Friday, April 25, 2014

A Letter to Parents and Teachers: How Does Your Child Grow?

Dear Parents and Teachers,

Teaching and parenting are humbling jobs--positions of limitless potential that require a solid routine, and steady research, reflection, and hands-on work to do the best we can do.

Today, the choices for parenting and teaching well are great. There are many paths one can follow when it comes to nurturing your children and students. What paths are essential, and what paths are left up to choice and interest?

As a parent for twenty-three years, and a teacher for twenty-eight years, I am taking a few moments today to consider what is most important when it comes to parenting and teaching well.  Do I do the job well?  Let's say I make every effort to do my best, but like most teachers and parents, I'm on that steady incline of working towards doing a better job each day.  Perfection will elude us, but good work is within our grasp.

At this juncture in the school year and my parenting life, it's time to step back and consider the important elements.  I'll return to school on Monday and review these elements with my students. I'll also make time to think about these elements with regard to my own children and home this week as well.

I offer this guideline for your review and consideration. Thoughtful parenting and teaching are essential to our own children's success, and the success and happiness of our communities too.

Safety First
First, as a parent and teacher, safety and health come first.  Is your home and/or learning environment a physically and emotionally safe place to be? If not, before all else, you need to remedy the situation.

A physically and emotionally safe classroom has positive routines and protocols. A classroom like this also has built in response and action when those protocols are broken.  For example if a child is being teased, a teacher will stop the class right away and sensitively deal with the situation.  Similarly, if an unsafe behavior occurs, it is dealt with readily.

At home, children go through many stages, and at every stage, it's important to stop to discuss good behavior, expectations, and care for one another.  Sometimes safety requires significant sacrifice and change.  For example, a parent may need to change his/her work routines, hire help, or sign children up for after school activities if a child needs greater care after school each day.

When we return for the last leg of the school year, I'll make some time for a school meeting that focuses on safe behavior and care for one another.  We'll review and revise protocols so that our learning community has a safe end to the year.  I'll do the same with my children at home.

Health and Nutrition
Next comes health and nutrition. Today, we know better than ever that the habits children gain in the early years are the habits they bring to adulthood.  It's much easier for a child to eat healthy and engage in regular physical fitness if that has been part of their childhood routines.  Hence every home needs to fill the cupboards with healthy choices, and schedule the day with healthy activities.  The same is true for school.

School should be a place for healthy food and activity too.  I've noticed a big decrease in tummy aches, sluggishness, and illness since our school moved to a healthy food policy.  I want to add more movement breaks in addition to our recesses too as we know that physical activity correlates well with successful learning.

Like safety, this is an area that you have to stop and reconsider as your children move from one stage to the next since their appetites and needs will change. It is also a challenging area for those of us who did not grow up with the physical fitness opportunities and healthy food choices available today.

After that, in my opinion, comes happiness.  Are your children and students happy?  Unhappy children and students will look for activities and objects to make them happy if they are unhappy, and often that search leads to less than desirable behaviors.  This is why it is essential that we know our own children and our students well.  What makes them happy?  Why are they unhappy?

Often, just discussing the realities of life can strike the difference between unhappiness and happiness.  For example, our culture calls young girls to be "perfect" in so many ways, ways that are out of reach, and not necessarily healthy for most girls.  This leaves girls unhappy as they feel inadequate. It's important to point out what is real, and what is manufactured by advertising and other industries.  It is also important to make sure your child's innermost desires, questions, and needs are responded to and/or fulfilled.  As a teacher and parent for many years, I know children come to us with strong dreams, desires, and impulses, and it's our job to nurture the best of what they can be.

Happy, healthy, and safe children are children who are ready to learn, and so the next item is education.  For the eager student who has no learning challenges, this is not a difficult goal.  Those children are excited by school, easy to teach, and succeed without too much extra effort.

When your child is challenging to teach and mostly uninterested in school, this becomes a big problem.  For those able to afford private schools with small classes, that's often a good choice.  But, most of us can't afford that.  Hence, it's integral to work with educators and others to help your child have the best possible program.  It's also helpful to support your child at home in the ways that you can. A good computer is essential for most learners today, and a good academic at-home routine helps too.

There is such a myriad of profiles when it comes to students and schools that it's important for both educators and parents to coach each child toward success in every way possible when it comes to academic growth--the tools, processes, and strategies available today are outstanding, and the challenge is to find and manage the right elements for your child's success.

Next, passion. Feed your child's passion with extracurricular activities and family choices.  Make the time to sign your child up for outside of school activities and events that spark their interest.  If your child doesn't show any one area of interest, try out many activities until you find the one your child gravitates towards.

Try to make sure that the activities you foster include physical fitness as well as more cerebral, artistic endeavors.  Watch your child closely, listen to his/her teachers and coaches, and continue to nurture your child's path towards his/her interests with summer camps, family vacations, family movie choices, and more. Often communities offer many free activities that your child can participate in too.

Contribution is important too.  Find time to belong to and contribute to something bigger than yourselves. Beginning when your child is young include service and contribution into your family and teaching equation.  Make time to think about the gifts you've been given, and what you can give back.  This will build empathy, community, and care.

Time to be together is critical. The family meeting is an important part of togetherness as that's a time a family can figure out how to best spend their time and money, a time when you all discuss who needs what, and how you can help one another?  The family meeting or class meeting helps children to understand the idea of limitations and shared resources--they begin to see themselves as part of a whole group, a team.

Also, the warmth and safety of a home and time together gives children the space to be who they are in a relaxed, easy going way.  Home is the place where you are loved and accepted for who you are, and regular time for togetherness helps children understand and experience that.

In our fast moving culture, what's most important about school life and family life often takes second place to the more colorful, commercial aspects of life; yet true happiness and fulfillment come from the elements above, elements that create safe, healthy, happy communities.

What elements would you add to this list?  How will you personalize this list for your own family or classroom?  Teaching and parenting are essential jobs in our culture and communities, jobs that we can do well if we take the time to consider the essential elements of a job well done.