Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Swoop and Save" Parenting

Written by Melissa Grubb, Head of School

Melissa Grubb, Head of School

Most parents are wonderfully supportive of their children. Many, in an earnest effort to do all the right things, attempt to remove all bumps in the road for their children believing this paves the road to success. It does not. Please stop.
I don’t mean stop supporting them, but I do mean stop rescuing them from minor anxieties and “bumps” such as forgotten items, not getting the lead role in the play, not getting a party invitation that was hoped for (feel free to continue this list in your head). Our visceral response as parents to a child’s distress, regardless of cause, is to “save” them. We are fortunate that very few challenges for them are life threatening. Most dilemmas are invaluable learning opportunities – if we can manage our own emotions long enough to let our children learn from them. 

No one said parenting was easy. Barring imminent danger, take the opportunity to coach children (in age appropriate ways) on how to solve their own problems while assuring them that you support their efforts. It’s hard. It takes longer than solving it yourself – but you’ll be doing it when they turn 40 if you don’t.

The end game is to raise independent, self-sufficient, well-educated and compassionate adults who can problem solve without texting you first. They can’t learn to recover from a “bump” if we’ve repeatedly “swooped and saved.” The discomfort we are frequently trying to prevent is not theirs, but ours while watching this important process. We rightfully childproof our homes when our children are little. Have you considered drama-proofing your home for your preteen? It’s just as important. There’s no such thing as childproof or drama-proof, but it shouldn’t stop us from trying.

Let’s take, for example, the lunch drama. “Sally” forgets her lunch. Again. (Substitute whatever the issue is at your home here.) She calls home expecting either a delivery from you, or permission to call Jimmy Johns. You feel sorry for her, hear stress in her voice, and imagine her looking pale and gaunt when you pick her up after school. Somewhere deep inside you a primal voice tells you that good parenting is about, at the very least, feeding your young. Stop. 

First of all, give us some credit and realize that we will let no one starve here. The bigger picture involves learning accountability for whose responsibility it is to get lunch to school (it should be Sally’s if she’s 6 or older), allowing Sally to actually come up with her own solution - “Does someone have an extra yogurt?” and a natural consequence that will likely result in fewer forgotten lunches and, therefore, less drama. Most importantly, Sally gets the message that you believe she’s savvy enough to solve her problem. She doesn’t need “saving”.  Repeatedly coming to the rescue is sending your child the message that you don’t think he or she can function without you. They may not get it right every time, but they can’t get better without practice.

I’m not suggesting a sudden change in your behavior – some fair warning needs to happen. In our home we had the Rule of 3. Human error was expected and not considered a crime. You got three “saves” a year, no questions asked. Perfection is not the goal; responsibility is. It works for being on time, too, by the way. I was bequeathed an alarm clock in the first grade. My mother, a kindergarten teacher, told me she was done waiting on me. I was to be on time. I was not a believer until she left me standing in the driveway wailing as she drove off one morning. As she rounded the corner from her trip around the block, I got in the car and said not one word. No more morning drama.
Melissa and her mother, Mary Lynn Martin

I recently had a conversation with a mother who was frantically racing in the building. I asked if everything was OK expecting to hear about a car accident or a seriously ill loved one. She was there to deliver spelling homework to lower school child. I had a chat with “homework rescue mom” and learned a lot. She was, as I anticipated, wanting to save her child from any consequences of a forgotten assignment - but I was stunned to learn that she thought the teacher would judge her and think she was a “bad mom” if she didn’t bring it in. Quite the contrary – you will be heralded, “super mom/dad” if you can muster up the strength to resist the siren call of a child in the midst of a solvable, non-threatening struggle. Your part is to set up support systems at home to provide structure to prevent such things, if at all possible (drama-proofing). You’re then off the hook.

You have our permission to let your child solve the small stuff. We will support your efforts 100%.  You’ll get an “A+” and your children will learn important life lessons in a safe environment with wonderful teachers who care about them.

Monday, November 3, 2014

An Introduction to Reggio Emilia

Written by Maria Reilly, Head of Early Childhood and Lower School

Have you ever seen how infants are drawn to light and reflection?  Have you noticed that when children first begin to move, they move towards things that fascinate them and the people they love? Human beings are born with a natural curiosity and joy of discovery.  Our job in the early childhood program at The Stanley Clark School, the Garatoni Center for Reggio Studies, is to take advantage of children’s natural curiosity and to fan the flames of their enthusiasm.  We are inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy of early childhood education as we lay down the SCS foundation.  We value and respect our youngest students and we are constantly in awe of what they accomplish.  Every day in their play and exploration they are problem-solving, collaborating, and developing their brains.  This is all accomplished with powerful connections between our students, teachers, and parents.  As a Reggio-Emilia based program, we show respect to the young child through environment, emergent curriculum, and documentation. 

Early Childhood Students of The Stanley Clark School proudly pose with their collaborate drawings
Careful care and thought goes into designing the environment of our early childhood program in Fannin Hall.  The environment is meant to be beautiful, inspiring, tranquil, and full of opportunity.  Everything is meant to be touched and manipulated because powerful learning happens when something is experienced using many senses rather than just being seen and heard out of context. 

The academic objectives we have for our youngest students are worked towards in an emergent curriculum.  Teachers respectfully listen, observe, and pay close attention to what the children are interested in and develop intriguing and meaningful experiences that practice skills through topics that the children are engaged in and excited about.  A child may be able to repeat that blue mixed with yellow makes green, but when he excitedly makes that discovery with his own fingers and eyes, then he truly knows and understands it. 

Maria Reilly, Head of Early Childhood and Lower School
Documentation is a labor of love and an amazing gift to parent and child.  It is another sign of respect for the child.  There is very little that hangs on the wall that is created by adults.  Great care is taken in displaying children’s work, words, and images.  Children marvel at the displays and feel great pride and accomplishment; they feel valued.  Documentation is the fingerprint of learning and is a wonderful archive of accomplishments as well as a launching point for further conversations and investigations.  Our youngest students acquire skills, but more importantly are urged to be creative and curious.  It is not the answer to the question that matters as much as how to arrive at the answer – how to hypothesize, observe, research, analyze, and then articulate an answer.

Learning is so much more than memorizing.  At SCS we believe education is more than the regurgitation of facts and that our children are our greatest resource.  Our students will be the caretakers of the Earth some day and we need to prepare them for happy, healthy, productive lives in an ever-changing world.  They will need to be able to problem-solve, be creative and critical thinkers, and collaborate.  We start preparing our students at three-years old.  As a school, we value hands-on, meaningful, interdisciplinary experiences and these lessons begin in our Early Childhood Center.  We are extremely proud of the unique and dynamic program we offer here, a program that recognizes the extraordinary ways that young children can learn and develop their awesome potential when provided with rich experiences and relationships. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The View from Room 502

Written by Melissa Grubb, Head of School
October 1, 2014

Welcome to fall and the first of this year’s informal communications from me. I joked with some of you at the Back to School Picnic that I would like to be excused from writing the “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essay. However, the Stanley Clark community has been so kind to ask me how things are going. I am humbled that so many are interested in the story. It’s intensely personal, but so is this work that we do with your children.

I share this with you both in appreciation for the concern expressed, and also to provide additional insight into future communications that will be about the joyful work that is parenting. I also know the power of a good story, especially a true one, to connect people. As our community continually seeks ways to strengthen connections, I’ll tell you this one about, among other things, the power of kindness.

Melissa Grubb, Head of School
To set the context, especially for those new to our school family, the brief version of the facts are that our son, twenty years old at the time, was diagnosed with a melanoma located on his scalp in 2011. After surgery all was well until this summer when a biopsy of a lymph node in his neck was positive. Convinced that the procedure was an “abundance of caution”, we went about packing up and hitting the road before we knew the results. Med school orientation waits for no one, after all.   Off we went.

The call came in the middle of Pennsylvania, at the halfway point.  “He needs more surgery. Do you want to come back, or keep going to New York?” “Keep going,” says Christopher from the passenger seat. We move him in. Christopher is not fazed. For his sake, Tom and I feign the same strength. We leave him in New York with a new oncologist, new surgeon, and no answers. Tom and I drive home, Christopher starts classes, and we all “keep going”. We wait two weeks.

We learn that the plan is to remove all lymph nodes on the left side of his head and neck on Wednesday, Sept. 3. I like a plan and feel better.

Five and a half hours into a surgery predicted to be four, in a waiting room with no updates, no reading material (“Your Prostate and You” doesn’t count!), no TV and a large digital clock that displayed not only hours and minutes, but also seconds - time suspended.   Friends and family rallied, and the most stressful of afternoons became simultaneously the most blessed. The SCS administrative team, family, and friends learned of the circumstances. Immediately I start receiving texts with links to “top 20 jokes”, articles to read, video clips of acrobats. Not everyone will remember the texts they sent, but I do.

HIs surgeon appeared. I rose to meet him, and we met in the middle of the crowded waiting room. “There is more cancer. We won’t know how much until pathology comes back in one week. The good news is Memorial Sloan Kettering in right here . . . in case it’s stage 4 . . . clinical trial . . .. Are you OK?” The hum in the room had silenced. A nun made the sign of the cross. “You can see him in another hour and half.” The surgeon hugged me. He may not remember the gift of that hug, but I do.

Because of the nerves that were disturbed, Christopher had a temporary facial droop like a stroke patient on his left side. He opened his eyes and slurred “Happy Birthday”. The recovery room nurse asked “really”? I nodded yes. She burst into tears.

And thus began the week-long wait for pathology and a journey that dropped strangers into our lives that showed us in profound ways how small kindnesses matter so much. I thought I knew that before. I really didn’t. Now I do.

Christopher spent four days in New York Presbyterian Hospital. Security there is tight. A security guard noticed I wasn’t going home, but rather left for about 10 min. each morning for coffee, a newspaper and some fresh air. He asked why, and then proceeded to introduce me to all the guards there with a directive in the thickest of NY accents: “She’s one of us, part of the family. . . Never make her wait in line again.” He probably doesn’t remember, but I do.

Tom has arrived now. I had been adamant that he would be needed much more starting Friday or Saturday. “I got this”, I said. “No worries”, I said. I did not realize how wrong I had been, how hard it was on him to honor my request, nor how foolish I had been to think my idea was a good one, but now I do.

After Christopher is released from the hospital on Saturday, I move with him to his dorm room. On Monday afternoon he goes to class. I had no prior experience with coed dorm bathrooms. Now I do!

Tuesday morning Christopher leaves for class cranky that I am still in town. “Mom, the news will be whatever it is . . . I’ll call you.” I create a reason to stay. The Dalton School welcomed me, and I was distracted for the morning by a tour with lovely people who share the passion for education and independent schools that I have. They could have said no. It was the day before school started for them. They won’t remember that tour as particularly meaningful, but I do.

I decided to pass the rest of afternoon walking in Midtown. On a busy corner, a stranger tapped me on the shoulder. In an unmistakable Texas accent, she asked for directions. We were going the same way. As I walked with her and her grown daughter, we figured out that she and my parents had lived in Wichita Falls, TX at the same time; neither lives there now. Yes, they had met each other. They had gone to church together. Did she have my permission to call home and put Christopher on the prayer list? She may not remember this. I do.

It was late afternoon and starting to rain. I slid into the back seat of a taxi and gave the driver an address more than 100 blocks north. It was shift change. He started to balk. Then he asked why I needed to go - - a question that otherwise might have felt intrusive. I told him. He then told me he’s not a career cab driver, but holds a medical degree from India and is driving just until he takes his board exams in the US. He has a special interest in oncology. He turns off the meter and drives me “off the clock.” He likely doesn’t remember. I do.

The morning of the 10th arrives. It’s now been a week. Christopher goes to his appointment alone. We have raised him to be strong, resilient, and independent. I’m not sure we had a choice. It’s difficult to let this happen, but I am proud and wait in his dorm room for the call. It is good news. Only one other node was involved. “Keep going” the doctor says. We’ll see you for a check up in December.”   Did he take the stitches out? I asked. “Good, let me see”. He says “No, Mom. I’m late for class. Thank you, I love you, and it’s time for you to go.” You may or may not know what it is to experience joy, relief, gratitude, pride and extreme irritation simultaneously, but I do!

I will write this year about helping our children build inner strength and resiliency, helping parents cope with stress and anxiety about child-rearing, and learning to recognize what we can, cannot, and should not control in our children’s lives - and how to discern the difference. I share it because I strongly believe in the importance of teaching our children - and reminding ourselves - to recognize gifts of kindness, regardless of how seemingly small, in the midst of good times and bad . . . and to be the “giver” as frequently as possible. These are topics that I hope resonate with all parents.

You each have your own stories, your own worries, and your own joys that are equally as important to you and as much a part of your family’s story as this one is for us.  I tell ours in part so that the articles, the opinions, and the advice I share from this point forward have context.

While every educator may or may not feel as deeply about teaching children in a supportive, nurturing environment as we do, or support students in discovering their strengths and passions as much as we do, or understand that it’s frequently the “small stuff” that matters most like we do . . . those of us fortunate enough to make SCS our home joyfully do.