Children Are Experiencing Real Loss, and We Need to Acknowledge That

By Lisa L. Walsh, author of Violet the Snowgirl: A Story of Loss and Healing

Children Are Experiencing Real Loss, and We Need to Acknowledge That

As we inch ever closer to the upcoming school year, already begun for many, our back-to-school list looks different than usual. The social and emotional needs of our children (and ourselves) will be among the most important to be addressed. Questions about safety, changes in schedules, social distancing, lack of contact, and remote and online learning abound. And even with carefully laid plans, schools and the families they serve understand that those plans can swiftly change.

This much is certain: the pandemic and the changes that have been made to address our shared safety have left many students and adults overwhelmed with emotion. And it is important to acknowledge that loss is one of them.

Loss for the Tenders of Our Children

Whether we truly appreciated it before or not, the school year is an important source of structure for a family. Before the pandemic, for so many of our families, the school schedule provided the skeleton around which the body of the family’s schedule was formed. From morning to mid-afternoon, five days a week for 10 months out of the year, the kids had a plan. A place to be.

Now, that “place to be” will look different for many, even as learning itself continues. Families may be forced to look at an alternate safe place for their children, which besides being difficult to locate could mean additional financial hardship. And while being a part of their child’s education is important, parents have a bigger role to play in remote learning. Even for those who may be back to school full time, there are additional considerations. How will social needs be met with safety issues at play? Are children safe? Will things change?

To consider this simply a change, and not a loss, may leave us short of dealing with reality. The losses that parents might be experiencing include loss of the expected structure and a “place to be” for their child and loss of being able to participate in certain events that have become expected in a typical school year.

Marker years for our children generally increase the importance. Kindergarten, a new school, a first or last year of high school—having a child heading into one of these is made more stressful by the uncertainty of our current situation. Anticipatory grief is grief over something that we, at one time, expected to happen, and which may not. Consider the anticipatory grief of high school seniors and their families last spring when it slowly became evident that there would be no prom, no graduation ceremony, and no final sporting, theatrical, or music events. When looking ahead toward the upcoming school year, anticipating things to be changed, canceled, or altogether different is important.

Addressing the sadness of this loss is important.

Add to that the divisive political climate of the day and the important attention to racial inequities, and adults have a lot to manage. Parents will likely be dealing with a heavy load of emotions.

For parents, here are some suggestions for coping strategies.

Identify your supportive crew.

Find other good-at-listening adults to talk to about this. Having a forum for expressing and processing is important. (The children are not the best bet here because they will have enough to process on their own. While being able to share our uncomfortable feelings with our children is important, too much detail can become a burden. Even children who appear to be great listeners to the adults they care about can be weighed down if too much is shared.) We are certainly entitled to our feelings. But we need a safe space to express them that does not add to our children’s stress.

Identify losses from last year and anticipatory losses for this year.

Identify through communication with your supportive crew, or in writing (hey, talk to your dog, if that helps), any loss from last school year and anticipatory grief for this year that you might be experiencing. Make another list for the things that you fear might not take place this year. Identify it. Get it out. Have a place where you can express your voice.

Take good physical care of yourself.

Tending to good nutritional, sleep, and exercise habits will help you increase your energy to deal with stressful situations. Get outdoors if possible. Stay hydrated. Take a bath by candlelight. Keep your own physical well-being in mind.

Be a good role model.

Every life has challenges, and it is from these challenges that we grow the most. Talk through this with your kids. “Sure, this is going to be different and sometimes hard. But we can get through it. I bet we learn a lot!”

Don’t blame the educators.

They are making seemingly impossible decisions. Keep in mind that the educators (teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers, school nurses, librarians) are working hard to deal with a situation that has been thrust upon them, just as it has been for you. They did not ask for these conditions, just as you didn’t. Most are working harder than ever to do their jobs in a way they never thought they would have to. Just as parents need grace to handle all that has suddenly been demanded of them, so do our educators.

Keep gratitude in your vision.

Keep a gratitude journal to record the good that is happening in front of you. Finding a way to make this a family affair might be fun. Put up a gratitude whiteboard or get a gratitude jar. Find ways to look for, scour, and seek out the hidden or not-so-hidden good.

Losses for Our Students

While adult lives are affected, the impact on children’s world is more direct. The social needs of a child are dependent on interaction, play, and communication with other children. In addressing safety needs during this pandemic, our face-to-face contact with others has been seriously limited. In addition to social needs being unmet, learning for some students may be harder when not in a face-to-face setting.

Here are some strategies for helping children cope.

Encourage kids to identify and express their loss.

Allow an environment for the child to process and express their loss from last spring or this summer, or any anticipatory grief they may have. Acknowledging these uncomfortable feelings is important. “It’s okay to be feeling sad today. I’m feeling pretty sad about it today too.” If you are concerned about more serious mental health issues, seek help for your child. Your school social worker, school counselor, and/or psychologists are great first steps for mental health options in your area.

Identify a support system.

Help your child figure out who is there for them—people who your child can talk to as well as people they feel comfortable around. And don’t insist on being the only source of support for your child. If your child likes to talk to other people about hard things, not always you, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve taught your child to trust!

Encourage communication.

Help your child find ways to communicate with others—to see their faces and hear their voices. Fortunately, we live in a time where, for most of us, this is pretty easy. Zoom, Google Meet, video calls—all ways to stay in touch. Many of us have upped our technology game in the last few months.

Share the gratitude.

Encourage your child to find some way to express their gratitude too. And remember to count the small things (I ate an especially tasty handful of blueberries today—yummy!) as well as the big ones (I finally got to see my grandma!). We all perceive the world around us differently. Sharing with our family members the good we see can help everyone notice the good around them that they might be missing.

The Best Path Through Loss Is, Well, Straight Through

Unexpected change is hard, and the pain that accompanies loss is real. Things will clearly be different during this school year, and there will be challenges and changes. We will do ourselves a favor if we make some room for those. Face them and allow yourself to feel the discomfort that accompanies these changes. They won’t last forever.

At the same time, we can be on the lookout for unexpected positives that might emerge. Family together time may have increased as events have been canceled. Do you have more time to explore the great outdoors? Or to just be together indoors playing games or enjoying music? While making room for the difficult, be aware of the space that may open that might contain some opportunity for a different kind of connection.

Making room for and acknowledging the loss in this difficult time does not mean that we stay there. It just means that we pay it some attention, acknowledge its presence. And then we can deep-breathe ourselves into accepting where we are and looking for some unexpected good. Because as hard as these times are, there is surely so much good as well.

Lisa WalshLisa L. Walsh is a school social worker with more than 20 years of experience in counseling students from preschool to high school. She is the author of a young adult novel about a family affected by addiction and has done local TV and radio interviews as well as readings and other events. Her students inspired Violet the Snowgirl—it was a real-life discussion of loss in a classroom of eight-year-olds who were empathizing with a classmate whose father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Walsh has two adult daughters and lives in Gifford, Illinois.

Violet the SnowgirlLisa is the author of Violet the Snowgirl: A Story of Loss and Healing.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2020 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Combatting Hate Speech in Our Schools

By Stephanie Filio, author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis

Combatting Hate Speech in Our SchoolsYour school has a zero-tolerance hate speech policy. How should administrators react to the following?

  • A student who recently moved from Vietnam isn’t interacting with the other students during breaks. After class, the teacher asks to speak with him. He says that he has been avoiding talking with other students because they keep telling him that he started COVID-19. They are spreading rumors that he has tested positive for the virus.
  • A group of friends are in the hallway using homophobic slurs toward each other. When the teacher addresses them and gives them after-school detention, the students say they were just playing around. The parents call the principal, saying they do not feel that disciplinary actions are fair because it was being said playfully.
  • A young girl is waiting for class to start when her friend pulls her hair wrap from her head, then jokes about her hair. She grabs the wrap back and laughs it off, but later comes to the school counselor’s office crying. She reveals that she was embarrassed and that her mom was recently laid off and had not been able to bring her to have her hair done.
  • Students in the lunchroom keep visiting a table where a female student sits. Later, another student reports to the school counselor that the girl is in the bathroom crying. When the school counselor reaches her, she says everyone knows that she kissed her boyfriend and they keep saying that if she wants to be a good girlfriend, she should do more than kiss him.

Should these instances be disciplined under your hate speech policy? By definition, hate speech is aggressive or insulting in nature and is rooted in prejudiced thoughts and stereotypes. Though laws have changed, and each generation of students has become more inclusive, schools continue to grapple with addressing hate speech appropriately.

We now know that the question of hate speech is more tricky than we thought. Many schools have adopted zero-tolerance policies regarding hate speech in an effort to keep racism and bigotry out of hallways. The events of 2020, however, have exposed racism that remains in our society. So where do we go from here?

One of the most impactful things we may learn from the past few months filled with pandemic crises and social unrest is that respecting and valuing the lives of others is the key to a thriving society. When one of us is hurt, we are all hurt. When one of us needs an advocate or a helper, we all have the ability to fill that role. This sentiment is not necessarily something that we can define in policy, but it is something that can be infused and encouraged in our school culture.

For the examples above, one person might say that though these situations may be insensitive, they cannot be categorized as hate speech. On the other hand, another person could argue that perpetuating stereotypes of any kind, against any group, is incredibly damaging and can threaten the long-term well-being of the people involved. Now is the time to begin asking tougher questions about why we feel that some insulting communication is acceptable for our students and each other.

Zero-tolerance policies can help schools by giving support from division leaders for punitive actions, but there is a wide range of language and behavior that is hateful. Students and staff at my school, for example, know that the term mean girls is not welcome in my office or appropriate to describe social altercations. I consider this term hateful and feel it perpetuates stereotypes about ill-focused and “catty” girls.

If we are really seeking to elevate the social conscience of our schools, we have to start evaluating language differently. Some offensive language in schools has gone permitted under the guise of social acceptance. Changing this might mean making changes in staff decorum and student response to ensure that all students know they are valued.

Effects of the Digital Age

Every generation has its own need for growth after adopting offensive language into common contemporary slang. At the risk of sounding impressively aged, I’d say that with the inception and new widespread use of smartphones, we’re playing a whole new ball game. Younger generations not only have new jargon, they also have a secret world in their phones, one that is free from adult monitoring. Because many adults are unaware of some of the verbiage being regularly used, they are also unable to correct negative social behaviors as easily as in the past.

It is important for any adult to spend some time on Reddit, YouTube, and Urban Dictionary. (Oh, my gosh, my 13-year-old self just rolled her eyes so far back there may be permanent damage.) In these online spaces, you might learn about many phrases and words that students use regularly that sound harmless but represent concealed prejudice. When students are swept up by viral videos and popular memes, they may not even be aware that words they are using hold connotations of historically offensive and hurtful language.

Prevention Is Key

While it is the school administration’s job to take punitive and remediation measures, school counselors really lead the charge with diversion. As with many issues we see in schools, combatting hate speech is rooted in reaching students via trusting relationships and strong communication. This goes beyond working with students, as we collaborate with school leadership and staff on acceptable and safe practices within the entire school system.

Teaching students about historical examples of people having to fight for their civil and human rights is a great start to exposing students to why hate speech is so offensive. Classroom lessons on these topics, or embedding topical content into English lessons, can help you facilitate discussions with students about the subjective nature of hateful language, especially for minority groups who were or still are in a disadvantaged position. Hate speech is best combatted with empathy development at all ages!

Talking It Out

In a recent project with students, one student told staff that when a teacher does not address racial issues in society and the media, students are left wondering what side of the battle that adult is on. This was an incredibly impactful statement, and one that emphasizes the need for student voice opportunities within schools. The key with prevention and diversion from normalized hate speech is dialogue. Students need help finding the materials and words to process these abstract concepts. Classes and groups offer a fantastic framework for appropriate conversation.

Here are some discussion questions and simple activities that can foster growth by uncovering the emotions behind hate speech. Alternatively, students could rotate through each discussion question in small groups.

Question: Have you ever felt like someone spoke to you hatefully, based on prejudiced feelings against you?
Activities: Anonymous writing, journaling

Question: Where do you think prejudiced thoughts come from?
Activities: Class discussion, web graphic organizer

Question: Is it still hate speech if the person saying it says they are just joking?
Activities: Class discussion, think-pair-share switching partners with elaboration

Question: Are people who use hate speech able to change?
Activities: For/against debate, philosophical chairs

Question: What does it mean to say that with free speech comes free consequences?
Activities: Research projects, Socratic seminar

The idea of this set of questions is to steer students toward being solution focused while also allowing enough space for them to have agency as they cognitively tackle the concept of hate speech. Because the content is so emotionally charged, however, it is important to ensure that there are clear rules regarding respect and safety within the social activities. These rules should not be presented as merely school regulation, but rather general standards that all citizens should revere toward their fellow humans. Building conversations around classroom expectations can make this easier, as can reminding students throughout each discussion to consider the perspectives and feelings of others.

When students better understand what hate speech is and why it is hateful, they may be wiser about the words they use in conversations with each other. They might even understand their powerful role in the development of our society, which is still attempting to eradicate racism and bigotry. Though zero-tolerance policies help establish a hard opposition to hate within a school, uncovering and tossing away prejudicial and harmful communication is also important, and much deeper.

Inclusive environments are more than censored discourse, they are also safe and free of hurtful feelings and reinforced discrimination. This is important to our students now more than ever, and it is our responsibility to show them that the educational institution will not be a system that is against them. Instead, this is our opportunity to show children that we are their allies and unwavering pillars for the lives and rights they deserve.

Stephanie Filio, author of Responding to Student TraumaStephanie Filio, M.Ed., is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.

Responding to Student TraumaStephanie is the author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2020 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Staying in and Staying Connected: How to Model Civic Engagement During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Natalie C. Jacobs, J.D., coauthor of Every Vote Matters: The Power of Your Voice, from Student Elections to the Supreme Court

How to Model Civic Engagement During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The year 2020 will go down in history for more than one reason. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic turned our daily lives and routines upside down. The death of George Floyd resulted in millions of people taking to the streets to protest police brutality and systemic racism. Meanwhile, the climate crisis takes a backseat as a public health emergency, the economic downturn, and racial justice activism are prioritized by the media and government action.

In addition, American voters will cast ballots in November for a presidential candidate, US Senate and House seats in Congress, state races, and many local officials throughout the country. For all these reasons, this is a pivotal year to model to our children and teens the importance of being an engaged member of our communities and country.

Engaged Citizens: The Foundation of a Healthy Democracy

In all the communities we belong to, each person’s voice (and vote) is critical to a healthy, thriving democracy. Talking about the issues impacting any community, whether small or large, and educating young people on the matters in age-appropriate ways is a first step toward teaching them to participate in our democracy and be an informed citizen.

For younger children, the conversation can remain fairly simple and can focus on what everyone can agree on: for example, being pro-schools/education (every child should have the right to a good education), pro-environment (every person should take care of the earth), and pro-equity and inclusion.

The social issues impacting our country and world today may offer valuable civics lessons for students of all ages and encourage engagement. The Black Lives Matter movement, the March for Our Lives campaign (for gun safety legislation), and the recent DACA ruling concerning Dreamers and undocumented students’ rights give teachers and parents an opportunity to discuss these important matters. By focusing on the history of a movement or issue, the science behind an issue, and/or the meaning behind a court ruling, you can encourage students to formulate their own opinions on important issues and matters.

Engaging with the School Community

For parents and teachers this school year, being an active, engaged member of the school community may look different from previous years, but it remains a great way to model civic engagement. Being engaged on the micro level, meaning within a very small group or organization that focuses on one aspect of society, is a great way to model how one can make a difference while being part of a group. Many schools and school districts will be solely offering online or remote learning this fall due to COVID-19. This could mean that parent-teacher associations and organizations (PTAs/PTOs) will continue to meet through video conferencing or even in backyard meetings with proper social distancing measures in place.

One idea for parents and teachers is to build a network of professionals and experts from the community who are willing to volunteer some time to be a guest speaker for students, either online or in-person. Whether it’s art, music, gardening, cooking, science, engineering, or another field, every community has myriad experts who could inspire and offer valuable lessons to students while demonstrating engagement within their particular community.

Lessons from the Pandemic: How Masking Up Shows Civic Responsibility

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) informs us that social distancing and wearing masks in public and around others are key elements to helping prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Talking about the pandemic and explaining how we are keeping the elderly and more vulnerable populations safe, why we need to socially distance, why we wear masks, and why we isolate is important for helping students understand this public health emergency.

Children as young as preschool are familiar with the new normal in a COVID world. Discussions around COVID-19 and helping out in our communities can include talking about ways to donate food, personal protective equipment (PPE), blood, and more; volunteer with various organizations offering food delivery for the elderly; creatively raise money for highly affected areas; and play music for those in quarantine.

Ideas for Teaching and Modeling Civic Engagement

An awareness and understanding of the issues currently making headlines and impacting communities is the start to being an engaged citizen. When parents, teachers, and other adults in children’s lives are passionate about voting, participating in organizations, and volunteering in the community, they are actively modeling civic engagement for young people.

The following ideas, tools, and resources offer teachers and parents different opportunities for teaching and modeling civic engagement:

  • Discuss this year’s election; the candidates for local, state, and national elections; and the various propositions on your city’s ballot. Tune in to a virtual town hall. Most importantly, get to the polls, or better yet, stay safe this year and sign up for early voting by mail. Talking about the issues and demonstrating the importance of voting will go a long way toward promoting civic engagement in the next generation of voters.
  • Invite speakers from various nonpartisan groups (e.g., groups focused on advancing issues like climate action, racial equality and justice, or immigration policies). Students can learn more about the issues and ways to get involved if interested.
  • Start a classroom newsletter or blog so students can practice finding and using their voices concerning matters important to them.
  • Review letters to the editor of a local newspaper and then start a letter-writing campaign. If and when a student gets published, the class may be empowered to continue using their voices through writing.
  • Discuss the young leaders of various movements who may inspire students and show that it’s possible to make a difference for a cause no matter your age. For example, John Lewis (civil rights leader who recently passed), Greta Thunberg (17-year-old climate activist who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for two consecutive years already), and the Parkland shooting survivors and the gun control movement.
  • Check out the resources page at the Civic Engagement Research Group for videos and toolkits concerning civics education.
  • Use iCivics, a great website focused on engaging students in meaningful civic learning. Former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is the founder of this useful resource.

Most importantly, the key word in civic engagement is engagement. If teachers and parents are engaged and passionate about certain issues impacting their communities and the world, their students and children will benefit greatly from observing this commitment and dedication.

Author Natalie JacobsA former criminal defense attorney, Natalie C. Jacobs works with her father, Judge Tom, on the teen rights website, helping teens and their parents become better informed about youth rights and the laws affecting minors. She has volunteered with the Arizona Innocence Project, which investigates claims of innocence and works to exonerate those wrongfully convicted. Natalie lives in Arizona.

Every vote mattersNatalie is the coauthor with her father, Judge Tom Jacobs, of Every Vote Matters.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2020 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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On Being a Teacher and an Ally

By Molly Breen

On Being a Teacher and an Ally

Parents and educators have long grappled with whether and how to address difficult subjects with young children. Common concerns include age-appropriateness and a worry of overwhelming children with adult concerns. But truthfully, kids will pick up on our adult concerns whether we like it or not. As we face a return to school during a time like no other, we are grappling with not only our new and profound responsibilities around health and safety but also our responsibility to intentionally explore anti-bias and antiracist teaching and learning.

Before you close the window on this article because it all seems like too much, let me assure you that our ability to change and grow will be felt on a micro level—small and incremental changes that allow us to know better and do better one day at a time.

Are the days of gender-assuming classroom language (“Boys and girls, please find a spot in the circle”) and prejudiced narratives that filter into the daily interactions between teachers, students, and families still alive and well in your setting? In the ever-expanding domain of inclusive practice in teaching, educators are now more than ever charged with modeling compassionate understanding of all people—which must include checking our own prejudice and complicity in racist systems. How do we model compassion and allyship when we, as adults, may not feel altogether clear on our own biases?

What does it mean for educators to be allies in 2020? And what, specifically, do White educators need to consider as they grow their allyship?

An ally, in the social justice sense, is someone who advocates for the equal treatment and opportunity of anyone in a marginalized group. For teachers, this is a twofold responsibility:

  1. We are charged with reflecting on our own experiences and implicit prejudice and bias and developing strategies for change and education/understanding so that we can be better models for our students.
  2. We must create learning contexts that are both developmentally appropriate for students and help develop their capacities to be more intuitively equipped for acting and living as allies.

Becoming an ally is a nuanced process for many reasons and requires that we first understand our own stories. Teaching Tolerance has an excellent tool to help guide this discovery called Identity Mapping. The procedure outlined on the website includes students in the process, but if you’re like me and work in early education, it may not be developmentally appropriate for your student group. In terms of drawing students into inclusive practice and understanding, think of ways in which you can allow your environment to reflect the identities of the students you currently serve. And it doesn’t stop at just your environment. You can also adapt your curriculum to better reflect the interests of the students you have right now.

Those of us in early education know how critical the environment is to teaching and learning. In the responsive classroom method, educators begin the year with an organized, but mostly bare classroom. Over time, the children help define and design the space to reflect who they are, bringing in elements from their homes, including family photos, mementos, culturally significant pieces, and other artifacts of learning, so that the classroom becomes a living representation of the student community. When we decentralize the dominant culture (for example, in early education, the dominant culture includes the use of ABCs, 123s, western farm animals, and primary colors), we make space for everyone to see themselves represented rather than marginalized.

In our own reflective practice and personal development as teachers and curious people, we must also commit to an ongoing investigation into antiracist and anti-bias teaching. Consider doing a yearlong book study as a staff (or if you are a staff of one, consider inviting some friends who are in the field to be in a virtual book club). The books Leading Anti-Bias Early Childhood Programs and Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves would be excellent choices. Commit to the same in your classroom! Incorporate books with themes about human rights, historic racism, and hope for the future. The Together in Our World series from Free Spirit would be a good place to start, and you can incorporate books from this Embrace Race article as well.

Like so much in teaching and learning, your work in antiracism and allyship begins with a new awareness. It’s like a fissure in the surface of the earth, revealing new textures, uncharted territory, and more to discover. If we view the practice of reflecting on our own identities and implicit biases through a lens of discovery and growth, we do not need to fear what we will find once we begin to mine deeper. And truly, our students deserve nothing less from us.

Resources for Teachers and Families
The Children’s Community School, “They’re Not Too Young to Talk About Race
Embrace Race, “20 Picture Books for 2020: Readings to Embrace Race, Provide Solace & Do Good
Embrace Race, “8 Tips for Talking to Your Child About Racial Injustice
Aha! Parenting, “Talking with Children About Racism, Police Brutality, and Protests
The Child Mind Institute, “Helping Children Cope with Frightening News
The Child Mind Institute, resources for families (this one can be a go-to for innumerable parenting queries and developmental challenges)

Resources for Adults
Teaching Tolerance (this site is primarily for educators, but there are excellent resources for parents and other adults as well)
Rachel Cargle, “Coming to Terms with Racism’s Inertia: Ancestral Accountability
The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, “Undoing Racism

Molly BreenMolly Breen, M.A., E.C.E., has worked with kids and families for nearly two decades as an educator. A believer in lifelong learning, her heart is in early childhood, where the seeds of curiosity, character, and community are planted. Through her work with children as a practitioner in the classroom, Molly has developed broad expertise in curriculum development and instruction, behavior guidance, and social and emotional learning. In her role as a program director, she has created innovative approaches to professional and program development, family engagement, and community outreach. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband and three kids.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2020 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Grow Through What You Go Through

By Shannon Anderson, author of  Mindset Power: A Kid’s Guide to Growing Better Every Day

Grow Through What You Go Through

Learning to navigate through the last several months has been challenging for most adults. Imagine the thoughts going through the minds of kids. Life is not only very different, but also confusing. There are so many mixed messages and changes of plan. The people kids normally look to for advice aren’t sure of the answers or outcomes.

One thing we can assure kids of is that there are some things we can control and others we cannot. We cannot control the spread of COVID-19, the closing of schools, the various new mandates, or the way others react to these changes.

However, we do have the ability to control our actions and reactions. With practice, we can get really good at intentionally directing our brains to make choices that are healthy, safe, and kind.

You can try this easy exercise with your students. Tell them to close their eyes and imagine they have an apple. Tell them to think about its color, shape, and texture. Then have them imagine they are looking at a banana. Again, have them think about its color, shape, and texture.

Have kids open their eyes and ask if it was easy or hard for them to direct their brains to think about these fruits. Explain that this is just a simple example of the power we have over our thoughts. We choose what to think about. We can change what we think about too.

When it comes to school, we can direct our brains in how we act while we are learning and how we react when things don’t go according to plan. We can choose to have a positive or negative attitude. We can choose to prepare for what could happen and make adjustments as we learn more. We can choose to be kind to those we don’t agree with.

Embracing a growth mindset has never been more important than it is now. Kids need to know that despite setbacks, we can always learn something from what we are going through. We learn from our mistakes, from choices we make, from things that go well, and from things that don’t go so well. The lessons we take away from tough times make us stronger and more resilient when we use them as opportunities to grow. When kids learn to ride a bike, they may fall and get scrapes and bruises. An unexpected rock might cause their tire to turn or a sharp decline might cause them to go faster than they know how to handle.

When kids can think about what happened and prepare for their next ride, they are better equipped to handle those obstacles. With practice, their brains start to automate the muscle memory needed to keep their balance and steer.

When they do fall, they can choose their reactions. Will they cry and throw the bike down or brush off their knees and get back on with even more determination? There are other choices too! They could choose to take a break and try again later or come up with a plan before hopping back on the bike. That is the beauty of learning. We have lots of options to choose from and we learn something from whichever ones we choose.

Kids need to know the power of the choices they make. They also need to learn which choices are safe and helpful. That’s where teachers come in. Modeling and teaching a growth mindset, a positive attitude, and determination can make a huge difference in the development of habits for growing through what we are going through.

Teachers can model the power of a growth mindset through the twists and turns of what school looks like this year. They can encourage students to respond to tough times with positivity and gratitude for the good in each situation. Just by thinking out loud, teachers can share how they are processing and directing their brains to learn and react.

Author Shannon AndersonAlthough these are challenging times, they are also times of many opportunities to teach and build resilience and compassion. Who knows? Students may learn some of the biggest, most important lessons of their lives through these circumstances.

School is going to be different this year. You already know that. You get to choose how to act and react in front of your students, whether in person or virtually.

Ready . . . Set . . . Grow! You’ve got this!

Shannon Anderson has her master’s degree in education and is currently a third-grade teacher, high ability coordinator, and presenter, and a former first-grade teacher, adjunct professor, and literacy coach. She loves spending time with her family, playing with words, teaching kids and adults, running very early in the morning, traveling to new places, and eating ice cream. She also enjoys doing author visits and events. Shannon lives in Indiana with her husband, Matt, and their daughters, Emily and Madison.

Free Spirit books by Shannon:

Mindset PowerY is for YetPenelope PerfectCoasting Casey

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