This past Wednesday night, parents and teachers at Oak Meadow School met to begin a productive conversation about how we can work together to best support and guide our children. A large group of parents and teachers attended, and everyone agreed the evening turned out to be incredibly engaging and helpful.
The facilitator was Lynne Reeves Griffin, RN, MEd, who is a family and school counselor and author who has been working with teachers at Oak Meadow over the past two years. Lynne opened the meeting talking about the stress that society is putting on children today and the detrimental impact this is having on their lives. She spoke about paying attention to the social-emotional well-being of children, and the importance of parents and teachers developing intentional practices to help children build on their social-emotional strengths so they are better able to perform at their best capabilities in school and in life experiences.
Lynne uses a framework developed by the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). She is working with teachers to help them develop a deeper understanding of this framework that will support their work with children in the classroom. On Wednesday evening, she discussed some of the elements of this framework with parents. Click here to see it.
Listening to parents’ questions and concerns
The rest of the evening was dedicated to small-group discussions followed by engaging questions, comments, and ideas shared between everyone attending. Parents were asked: What are your deepest hopes for your children’s lives as they mature? What are your greatest needs related to supporting your children? How do you want to see Oak Meadow staff support this kind of growth and learning? How might they include you in these endeavors?
Here are some of the questions raised by parents, which were answered by Lynne with the full group:
- How can we learn more about the SEL competencies?
- Are there different expectations for each age group?
- Is everything linked to self-confidence?
- How do we help kids leverage strengths?
- What is the “kid code” and how can we learn to read it?
- Self-advocacy. Where does that fall in SEL?
- Is hesitancy to self-advocate a zero-sum game?
- How can we support self-confidence in kids?
- What about kids who struggle with homework?
- When are parents doing too much? When is there too much involvement?
- What about a child that is pushing boundaries?
Lynne engaged the group in wonderful discussions around these questions. Although I cannot share all of her responses in this blog post, I thought it would be helpful to talk about two concepts Lynne referred to often — understanding the “kid code” and how parents can create “fences and freedoms” to support student growth.
Understanding the kid code
Children do not really have the emotional maturity to be able to explain to us exactly what they need. Instead, we need to learn to read their behavior, or in other words, to “understand the kid code.” Lynne told our group, “we all need to develop as parent scientists.” A child’s behavior is data that is actually telling us a story. Once we learn to interpret the data and sort out what the child is actually feeling, we can be in a position to know how to provide support. Perhaps a child comes home from school and says, “no one is sitting with me at school.” As a parent, our response might be, “well that’s terrible–how could others be treating you that way?” But if our child was fully mature and could express her feelings fully, perhaps she might actually say, “I have run out of ideas and I don’t know what skill I need to learn to solve this problem.” Parents and teachers can better support students by developing their own skills in reading behaviors.
Fences and freedoms
In her most recent book, Negotiation Generation: Take Back Your Parental Authority Without Punishment, Lynne explains her concept for “fences and freedoms.” Essentially, choices are freedoms and fences are limits. One parent asked what to do if a child is complaining about homework and putting it off. Lynne encouraged parents to determine what the child is actually trying to say. Is the child struggling because she needs more support? Is the child getting too much homework? If that’s the problem, teachers at Oak Meadow are really good at making the appropriate adjustments to fit the needs of the individual child. Examples of “fences” might be going over the planner right away when a child gets home, starting homework right after school rather than waiting until it’s too late, having a child work at the kitchen counter rather than alone in a bedroom, and starting with the hardest work first and leaving the easier assignments for last. Lynne emphasized that we cannot build fences during homework time, or when a child is under stress or the stakes seem high. It’s important to have a conversation about appropriate fences when there is no pressure at all, such as over breakfast and during a relaxing weekend. “Always be available to support your child,” Lynne told the group. “When they don’t need you, they will let you know.” Raising two children of her own, Lynne also admitted, “being a parent is super hard.”
What comes next?
Oak Meadow is making a deep and sustained commitment to social-emotional learning as part of our school’s strategic focus for the coming years. Although Lynne has been working with a group of teachers at Oak Meadow over the last two years, we are expanding her work to include work with all teachers and on a monthly basis. We are taking intentional steps to embed SEL into the academic curriculum since these are actually not separate at all. We will also find ways to continue to make Lynne available to parents, especially for this kind of practical problem solving. Here are some of the suggestions for the future made by parents and teachers:
- More sessions that allow time for specific practical suggestions like tonight
- Frameworks to understand SEL
- Breakout sessions for parents based on age of children
- More transparency about what the school is already doing
- Topic-based discussions
- Helping kids resolve conflict in real time
- Book group
- Help in dealing with stress
- See ourselves as teammates, and sharing our goals and challenges with teachers
- Teacher resources
- Sharing a framework and language
- Conversations between teachers and parents about decoding behavior