Ways We Want Our Family To Be

281167694_7cba89cabd_oIn the last post, I shared a glimpse of how my family  hit the reset button after a very stressful period. Even some of our friends who helped us through that phase were surprised by some of the details.  Indeed, when you are slogging through the mud, it’s hard to examine or talk about that trek.  A decade later, that murky path and the route we took out of that mayhem is transparent.  What we learned, and what many families learn as circumstances slowly or rapidly provide a reality check, is how we define ourselves.   

 

 We were never one of those couples who had a 6 month, 1 year, 5-year,  or 10-year plan. Maybe we had a 6-month plan and even a fuzzy idea of the long-range plan. But really, how many couples put family and work obligations on hold long enough to really engage in the kind reflection and  long-range planning?  (If that’s you, then big cheers to you!) We thought it was a good idea, but never had our act together long enough to take action. We were pretty much about getting through the day, the night and perhaps, the week ahead. Continue reading “Ways We Want Our Family To Be”

6 Reminders for Parent-Teacher Conferences

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a student-led portfolio conference

Every week I am reminded of what an amazing opportunity we have to work and be with kids each day.  Some of my favorite days of the year are our student-led portfolio conferences. I  love that we get to pause, sit and talk with parents – especially when the kids take the lead and guide our discussion with their reflections and candor.   These can be challenging, if not nerve-racking for the kids, but yield benefits for all as we share our observations, admiration and hopes for these  learners. Often participants are on focused on their own agenda or worries that it is easy to forget why we are there – to work together to move the child forward in his or her development. Before these conversations can truly begin, there is some groundwork that really needs to be covered.  After scads of this type of conference, there are 6 basic premises we all need to keep in mind as we engage in these conversations throughout the year.

  1. Children are strong and capable. Children are innately strong, capable, curious, and ready to engage with their environment and others.  Sometimes we have to look hard to see these strengths and other times, it oozes out of them. Sometimes what appears to be a deficit is really our issue. When we look at children from positive, growth perspective,  we are better positioned to help them move forward.  Expect good things, look for strengths and share ways you see the child as capable and competent.

  2. We’re all working hard.  I’ve never met a parent who isn’t working hard on all fronts.  Ditto for teachers.  We may waiver or let priorities slip, but we’re here to help each other stay on course.   Accept nothing less than a sense of partnership which is held up by respect, shared purpose, and trust.  Remind each other and support each other when necessary; reaffirm the goals and efforts by each party.

  3. Trust takes time to develop. Hopefully by October we’ve had a chance to meet a few times. Whether it’s in person, email or phone, most good teachers take time to lay the groundwork for a relationship with parents. If it hasn’t happened yet with your child’s teacher, take the bold step and reach out to your child’s teacher.   Believe that you both have your child’s best interest at heart and know that your child’s teacher has years of training and expertise. Parents bring so much to the table as their child’s first teacher, so speak up and share.  Teachers have the perspective of child development, curriculum and seeing children in the context of peers.  Feed off each others strengths to move your child forward.

  4. Honest talk helps. Teachers try to talk about observable behaviors and patterns of behaviors which help us identify strengths and growing edges and to see where children are in their development.   They also help us find solutions to problems or ways to challenge kids.  Don’t be shy about conveying what drives you nuts or concerns you.  Teachers can offer strategies or hone in on similar behaviors in class so you can work in concert to change that behavior or modify expectations.  Focus the conversation on the problem or behavior, not about how difficult a child “is.”  If a problem is identified, accept that the conference might simply be the start of the problem solving stage.

  5. Active listening pays off. Make sure you are listening, not just hearing.  You may need to vent, but listen to the observations shared, particularly those from your child.  Convey your concerns in the form of “I statements,” such as “when my child comes home and doesn’t share about her day, I feel at a lost… I wonder what she is really doing.” This is more effective than, “My child never tells me about school…she must be unhappy.”  If a teacher offers observations or strategies for home and/or school, paraphrase those back to ensure you’ve got a clear handle on the plan. If necessary, jot down some notes or follow-up within the week to make sure everyone is on the same page.

  6. Conferences take time. Nobody likes to wait nor run late.  I’m always antsy when the pediatrician is running late, but when he sits down with my family and genuinely takes his time, I’m comforted, reassured, grateful.  Ditto with conferences.    Sometimes these conversations take longer than the allotted time, but it’s important we stay focused and listen to each other, while still respecting the schedule and other people’s time.  If you feel rushed or have questions, ask for a follow-up meeting or call.

Childhood is fleeting and children are all gifted in their own ways.  Take the time to look honestly and thoughtfully about their strengths and what they communicate about themselves, their interests, and their environment. If we are doing our best each day, including following best practices, understanding child development, and knowing each child,  all are supported. Adults have the awesome responsibility to show children the joy in learning, relationships and their own gifts as human beings.   A thoughtful and open partnership between parents and teachers is essential to move children, the class and the school program forward.

The Secret, Part 2 – Permission for an Inner Life

Last week I let you in on The Secret.  The thing is, the real secret is much bigger than downtime.  The real secret lies in cultivating our inner world when we are “on” so much of the time with our outer world.  I am convinced that we need to share with children the importance of mindfulness, meditation or other contemplative practices.  It’s not that we need to add another class to our kids’ schedules, but rather we need to give them the permission, tools, and time to pause once in a while so that they can remember how to just be instead of always doing.

In my classroom and many others, teachers have a” meditation station” or “peace corner“ like this one from a second grade classroom at the Harley School.     We know from both practical experience and neuropsychology that when a brain becomes overly stimulated or anxious, the ability of the “upstairs  brain” to function is limited.  Finding ways to calm down, like a few minute in the peace corner, allows a child to develop the self-control to resume learning. Other teachers simply pause during teaching and practice deep breathing, careful listening, or a few minutes of silence. These carefully crafted “mindful interruptions” allow children to stop briefly during work periods and begin to use these strategies when they sense they need a break or a way to re-focus. More later in this post.

 

We need to begin this process of teaching children self-control and compassion with a focus on the adults who care for, teach, and serve as role models for our children.  Whether this starts as a formal program like the Inner-Resilience Program developed by Linda Lantieri and used by many schools across the country, or a more grass-roots approach that includes moments of silence or meditation in schools, teachers and adults who work with children need to take the bold step to advocate for their own-well being and to be given the resources and permission to do so.  Such mindfulness practices such as these give adults the permission and resources to take care of their inner world, so that they can give of themselves to others.  It’s hard to convince teachers that they deserve balance in their lives. As Linda Lantieri says,

“…That’s the part that I forget and many others forget, that we need to spend time nurturing our inner lives if we’re going to feel good about the job we do in the outer world.” – See more at the Tides Blog.

Our teachers need permission, resources and encouragement to take care of themselves in whatever ways are meaningful to them.  So do our kids. Giving ourselves permission to just pause for one evening only begins to scratch the surface.  Each day, our kids need time to slow down, to breathe and to just be.

As Dr. Ronald Epstein, Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, tell his med students, even just two minutes, twice a day, of quiet will begin to slow down the mind.  The research is abundant that slowing down the mind on a regular basis allows our body’s parasympathetic nervous system to over-ride the fight-or-flight response that can often inhibit action.  Regular contemplative practice can build the brain circuitry that allows the downstairs brain, or reptilian brain, to stop high jacking higher order thinking, and allow focus and learning to resume even after we react to a stressful event. Want a clearer, more scientific explanation? Cue Dan Goleman  in The Emotional Atmosphere of the Classroom Matters.

 

Here’s to finding a few quiet moments in your day,

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Lisa Dewey Wells