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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The School bell has rung!!

Well summer, with its picnics, play, and adventure has come to a close while Fall is rapidly approaching. With its arrival comes the lumbering school buses taking millions of school age children to the greatest gift society can bestow upon them; the gift of education. A large piece of the educative process is the effort of committed, involved parents and one of the tools involved parents use is the Parent-Teacher Night or Open House.

When I was a Senior in High School, both of my parents took me to Open House, met everyone of my teachers, and delivered the same message they had delivered to every teacher I ever had: “He won’t give you any trouble, but if he does, paddle his behind and then call us and he’ll get it again when he gets home.” As you might imagine, my parents never got a bad phone call about me! With the precedent set, my parents did the same for my siblings, who consequently, all graduated from High School and went on to college.

When you take an evening, missing (insert your favorite TV show) to meet your child’s teachers, you are showing them how important education is in your family. When this demonstration is coupled with a consistent message, and actions such as providing a quiet place to do homework and using the district provided Internet software to check their grades, children inculcate the lesson of how important education is to you. Another benefit of attending Open House is the opportunity to establish a relationship with the teachers and administrators in the school.

The research is clear; more than 60 studies have shown that when parents are involved in their children’s education, children do better in school. If a parent is actually involved in the school, such as volunteering in the school or in the PTA/PTO organization, then children go further in school and the schools they attend are better.

Many parents are involved in their child’s education when the child is in elementary school; but involvement tapers off through middle school and by the time the child hits high school, is virtually nonexistent outside attending an athletic contest or other extra-curricular event. Again the research is clear, parent involvement in the high school years had the most positive impact on academic success of the factors studied. The overarching message to a child becomes, “home and school are connected-and that school is an integral part of the whole family’s life.”

You can, and should, ask your child’s teachers for strategies and techniques to help you help your child succeed academically, such as how to keep homework assignments organized and how to set expectations that are high but realistic and constantly challenging. For example, if a child is forgetting to do half of their homework in a grading period, the goal should be to improve to only missing 25-30%, once you have achieved that goal, then move to only missing an assignment very rarely.

For better or worse, one early gauge teachers, administrators, and children use to determine the interest level a family has in the child’s education is whether they come to Open House, so make sure you attend. If there is a very good reason you can’t attend that night, then make an appointment to conference with the child’s teachers to gather the information and chance to connect you missed out on. An education is the best gift you can give a child, and your taxes pay for it, get all you can for your dollar!

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb.  You can book him as a speaker at   He can be reached at

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Taking her fate into her own hands

Last week I had the pleasure of spending an evening with friends, both new and old, in support of FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered). I was invited to the benefit by an incredible woman I met in my acting class. A beautiful, talented, vivacious woman who has shown she is made of iron.

As an organization, FORCE’s mission is to help women find out if they are at a higher risk for breast and ovarian cancers due to genetic risk factors. They also help provide information about the medical options for women living with this higher risk, and provide support for both women and their families in the pursuit of these options. They help underserved populations with everything from information to resources such as clinical trials, while promoting research in hereditary cancers.

Hereditary breast cancer is caused primarily by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Not all mutations will result in cancer but when each of our copies of our damage repairing genes are damaged then when genes become damaged, cancer can develop. In this case, if a woman knows she has a mutation in the BRCA genes, then she realizes her risk of eventual breast and ovarian cancers rise.

For many women, having this information is certainly frightening and disconcerting, but it is also very empowering. You can’t fight what you don’t know about and in this case information provides these women the opportunity in large measure to take their fate into their own hands. If you have ovarian or breast cancer in your first or second generation family you should at least consult with your doctor about genetic testing.

Due to medical advances, women now have a number of options when faced with this news. If it is determined a woman’s hereditary risk is ovarian cancer then she has several options. One of these options is to take oral contraceptives as this has been shown to lower the risk for ovarian cancer. At the other end of the treatment scale is a “prophylactic oophorectomy” which is the removal of healthy ovaries or she can have a “bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy” (BSO). While some consider these surgeries drastic, they have been shown to be an effective way to lower the cancer risk.

If the genetic risk is determined to be breast cancer, then similar to ovarian cancer risk, there is a spectrum of options. One of these options is close surveillance under which a woman begins self-breast exams at 18 and clinical exams bi-annually at 25. There are also procedures such as MRI and “ductal lavage” that should be discussed with your doctor. While it is possible for men to have breast cancer, even high-risk men are at a lower risk than high-risk women.

The most drastic method of breast cancer prevention is a mastectomy. Today there are many kinds of mastectomies and several options as to reconstruction. Again if you are determined to be at high risk genetically then you should have a conversation, or several conversations with your doctor about these options. You can find further information at

Of course, nothing in this column should be thought of as a substitute for professional medical advice. My intent is to pass along the work of a great support group, to start a conversation amongst ourselves and hopefully prompt many conversations between women and their doctors.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Thank you to Everyone

I wish to thank everyone for the prayers and well-wishes as my father makes his journey through hospice.  He is mostly pain-free and while he would like more time, as any of us would, he is in good spirits and in peace with his journey.  If how to die well is the last lesson the dying give the living, then Dad is providing a heck of a final lecture.

My Mom is doing as well as can be expected and is taking great care of Dad.  For all of us who are married, their love story continues and continues be an inspiration.  We are very lucky to have both of them as parents.

If you get the chance, a message to Mom on Facebook, or if you know her, a phone call or email would be very welcomed I am sure.

I will keep everyone updated as Dad walks his journey, and I’m sure all of you will understand if we don’t get back to you right away, but we will as time allows.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Loss of a Child

Most lives are filled with love and wonderful memories, that are unfortunately punctuated by periods of grief and sadness. For many, the highest joy we can feel is that of having a child; loving, and being loved, so unconditionally. It may be obvious then, the deepest pain we can feel is when as a parent, we lose a child.

Part of this pain stems from our belief the natural order of life is that parents precede their children in death much in the way parents have preceded children in the other stages of life. A friend of mine, who has lost three children, made several beautiful, poignant, observations to me as I prepared to write this column. The first of these observations is, “When you bury your children you bury your future.”

Another observation is, “To bury your children is not normal no matter their age or yours!” While I do not wish to put words in her mouth I believe she is telling parents who have lost a child, they are not going crazy; life has been turned on its head, but eventually, as one expert put it, “you will find a new normal.”

However, my friend also provides us gentle wisdom, “Don't obsess on the moment of their death, focus on their life instead or else you will be defining them by their death instead of their life.” Another parent who lost her 21 year old son to a drunk driver, passed on something I have written in the past in other circumstances, but in this context carry more power, “I am so glad I told him I loved him before he left. It is true be careful of what you say to someone. It may be the last words you speak.”

Both of these parents talked about enjoying talking about their children, the deceased and the living; however, they know that sometimes people are cautious or uncomfortable knowing how to go about it.

I feel the same inadequacy writing this column as one might have in talking to a parent who has lost a child. My advice is limited to the following: if you have lost a child, please seek out a support group. There are many out there, some faith based, others that are strictly secular.

Every parent I talked to that went to a support group found it helpful. Grieving is different for each person, and as such, takes its own path and its own time. There is no “right” way to grieve as long as the bereaved does not engage in destructive behaviors. If you have such concerns, address your concerns openly and honestly with the person and suggest they get professional help through their grieving process.

If you know someone who has lost a child, providing meals for a time and listening to the bereaved parents talk is very helpful. Encourage the remembrance of happy memories and share some of your own. Be aware of milestones, such as graduations, birthdays and anniversaries. A phone call or card can mean so much during these times. If the parents have other children, offer to spend time babysitting or just spending time with those children to give the parents a chance to grieve without the constant worry of taking care of other children.

In the end, the most important advice I have applies to all of us at all times. Love those around you; tell them constantly and unequivocally you love them with your words, and show them with your actions. Life is always too short for anything less.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He is available for speaking events and workshops on goal setting, leadership, team building and romance, and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at