With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I find myself focusing on the many people for whom and to whom I am grateful.
As an Independent School educator, I think about the parents who send their children to our school. This requires an extraordinary commitment of time and resources—and reflects parents’ bedrock belief that few things in life are as important as their children’s education. As a parent, I think about the teachers who have shaped--and are now shaping--my daughters’ lives. These teachers are exceptional human beings who inspire my children to discover who they would dare to be.
With gratitude toward both parents and educators on my mind and in my heart, I’d like to recommend a particularly powerful book—a collection of essays compiled and edited by Jerry and Lorin Biederman entitled Parent School: Simple Lessons from the Leading Experts on Being a Mom and Dad.
Now, you might be wondering why a book with this title would be an appropriate expression of gratitude to both parents and teachers.
Parenthood is a gift—in much the same way that being a teacher is a gift. Parents and teachers alike love our children—and are grateful for our time with them. As Thanksgiving approaches, the teachers join me in expressing our deep gratitude, what G.K. Chesterton described as “happiness doubled by wonder,” for all that you do and all that you are as parents—and, most especially, for the opportunity to live and learn with your children.”
I have told many audiences, and will continue to tell anyone who will listen, that the single most profound influence on my teaching and on my understanding of the developmental needs & characteristics of children—far beyond undergraduate work or doctoral studies or classroom research—has been my seventeen-year tenure as a father. And while the roles of educator and parent are distinct, they are also deeply connected. Yes, educators rely on parents to be experts in nurture, structure and latitude with children. Yes, parents rely on educators to be experts in child development, curriculum development and teaching & learning. And, of course, there are moments when these areas of expertise wonderfully and maddeningly overlap. Which brings us back to this brilliant collection of essays.
Parent School is divided into 12 sections, ranging from Parenting 101 (including essays such as “Tending Your Child’s Soul,” “The Seven Best Things a Parent Can Do,” “Four Thoughts for Parents from the Tao Te Ching,” “Raising Good Kids in a Troubled World”) to Lessons in Learning: Educating Our Next Generation (including essays such as “Learning is Really Fun,” “What is Smart? Understanding and Nurturing the Multiple Intelligences in Your Child,” “Children and Books”). The authors are as fascinating and varied as their topics. Everyone from Nancy Samalin (a pioneer in the field of parent education) to Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D. (child and adolescent psychiatrist and co-author of The Over-scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap) offers keen insights and expertise on topics that are at the core of our work as parents and as educators.
In the opening chapter, “Orientation,” the Biedermans offer several key points that speak to me every bit as much in my role as educator as they do in my role as parent:
• “After all, good parents are one of the four fundamentals needed for the raising of good kids—along with air, food, and waters. The very future of our society (not to mention the sanity in our homes) relies on the quality of the next generation.”
And, of course, right up there with those four fundamentals is a fifth element: Teachers. In fact, teachers are able to do a better job with children in school when parents do a better job with children outside of school. In short, parents and teachers alike deal with the whole child—and have an impact on the whole child.
• “Included in this book are inspired contributions on every subject of importance to parents, including the best ways to discipline your child; how to nurture self-esteem; making the most of our pediatrician’s visit; the art of listening to your child. . .dealing with divorce; building family values; the importance of play; making the most of education.”
The reality is that every one of these topics is crucial to parents and teachers alike.
• “Parent School is not intended to provide fast-food answers to parents’ questions. Rather, it offers gourmet appetizers, and readers are encouraged to go out and get the main course from those authors who match their taste.”
One of the beauties of this book is that it contains substantive essays from world-class experts on topics of keen interest to anyone who is committed, professionally or personally, to the healthy growth, development and education of children.
Our goals and responsibilities as parents and educators overlap in fundamental and profound ways—and even in the moments where our work and responsibilities are distinct, the success of each of us results in a synergy of benefits for the children to whom we have dedicated our lives.
In drawing this post to a close, I want to share five essential points from Laurel Schmidt's essay "What is Smart?" For in answering the question “What does research tell us about how children learn best?”, Ms. Schmidt celebrates the crucial roles of both parents and educators. These five points, she writes, are what research tells us about how children learn best. And, of course, parents and teachers alike can apply these principles to our learning and living with children:
• Children learn through play. It’s the work of childhood.
• Children learn through hands-on experiences. Seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling are the strongest modes for early learning.
• Children master communication by having conversations.
• Children learn by trying to solve real problems.
• Children find exploration and investigation intrinsically rewarding. The driving force is “What if. . .” and “I wonder. . ."
As we approach this Thanksgiving holiday, let's celebrate the roles of both parents and educators. As a parent, I want to express my deep gratitude to my children’s teachers. As an educator, I want to express equally deep gratitude to my students’ parents. And to both groups I want to say thank you for investing your life’s blood in soulful, profoundly important work. What could be more important or meaningful than our collective commitment to these children?
-- Michael Ebeling, Head of Summit School
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I find myself focusing on the many people for whom and to whom I am grateful.
Friday, November 19, 2010
The third presentation in our Inspiring Learning Series took place this past Monday, and featured the topic “Success in School 101: Rethinking What We Know.”
At this lunchtime session, presenter and Summit Liaison for Parent Learning Julie Smith joined first grade teacher Kate Helm, 8th grade English teacher Betsy McNeer, and renowned medical doctor, Summit parent and author Dr. Kathi Kemper to explore what lays the groundwork for school success. Below are some key points from the session--and they may surprise you.
We invite you to post your reflections on Monday’s session—or to offer your thoughts in response to these summary points.
Notions of Success
• We all have ideas of what Success looks like.
• These may not all be the same—and our notions as parents may come in conflict with the wider society’s, our spouse’s, our friends’ and our children’s.
• Knowing our own definition can help focus our families and support our children.
• Our ideas of success may change over time and through experience. Be open to those changes.
Skills Related to Success
• The skills needed by our kids who will enter a 21st century workforce are different than in the past and require different preparation both by schools and parents. These skills include Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills:
+ Critical thinking and problem solving
+ Collaboration and leadership
+ Agility and adaptability
+ Initiative and entrepreneurialism
+ Effective oral and written communication
+ Accessing and analyzing information
+ Curiosity and imagination
• These changes coupled with other cultural changes create an environment where anxiety can interfere with goals.
• Collaborative efforts are essential to meet new global challenges. This opens the door to a deeper parent-school partnership.
Skills and Qualities that Make Children More Likely to Learn in School and Succeed Beyond School
• Ask questions
• Understand boundaries: Make a plan before you need a plan. Explore issues with your children before they happen.
• Willing to fail: There are real benefits to kids taking a risk, but failure can be hard for parents to watch—perhaps harder than for kids to experience. Sometimes as parents, we want to place our children in a bubble, protecting them from life’s ups and downs. Remember: there is so much learning that happens in the effort—and in failure. Children need to experience the hurt and disappointment of failure—and to learn that they can bounce back from it. Our job is to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child—in a word, to cultivate resilience. As challenges inevitably become more complex, we want our children to have a bank of strategies to draw from.
• Like learning: discover one’s passion(s), be open to different opportunities, clarify one’s own definition of success.
• Work hard (growth mindset)
• Respect others
• Self advocate
Nurture Shock: How not to over-parent
• Praise can undermine confidence, motivation and resilience
• Behavior in kindergarten isn’t necessarily predictive of behavior later in school—or in life! Children can—and do—change.
• Authoritarian parenting cultivates mere obedience. Authoritative parenting cultivates an internal locus of control. Authoritarian parents dictate. Authoritative parents reason (and, occasionally, dictate). Help your kids learn to think for themselves.
• Protect play time and recognize that all children, including teens, need time to play—to explore their passions, to take intellectual risks, to create something new or surprising
• Protect sleep time—including with teenagers. Too little sleep decreases: motivation, attention, memory, self-control, speed of thinking. Research reveals that 85% of American teens are mildly sleep-drived—and that 10%-40% are extremely sleep-deprived.
• Give teens the opportunity to take good (healthy) risks.
• Don’t expect your teen to tell you everything.
• Observe our children and teens: Look at who they are, not simply who they have been or who we want them to be. We are raising our children, ultimately, to leave us—to be independent, resilient, and ready to embrace life beyond us.
• Remember: Our children are watching how we, as parents learn—how we react, how we manage change, how we deal with stress. . .
• Have real conversations with our kids: We probably think we listen more than we really do.
• Begin conversations with your kids (especially teens) by asking open-ended questions, then listen. (“How did that happen?” “How do you plan to solve the problem?” “How can I help?”) This takes time and energy, and it’s worth every minute.
• Help kids reflect on their strategies for dealing with the day-to-day challenges they face: balancing extracurriculars with school, managing friendships, dealing with stress.
• Recognize this fact, then find ways to support our kids in it: Young people who are motivated to serve others are more likely to have career success.
• Think: Parent as learner
Stress can undermine our best intentions
• Stress is seemingly ubiquitous. It interferes with executive function in our brains, impairs us emotionally and attentionally, and, in effect, can make us stupid (at least in the moment).
• How can parents or schools help children manage the stress in their lives? Try supporting your kids in doing these:
+ Activate positive emotions through breathing, exercise and guided imagery
+ Care for others and extend compassion
+ Get proper nutrition
+ Get enough sleep
+ Engage in physical activity
+ Enjoy outdoor time
+ Create a calm space for focusing
+ Engage in open-ended conversation
+ Provide support in times of success and failure
+ Hone skills that lead to independence
+ Read books
+ Have protected time to think and play
+ Learn together as a family
+ Engage with interesting adults, including parents!
+ Enjoy time and space that are technology free
Success in School 101 Resource List
Po Bronson, “In Defense of Children Behaving Badly,” Newsweek.
Po Bronson, “How Not to Helicopter,” Newsweek.
Katie Goldsmith, “How Parents Can Help Their Middle Schoolers Succeed,” GreaterGood.
Anahid Modrek, “Serve Others, Find Success,” GreaterGood
Jane Nelsen, Chip DeLorenzo, “Curiosity Questions,” Montessori Life, Fall 2010.
Nurture Shock http://www.nurtureshock.com
Tony Wagner, “Rigor Redefined,” Change, Leadership Group.
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, Nurtureshock
Carol Dweck, Mindset
Howard Gardner, Five Minds for the Future
Kathi Kemper, Mental Health, Naturally
Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind
Tony Wagner, The Global Achievement Gap
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Just a week ago, over 100 educators and parents gathered at Summit to explore Carol Dweck’s book MINDSET.
Dweck makes a simple but compelling statement early in her book: “. . .[T]he view that you adopt for yourself [growth vs. fixed mindset] profoundly affects the way you lead your life.”
And, as if that were not reason enough to explore mindsets, a parent leader, in a recent email to other parents in her child’s grade, put it this way, “The mindset you adopt will affect your own success, how you parent, and how you interact with co-workers. It affects the way you respond to your own successes and failures, and also to the successes and failures of those around you.”
Mindset speaks directly to all of us—and offers practical insight into how we can embrace change to enhance our lives—and the lives of those around us, especially our children.
Here are three key points we examined:
"Many students believe that intelligence is fixed, that each person has a certain amount and that’s that. We call this a fixed mindset, and. . .students with this mindset worry about how much of this fixed intelligence they possess. A fixed mindset makes challenges threatening for students (because they believe that their fixed ability may not be up to the task) and it makes mistakes and failures demoralizing (because they believe that such setbacks reflect badly on their level of fixed intelligence).
Other students believe that intelligence is something that can be cultivated through effort and education. They don’t necessarily believe that everyone has the same abilities or that anyone can be as smart as Einstein, but they do believe that everyone can improve their abilities. And they understand that even Einstein wasn’t Einstein until he put in years of focused hard work. In short, students with this growth mindset believe that intelligence is a potential that can be realized through learning. As a result, confronting challenges, profiting from mistakes, and persevering in the face of setbacks become ways of getting smarter.” (from Dweck’s article “Brainology: Transforming Students’ Motivation to Learn”)
“Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence--like a gift--by praising their brains and talent. It doesn’t work, and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong. If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.” (p. 176, Mindset)
“The growth mindset is based on the belief in change. . . .The belief that [we] have the potential for change should not be confused with the belief that [we] will change. [We have] to want to change, commit to change, and take concrete actions toward change....A growth mindset tells you to embrace all the things that have felt threatening: challenge, struggle, criticism, setbacks.” (pp. 213, 156, 225, Mindset)
Student Insights into Mindset
In this 4-minute video, 3 Summit students talk about the differences between growth and fixed mindsets, the inverse power of praise and the usefulness of the notion of the brain as being like a muscle.
Continuing the Conversation
The links and downloads below are intended to help continue the conversation we began at our community session a week ago.
ABC News "Why Praise Can be Bad for Kids"
Brainology Program for middle school students -- an introduction
New York Magazine's "How Not to Talk to Your Kids"
Nurture Shock website (really useful) articles and videos on parenting
Peak Experiences blog post on cultivating a growth mindset
Peak Experiences blog post on raising resilient children
Summary of Dweck's Mindset (download)
Test Your Mindset
Wall Street Journal's "The Praise a Child Should Never Hear"
We warmly invite you to attend a follow up Q & A on this topic at Summit--8:30 a.m. on Monday, November 8. And we encourage you to post your thoughts and questions about Mindset on this blog. In that spirit, I’ll end this post with a quote from Carol Dweck:
“What are the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed, deep-seated trait?”