Noticing Change

Immediately prior to the beginning of this Pesach break, I had the opportunity to speak with several entire classes of students to share perceptions on change. Together, we recalled their memories of their first school days this past fall and took time to notice what changes have occurred. The students were enthused and initially presented very concrete changes: we are taller, we are older, some of us weigh more, some of us have new babies at home, some of us live in different houses. Then the groups presented broader thoughts: we know more, we have some new friends, we have kept some old friends and come to know them better. The seasons have changed from autumn to winter to spring. Here we were in very chilly temperatures with snow having recently fallen, and the children, without exception, agreed that it is now spring. Quite a bit for the younger ones to grasp conceptually! Then they went on. “Some of us behave differently,” a few offered. “What do you mean? Tell me more about what you have noticed,” I queried, urging them to speak about what they had noticed without using names.  “Well, some of us just behave better… some of us behave worse!” They agreed, for the most part, that the changes had been positive. We talked about mistakes, about learning from them, about some of the factors that lead children to misbehave. We talked about the change of seasons, how things which seemed to be “dead” and gone have returned, fresh and new. We spoke about second chances and more chances than second chances. We spoke about forgiveness and understanding, putting ourselves in the shoes of another person, considering what they might have been feeling or are still feeling. We spoke about not judging others and about giving others the benefit of the doubt. Some of the children who had had difficulty during the year identified themselves as having behaved poorly and as having worked on making changes. And then the children agreed. They simply could not continue without giving compliments to the children whose behavior they had noted to be much improved. They talked about being able to get closer again, to be friends in the same way they had been.  The exchange was certainly going well. Then, one of the children presented a problem. His/her parents had been very clear that he/she was not to play with the child who had been severely misbehaving. “But I want to [play]. They are behaving better. We can be friends again.” Then the children came up with ideas about how to proceed. They could tell their parents about the changes they have noticed, express their desire to renew friendships. Yet, still they were not sure that the parental message would change.

Of course, we want to save our children from hurt feelings, hurt bodies, from getting into trouble by choosing the “wrong” friends. Of course, we know best. Even so, our information is not always the most current. Yes, we have some students at MJDS who misbehave, a very few who behave severely on occasion, for many reasons. Yes, our administration and resource team work very closely with those children and their families. Yet, behavioral change does not occur according to the calendar we determine. Our young students can take note of the changes when they do occur, however, and they seem able to approach new information and new observations with open minds. Are we able to do the same? Rather than provide a message to our children about staying away from another child or other children, might we be able to help them more (and perhaps ourselves as well) in the long run if we simply have a conversation or several conversations about the factors to consider in choosing others as friends or playmates, about change, about giving others the benefit of the doubt and another chance?  Do we really want our children caught in a bind, needing to choose between following our instructions and not letting us down or following their hearts and minds and being true to themselves?

The choice is there for each of us to make. What would you want if the child whose behavior had improved was your child? 


On Your Mark…

The Olympics: what a breathtaking opening ceremony! At this moment, I am moving back and forth between my computer and the TV screen as Michael Phelps is preparing to soar to another record and another gold medal. While the opening of the school year is not the opening of the Olympics, all of our students—your children—may be readying themselves to soar too. Even so, we do not necessarily slip into the new academic year as easily as Phelps slips into the water. He has trained, practiced self-discipline and selfdenial, worked on his take-off, his timing, his stamina, his turns, and his finish. He has made sure to monitor his nutrition and his sleep. He has looked to his coaches to point the way and to his family for support

How can we, as “coaches” and family working together, support the children and point the way? Not surprisingly, it is important for us to help them develop skills in many of the areas where Phelps excels. Transitioning from the “lazy, hazy days of summer” to the tasks and demands of fall requires preparation. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has published on its website ( resources/ home_school/b2shandout.aspx)  suggestions in an article written by Ted Feinberg, EdD, NCSP, and Katherine C. Cowan entitled “Back-to-School Transitions: Tips for Parents.” The article presents  many of the ideas we have talked about together in past years. It stresses physical and mental health, including following a schedule for well-child checks and tracking the social and emotional development that occurred over the summer. Of course, once school begins, breakfast, no matter how small, is as important as our mothers used to tell us it is! The same is true of enough sleep. Setting a schedule that includes a supportive bed-time ritual and reasonable bed time hour is a detail we all know not to overlook. Sometimes easier said than done! We all know (and didn’t need to learn it from research) that scheduled mealtimes and family dinners go a long way to support children. The article also suggests a visit to school. We are looking forward to the K-1-2 family picnic and were delighted to see so many of you at the Ice Cream Social. We are also looking forward to welcoming those children whose parents will arrange a classroom visit with the new teacher as well as those who will just meander through the building before school formally begins. NASP also suggests that we allow plenty of time in the morning so the children (and we) will not feel rushed; having children learn to set their own alarm clocks, and making lunches the night before (it couldn’t hurt to choose clothes the night before, either. It gives children the time to choose between reasonable options, which may  be limited for younger children to two or three parental suggestions). Last, extracurricular activities should focus on quality and enrich the lives of the children engaging in them. Too many activities can be overwhelming for students as well as parents.

NASP encourages parents to choose a place for their children to do homework where it is quiet but where younger children, and older ones if appropriate, can be monitored without feeling intrusion. “Turn off the TV,” NASP recommends, whether it be in the evening before homework is completed or in the morning, when children do better if they focus on the tasks necessary to help them get to school on time. We have also found that a list, whether written or pictorial, helps children follow routines and check themselves on task completion. (If  you would like a sample or would like us to help you develop one of your own, please let me know.) 

Donna Goldberg, author of The Organized Student:Teaching Children the Skills for

Success in School and Beyond, asserts that strong organizational and time- management skills are building blocks to academic success and to success in life beyond the classroom. It is never too late to help children follow, recognize, and create their own routines or establish their own organizational systems. Helping with household chores, learning to ask themselves, “How am I doing?” filling backpacks at night while double checking what goes in, and emptying backpacks completely each day after school all facilitate organization. Of course, younger children need first to watch a parent, talk through the task with the parent, and then work toward independence. It is not ever too late to go through such steps if a student continues to have difficulty.

In addition to  the suggestions that NASP offers parents to help their children, it also suggests that parents be mindful of their own needs, take good care of themselves, and allow their presence to be felt by their children. Certainly, the Day School must be at the top of some list in that regard. For all of you who bring your smiles daily, for your volunteer efforts, for your kindnesses to faculty and staff, we thank you. We can barely wait to open the north and south doors and say, “Welcome back! We are so happy to see you!.” And we hope that you will allow time for coffee and socializing in the dining room after you have dropped your children at their rooms and seen them well off to a successful first day. We are looking forward to it! As we do so, we pray not only for a great take off, but for good timing, stamina, and an equally great finish!