How Parents Can Support and Encourage Children As They Figure Out Their Career Paths with Melanie Whitney [IEP 019]
Figuring out “what you want to be” when you grow up is tough. If you’re a parent of a child who is struggling to find their place in the world, then this episode will certainly provide some insight on what you can do to support and encourage them during this time of self-exploration.
We’re joined by Melanie Whitney who runs Ask.Believe.Receive, a business focused on helping others, including students, find their authentic selves and feel empowered to live more consciously. We explore what parents and students can do to begin living lives that are meaningful and reflective of their definition of happiness and success.
Full show transcript available at the end of this post.
What We Discuss in This Episode:
- Why many students feel “lost” when it comes to their career paths
- How can parents support their children regardless of their chosen career choices
- Why degrees will only take student so far
- What Melanie hears students say that destroys their own dreams before they even take off
- What affect negative feedback can have on a student’s self-confidence and belief in his/her own abilities
- How to apply “growth mindset” tactics to amplify a student’s abilities
- The importance of schools encouraging the exploration of the arts, along with STEM subjects
- How parents with children with special needs can define what it means for their children to lead a successful life
- How to define happiness and success for you and encourage your child(ren) to figure it out for themselves
Thank you for listening!
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Full Show Transcript
Vickie Brett: Welcome to the Inclusive Education Project. I’m Vickie Brett.
Amanda Selogie: I’m Amanda Selogie.
Vickie Brett: We’re two civil rights lawyers on a mission to change the conversation about education, civil rights, and modern activism.
Amanda Selogie: Each week, we’re gonna explore new topics, which are going to educate and empower others.
Vickie Brett: And give them a platform to enact change in education and level the playing field.
Hi, welcome back. It’s the Inclusive Education Project. Today, we have a great episode but before we kinda get into that, we just wanna let everybody know that when we’re recording this, the Super Bowl is happening on Sunday. I don’t really care about football. Amanda, I’m sure, has some feelings and thoughts.
Amanda Selogie: Well I mean, I’m not a Patriot’s fan so I can’t say that I’m super pumped. But I do have a friend that’s an Eagles fan, so go Eagles? I actually am supposed to be asking you if you wanna come watch it with us, but we’ll talk about that later. But it’s actually supposed to be really nice weather this weekend, which for those of you not in California, it’s been like 75, 80 degrees this last week and a half.
Vickie Brett: [inaudible 00:01:23]
Amanda Selogie: Where is the Super Bowl? The Super Bowl is in Minnesota. But they have a bowl, so it’s inside. So it’s not like they’re gonna be in snow.
Vickie Brett: Yeah, I’m over the football conversation. But.
Amanda Selogie: You know what I realized? I realized that I think we open up the episode with “this is a great episode” every single week. I mean, not gonna lie, all of our episodes we like to think are great. But some of them I guess are better than others. Like if we have a really exciting topic, I don’t know.
Vickie Brett: We have a fabulous podcast episode today. I just think … whatever. We like what we’re doing, and so … and we’re getting good feedback. We’re getting feedback from people and it’s exciting. But today, I am really excited because we have a guest. So if you can’t tell, this is Vickie.
Amanda Selogie: And this is Amanda. But I thought we weren’t introducing ourselves anymore.
Vickie Brett: When we have a guest so that I can say our guest today is Melanie Whitney. Hi Melanie.
Melanie: Hi, Vickie.
Vickie Brett: I actually went to high school with Mel.
Melanie: Yes, she did.
Vickie Brett: And so Melanie sounds weird, so I’m just gonna say Mel.
Melanie: That works, that works. Mel’s fine.
Amanda Selogie: We appreciate you coming today.
Melanie: Well, thanks for having me. I’m excited.
Vickie Brett: Yeah. I think it’ll be a really interesting conversation. And obviously before we launch into it, tell us a little bit about yourself. What are you doing? What’s going on?
Melanie: Who am I? So, daytime job, I teach higher education, communication studies. For those of you that don’t know, that’s things like public speaking, business communication, interpersonal communication. You know, relationships. That’s the big one.
Vickie Brett: So important. We don’t have any problems with that, but …
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. So basically, the type of class that every college student should probably be taking but aren’t.
Melanie: Everyone, everyone. I mean, I wish they even did this sooner, in elementary, junior high, high school. So that it’s not, “Hey, you’re 18, now let’s talk about your communication skills.”
Amanda Selogie: Well it’s so crazy how you think about elementary school kids have to do presentations, and middle school. And how many kids get so anxious, have so much anxiety about speaking in front of the class. If we could just help it earlier on. Like, think of where they would be. I mean even to this day, I have friends that are like, “I’m terrified of public speaking.” And I’m like …
Melanie: Did you know that more people are more terrified of public speaking than their own death? People would rather die than give a public …
Vickie Brett: What?
Melanie: I’m not joking.
Vickie Brett: I talk to people for a living. So, that blows my mind.
Melanie: You’re an anomaly. Yeah.
Amanda Selogie: Oh, wow. That’s crazy to me. That’s …
Melanie: So, that’s my background, right? Comm studies. But recently, I have started my company Ask, Believe, Receive. Which our whole intention is, we say, to empower others. I bring content that I think helps people kinda find themselves. Because I found that in my students, they know where they think they want to go. But they don’t really know who they are. And as we know, that journey is never ending. And I think part of the job is for them to understand that there’s no destination. Because a lot of what we teach them is, “You start here, and then you finish here.” And then there’s some type of reward at the end, there’s a pot of gold.
Vickie Brett: Well, that’s how we’re conditioned, right? As early as preschool and then getting into kindergarten. And then you’re like, “Okay, I have 12 years.” And it’s like, “after this, then I go to college and then I get a job.” And it’s not that simple.
Melanie: It’s not. And that’s why I started seeing the need while I teaching, of course. And I started doing things on campuses, which is great. But I think that it’s not just the people who are actively in school that need this work. It’s the people that are just functioning in the world and are trying to figure out, “What am I doing? What’s the purpose of all of this? Who am I? I’m not who I thought I was.” And so all of us, essentially, need this. And that’s what I’m hoping to do.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah, I think about my little brother so much when … No, just thinking about that. Because he’s 25 and he’s in that mode of … He’s, you know, not as thrilled with school because he doesn’t know where he wants to go. And …
Melanie: Is he actively in school right now? Or is he done?
Amanda Selogie: Not right … he’s, well, he’s got his AA and he’s gone back to get some classes and he’s kind of in that middle ground of, “Do I transfer somewhere else or do I just work?” And trying to figure it out. And I, as growing up … watching him grow up, know he has so many passions. But it’s just finding that focus of how do you do it? And school hasn’t been the answer for him.
Melanie: And it’s not for a lot of people. And I think that’s the problem with … those are the ones we kind of shun. They’re the black sheep, right?
Amanda Selogie: Yeah.
Melanie: They don’t fit in the paradigm of the institution of education. So they are … your brother. I get it. He’s just like, “Where’s the path?” Because we were taught you start A to B, B to C. And then it’s not so simple for some of us.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. I mean, I even think about me in college. We were talking about this earlier. I switched my major four times. But I had a path going into college, and I knew I wanted to go to college. I knew I wanted to do things. And even though that path changed, I still …
Melanie: At least you had a path. Some people don’t even have that.
Amanda Selogie: Exactly.
Vickie Brett: And knowing that it changes, right? I mean, for some people, they’re the anomaly. Because I, very young, knew what I wanted to do. Went to college, poli-sci. I ended up adding a minor in philosophy, but it was like … the angle was law school, right? And then I became … that is the exception. That does not happen for a lot of people. But if it were to change, just knowing that it needed to change, it was okay. And I always had that thought. I’m like, “Well, maybe I’ll become …” and that happened in law school. Where I thought, “Oh, I’ll be an environmental law attorney.” And I had the opportunity to work at Orange County [inaudible 00:06:54]. And I just … I realized there was something missing, and it was that interaction with people. Especially being bilingual.
Melanie: Were you able to identify that as quick?
Vickie Brett: Not as quick. But it was more so in that time. But I had also had different opportunities to be at a guardianship clinic my first year. So that’s where I saw my interpersonal relationships build. Where, “Oh, I’m helping Spanish-speakers get guardianships.” And then it was like, I went into [inaudible 00:07:22] and I was like, “Oh, this is what I wanna do.” And I’m like, “I don’t know that that’s what I wanna do.” But it was just finding that. Like, I knew I was gonna be an attorney. But that was half the battle, right? And so for me, yeah, okay, all through college, knew what I want. But then when you’re getting into law school, it changes and that’s okay.
And I think for us in the area of law that we do, there’s no path just … even for my child with autism. There’s all this great information, but there’s no one path. Your child is so individual. Just like any other child is very individualized. And that’s what I saw kinda when we were talking before, kinda that intersection of “what is it that we as a community, as a society … what are we saying to …” and we talk about that all the time. You know, inclusion. It’s opportunity. We’re building this community and being able to focus not just on children with special needs and where they need to go. Or just a path in which, okay, you can template this.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah, well I mean, just the idea that everybody has a path and a place where they fit in. It’s just about finding that. But I think we just inherently are taught, like you have these set jobs that you’re supposed to look at. And you have these set, reading, writing, and arithmetic, right? And I think there’s so much out there that if kids knew how many different types of career paths there were, it would be such a different idea for them I think. Of just like, we try to say, “Oh yeah, you’re a kid. The world’s your oyster. You can do everything. You can do anything you want.”
Melanie: You can be anything. Yeah.
Amanda Selogie: How many parents try to tell their kids that? But the kid doesn’t know what’s out there. And then they see the professions their parents do, and their family members. And maybe they know about teaching and being a policeman and a doctor and a lawyer. But how many people in this world are those professions? I mean, yeah, a lot. But there’s so much else out there.
Melanie: Exactly. And I think a lot of … well, two things. So, you were saying that parents say, “You can be anything you want.” Right? We say that but then when the kid says, “Great. I want to be an artist.” Or, “Great, I want to be an actress.” Or, “I wanna be a musician.” You’re like, “Oh. Oh, no. I didn’t mean anything you want. I meant, you know, doctor, lawyer,” all of the things that you’re listing, right? Those popularized mainstream careers. So it’s this contradiction, I think, in a lot of parents that they have to identify in themselves as well. Is when you tell your kid you just want them to be happy or that they really can be whatever they want, be ready to support that narrative, then. When they say they’re not gonna go to a traditional college or a traditional high school. Or they’re not gonna … you know, or they’re gonna go study abroad for a year. Be ready to support those off the beaten path, kind of, then decisions for them
Amanda Selogie: Well, and not even just like off the beaten path. But like if a kid says, “Oh, I wanna be a musician.” And they don’t have musical ability. And how many families are like, “Well, no you can’t go to that because you don’t … you’re not good at it.”
Melanie: They crush … yes.
Amanda Selogie: Right? But what about … there’s like … and I don’t remember which DJ it was. But there was some DJ that was on Chelsea Handler’s show. And this is gonna bother me. And he was talking about how him growing up, it was … He loved music but he wasn’t good at playing musical instruments. But he learned how to make music a different way. And he’s made a huge career off of it. So if we could foster the, “This kid loves this thing,” and maybe the one path is not the right path. But maybe there’s something that’s along with it. I mean, I think about that … yes.
Melanie: Vickie found that real quick.
Amanda Selogie: But like, even me. I thought I was gonna be a teacher and then I was like, “Well, no, I wanna go into child advocacy. And what do I do with that?” And, “I wanna help kids.” And then it kinda let me to special education, where most people told me going to law school, that’s not even an area of law that exists. Which, sorry.
Melanie: Wrong. Wrong.
Vickie Brett: It totally does. So that’s what you found? You found your path of being able … in your day job.
Melanie: In my day job.
Vickie Brett: Seeing that, “Oh, well, this is a real need.” So …
Amanda Selogie: Yeah.
Vickie Brett: So that’s what your company now … right?
Melanie: Yeah. That’s what … because I was that kid. I fit the mold. I loved school. School is easy for me. I was teacher’s pet. I knew I was going to college in the third grade. And I knew my major going into college already, because I had a wonderful mentor that said, “I think you need to do communications.” I was like, “What is that?” And I get to college and I figure out what it is. Oh, definitely. That’s me. Went through my BA, my MA, and I was like, “Okay world, I’m ready.” And then the world was like, “Cool. You don’t care about your degree.”
And this is kinda sad to say. But the degree, I tell my students, it’s a fancy, expensive key to open doors. But the degree’s not gonna keep you there. It might lead you to doors that are not right for you. And you’re gonna have to open and close a lot of doors until you find the one that worked for you. And it’s not gonna have anything to do with your degree.
Again, people will fight me and say, “Well, in an engineer.” Well, “I wanna be a nurse.” Okay, yeah, you have a path there. Get it. But there’s so many of us that do not have that direct path.
Vickie Brett: Right. And we hear that all the time. “Oh, so and so didn’t have a degree when he built blah, blah, blah.” Right? Or we were just talking about certain people, and … and even people … you know, their … I forget the … Now I’m the forgetful person. There was a guy that …
Melanie: [crosstalk 00:13:07]
Vickie Brett: He won an Oscar, he was a director, and he hadn’t gone … He’s 45 becoming an Oscar-winning director but he started it in his late 30s because he had gone through a path.
Melanie: Or people will say, “That’s so late, you shouldn’t start in your 30s.” So we have all these “shoulds,” right? In society. And so what I really try to do with my students is deconstruct all of these different paradigms and these …. so, these institutions of education. What is education? What are the expectations around it? And we get bombarded with all those shoulds. Like, “Well, my parents said I should do this.” Or, “I really love music but I know there’s no money in that.” Or, “The chances of me being …” So there’s all of this negative self-talk that occurs. And what I find is that a lot of young people really go too far ahead in the future and destroy all their dreams. They can tell me all the ways of “I love music, but these are all the reasons why it’s not going to work.” And they say, “That’s why I’m getting my degree in accounting.” Or whatever it is. And I let them know, “Okay, yeah, we gotta pay the bills. Totally get it. I understand that. But are you gonna do that your whole life and then have that mid-life crisis at 45 where you quit this job you’ve had forever because you’ve been stuck there? And then you have kids and then you have this marriage maybe you got in too young?” And all these things you’ve … all the boxes you’ve checked.
Amanda Selogie: Right.
Melanie: And then at 45, you wanna figure this out? Like, figure it out now.
Vickie Brett: Right. And that kind of goes back to, we always talk about labels, right? And so, you’re labeling yourself and that tends to happen with children with special needs. “Oh, my child has Down’s syndrome, so they can’t do A, B, and C. They just can’t.” And it’s just like, “Why?” Like, okay. It’s one thing if you have years and years of research, but your kid could be different. Your kid could be the exception.
Why are we categorizing the child into a special day classroom when Amanda has a client that she’s worked with for the last couple years that completely mainstreamed in a general education setting? And she is Down. You know, Down’s syndrome. And it’s like, if we didn’t give her that opportunity, we wouldn’t know that … and, you know, she might be there for a couple years. She might not. She might graduate all mainstream. And that opportunity that was given to her, if Amanda wasn’t there to recognize it, it could completely be taken away.
And then you have parents that are beating themselves up. Or are … it’s that self-fulfilling prophecy, right? Where it’s just like, “Oh, yeah, no. My kid can do that, but she’s labeled as this. So I can’t.” And we see that all the time.
Amanda Selogie: Well yeah. Well how often in elementary school … I hate this. I’m elementary school when you’re in second and third grade, you’re told like, “Oh, you’re good at reading.” Or you’re not good at reading. Or you’re good at math. I remember …
Melanie: Yes. The duality.
Amanda Selogie: I always was a math kid. And I was told … I wasn’t as strong of a reader and writer. I mean, I always … elementary school, I got straight A’s. Middle school and A’s. And it’s not like I was failing or anything. But it was like, English is always the hardest thing. So in high school, I was like, “Well …”
Melanie: I’m good at this.
Amanda Selogie: I’m not good at this. English, I don’t like. I’m not even gonna try to take honors or AP English classes. I’m not gonna try to work on it ’cause I’ve been told I’m not a good writer. So I’m just gonna continue that way. And I mean I eventually, in college, learned, “No, I can write.” And I learned what to do. And obviously now I write for a living, which is … my high school self would be like, “What.”
Amanda Selogie: But I know so many people who will say, “I’m not good at math.” Why do they say that? They say that because back when they were in elementary school …
Melanie: Somebody told them.
Amanda Selogie: They didn’t get as good of grades in math. And so all of a sudden, they’re not good at math. And because they had that self-fulfilling prophecy the whole time in school. But if they have been told, “No, you can do it,” maybe they would’ve been better at math.
Melanie: Have you heard of the growth mindset?
Amanda Selogie: I don’t know.
Melanie: Okay. So there is this big thing that happened a couple years ago about growth mindset. So we want, instead of telling a kid, “Wow, you are so smart. You did so well on that math test. You must be so smart.” Instead of saying, “you’re so smart,” and assigning an attribute … right? That’s a fixed mindset. That’s a fixed … “you’re so smart.” It’s like innate, right? Instead, what we want to say to young children is, “Wow, you must’ve worked really hard for that A on that math test.” Because then it’s not fixed. It wasn’t just, “Oh, yeah, I’m smart. I’m good at math.” It’s, “I put hours into studying for this.” So that when it comes to the English, “Oh, you didn’t do as well as you wanted? Well, you know what? Well, spend a little bit more time on that next time so you can get the outcome that you imagined.”
So that growth mindset, I was introduced to that by someone at Fusion Academy. And I thought, “Whoa, that is huge.” With all the little youngins I have in my life and my family, I didn’t realize me telling them they’re smart could be potentially limiting in the circumstances that you’re explaining about yourself.
Vickie Brett: And I had read like a book or heard it, whatever, I’m not quoting it. But it was along that same mindset, right? Where if somebody is giving you a compliment like, “Oh, wow. Look at everything that you’ve accomplished so young. You’re so passionate. That’s so great.” And we like to play it off. “Oh, you know, it was just right time, right place.” And it’s like, no. You need to learn to say, “Thank you, I worked really hard to get here.”
Vickie Brett: So when we have on our Instagram for Selogie and Brett, it’s like that hustle every day. That is exactly what needs to happen. Because people are just like, “Oh, wow. Oh, you guys look like you’re having so much fun.” And it’s just like, “No, we’re having work. You’re seeing what we want you to see.”
Melanie: See, yes.
Vickie Brett: But it is all hard work. And you don’t know what happens …
Melanie: Behind the scenes.
Vickie Brett: Behind the scenes, 24/7. And that might … I mean to use it so young, 100 percent. Like, “Oh, you worked really hard on this.”
Melanie: Yeah. So that changed my mind about a lot of things.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. Well, it’s crazy how the language that we use with kids really makes such an impact.
Melanie: Oh, lots.
Amanda Selogie: We say that all the time about how we use the person-first language. And it’s not a kid who is autistic. It’s the kid living with autism. Because it’s … they are a person first. But even when we talk to them and telling them that … “Well, I’m not gonna sit there and talk to about what you’re bad at. I’m gonna focus you in on what you’re good at.” And we try to do that all the time. So that language just pairs in perfectly with that of trying to … you know, the way we speak to kids. And I think a lot of people like to sugar coat the way we talk to kids.
Melanie: Yes, they do.
Amanda Selogie: Because it’s like they’re not ready for that language, or you have to be … you know, they don’t understand. Or, you know, let’s be sensitive. And it’s like, no, that’s how they don’t learn how to be better advocates for themselves. Or how to realize how the world works.
Amanda Selogie: And maybe that’s why kids in college are not sure what they wanna be …
Melanie: “What am I doing?”
Amanda Selogie: Or because weren’t told how the real world works so early on. Like it’s … I mean, I probably know 50 year olds who still don’t know the way the world works.
Melanie: I’m sure. Like I said, it’s a never ending journey, right? Exactly what you just described. And I just … I’ve worked with every age group. It’s really unique. I used to teach preschool, and then I did all these different after-school problems for all different types of populations from elementary, middle school, high school. So I got to see all of it. And they’re really looking for you to just level with them. And speak to them like they are an intelligent, capable human being. And give them the opportunity. And it was really unique.
That’s when I started to realize my role as an educator or a mentor. I had an advantage that their parents did not have. I didn’t need to parent them, right. And we all … I mean, inevitably, you look at your parents a certain way. And then you become and adult and you realize, “Wow, that was really hard what they were trying to do. Raise a human being.” Right? You look back. So that’s when I started trying to level with these different youth. Saying, “Hey, well, what is it that you want? I know your … these are the expectations that your parents have of you. But what do you want? Money is not an option. This is not … none of these obstacles, let’s say. Let’s just think about you and your passion. And let’s just focus in on that.”
And that’s not nurtured enough, right? The arts are always kind of extra. We treat them as extra. But I think people really don’t see how far creativity goes. So we put all this emphasis on math, you know, all the STEM.
Vickie Brett: Of course, yeah.
Melanie: And that’s great. But I never use math the way that I had to learn it. And it wasn’t for am and it didn’t speak to me. Yes, it probably exercised certain parts of my brain at that time that I needed to muscle. But I was very big into the art stuff. The expressing myself through language, being outside. Coming up with … you know, leadership abilities. Out playing on the playground. So I think there is a lot to be learned in play and in the arts. And it’s so sad that they’re overlooked, because then we’re just expecting students to … “Well, we can get into the structure of how the school system is.” Yeah.
Vickie Brett: Well, yeah. And I was just gonna go into standardized testing and things like that.
Melanie: My favorite.
Vickie Brett: But before we get there, I mean, people having to understand not just the community and the culture. But you know, back in the day, the industrial revolution. Before the industrial revolution, they were having children ’cause they were working the farms. Right? And so then the focus was not on the creative arts or anything like that, right?
Vickie Brett: And then we have the industrial boom and so people are having smaller and smaller families. They’re living in cities. It’s urbanized, things like that. Where our generation really has been the focus of, “You can do whatever you want. You could go to college.” And that’s why I think we’re so lost, right, as millennials. And trying to make our way in this world where it was like, “Okay, but my parents may have gone to college. Or they didn’t. And now I’m first generation. I’ve gone.” And it’s like, what now? And to have room for … instead of being another cog in the big machine, which is what we’re forcing a lot of kids … and that’s kind of my segue into the standardized testing. It’s like trying to fit that square peg in that round hole. And it’s just like …
What we see all the time, even with children with disabilities where they’re supposed to have individualized education programs. But it’s like, “No, we have this aut-specific problem. And your child is autism, so that’s the label. And this is where they need to go.” And it’s like, no, no.
Melanie: Not necessarily, yeah.
Vickie Brett: You need to be individualized. So let’s see how we can do that.
Melanie: And see, that’s the thing. It’s so funny, they talk about alternative education. I used to work a lot with kids who were behind in units or who would get suspended for a variety of reasons, right. And they had these programs for them. And it’s similar to what you all do in the population that you work with. It’s funny that it’s alternative when it’s, if anything, the way the public school system should be. Open this up and say, “Hey, what does Amanda need? Amanda’s really good at this. How can we explore this part?” You know, “Vickie’s really good at this. How can we explore this?” Then you have the critics who say, “Great, how are you gonna do that with this … a 30 person classroom and this and this.” Yes, of course there are challenges. I’m not saying that they’re not. But standardized testing? It doesn’t do anything … there’s no learning happening there. It’s called memorizing and regurgitating information.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah.
Melanie: Great, cool. You can do that.
Amanda Selogie: The teachers are being forced to teach the test. And so they’re spending so much time teaching the test, that’s where we’re seeing this drop off. Of, “we don’t have a music program. We don’t have an arts program. We don’t have this and we don’t have that because we don’t have enough time in the day.” I’ve been in meetings before where I have been talking about, you know, maybe a kid who’s trying to get them into the general education class more and trying to suggest maybe they’re academically behind. So we’re not gonna put them in during an English lesson. And we say, “Okay, well what about during music and art? Or this or that?” And the school will say, “We don’t have music anymore.”
And it’s just so sad. Because I mean, I remember when I was in college and my degree in child development, my emphasis was on education and learning about how much kids … When they have that thing that they’re passionate about, and that they love, they’re actually better at school.
Amanda Selogie: Because they can have one part of it be something that they truly love. But then you take that out, they have no motivation to work hard the rest of the day. Why would they do that? They have no motivation to do that. And it’s so easy to give them that outlet if we have different programs and it’s just so sad that we’ve developed a system that it’s not looking at those other aspects. That how much arts … and even like sports, too, athletics is being pulled away too in some instances. And that can be a motivator.
Vickie Brett: And I think it starts with the bigger picture. Like, what is it that we want from our educational system?
Amanda Selogie: Yeah, exactly.
Vickie Brett: And that’s where you start.
Melanie: Yeah, and that’s my … so obviously, we are not going to change the school system overnight. That’s not going to happen. Right? So I struggle with this. I don’t have kids yet. I will one day. And I struggle. Do I want to put them in a public school system? You have … there’s a part of me that’s like, “Well, I went through it and I was all right.” And I was like, “Really? Was I though?” When I think about my 20s and everything I had to un-condition.
Vickie Brett: Well, yeah.
Melanie: If I can save my child, you know, the mess of that. I have a niece that goes to … she was put in homeschooling around I think the first grade, around that time. And when I first heard that, homeschooling … this was a while ago. I was like, “You’re gonna homeschool her?”
Amanda Selogie: Yeah.
Melanie: She’s gonna be socially awkward.
Amanda Selogie: Oh no, yeah.
Melanie: She’s gonna … you know, all the stereotypes. And we were not on board, right? And she continued with it. And years later, after my own personal growth and education and learning and growing as a teacher. Seeing what the homeschooling program that she was doing is about. She loves animals. Okay, loves them. So guess what? Her book reports are on stuff about animals. Her writing assignments? She gets to write about animals. When they do math stuff or whatever, they talk about “if you hae 20 zebras, and …” It’s about animals. And she even gets to go practice presentations about … at … they found a veterinary clinic that let her come in and do a PowerPoint presentation.
Amanda Selogie: That’s so cool.
Melanie: To practice her public speaking skills. I’m like … So, she’s all about it. And she is not socially awkward. She’s not all the stereotypes that I feared in the beginning.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah.
Melanie: She’s so far beyond her peers now that I’m just like, “Wow. I was so wrong in the beginning of all the thoughts I had about it.”
Amanda Selogie: Well we talk about, all the time, that there’s a dispute about charter schools. There’s a lot of bad charter schools out there, and there’s a lot of good ones. But the charter school that I worked at in college was a full inclusion school. So 20 percent of the population was kids with special needs. Fully included in the gen ed class.
Melanie: Oh, wow.
Amanda Selogie: Gen ed and special ed teacher and aids that … necessary. But one of the things that they did and why their school is so great is they had a thematic approach to their entire year. Each month was a different theme.
Melanie: That’s cool.
Amanda Selogie: And that theme was incorporated into everything they did. Math, science, history, English, reading, everything. And it engaged the students so much more. Because they started out the unit … maybe a unit was about space. And that was something that a topic … “Oh, the kids are …” and so if the kid wasn’t as strong in reading or math but they were interesting in the topic of space because they had learned … and they got to do hands-on. There was like a gardening unit one time. And they actually had a garden.
Melanie: Yeah, I’ve seen that.
Amanda Selogie: That’s so easy to do. This school has shown that there’s ways to do it school … and so it’s not like … Okay, well I’m not saying that each kid has to have the whole year on animals. But if you are able to engage them in something that’s interesting and incorporate that into academics, it’s more of that practical academics. And it’s not the functional academics that we see of, “Oh, we’re not gonna teach them Algebra. We’re gonna teach them how to count money,” which are functional classes that we sometimes have. It’s more of, “Let’s put the practical and help students understand, this is why we teach reading and writing. And this is why we teach math. Because there a practical application, and here’s how we can tie it all together.” It seems like it’s … it’s like, who, this makes sense. Why aren’t we doing it?
Melanie: Common sense, yeah.
Amanda Selogie: Why aren’t more schools doing it?
Vickie Brett: But then even … so, and this is like a theory where if you take, for example, young boys in Canada that at three are playing hockey. Right? And so that is something that they’re given and opportunity … and not all of them are gonna succeed. But basically by 12, 13 you’re getting … the cream of the crop is kinda coming to the top, or whatever. The cream rises, whatever saying is. And by 16, you could be professional. Right? But you think about it, and it’s like, “I’ve been doing this since I was three.” Right? So I mean by the time that … and this is what happened with Bill Gates and things like that. He had the opportunity like in high school to be doing programming at this place. And so he was doing that part of the time. So it’s like, he was already doing what it was that he found that he wanted to eventually …
Melanie: Yes, his calling.
Vickie Brett: Yeah, his calling. So it was like, “I don’t need to go to college.” And that’s the thing, at least Amanda and I in this area of the law … and I can see with you as well, and everything that you wanna do moving forward in helping people. Is we both had gone to a clinic at our law school that advocated on behalf of children with special needs.
Vickie Brett: So a lot of the attorneys that we meet now, they’ve been attorneys for a while doing corporate law. Then they have a kid with special needs. And then they fall into this area of the law, and so then they become special education attorneys. And they’re in their 30s, 40s. Well, Amanda and I even in law school. So just by a matter of experience … And I’m not saying like, “Oh my god, we’re so experienced.” But we’ve had an advantage, and we took an opportunity. And so that by the time that I am in my 40s, I’ll be doing this for almost 20 years. Which just that experience alone … and so then if you think about a kid, preschool by three. Being conditioned all the way until 18 to think about …
Melanie: Yeah, plus college.
Vickie Brett: Plus college. And then having to try to undo that? That’s why you see people in midlife … that’s why we have the saying “midlife crisis.”
Melanie: That’s why it exists. Or now, they’re saying “quarter-life crisis.” Right? For this millennial generation.
Amanda Selogie: I know a lot of 25 year olds have that. No …
Melanie: Seriously. It’s real. It’s real because again, it’s that, “Oh my gosh, now what?” Which we’re talking about. I didn’t catch her name, but I met this woman last year. She had a daughter who needed special needs more severely than others. And she said, “You know, when all of this happened … you have this picture of your life. And then it changes. And I had to either resist it or I had to change with it.” And she chose to change with it. And she said, “I’ve learned more from my daughter than …” Her daughter cannot speak verbally. Right, so she communicates a lot non verbally. And she said, “I have learned more from my daughter about my own life by just trying to be a parent. And she’s made me grow so much.” Right? So she said, “I had to really redefine what my life was going to be. What is happiness? What does my life look like?”
And that is a big thing, I think. A lot of parents who have students … I mean, not students. Have kids who have special needs, I think it’s so important that they nurture that part of redefining, “What is success? What is a successful life? What is happiness?” Success really is subjective, obviously. What you imagine to be a successful, quote-unquote, life. You, Vickie, me, they’re all gonna look different. Is either of us wrong? No. It’s all the same. It all can coexist. So I think a lot of young people just are so … have this condition of success being, you know, culturally … it’s having a certain level of affluence. Having a certain education. Having material value to show. A type of house, a type of car. That shows your status. And, “Hey, I’ve made it.”
But then why, when you check all those boxes, do you still feel empty inside? Right?
Vickie Brett: And that’s what you’re telling people, right? That’s exactly what it is. You know, we’re lucky enough that we wanted to start our own thing because we were passionate about this area. And I might not be driving a Mercedes or the Beemer or like …
Melanie: The Maserati.
Vickie Brett: Yeah, that some of my friends are. But that’s their journey, and I’m pretty happy in mine.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. I mean, and everyone does have … and happiness is subjective, as well. And the idea of, “what are we teaching our kids on what it is to be happy?”
Melanie: What is that?
Amanda Selogie: Yeah.
Melanie: And that exactly, I think, a conversation that a love of parents need to have with their children and really say … instead of asking a kid, “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” Because really, I don’t … am in my 30s and I still don’t know what the hell I wanna be when I grow up. I’m just like, “Hey, these are goals I have. I’m gonna try to accomplish these.” So what I do with my niece, I ask her, “What are you working on right now? At school? What interests you right now?” Right? I mean, not to be morbid but we don’t know how long our lives are all gonna be. So there may be no far future that I have. So I’m gonna focus on what’s happening right now. And I’ve noticed that she loves it when I ask her, “What’s going on right now?” She’s like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so into this book right …” And she’ll go into it. And I let her talk forever. Because that is nurturing that creativity, that self-awareness of what she’s into. And I just think it’s so important that …
It’s funny. When I ask parents to do this when I’ve talked with parents one on one, they’re like, “Well, I don’t even know what happiness is for me. So how am I supposed to …”
Vickie Brett: but they’re the model, right? And it’s one of those things where I know so many people and new moms never wanting to leave their kids and just … And it’s like, your child needs to learn what a happy marriage looks like. And if you don’t take time for yourself and your spouse, and they’re not seeing that, you don’t have to take them everywhere. Mom and dad can have a good weekend. Or, “Your parents are gonna take a weekend.”
Melanie: That’s why they say it takes a village, right? Pass them along.
Vickie Brett: Exactly. Well, yeah. Exactly. And that’s the thing, is like, what we try to accomplish especially with this episode of all of ours is just being able to give that support to those families that … It could start with you. Like, what is it that you’re defining? And I think that that was so eloquent, the way that … Well, maybe that’s the question you need to ask yourself first. What does happiness look for me?
Melanie: Exactly. And that’s a scary place for some people to go, because they are like, “Well, I don’t know. I’m scared of what I’m gonna find when I dig a little deeper.” But that is exactly what I’m all about. And that’s why I create these workshops. Like, I have one coming up that we talked about.
Vickie Brett: Yeah, when is it? Yeah, tell us some more as we’re winding down.
Melanie: As we’re winding down. It’s about mindfulness. I decided to do it about mindfulness because I’m really big on talking about self-awareness. So understanding who you are. How do you tick? Right? And people say, “That sounds great. How do I do that?”
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. Seriously.
Melanie: How do I get there? And when I started retracing my own steps and listening to other people’s journeys, I found the common theme was this either big event happening, shaking up your life. You know, without your consent, if you will. It comes in, life comes in and rocks your world. Or, there is just this moment … whether, again, it was provoked by an event or not. Where you kinda just were present, and like, “Okay, what’s going on right now? Who am I right now? What’s happening right now?” So really bringing this attention …
So, mindfulness, all it means is bringing attention to the present moment without judgment.
Vickie Brett: And that’s the hardest part, right?
Melanie: That’s the …
Vickie Brett: Everybody loves to be so judgy.
Melanie: So judgy. Especially with ourselves. We say things to ourselves we would never say to another person.
Amanda Selogie: Well, that … yeah, absolutely.
Melanie: So that is really, I found, I think it’s really … this is the first workshop of the year, of 2018. So I’m excited. And keeping it really small and intimate so that we can really dive pretty deep. I’ll probably do a couple series of this. But that’s the big thing. And I think that if parents take the time to ask themselves that, sit with themself in the present moment. Not worrying about the past, not … there’s that quote that says, “No amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of worry can solidify the future.” Right? So remembering that thinking, what can I do right now, what am I doing right now, where does my time go, where does my energy go, where do my thoughts go? So we have about 50 to 70,000 thoughts a day. So where do yours go? Are they judgemental? Are they nice? Are they in the moment? So really dissecting that.
And once parents do that, and they have a true understanding of who they are, and they can model that for their kids. And so that their kids know that they’re not defined by their grades. They’re not defined by the education system. They are defined by how they want to be defined. And the labels, if they want any, that they wanna live by. So I think that that’s really the big, big, big home point.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. Well, now that our listeners have had their own weekly therapy session with Mel today. I know you’ve given everyone … I know you’ve given us so much to think about. So, where can they find out more? How can they contact you or find out about your next event?
Melanie: They can go to my website, at askbelievereceive.org. Be careful how you spell believe and receive.
Vickie Brett: I before E except after C!
Melanie: There you go. So they can go on there, or you can literally just Google my name, Melanie Whitney, and put ask, believe, receive. And there, they can sign up for the newsletters which give all the blast out to the events. And any videos that we upload. Or you know, Instagram, Facebook, all that kinda stuff.
Amanda Selogie: Awesome. And then we’ll tag you on Facebook and Instagram and make sure to have your website on there as well.
Melanie: Yeah, awesome.
Amanda Selogie: Our listeners, in case you wanna learn more. And we just appreciate you guys listening, again, like always. And I feel like we may have forgotten this last time we recorded. But if you’re enjoying listening to us, please make sure to subscribe so that you get the episodes right when they come out. And of course, share it with a friend if … you know, sharing is caring. Especially if you got a lot out of this episode, as I’m sure a lot of people did. Make sure to keep note …
Vickie Brett: Thank you so much Mel for coming in. We are so honored to have you here.
Melanie: Thanks for having me.
Vickie Brett: We’re looking forward to your workshops. And definitely let us know, we’ll share it on Instagram. If you guys liked what you hear then just shout out Mel. And thanks for listening.
Amanda Selogie: Bye.