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Howdy Partner: Parent/Teacher Partnerships and Making the Most of These Difficult Times

By Brandy Browne

Ready to throw your hands in the air or bang your head against a wall after months and months of mostly virtual learning? You are not alone! AJ Williamham (2020), reporter from CNN, reports on the many challenges parents are facing with distance learning, including being overwhelmed with platforms to access information, technology issues, and trying to juggle assignments for multiple children. “Keeping my nine-year-old on task has been the biggest challenge,” says Sareh Baca, a portfolio manager from Atlanta. “I get her set up and then jump on a meeting, and about 75% of the time when I go back to check on her she’s watching YouTube or playing video games. I’ve had to solicit her older sister to help but that doesn’t always end well, and she has her own work to do” (retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/08/us/distance-learning-problems-parents-trnd/index.html). In these frustrating times, it is easy to turn your frustration towards teachers and schools. However, I am proposing a different solution.

Background on me, for a moment. I am a teacher in my thirteenth year of working with elementary aged and early childhood aged children. Before last year, I had no idea how to work online curriculum or do much of anything besides utilize SeeSaw to communicate with parents and send pictures of their child’s work to them. Not only was I learning how to utilize online learning as a teacher, I was going back to graduate school myself, and my classes were all online. Then, the pandemic hit, and I added juggling the schoolwork of my three children (ages 5, 7, and 10…hardly independent) to the mix. When I say that I understand and relate to the frustration many parents are expressing, I really do! I am right there in the trenches with you every single day!

However, I have a unique perspective as well. I have watched my colleagues spend countless hours figuring out how to adapt their curriculum for young learners. I have listened to never ending discussions on how to make learning as engaging as possible without overwhelming parents. I have seen the tears of my friends as the tone on social media and in our communities turns increasingly negative. I have sat with friends as they made hard choices over which family to serve…their school and student family or their own. This pandemic has not been easy on anyone. 

Teachers want to support you during this time, but they need your support as well. How much could our children accomplish if we were working with each other, rather than against each other? What if we could walk out of this pandemic so much richer in experiences and relationships than when we walked in? I believe that is actually possible. However, it will definitely take working together. Try these strategies for enhancing the teacher family partnership.

4 Ways to Build the Parent/Teacher Partnership

  1. Carefully monitor your own attitudes about learning and education. This definitely goes both ways. Teachers cannot complain about the families they are serving and expect to have strong partnerships with them. Parents cannot constantly complain about how their child’s teacher is managing virtual learning in a pandemic with little to no training, and then expect said teacher to happily answer your email at any given moment of the day. Support each other! Children will be unstoppable with a large support system rallied around them. 
  2. Designate “quiet spaces” for students to learn from (and for teachers to record lessons from). This is hard. We are all busy. However, how focused can your child really be going down the road in the car with the radio going and siblings conversing? They need a quiet spot to work. Likewise, when I work from home, I require a quiet space to record lessons from and do live meetings on. A few interruptions are normal, but having a work zone in your home will greatly enhance productivity. 
  3. Manage expectations…do not expect your child’s teacher to be able to be at your beck and call every waking moment. He or she likely has a family that needs assistance with virtual schooling as well. GIve grace. Assume the best. Teachers will likely extend grace in return when a little extra time or support is needed to complete an assignment. 
  4. Praise each other publicly. Parents, do not get caught up in the online rabbit hole of parent groups complaining about how terrible these times are. Your experience is driven by your attitude towards your circumstances. Teachers, try not to read the comments on every teacher bashing post you come across, and instead focus on the relationship that you have with the families you work with. That is much more important, though this is difficult to do!

Final Thoughts

Few things are as important to your child’s educational experiences than the partnership between schools and the families they serve. In these unprecedented times, that relationship is more important than ever. 

Sources

Willingham, A. (2020). Parent’s biggest frustration with distance learning. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/08/us/distance-learning-problems-parents-trnd/index.html

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Practical Ways to Facilitate Conversations with Your Children

By Brandy Browne

Are you tired of having to wonder what is going on in your child’s head? Tired of “Nothing” or “I don’t know” when you ask them what happened at school or how they feel about something?

With children, it’s not about the question you ask, but rather HOW you ask it. This is something that I come across in my family coaching work over and over. If you want a short direct answer to a question, ask, “Do you want A or B?”. If you want to promote discussion with your child, however, the question needs to be more open-ended.

Jennifer Cafelle (2021), early education professional, outlines five key types of questions to ask children to get them talking in her article, 50+ Questions to Ask Your Kids to Get Them Talking. Here’s a closer look at these five types of questions, and how you can use them to promote discussion with your own children.

To read the article in it’s entirety, visit https://www.thelilyjoproject.com/2021/02/04/time-to-talk-practical-ways-to-facilitate-conversations-with-your-children/

photo of woman and girl talking while lying on bed
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com
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Let’s Talk about our Feelings: Building Emotional Intelligence in our Children

By Brandy Browne

As the hashtag #endthestigma circulated social media in recent years, a conversation torpedoed into a wonderful movement within the children of the world. What if children were not taught to bury their feelings, but rather to acknowledge and even celebrate them, both good and bad? What if, rather than attempting to nip difficult feelings in the bud immediately to avoid embarrassment (as if our child having a meltdown is a poor reflection of our parenting), instead we spent time being intentional about teaching our children how to handle disappointment and difficult feelings? What kind of world would that create?

To read this article in it’s entirety…visit The Lily Jo Project blog at https://www.thelilyjoproject.com/2021/02/03/lets-talk-about-our-feelings-building-emotional-intelligence-in-our-children/

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There’s a book for that…Using children’s books to have difficult conversations

By Brandy Browne

Surely, as a parent, you have wondered what words to use to have a particularly difficult conversation with your children…often, just attempting to start a conversation that is not organically happening in the moment can be quite difficult. Events around the world or even happenings within your own communities and families can precipitate the need to have such conversations, as can the simple desire to mold your child into an open minded, resilient, kind human. 

Speaking from a parent and kindergarten teacher’s point of view, using children’s literature can be a great gateway into discussing current events and issues (as well as hard to tackle themes such as loss of a loved one, divorce, and social injustices) with children. Louise Derman Sparks from Social Justice Books (part of Teaching for Change) agrees, stating: “Children’s books continue to be an invaluable source of information and values. They reflect the attitudes in our society about diversity, power relationships among different groups of people, and various social identities (e.g., racial, ethnic, gender, economic class, sexual orientation, and disability). The visual and verbal messages young children absorb from books (and other media) heavily influence their ideas about themselves and others. Depending on the quality of the book, they can reinforce (or undermine) children’s affirmative self-concept, teach accurate (or misleading) information about people of various identities, and foster positive (or negative) attitudes about diversity. Children’s books teach children about who is important, who matters, who is even visible” (Keene, 2019, retrieved from https://vawnet.org/news/how-can-childrens-books-be-used-promote-social-justice-and-peace). Shades of People by Shelley Rotner is a powerful story to begin to open children’s eyes to the idea of “race.” The beautiful photographs illustrate all different colors of skin and types of hair, and asking open ended “what do you notice” questions will tune children in to the many different types of people that make up Earth. This conversation opens the floor for discussions on race and discrimination. Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport tells the tale of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and other important figures of the civil rights movement. Use stories like this one to talk about being an activist and catalyst for change. 

There Might be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi tackles the often elusive subject of mental health disorders, such as anxiety. She tells the story of a little dog who is afraid of the ocean, sand, lobsters, etc. However, when a wave takes his stuffed toy, he summons his courage to go out into the water to retrieve it. This type of story can be useful to share with a child learning to manage anxious tendencies. 

Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen Stanton tells the tale of Henry, who travels with his dog in between his mother and father’s separate homes. The many children transitioning between homes due to divorce can relate to the feelings of confusion that Henry and his dog feel about which home to call “home.” 

WIld About Us by Karen Beaumont talks about the unique attributes of wild animals, from elephant’s long truck to the big ears of his friend the monkey and why each is worth celebrating. The moral here is that all of us are unique and that is worth celebrating. 

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst enables children to process notions of loss and grief. In this tale, a mother tells her two children that they are connected by an invisible string (love). Love connects us all…even if we cannot see a loved one, we can still feel their love and presence in our heart. A comforting message for those grieving with the loss of someone special. 

Concluding Thoughts

Most importantly, children’s literature can prove to be a starting point for difficult conversations or tough to tackle themes, such as racism, discrimination, etc. These books do not replace the need for a conversation with children. Asking open ended questions to entice children to share their thoughts and answering their questions honestly must also occur. 

Sources

Keene, C. (2019). How can children’s books be used to promote social justice and peace? Retrieved from https://vawnet.org/news/how-can-childrens-books-be-used-promote-social-justice-and-peace

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Children Spell Love T-I-M-E

By Brandy Browne

Mother Teresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” There are no perfect parents, and there is no sure fire way to ensure that your children will become who you hope that they will be. However, all research shows that the key to helping build kind, resilient children who will grow into the next generation of world changers centers around spending quality time with our children on a regular basis. Dr. Daniel Siegel, best selling author and psychiatrist, and Dr. TIna Payne Bryson, best selling author and founder/executive director of the Play Strong Institute, articulate this fact in their 2020 book, The Power of Showing Up. “What’s the single most important thing I can do for my kids to help them succeed and feel at home in the world?” parents ask. The answer is simple, says Siegel and Bryson. “Show up for your kids” (Siegel & Bryson, 2020, p xiii).

But what does it mean to “show up” for our kids? It’s not enough to merely be there in physical body. I can sit beside my child and be present in body, but never really attend to him, being present mentally as well. If we want our children to feel at home in our presence, to know they are loved, and to develop the relationship that helps them grow and thrive, Siegel and Bryson (2020) argue that we must focus on the four S’s. First, our children must feel safe in our presence. They must know that they will not be placed in harm’s way. Mom and Dad should always be a child’s safe place. Second, they must feel seen. Tonight, that meant not retreating to the peaceful bed I wanted to lay on, and squishing in between two of my children on the couch giggling hysterically at silly videos they wanted to watch. Last night, it meant cuddling with my youngest and reading her a story, even though I was not feeling my best. It means that I have spent enough time with my oldest to know that she twirls her hair when she is nervous. My son begins to chew on his sleeve. My youngest clings to my leg. I don’t have to wonder what is going through their brains. We are in tune enough with one another that I know and therefore, I can respond in a way that helps alleviate the stress that they are feeling. Third, our children must feel soothed. When their world comes crashing down, they can have faith that we will be there to help them pick up the pieces. When my oldest is suffering anxiety, I must be her calming force through gentle touch and a soft voice in her ear, anchoring her back to her safe place. If I grow impatient and irritable, she does not feel soothed. Her anxiety grows more intense. Finally, our children must feel secure. They know that our love is unconditional, and that a bad day or moment cannot change that. 

So how do we do that, exactly? Simply put, we are intentional about creating regular opportunities to step into our children’s world. While I advocate for sharing your interests and passions with your children, children are not built to step into an adult environment. Their needs are different. They need multidimensional sensory experiences to make sense of the world. We must get down on their level. Our children learn who they can be, who they want to be, and who they are from their interactions with us. When we are intentional about planning for time for them, they become courteous and intentional in their relationships with others, a skill that will carry them the rest of their lives. 

We don’t have to be perfect. In fact, moments of imperfection can be great for meaningful discussions and learning opportunities. Our children will learn how to handle failure and moments that do not go the way we wished they had by watching how we handle disappointment. It’s okay to make mistakes, to have a bad day, but it is not okay to not show up. Show up, over and over, every day, good moments and bad. Those moments will be the cornerstones to a powerful relationship and healthy brain development in your children. Children spell love T-I-M-E, and it is an investment worth making for them. 

References

Siegel, D. & Bryson, T. (2020). The power of showing up: How parental presence shapes who our kids become and how their brains get wired. Random House.