adults and students able to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups?  Can they communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed?  Are interactions authentic and respectful?
  4. Social Emotional Learning  Can adults and students recognize and interpret emotions, understanding their causes and consequences? Do they have the ability to label and discuss emotions? Do they know when and how to express particular emotions?  Can they effectively regulate emotions when they are triggered, managing stress, maintaining impulses and staying motivated?

When the context is healthy, authentic, supportive, encouraging, compassionate,  attentive (and responsive) adults and students are more likely to be engaged and stay engaged.

You cannot build character and courage by taking away man’s initiative and independence.
                                  – Abraham Lincoln

Archambault, I., Janosz, M., Morizot, J., & Pagani, L. (2009). Adolescent behavioral, affective, and cognitive      engagement in school: Relationship to dropout. Journal of School Health, 79(9), 408-415; 415.

Next up:  The Engaged Classroom:  Current State

Inquiry and Collaboration

“As teacher-inquirers begin formulating their initial wonderings, they often ponder in a similar fashion.”  The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research

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Teacher inquiry always involves collaboration.  Why is collaboration key?  

  • Research is hard work
  • Teacher talk is important
  • There’s safety in numbers
  • There’s strength in numbers

The question is how?

Options for collaboration

  1. Shared Inquiry:  when two or more practicing teachers or prospective teachers pair or group to define and conduct a single teacher research project together
  2. Parallel Inquiry:  Teacher pairs conduct two parallel but individual teacher-research projcest, working collectively to support each other’s individual endeavors.
  3. Intersecting Inquiry:  Two or more teachers are engaging in inquiry on completely different topics with similar wonderings or the same topic with different wonderings.  Collaboration occurs at the juncture.
  4. Inquiry Support:  Prospective or practicing teacher-inquirers can take full ownership of their inquiry project but invite one or more professionals who are not currently engaging in inquiry to support their work.

A growth mindset matters………………..for students and teachers.  Let’s make it happen in a way that supports relationships, collaboration, and practice change.


Dana, Nancy F. & Yendol-Hoppey, D. The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research.         California:  Corwin, 2014.