Tag Archives: families

More Social, Less Media

Tired of Twitter? Fed up of Facebook? Well you’re not the only one. 

Social media is becoming more of an oxymoron every day. With new research suggesting that our obsession with devices can negatively affect our ability to read emotional cues in other people¹, it seems that now is the time to detach from the ‘media’ and focus on the ‘social’.

Try swapping one of your digital habits for one of the activities below and take the time to reflect on how the experience differed to the one you usually have with your device.

Gaming

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1) Swap Angry Birds for Hungry Hippos. Play cards not apps. Choose board games over virtual worlds. Ok, you get the message. Blow the cobwebs off those board games and arrange a good old fashioned games night with your family or friends. Use this opportunity to model and teach your children how to deal with failure and success; show your child how to bounce back from a wrong answer rather than resorting to blame or quitting the game altogether. How often do we get these opportunities to teach such a valuable social and emotional skill?

 

Posting

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2) Post a letter rather than a status or pic. Even better, write a gratitude letter and then hand deliver it to your deserving recipient. Martin Seligman’s groundbreaking work on positive psychology has found that writing and hand delivering a gratitude letter increases happiness. In his book ‘Flourish’, Seligman asks his readers to ‘call up the face of someone still alive who years ago did something or said something that changed your life for the better. Someone who you never properly thanked; someone you could meet face-to-face next week.’ He then challenges you to write a 300 word letter to the person, specifically stating what the person did and how it affected you. Once written, call the person and arrange a visit, but be vague as to why  you want to see them- the surprise element makes the experience all the more fun! When you finally get to see the person, read the letter word for word. Take the time to notice how you both react to the letter and try to manage any interruptions that crop up; ensure that they get to hear every word and understand why you are so grateful. Seligman believes that this simple act will make you happier and less depressed within one month of making the visit.

3) Photos

Social media has enabled us to acquire online catalogues of photos and videos that, if privacy settings allow, can be shared and viewed by the whole world. Gone are the days when we’d have to carefully remove the roll of film from the camera, travel all that way to the shop to get them developed and then painstakingly stick each picture into an album. Although the speed and ease that modern technology has afforded us is wonderful, have we lost something else in the process? When was the last time you looked at your holiday pictures on anything but a LCD screen? Why not take that memory card out of your camera and get a few of your favourite pictures printed. Then arrange an evening with some of the subjects in those photographs and take the time to talk about the picture and remember the moment it was taken. Or take out an old album from years ago and plan a reunion. Whatever you choose to do, try to make it sociable, fun and face to face.

 For more ideas visit wwww.socialseptember.com for a full calendar of ideas.

Communication is Key to Improving Relationships with Culturally Diverse Students and Families.

Since 1983, the Harvard Family Research Project has helped to develop and evaluate strategies to promote the wellbeing of children, youth, families and their communities. One component of their complementary learning research focusses on family and community involvement in education in the form of FINE: Family Involvement Network of Educators; a network of people interested in promoting strong partnerships between schools, families and communities. An important question that the network have discussed as part of their ongoing research is how to better prepare teachers to work with culturally diverse students and their families and the skills that educators need to develop to do this successfully.

teaching is communicating with parents

 POSITIVE CORRESPONDENCE

Sherick Hughes, Assistant Professor in the College of Education at the University of Toledo, states that ‘teachers must come to understand the real life experiences of the families and children they teach…to set up plausible situations to give families a legitimate voice in their curriculum and unit planning… [to] encourage teachers to take the spiritual lives of families seriously as a key point of connection.’ Hughes further acknowledges that it is difficult for teachers to build rapport with families as they are not always able to go out into these diverse communities and make the necessary connections. She therefore advocates three family-specific alternatives for teachers to utilise at least once during the school year to build better relationships with parents and carers:

1. Call each child’s family with positive information regarding their progress;

2. Email each student’s family during the school year with positive information;

3. Through email, mail, or student delivery, send a positive message via audio or audio/visual medium regarding each student.

INVOLVE PARENTS

Eileen Kugler, a speaker and trainer on building community support for diverse schools, further reinforces Hughes’ advice to teachers to build relationships with families using positive information and states that they also ‘need to identify nonthreatening opportunities to welcome parents with diverse backgrounds to the school. At the end of a unit of study, teachers can invite parents into the classroom so the students can share their achievements with them. As opposed to the stereotype of not caring, parents frequently feel left out, just waiting to be asked to be involved.’ Communication is therefore essential for teachers, including planning and using opportunities to engage positively with families.

RAPPORT NOT RITUALS

Although teachers are deemed as being exceptional communicators when it comes to delivering information to their students, it can be a different story when it comes to delivering information to parents and carers. According to Bonnie Rockafellow, the Education Consultant for the Michigan Department of Education, teacher education needs to include more interpersonal communication skill building to ensure that teachers are able to effectively build rapport and share meaning with families. This is most evident in parent-teacher conferences, an opportunity for teachers to communicate and engage face to face with families. Rockafellow videotaped several parent-teacher conferences and through her analysis of the interactions she concluded that in each conference a ‘ritual played out. Most often the teacher presented the information she had prepared and at the end of the timeframe the teacher would ask if the parents had any questions, and then close the conference. The result of the conference was most often a reporting of the school’s information rather than an opportunity for teachers to meaningfully engage with families and listen to their suggestions and comments.’ She ultimately identifies a key opportunity for teachers to engage with families with meaning.

The FINE research and evaluation of strategies for improving the preparation of teachers to work with culturally diverse students and their families is vast and resourceful; identifying opportunities for teachers to examine their own attitudes and connect with those who ‘think and look differently’ than they do.

If you would like to read more about FINE, visit the Harvard Family Research Project at http://www.hfrp.org

Making a Difference – Part 2

Making a Difference as a Parent

As a parent building a close, loving relationship with our children is one of the most important things we can do.  When children feel loved, understood, accepted and safe they are able to thrive as it helps build their confidence, resilience and self-esteem, and it encourages them to try to do and be their best at all time.  As we all know feeling wanted and loved helps us navigate life’s challenges as we feel supported. The best way we can make a difference to our children is to spend time with them, talk with them and to do activities together.  In our house we have a rule that we always eat our meals at the dining room table, this way it allows us to talk about what we are up to, share ideas and laugh as a family.  In turn this helps to teach our child how to have caring relationships and open communication with other people like family members, friends, neighbours and teachers.  Importantly it makes it easier for them to reach out to others when they need help. Remember it is important to;

  • Comfort your child when they need support.
  • Be present with them and listen to what they are saying and show them you care about what they are saying and their opinion is valuable.
  • Acknowledge them and help them to identify how they are feeling.
  • Play with them, read with them and above all laugh with them.

Making a Difference as a Teacher

If we take time to reflect for most of us there was one teacher we remember who made a big difference in our lives.  For me, there are a few that I can still remember ……Mr Haydock in Grade 6, Mrs King (a stern, but inspiring English teacher) and Miss Matheson (the slightly heavy gym and physical education teacher) in high school.  Why, do I remember them, what made them special? Before I answer that, you need to understand who I was as a child……..when I was in 6th Grade I was 5’9” tall and a big girl, I was clumsy to say the least, not good a sport and the kids used to call me ‘Gronky’ after a caveman character in a TV series, but I cared about others and tried by very best in everything I did.  When I went to high school, I was just an average student, Mrs King the English teacher helped me see the world through very different eyes and encouraged my love of poetry and reading, she had such passion.  Being clumsy, I was always picked last at sport, was hopeless at gym, I could not jump the horse, I was scared of heights so no good at the beam or high and low bars and could manage a forward roll on the mat some days, but I tried, to my surprise Miss Matheson passed me, in fact, I got 70%, more than some of the kids that could do everything. So, getting back to what made these teachers special, simply they cared about me and bothered to establish a relationship with me.  They did not judge me for what I could or could not do, or who I was, they found my island of competence and encouraged me to try my best.  Due to that they helped shape my life that enabled me to become who I am today. As a teacher if you want to make a difference in the lives of your students, take time to develop a relationship with then, allow them to see you care, be present with them and really listen to them, help them identify how they are feeling, find their island of competence and build on it.

Students Making a Difference in the Classroom

Children need goals; they want to know what is expected of them.  They enjoy achieving, trying their best, doing a good job, having their efforts acknowledge and working together with others to get a job done.  They don’t understand their impact on others, nor how they can make a difference at home and in the classroom. Sometimes I don’t think we articulate to our children or to the students in our class what we expect of them, we just assume they know and have somehow absorbed the class expectations by osmosis.  I think the start of the school year offers a unique opportunity to have a discussion with your children and students as to what ‘doing their best means’.  Give the children an opportunity to set the standards that they want to live by.  Perhaps they could all prepare a ‘doing my best poster’ and present it to their peers.  I know it is not uncommon to set class rules, but rules and expectations, even the ones we place on ourselves can be very different. This year why not introduce the notion of ‘Make a Difference Monday’.  As a class review the previous week  and then decide how as a whole they are going to make a difference this week, either to themselves, each other, to you as a teacher and in the school community.  Remember, this can also be tied to projects or activities you are doing in the curriculum.  This is a great activity to work on as a team; it is setting a team goal and then learning to communicate to achieve this together.  There are endless ideas for this activity. Ultimately, we can all make a difference to each other, ourselves our community and our lives.  We just have to take the time to communicate with each other and to care!

Book Review: Big Al

Andrew Clemens, Artwork by Yoshi, For Ages 4-7

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Think about what it would be like to try and make friends if you were the biggest and ugliest fish in the sea. This is the problem that Big Al faces when trying to make friends. He is the friendliest fish in the sea but he is lonely because no one wants to make friends with him.

An important social emotional skill is the ability to make friends and young children often need to learn strategies that they can use. There are a number of books that we recommend for this and Big Al is great for younger children aged 4-7. In the story Big Al uses a range of different strategies such as disguising himself, trying to make himself bigger and smaller. Unfortunately none of these things work.

However in the end when the other fishes are caught in a net Big Al shows that he is a true friend and rescues them.

From this book children can learn to be true to themselves, that they don’t have to pretend to be anything that they are not. They will also learn about the value of accepting that others are different and that real friendship means helping each other.

Book Review: The Invisible String

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Did you know that everyone has an invisible string connecting them with their loved ones? You might think it is impossible but surely you can feel the tug from heart to heart even when we are alone or far from our family and friends.

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst is a favourite children’s story book that was specifically written to address issues of loneliness and separation. It uses a very simple approach with a heart warming message that there is an invisible connection of love. Even if you can’t see or touch it you know it is there because you can feel it deep in your heart.

Many young children experience separation anxiety. Perhaps it is because it is their first time away from their primary caregiver or a close relative has left or died.

In The Invisible String Jeremy lets his mother know that he feels sad when he is away from her, she reassures him with the knowledge that she is still there as they are connected with an invisible string that he only needs to tug and he will feel her love. The invisible string represents the love people have for each other.

The need for a sense of connectedness is important for children to develop resilience. Feelings of separation anxiety can arise which are difficult for a child to manage without guidance. The Invisible String is a great learning tool to address this issue and facilitate discussion with young children around separation anxiety.

Some feedback about this book include

“We can’t read this to a class without a few tears, as this simple story really touches young and old alike.”

“It was a great help when my children’s grandfather died. They could believe that the invisible string reached all the way to heaven and that their grandfather’s love was still with them.”

“Nice picture book about how we don’t stop loving each other just because we are apart.”

“The most requested book in our house, and has held this status for quite some time.”

“Great if you or someone close to you are moving or if a loved one dies to explain how love works at a distance.”

Helping kids also helps families

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Sometimes we can get so focused on helping children become more resilient and capable in their life that we forget that by helping children we can help others around them. James Ryan found this out recently with one the kids that he taught the Mind in a Bottle techniques to.

For those who are not familiar with Mind in a Bottle (also called Mind Jar) it uses a bottle or jar filled with water, glue (to make the water thicker) and glitter. If you shake the bottle the water looks like it is completely filled with the glitter floating around. The glitter represents our thoughts when we are agitated, anxious or angry. However if you we put the bottle down, wait and watch, then the glitter will settle down to the bottom of the bottle leaving the water clear, just like our mind when we relax.

The core technique taught with Mind in a Bottle are four relaxation steps.

  1. Stopping
  2. Watching the bottle
  3. Breathing
  4. Shifting attention to other things

One of the kids James taught this technique loved it because she took her bottle home and when her father became upset and agitated, she would said “Dad, look at the bottle, it is your mind. Watch the bottle until the water is clear”.

This blog provides more information on how to make a mind in a jar or bottle http://www.herewearetogether.com/2011/06/27/another-mind-jar/