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Back-to-School During Covid-19

A panel of Collaborative Problem Solving experts, with personal experience as parents and educators, talk about how we can prepare for Back-to-School in the context of COVID-19. Recorded September 1, 2020.

 

Dr. J. Stuart Albon: Good afternoon, folks, or good morning still, to those on the west coast. Thank you for joining us for what is, at this point, planned to be our last CPS Chat. I have to say I have really enjoyed this opportunity to connect with people in our community here at Think:Kids and folks who are broadly interested in supporting kids and families who struggle with behavioral challenges.

So today, very aptly, on September 1st [2020], is our back-to-school focus. I’m going to introduce our panelists here and set the stage for this conversation. For us to get going, so if I could, please ask Ben, and Hallie, and Lucas if you all want to turn your video on so folks can see you as well; thank you. There you all are.

Thanks for joining us. Let me make a few introductions. Ben Stich and Hallie Carpenter are members of our staff at Think:Kids who are not only talented trainers and coaches but serve all kinds of other roles in the organization, including notably Ben overseeing our Certification program. And Lucas Vincent, who is joining us, is a participant and a graduate of that program as he is certified in Collaborative Problem Solving. Well done, Lucas. I think that there are a few things that we all share here with the panelists. But first, let me just say a little bit more about Lucas, who’s joining us from McMinnville High School out in Oregon who, as I understand, has been the lead teacher in their Social-Emotional Growth classroom. And you’ve been working with students who struggle with their behavior for more than a decade now.

In addition to his work with these kids, he also shares what Ben and Hallie, and I share here, which is also having children of our own who are heading back to school in this very crazy and uncertain environment. Lucas has two active elementary school-age boys, and so he and his wife are navigating it from that side of the fence, if you will, as well. I know personally for me I’ve got three kids. And my family’s sort of a study unto itself because for our three kids, we have each one of the scenarios we have one kid who is completely remote, one kid who is there in person, and one kid who’s got the hybrid two days there three, days remote. So, we sort of run the gamut within my own family. So, I hope that we will all be able to foster a dialogue both when it comes to the professional angle on this and the parent angle on this.

So for our attendees, if you haven’t been to one of our CPS Chats so far, what we like to do is I’m going to kick off the conversation and start asking some questions to Ben and Hallie and Lucas, and just get the conversation going. As you all are listening and thinking about the things on your mind, please use the Q/A function to type in any questions or comments, or areas you would like us to touch on. After about 15-20 minutes of discussion or so, we’ll start making our way through all of those questions in hopes of getting to all of them or at least as many as possible. But don’t hesitate at any point to type in any comment or question; sometimes, we’ll just sort of take a break in the action and go right to them. I’m hoping this is going to be as much a dialogue with the attendees as it is a dialogue with my co-hosts here. As I take a quick scan of our attendee list, and I know that we’ve got some people who’ve joined already who have a wealth of experience at the leadership level when it comes to navigating challenges in the school environment in districts that we’ve worked with so I’m hoping we hear from our attendees as well. And the last thing I’ll say before kicking it off is that we do record these. So, we’re glad to say that we found these chats reach many, many, many more people after the fact. Folks who are not able to join us live, not surprisingly, because many people are dealing right now with the things we’re going to be talking about today. So, this will be available; we’ll send out a link on social media and other ways so that people can listen in at any point.

So, without further ado, let’s get to the topic at hand. I got to say this heading into this crazy school year; I think in many ways this is a school year that calls out for Collaborative Problem Solving more than any other school year. Because my goodness is everybody, kids, educators, parents, being asked to display skills related to flexibility, frustration tolerance, and problem-solving like we have never before. But as we’ve talked about on some of these other CPS Chats, one of the sad ironies is during the chronic stress of a pandemic like this, our ability to access our skills is much more limited. So right when we need those skills the most, it’s harder for us all to access those skills. And to make it worse, if you’re interacting with somebody else who’s feeling chronically stressed and having a hard time accessing those skills. What we say is “dysregulation breeds dysregulation,” and pretty soon, everybody can have a hard time doing their best. Many who know our work know our mantra is Kids Do Well if They Can, Teachers Do Well if They Can, Parents Do Well if They Can. We’re all doing the best we can to handle these circumstances. But this is tough. This is a tough time right now. So, we’re hoping to provide some guidance to folks and some assistance.

I thought I’d start asking you all, Ben, Hallie, and Lucas, about just backing up a little and talking about expectations coming into this very uncertain school year. This is a school year that maybe we tested the waters a little bit at the end of last school year. But if anybody can even remember back then, this is going to look very different. Does anybody want to chime in a little bit about the importance of expectation setting and communicating? Here I’m talking about both at home and school, and I’m curious if people have any thoughts on this topic.

Ben Stich: I’m happy to jump in first. I mean, my thought is it’s critical, and I’m sure that goes without saying, and that’s why you led there, Stuart. I think it’s really important for parents and teachers to step back and rethink the expectations they have for themselves, their kids, and their students because it’s a completely different set of demands and circumstances and context for which these kids are going to be learning. I think about my brother’s family a lot; there’s three kids, nine, seven, and two. They’re all from home; some of them have some learning difficulties. They’re working from home. There’s a two-year-old running around, wants to get on every device. What are realistic expectations for what the kids can do? I think a lot about kids with significant difficulties with cognitive flexibility. I think making sure that expectations are flexible, based on whatever the needs are of the kids is it’s going to be pretty essential. And very difficult right because there’s this negotiation that happens between parents, parents’ desire to meet teacher expectations themselves at the school, and the district has of them the challenge the district has to meet the expectations of an IEP, for example. I think the big picture is it’s essential to step back and think about what are realistic expectations how can we teach those expectations to the kids and not just thinking about the kids’ skills but the parents’ skills and their ability to deliver. I have a set of parents I’m working with right now where they keep creating expectations they love but aren’t realistic. Not about the kids’ ability to meet them, but about the parents’ ability to set them, remind them, reinforce them, remember them when they’re distracted with work. And so, the work with that particular family is not about Plan B right now; it’s about thinking about expectations.

Stuart: So just for folks who are sort of newer to our work Ben when he’s using the term Plan B, he’s using a sort of code for collaborating to solve a problem, whether that’s with a kid or a teacher. And what you’re saying, Ben is even before we talk about collaborating to solve problems, we’ve got to be clear about what the expectations are in the first place. And one of the things I’m struck by, and I’d love to hear Lucas and Hallie’s thoughts about this, is the beginning of the school year in any classroom is always about expectation setting because these are new kids to you, and your class is new to them. And I found particularly at the early ages when expectations are set the most effectively if they are done a little bit collaboratively. In other words, if your expectations are things that you’re imposing upon a kid or kids, you’re setting it up for some trouble in the beginning. Whereas if the expectations are set jointly, together collaboratively, then when an expectation isn’t met, it’s not just the teacher’s problem or the parent’s problem because it’s your expectation. Now there’s some joint ownership around this, and I’d love to hear others thinking on this front.

Hallie Carpenter: Actually, I’m glad you brought that up, Stuart, because I was thinking about that as Ben was talking about expectations because I’ve been trying to think back to what spring was like, and we really had like these fluid expectations that were happening because we’re trying to figure out what’s happening all the time. And I think one of the mistakes that I made is that I wasn’t very clear at articulating and like in a way that my kids could understand those expectations. And so I was thinking about this fall and starting school. I sat down with them and had a conversation with them about how the spring went and how there were some things that were kind of hard. We did have a nice discussion about what expectations or what things were important to us as a family to be figuring out what’s going to work best for them and also what’s going to work best for me and my spouse, who are both working at home in those same hours. And it’s really amazing. Sometimes you forget what amazing insights kids have. If you just talk to them, so even some of the things that my incoming kindergartner five-year-old came up with, I was like, oh wow, that’s a really good idea for what we should do. And I think it gets a little bit more buy-in honestly from them about being able to then meet the expectations because we talked about it, and we had a discussion around it. I think it’s really nice when we can do that even with the younger kids who sometimes we think, oh well, they can’t engage in a discussion around that, but they can surprise us sometimes around that.

Lucas Vincent: To piggyback off of you guys, I also think it allows them to have more of an understanding of what the expectations are if they’re bought into it. They’ve had the conversation; they’re going to really understand them a lot better. With everything’s shifting and moving so fast over the like the past several months, it’s hard to keep up with it if you’re not really involved in it.

Stuart: Well said. So I think part of the theme I’m hearing is that the more you cultivate engagement and co-authorship right from the beginning of what this new school year is going to look like, the more you protect against there being sort of problems as you as you get going.

Okay, so let’s talk about let’s say you’ve got your expectations set as clearly as you can they’re going to be so many problems this fall when it comes to people meeting expectations. And I say people because I mean all of us, I don’t just mean the kids; I mean us, parents, because of all we’re juggling at the same time and the teachers as well. So, I’m interested in sort of shifting into that area, and I’ll kick it off by saying this that I have been impressed throughout the pandemic and actually through the pandemics, I guess one could say how much advice there has been out there about how to talk to kids. and don’t get me wrong I think it’s extreme extremely helpful for us to know how to talk to kids, but one of the things I found is that the more guidance we adults have for how to talk to kids, the more we talk. and not just to kids but at kids and it’s great to have the stuff to say, but if we have it, we’re going to use it, and I think one of the things that is often missing is how to listen to kids. and honestly how to listen to parents, and how to listen to educators as well because to understand know how to solve a problem you got to understand what the problem is all about. and that’s I think going to be at a premium this fall is how do we listen to one another to understand each other’s experiences. So you all the three of you have a great deal of experience using Collaborative Problem Solving in your own homes, in schools; talk to me a little about how we can help people who are attending to approach problems when they arise in this new environment this fall.

Lucas: I’ll go ahead and Stuart, please as an educator uh working with parents obviously with students who struggle significantly I’ve offered kind of a resource like being able to work sometimes instead of working on their schoolwork let’s talk about what’s going on in the home how can we help support you in different ways. Because of what we do, typically with like my special ed part, I would be giving instruction in the classroom, and that’s been cut down significantly because of the way we are doing school now. , my special ed services in my mind parents benefit, students benefit, from me being able to provide Plan B conversations over Zoom and things like that. Allowing them opportunities to actually get more access to us and get more access to that problem-solving and the skill building that takes place.

Stuart: And Lucas, you’re bringing up something that may be my biggest concern heading into the fall. When I think about our work with schools, you know we’re teaching people a lot how to do this thing again you refer to Plan B, this Collaborative Problem Solving thing, where you listen hard to the other person, you express your concerns, not your solution, and you invite collaboration to figure out how to solve a problem in a mutually satisfactory way. One of the things that it hinges on is the opportunity to do it. And pre-pandemic I think it’s the biggest question any teacher has coming out of our training is “I love this, sounds great. But, how do I make the time to do Plan B? Even it’s just a few minutes, how do I find that time to have even especially a one-on-one conversation?” Now I think there are lots of opportunities to do Group Plan B even in a fully remote environment. But grabbing a few minutes to connect with a kid individually is absolutely critical in my mind, and I’m really worried about the diminished opportunity to do that this school year. And I’ve been sort of encouraging a lot of schools I work with to think about what’s that going to look like? How are you going to do this on remote days? Or, if you’re fully remote, what’s that going to look like? And I wonder other people’s thoughts about this particular challenge.

Lucas: I think one of the ways that I’ve gone around it for me is trying to schedule office hours and letting the parents know, letting the students know hey when we need to if you need to connect, or these are the times that we’re going to connect. I think you have to be purposeful about building it in because otherwise, it really won’t happen.

Ben: There’s no question that creativity needs to come into play. I know some high school teachers, for example, they’ll text their students or use email, and while it’s not the same kind of organic natural flow of a conversation, there are still questions, there are still answers, there’s still kind of engagement. So, I think there are creative ways of doing it that way. And from a parent’s perspective, I’d like to jump on the Group B bandwagon a little bit. I think there are opportunities if they’re siblings and in the home, to have family meetings daily, weekly, because I think when you participate in this problem-solving process, one of the risks is thinking, okay we’re going to talk about this problem like logging on time or getting your homework done, or whatever and the problem you have a solution it doesn’t work. There’s a risk that it’s a static process where, okay, we tried to problem solve it didn’t work, so now what do we do? Versus looking at problem-solving is just a process. It’s a continual process where we’re going to have a conversation we’re going to then check-in in a few days the family is we’re going to figure out if it’s working. Then we’ll make some adjustments, and hey, what else is hard about this and being curious about what the kids’ experiences are. The group process can be very effective and can address some of that time challenge, especially if you bake it into time that you might be together already, like a meal or right before watching a movie on Friday night while you’re eating pizza. And whatever it is that your family traditions might be. And I do hope it.

I’ve been curious. I mean, I want to give Hallie a chance here, but I do think something worth noting is also really working hard, and this is hard, and I can tell you it’s been hard is stemming from the impulse to know what’s going on for the kid for your child or for your student. I’ve been so surprised that when I think I know why a child is having difficulty logging in or engaging with their classmate or responding to their teacher, sometimes I’m right but more often not the reason something was so far removed from my radar. And to your point that you mentioned earlier, Stuart, until you know what the concerns are, what’s going on for the child, it’s really hard to solve for it.

Stuart: Right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked the question, “what do I do when my kid isn’t engaging in their remote work?” And my quick answer to that is, I have absolutely no idea what to do. And the reason I have absolutely no idea is because I don’t know why yet. And there’s myriad reasons a kid won’t. What we try to embrace in Collaborative Problem Solving is that we may not be so happy that they’re not logging on, but you know what? I bet there’s probably a good reason, and I suggest for teachers and for parents that’s the leading, that’s the lead into this conversation, “Hey, I’ve noticed you haven’t been logging on. I’m sure there’s a good reason why, and I just want to understand what that’s about.” And to Ben’s earlier point, man, you’ll be surprised how many different versions of concerns there are that all lead to the same endpoint of I’m checking out when it comes to this remote learn Hallie jump in, please.

Hallie: Well, I have a perfect example related to that, and it’s like you couldn’t have set it up better, but I was thinking about I had almost this exact same conversation. It’s almost like we worked together. This last spring with my, let’s see he was a second-grader, and he was not wanting to log into his Zoom whole class meetings, and I was like, oh he just wants to rush through get his all work done so he can play, and so those are my like initial assumptions and thoughts that came up. And like you said, we found little moments in which to have the conversation in chunks. He loves food, so we had started it at breakfast; we didn’t quite finish the conversation. I said, “Hey, I just really noticed that it seems hard to log into your whole group Zoom meetings. Can you tell me what’s going on?” We got a little bit going there, and it ended up being totally off of my radar for what I thought the concern would be is that when he saw all the kids on the Zoom call, it made him really miss his friends, and so it made him feel sad because he was seeing them and wanted to have like some one-on-one time like he had had in the classroom with them. And so I was like, whoa, that really challenged a lot of assumptions that I had, and also that’s a concern that I have too is that he’s not getting that social interaction with his friends. And so, we were able to come up with a solution to connect find some other times to connect with friends in different avenues so he could have some of that one-on-one time. It still made it hard right when he was logging in to his Zoom meeting still had some of those feelings, but and we continued to kind of talk through those as we went through, but I got a better understanding had a lot more compassion for what he was going through and experiencing and had a better understanding about how to support him in some other ways. And really felt this stronger connection with him throughout the process. And again, it wasn’t this one static sit down conversation with him, but rather it was something that kind of happened over time, and each time we talked, we got a little bit more information, or we got a little deeper into it because I think he had some different insights as well into it. And so, anytime I have these interactions with my own children or children in schools, I feel like I learn something new right you come away with some new type of opportunity of learning well with them so.

Ben: I really appreciate that we have some mantras at Think:Kids, “be prepared to be surprised,” “be curious, not furious,” and I think of another family I worked with where the child also was refused to log on. The issue was that they saw another student in their classroom chat something mean to another student and they were scared that they would be bullied or be on the receiving end of something mean. And the parents were convinced that do with curriculum or the teacher or being too tired or not getting to bed at the right time or whatever it might be. And to me that also helped in segues to another point which is, I think the increasing demand to collaborate between family and school. Right so, in an example like that, the parents can do a wonderful job of understanding what the concerns are, but there are limitations to how they can solve for it right without the teacher’s involvement.

Stuart: Yeah, and I used to, before the pandemic, I think one of the things we all dealt with was challenges with kids meeting expectations around homework, and one of the things I counseled every family I worked with and teacher was if it’s a homework issue there’s got to be collaboration across home and school. Because it’s supposed to be done at home, but it’s assigned at school, so there’s a whole bunch of people involved here and understanding where the breakdown is and what might be going wrong. Well, actually, now if it’s remote learning like school, all of the school is in that position. And so, I think you’re absolutely right that the need for communication and collaboration across school and homes just it’s extraordinary right now. And, of course, educators, I mean time to use the restroom and grab a quick bite to eat during the day forget to do anything else while you’re trying to teach the curriculum. So how do we afford those opportunities so that teachers can be communicating? Because all of a sudden their class, their colleague in the classroom is now 35 parents who are out there in their homes, and so that’s an extraordinary challenge, I think. And it does, by the way, point out uh something you said, Ben which is the need for incredible creativity here in terms of how we’re going to do this. And I want to actually bring up one great creative example a charter network in the Boston area that we work with kicking off the school year. One of the things they’ve started to do is trying to work their schedule rework their schedule because, of course, the schedules are entirely reworked to figure out how they could have another adult popping into Zoom classrooms, and then if something’s happening and you literally see a kid disengaging, some issue going on, they’ll invite that student to a zoom breakout right then and there one-on-one. So, you’re able to quickly say, hey, I’ve noticed that you turned your video off, and you’ve been off well, don’t worry, you’re not in trouble, but what’s going on? Everything okay? Just checking in with you. And so that’s one creative Zoom use of trying to connect one on one, but clearly, we’re going to need a lot of other creative ways to communicate, to collaborate, and I guess the other thing is to build a relationship. Right, I mean, we haven’t said this yet, but like, what does this all rest on? This all rests on relationship building. And how do you do that? Especially in a largely virtual environment, and even if you’re in person, by the way, with half your face covered, trying to stay far away from one another and everybody on edge. It is hard enough there to create a relationship.

Let me see here, folks, we’ve got uh some things coming into our Q&A here that I think I’d like to pivot to a little bit here, so one question is: “How we would engage with a school that refuses to implement an IEP for your kid when she really needs one? They say homework’s not a school issue when it is, and that’s when she has the most troubles with her anger and aggression.” So, this tough question. I guess I’ll be interested to hear others’ perspectives here. I shared my bias a few minutes ago that I believe everybody does the best they can, even schools. And what I mean by that is, just like if a kid’s refusing to do something, I take the perspective of let me understand their concerns. If a school’s refusing quote-unquote to do something, that’s what I’m interested in understanding too. What’s their perspective on the role of an IEP here? But I would also add that I got to tell you, I’ve worked with kids who’ve had tremendous IEPs, the best IEPs in the world, and they haven’t been implemented well, so it doesn’t matter. And I’ve worked with kids who don’t even have a 504 plan of any shape or kind, and they get incredible assistance because the educators really know who the kid is, what they’re struggling with, and how to help. So I would say to you sort of less about, and I know there are legal protections and coverage here but less about the IEP and more about can we help the school to understand why she is having such trouble with her anger and aggression when it comes to homework. And it’s important to remember that sometimes in schools it’s very hard for us in a school to understand what might be happening at home because kids will look totally different at school than they do at home. I can’t tell you how many educators I’ve said, wow, you’re working with this family; why do they have a psychologist involved? She’s like the easiest kid; she’s delightful; she’s a class leader. And I say, oh well, that’s funny. I don’t think her parents would describe her that way. And by the way, it happens in the reverse as well angel at home trouble at school. Why is that? Home and school are completely different places with totally different demands. Now, of course, in the remote environment, they’ve got similar demands too. But anyways. Lucas, Hallie, Ben, I don’t know if anybody else wants to chime in on this question here at all well.

Hallie: I was thinking, I mean you’ve made a lot of really great points, Stuart. One of the things I was kind of thinking about along those lines that’s been helpful sometimes when we come into situations where we feel like from a school setting, we’re looking at things totally different than the home setting right where we’ve kind of got these dueling solutions that are out there. Because oftentimes what happens is people come to the table with two sets of solutions, and we try to talk through the solutions, and behind each of those really are valid concerns, right? Really good concerns, and if we can take the time to break it down a little bit and really truly address or find out what the concerns are behind them, behind those solutions, oftentimes we come up with more mutually satisfactory types of solutions. And sometimes we realize that we’re actually coming at things from the same place but in a different way. And so, I think one of the things that has sometimes been helpful is to work on completing a CPS Assessment together right and to look at and examine what are the behaviors that we’re seeing across home and school. What are the specific situations that we notice are really challenging for the youth at home and at school? And what are some of those lagging skills that are behind it? And sometimes, that can get us to a place where we can come up with an action plan for what we want to do or how we want to move forward with some solutions. And so, as much as we are able to team together to do that process or some sort of process to examine things a little deeper, I think that can be helpful too.

Ben: I think the other thing I would add, and again I want to acknowledge what you said, Stuart, is that there are certainly legal implications of compliance with an IEP. It is perhaps for the family to identify who has the best relationship with their child. Regardless of whether or not it’s the team chairperson is in charge of the IEP process or the school administrator, it could be a paraprofessional; it could be the special ed teacher. It could be a general education teacher, but I think perhaps one option is to explore the conversation with them first because those are people who really understand their child who might be able to hear their, the parents’, concerns and work together to try to think through how best to meet their child’s needs. I’ve seen a lot of success with that, really leveraging relationships. As you said earlier that everything rests on the quality of relationships.

Stuart: Yeah, yep. Well, and I think one of the other things I’m hearing from both of you is, when possible here the importance of being as proactive as possible. And we did have a little bit of a window into what things might look like at the tail end of last school year. And so if your child, if your student, was struggling in particular ways then, it would be a pretty good bet that it might be trouble again this fall. And so that’s the importance of a teacher communicating to their colleague who this kid is coming into their class. What did you see in the remote learning environment? But as parents, also if we have concerns about how our kids were able to engage, getting ahead of that. And as Hallie said, also if you look through the lens of “skill not will,” which is what we try to do here at Think:Kids, and see that when kids are struggling or anybody for that matter, it’s more likely a struggle with skill instead of a lack of will to do better. If you look through that lens and keep in mind what are the skills that your child struggles with that are making it even harder right now, getting ahead of that and helping your teacher, your kid’s teacher, to know that this is an area of growth for them that we’re expecting is going to be a challenge. It is going to increase empathy right from the beginning and help teachers to be more proactive.

Ben: And teachers usually tremendously appreciate that kind of communication for families. I hear that universally.

Stuart: So we got another question coming in here which is: “How do we suggest Plan B-ing,” and again we’ve got the lingo here, so that’s shorthand for how do we suggest collaborating to solve “doing school remotely,” which is that’s a big question, Deborah Ann. But she’s saying, bring teachers and parents together is challenging remotely, as we’ve been saying. Homework used to be a big issue, but what I read your comment/question here saying is teachers are understandably, as they should, trying to pursue a whole host of expectations. When for some kids, just the fact that they are showing up online is a success. And how do we try to? These are my words, not hers, not sweat the small stuff. So, for instance, if a kid shows up in PJs as opposed to more serious attire, we might not like it, but we’re happy they’re there. And, I think first of all, since we are talking to a lot of educators here, even before we talk about how to collaborate to solve a problem, one of the things we talk about is prioritizing. Just deciding what are you working on and what are you not working on. And in the middle of a pandemic, with the most unusual start to a school year, I think there’s a lot of things that we need to decide. You know what? Maybe those used to be important. They’re not so important right now. And I would put PJs on that list in my book, and it’s not to say, if you’re there in person, I actually think what kids look like does matter. It does show a certain appreciation for the importance of the learning environment. But if we’re just hoping that kid’s going to show up. You know what? I’d rather have them there in PJs than not there at all. And so, people familiar with Collaborative Problem Solving, that’s what we mean is use Plan C. Decide proactively I’m not taking up the PJ thing, just happy they’re there. Now, if the year gets going and they’re there a bunch, and things are cooking, and you want to address the PJ thing, then you bring that back, and you decide to take that on collaboratively. But Deborah Ann’s question is also “how do you talk to the teachers about this?” And before I open this up to the group, the one thing I want to say is remember the most important piece of Collaborative Problem Solving its empathy. Right? I mean, Teachers Do Well if They Can. Teachers are not trying to get our kids to wear something other than their PJs because they want to cause trouble. No, they’re just trying to pursue good expectations, and if you think we need to prioritize a little bit differently, start with empathy not for your kid, but empathy, in this case, for your teacher. And understand their perspective and concern first before you share yours. And that’ll get the conversation going. So my fellow panelists here, anything to add when it comes to addressing Deborah Ann’s question here?

Ben: You kind of said what I was thinking. Yeah, it’s the same lead-in, right? “Hey, I noticed that the kids not wearing PJs seems really important for your class. I’m kind of confused by that. Can you help me understand it?” Right? And then understanding the teacher’s perspective and then sharing your concern. Like, “well, really, it’s been so hard to get my child to participate. It’s actually creating a lot of conflict and making it harder for them to learn.” Whatever the parent’s concerns.

Stuart: So, the Plan B you’re doing is actually is the parent with the teacher, okay. Now some might be saying, “oh wait a sec, so you’re saying I actually use Plan B on the teacher?”

Ben: No, with the teacher.

Stuart: And that’s what I would say, is no you don’t use Plan B on anyone folks it’s not some special technique that use surreptitiously. No, you collaborate with them, and by the way, it’s okay for them to know that’s what you’re doing. But notice what Ben said; you start with their concern, as opposed to starting with yours. Here’s what starting with yours looks like, “hey, I just don’t think that it’s important that my kid be wearing something other than their PJs. And I think we should just be happy that he showed up, and so I really think it would be good if you were to just lay off for the PJs.” Right? What happens if you’re the teacher? You feel disrespected, you start to get dysregulated, and collaboration goes out the window. If however, you say, “hey it seems like him not being his PJs is important, and I bet there’s a very good reason because this is this is important that they show up at school and take this seriously.” Right? “So, I just wanted to touch base with you about that.” What are you doing? You’re regulating that teacher through empathy. And by the way, teachers, it’s the same exact thing when we’re saying how do you talk to a parent who has who’s upset about something start by regulating them before you’re going to share your concern. All right, Deborah Ann, I hope that’s helpful there.

Hallie: All right, can I add on that too?

Stuart: Of course, Hallie, please.

Hallie: Well, I think one of the also things that we think about too with Plan B that’s so important is building relationships. Right? And we’re talking about not only building strong relationships with but also creating those strong bonds and relationships with other adults. Which is equally important if we think about moving forward in working because part of the success of educating our kids is having strong relationships with families, right? We know that that creates really good outcomes, and so this process of utilizing collaborative problem solving helps to build relationships amongst everyone. And so it’s equally important to use it with adults as it is with kids.

Stuart: Thank you. All right, if anyone has any other questions or topics they would like us to address in the closing minutes here, I would invite you to type those in the Q&A, and in the meantime, if not, I’m going to encourage each of our panelists just to share any last words of wisdom, anything that you would suggest people keep in mind when it comes to this very challenging year ahead so if anyone wants to chime in with some final thoughts for the group here.

Hallie: One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and in my role as a parent and working in schools and working with people in different places is how we apply this model to ourselves as well. So, we can be very hard on ourselves and if we can go back to that philosophy of People Do Well if They Can, it means I’m Doing Well if I Can. And have more compassion for ourselves and recognize that we are in a challenging situation and that our skills are going to be stressed right now. And so, how do we apply? Perhaps we need to Plan C, let go of expectations for ourselves as well in the multiple hats and roles that we serve. And that when we can also do that for ourselves, we’re also going to see things improve for everyone around us. So that’s been my mantra lately.

Stuart: Yes, very well said Hallie, thanks for I think that’s phenomenal advice. Ben, looks like you’re going to chime in next?

Ben: Yeah, so to piggyback off that, Hallie just talked a lot about the philosophy that Kids Do Well if They Can, People Do Well if They Can, that We Are All Doing the Best We Can and the idea of problem-solving can not only occur with children, but between adults, parents, and teachers, teachers and parents. I think that is also true for households with two parents. And it’s really important in this era. You know your spouse or whoever else is living in the house is doing the best they can. The demands that everyone is facing now is unprecedented, you know, working from home, having to figure out homeschooling, not having daycare, not being able to. I was on a call with a friend last night, and he was talking about how he’s such an extrovert and how hard it’s affecting his ability to be as motivated and energized as normal because he’s missing that part of his life. We’re all under tremendous stress, and this model can be applied in all relationships so you can problem-solve with your spouse, you can be empathic to your spouse. You can remember that they’re doing the best they can, just like you’re doing the best you can. And that might mean you might need to do what you described as Plan C. There might be some expectations right in your relationship that you guys need to let go of each other, you know, maybe it’s okay the dishes don’t get done on time. Maybe you divide and conquer in a different way. Maybe you just order out on Friday night instead of cooking. Really having empathy, support, and flexibility within the relationship can be important and will just there will be a trickle-down effect, and the kids’ ability to stay calm or what you’re describing is regulated because it will reduce the stress in the environment. And boy, is this environment stressful. There’s so much that we don’t know that’s going to happen. Right we’re talking about expectation setting. It’s like for this week, right? Who knows what’s going to happen next week? All the rules of the game are to change again, right? Who knows what this is going to look like?

Stuart: Exactly. Best laid plans. Well, thank you, Ben. Lucas, anything you want to share in our last minute here some parting words of wisdom for folks?

Lucas: Yeah, I think everybody be patient, be understanding, have that empathy the relationship’s going to be huge, and I honestly am really hopeful that because of the situation, having it be a necessity for us to be stronger communicators with families, that this will actually create more opportunity for us to have those better relationships just based off a necessity. I think in my mind as an educator; I’m at the school until five, six o’clock at night sometimes, and oftentimes I don’t have opportunities to connect with families. And I honestly feel like now, because of the situation we’re in, I might have a little bit more flexibility to make phone calls, to email, to do Zoom calls with families and do some more work with them, and hopefully provide some more resources. So be hopeful that wherever everybody is out there that they’ll have opportunities as well.

Stuart: Thank you, Lucas. And thank you, Divina, for your kind comments about this conversation, which we hope has been helpful for folks. Karen, I don’t want to leave you short here. You snuck your question in. I invited it, so I’m going to try to answer it super quickly. First of all, talk about empathy for kids under nine together 24/7. Oh my gosh. I feel for you already, but she’s asking a couple two of the four go from playing well together to all hell breaks loose in a split second. They use Collaborative Problem Solving after the fact, but often somebody gets hit before you can step in. Just make sure, Karen, that you’re not just doing what we call Emergency Collaborative Problem Solving, which is trying to sort it all out at the moment right after it’s occurred. But when the dust settles where people are not fighting with four kids under nine, you’re going to want to just like relax any moment you get to catch your breath. But, try to grab a couple of minutes to have a proactive conversation with those two, if not all four, to do a mini Group Plan B discussion where you simply notice what’s happening, and you try to gather information about why it goes from playing nicely to all hell breaking loose. You’ll get a better read on what the specific triggers are and how you might be able to address them.

All right. On that note, we’re going to wrap things up, but I do also want to let people know that we do have a lot of other ways we can help you all online here. So teachers and parents, or anyone else for that matter, we invite you to consider our online training, which I’ve typed into the chat window here. These are intensive training where you can learn all about Collaborative Problem Solving; four afternoons a week on Zoom, it’ll be your own remote learning. And parents specifically, if you are interested in learning Collaborative Problem Solving along with other parents in a supportive environment, we have online parent classes. Those links are in the chat window for folks. Visit us at thinkkids.org. Lucas, thanks so much for being a part of our certified community and joining us today to share your experiences as a parent and an educator. Hallie, Ben, thank you for joining us as well.

But most importantly, thanks to all the attendees, we do hope this is helpful. We wish you the best of luck with this very uncertain year. And as everybody said, be kind to yourself, be kind to those around you, remember we’re all doing the best we can under very challenging circumstances. Good luck and take care, folks. Thank you, thank you.

 

 

Edited for clarity.

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