Today I offer you GRACE
At the start of this school year, I needed a vision for the 2020-2021 school year. I knew the expectations of the curriculum I taught. I recognized the limitations of Covid-19 would significantly alter the normal practices of my classroom. In order to navigate the school year as an educator and as a parent of a school aged child, I needed to re-envision the process of learning. GRACE became my mantra for this school year. Not only did I need to extend grace to others as we navigated our current reality, I needed others to extend grace to me and I needed to extend grace to myself. After sharing this thought with my sister, a middle school teacher with three school aged children of her own, I found that this thought was not only helpful to my students, but also to both teachers and parents. What follows are her applications of the acronym GRACE and how it can be helpful to parents.
I was riding shot gun thru downtown Indianapolis with my older sister at the helm and my two boys, a freshly promoted 3-year-old and his 3-month-old brother. The 3-year-old suddenly points wildly out the window at a sign on the side of a building. “B, momma!” “B says ‘buh’!” I was proud of his accomplishment but when my older sister turned to me and said “Wow! You really are the most amazing stay-at-home mom ever”, I was bursting with pride. But then, I remembered all my other SAHM friends and the tears they shed in secret conversations while our preschoolers played nearby. “I don’t know what I’m doing.” “Maybe I should send him to daycare so he can get a real education”.
Staying at home to help educate my children was a choice I made for a period of time. I walked away from the public classroom to be my children’s primary teacher by choice, not by the cruel force of COVID-19, but even as a trained educator, I still felt overwhelmed by the tremendous responsibility. When I watched the moms around me (CPAs, nurses, receptionists, etc.) all making the same choice as me and all with the same sense of drowning anxiety, I realized I could be a light in the darkness with one simple phrase, “You’re doing just fine.”
Today I offer that and a bit more to you. Our current situation is one that no one chose. You never wanted to work full-time while juggling your child’s zoom schedule. You never wanted to make the choice between paying a bill or proctoring their spelling test, but here you are anyway. Frightened, stressed and seriously contemplating whether 2nd grade math really serves you that well in day to day life. I mean surely Johnny doesn’t need to know how to find the perimeter of a square. Besides we’ve got an app for that.
So instead of offering you more advice on how to set up the perfect “classroom” or how to color code all three of your kids zoom calendars, I’d like to offer you GRACE.
G- Give yourself a break.
When the school year started, I told my students, both in-person and distance, that this year we would be extending grace to each other. Teaching in a hybrid method was new to me and certainly a new journey for them. So, when computers malfunctioned or TEAMs meetings cut off, I offered grace and a bit of my off-hand, embarrassingly bad humor. Now I’d like you to do the same. Don’t expect perfection from yourself, your child or your teacher. We are all learning together. None of us have ever been through a pandemic before and no amount of training could have prepared us for the reality of what is in front of us. So just breathe (and cry or scream or eat that piece of chocolate) and then remind yourself that just like I would be lost at your job as a pilot or technician, doctor or supervisor, you are doing the best you can by just showing up day in and day out for your child. Your child wants to be successful despite their tears and tantrums and I, your child’s teacher, love her and only want the best for him. So, give yourself and others a break.
During your child’s school day, make break time a part of the daily schedule. With your child, establish a list of ways you and your child can take short breaks. This could include an outside activity that you both enjoy, playing a board game or a favorite toy. You might consider writing the items on separate pieces of paper and putting them into a jar. When it is time for a break, draw from the jar and do the activity together.
R- Remember you are not alone.
I don’t know about you, but COVID has caused me to feel isolated and depressed. Recently I ate lunch with a Senior at my school and a colleague. I heard their stories of woe - missed trips, virtual governor’s school, and family members forever lost. Sharing our emotional baggage was hard but it was also freeing. I want to encourage you to talk to others. Share your stories and find freedom in sharing your own. We were made for community.
Finding community during this isolating time can be very difficult to do, yet it is important for both parents and students. Although the thought of another zoom could be the last thing you want to do, you might find a community of like-minded people who wish to set up fun zoom activities. This could include setting up a regular lunch time zoom to allow children to interact with other children as they eat their lunch. If you have access to multiple computers or phones, you could establish a breakout room for parents to chat separately from the children during the same zoom.
Another option is to establish a zoom time for a favorite hobby. This could include a book club meeting or Lego builders club. Be creative with this idea. If your child loves making creations with playdoh then find another child and allow them to zoom together as they make playdoh creations and share them with one another.
A-Assume Positive Intentions
I work with students in grades 6-12. I’m often in situations where it would be easy to assume a kid is misbehaving. While this is sometimes the case, the thing that I have found most valuable is to assume positive intentions, EVEN when the outcome is negative. Look for the good in your child when they slam their hands on the keyboard and ask yourself what’s really going on here. That teacher who hasn’t replied in 5 days (yes, that’s been me) is probably just overwhelmed trying to juggle your child, along with 149 others and his own. Then when you are ready to drive your SUV over your child’s chrome book, see in yourself the parent who simply has run out of steam.
When your child knows that you respect them, yourself and their teacher they are more confident moving forward in this challenging environment. As Dave Stewart, author of These 6 Things says, one of the keys to student success is the belief in the credibility of your teacher. When you give your child the gift of assuming positive intentions, you are fostering their faith in their teacher and in themselves.
Learning to assume positive intentions can be difficult for many people. Be overt in your practice of assuming positive intentions. Discuss it with your child. In so doing, you may be able to build resiliency in yourself, in your child, and help each other grow in your compassion towards other people.
C- Celebrate Often.
Celebrate and celebrate often. In my advisory class or in my own home, I am always looking for a reason to celebrate. Straight A’s mean choosing tonight’s dinner. If it’s your birthday, I’m putting a 12 pack of your favorite Code Red Mountain Dew in your locker because birthdays were meant to be shared. The harder life is for me or those around me, the more I celebrate them. I’d like to encourage you to do the same. You made it through another long day of zoom classes and tears, find a way to celebrate. All 987 assignments got turned in, turn up your favorite music and sing for the entire neighborhood from your kitchen.
The act of celebrating releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine in your brain while it lowers the level of cortisol (Glasser, 2015). This literally reduces your brains’ tendency towards fight or flight and gives you motivation to persist with stressful situations while also improving your attention span.
As you look over your daily to do list, be sure and add celebration to the list. Tie a celebration to each goal. The bigger the goal, the larger the celebration. Just as you worked with your child to make a list of break time habits, use the same procedure to create celebrations. It does not matter how you celebrate as long as it is meaningful to you and your child.
E- You are enough.
Let me make this simple. All your child really needs is you. Coffee stained and wrinkled shirts or manicured nails and flawless hair; they just need to know you love them. This will end someday. When it does, they just need to know you loved them.
I apologize now if you were looking for an expertly crafted research-based article because this is not what this is. I’m just another parent, who happens to be a middle school teacher, offering you my best advice. Give grace to yourself and everyone around you. We may not have chosen this path but together we can do it.
Glasser, J. (2015). Celebrations time: A cocktail each executive should know how to mix.
Psychology Today. Accessed at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/conversational-intelligence/201512/celebration-time
Stuart, D. (2019). These six things: How to focus your teaching on what matters most. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Kendra D. Miller is a wife, former stay-at-home-mom to 3 children, and middle school Social Studies teacher at Central Magnet School.
Heather K. Dillard is a wife, mother to 1 child, former middle school Social Studies teacher and Associate Professor at Middle Tennessee State University.