Retired principal Harriet Arkley writes the book on "good news" chairs for children

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 3, 2014 

Harriet Arkley

Bellingham author Harriet Arkley shares a fun moment with granddaughter, Una Arkley. Arkley has written "The Good News Chair," about how special chairs, like the one occupied by Una, can be used to encourage and celebrate good behavior and accomplishments by children.

HARRIET ARKLEY — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

When Harriet Arkley of Bellingham was an elementary school principal in Illinois, being sent to the office often was a good thing.

That's because her office had a decorated chair where students sat down to talk about good news in their life, from getting a new puppy to tackling a tough assignment in class to being nice to a new kid on the playground.

Arkley used the chair as a simple but effective way to recognize the importance of a child's positive behavior and self-image. Now, a dozen years after she retired, Arkley has put together "The Good News Chair," a charming book that explains how she came upon the idea and how it can be used by educators, parents and anyone else who is around children.

"The power of catching children doing well, that's what motivated me," she said. "This is kind of my legacy project."

LESSON IN THE LAND OF LINCOLN

Arkley grew up in Bellevue and lived in Bellingham from 1970 to 1975 while her husband, Alfred, taught at Western Washington University. When her husband's career took the family to Springfield, Ill., she earned a degree in school administration and became an elementary school teacher before becoming a principal for 11 years.

She first was principal of a school for kids age 3 to 5 who had mental illness, language delays or other life challenges. At the time, Barney, the upbeat purple dinosaur from the "Barney & Friends" TV show, was popular with youngsters, so a four-foot-tall stuffed Barney became the school's mascot.

A parent brought in a chair in the shape of Barney, and kids naturally wanted to sit in it. Over time, they were encouraged to visit the chair if they had good news to share. An idea was born.

When Arkley transferred to become principal of a charter school in Springfield, she took the idea with her. She decorated an old wooden school chair with bright colors, stars and stripes, and painted "Good News" on the backrest.

She also wrote down the children's good news stories, took photographs of them in the chair, and published their comments in the school newsletter.

After retiring, the Arkleys returned to the Northwest to be near their grown children, and settled in Bellingham again. Arkley is active in the community - she helped start the Children's Story Garden at Hovander Homestead Park in Ferndale - but her thoughts kept returning to her "good news" notebooks and photographs.

"I just thought there was something there," she said.

Finally, with help from writing coach Cami Ostman, she put the book together. "The Good News Chair" is short, bright and inviting, a fun approach to a serious idea.

"It's for adults, but I wanted it to have a happy, childlike look," Arkley said.

While Arkley and her husband have decorated a handful of the chairs, it's not furniture that interests her. Rather, it's the importance of noticing and celebrating when children do well, and a chair isn't the only way to do that.

Positive reinforcement can be promoted anyplace where children's good news is recognized, perhaps a kitchen stool, a pillow or a swing seat.

While Arkley is a strong proponent of the "good news" chair idea, she's not Pollyannaish about children's behavior. She knows some kids need to come to the principal's office to deal with bad behavior; she just didn't create a special chair for those visits.

"The standard-issue plastic office chair did just fine," she said.

COMING UP

What: Harriet Arkley will discuss her book, "The Good News Chair," which sells for $12.

When: 4 p.m. Saturday, May 31.

Where: Village Books, 1200 11th St.

Online: See Arkley's website, goodnewschair.com, or go to "The Good News Chair" on Facebook.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-229 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com .

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