As much as it pains me to admit this, it has been over a year since I have created a post for this blog. Granted in my 10+ years of blogging this is hardly the first period of time where I have stepped away from the JoeWoodOnline keyboard and throughout this time of silence I have still been writing for my school blog. However, last fall something dramatically changed life at home – we became dads.
Last October after a long journey of classes, applications, and home studies we met a 6 year-old boy who officially became our son this past summer. If you follow me on Instagram for Facebook then you have likely seen a few of his photos. During this period of time where we fostered our son and helped him through multiple challenges I really felt a need to be silent – just a time to listen, reflect, and prepare for the next twist in the journey. If you have ever foster-adopted then you know what I mean. The process is emotional, tumultuous at times, and hard to predict because it is always focused on how to best help a child who may or may not become your child. If you are curious what it feels like to be a foster parent Meghan Walpert’s series on the NYTimes Motherlode blog is a must read. Every post usually results in few tears because her story is so similar to our path.
Aside from perhaps clarifying my absence this post is about more than where I have been. Becoming a parent, especially an adoptive parent, has taught me even more as an educator. I always heard this from various parent-educator colleagues, but living it the past year has really opened my eyes to an entirely new world. When I walk around our campuses, teach Minecraft Club, or am principal for the day I see kids in a whole new way and there are three areas where I keep returning in my thoughts.
- Quirky Kids Have a Story – And by “quirky” I might mean they don’t have the best behavior. I’ve taught in high and low poverty environments and children of all sorts of different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Throughout all of these settings I’ve had tons of students who just “didn’t behave.” While I always did my best to build a relationship and try to understand what was going on with a student who might be melting down in class I now realize I was clueless to just how little control many students might have over their own classroom behavior. Rather than behaviors they need to manage, classroom outburst are likely emotional letting…the only way a child who feels powerless due to abuse, poverty, or neglect may feel as if they can exert some control.
- Ignoring is Your Superpower – We are extremely fortunate that our son attends my school and he is at an elementary campus that uses the Love & Logic approach to classroom management. As part of our foster-adopt process our family met regularly with a therapist where we learned how to employ PCIT (Parent Child Interaction Therapy) behavioral management approaches. At the heart of both Love & Logic and PCIT is the idea of ignoring negative behaviors and praising positive ones. It is a bit counter-intuitive, but by reducing the amount of command language (ex: “Please pick up your toys.”) and praising the behavior you want to to see (ex: “I love how you picked up your toys without being asked.”) a child’s overall behavior vastly improves. I wouldn’t believe it had I not see it in my own home and at school. If you are not familiar with Love & Logic or PCIT I would highly recommend checking them out.
- The Power of Teachers – When our son first started at my school he was often under a table in tears by 11am. Rather than seeing him as a problem (which was the experience he had at his previous school) his teachers and principal saw him for who he was – a young child struggling to cope with emotions beyond his control. They provided him more hugs than consequences and recognized that we had to start with little goals like making it the entire day. By the end of the year his behavior had dramatically improved and he had improved self-confidence. We will forever be thankful for his teachers and principal.
Life has changed. You will likely see fewer tweets and posts. I don’t work as late as I used to or spend by evenings catching up on email. I probably will not be at as many edtech events because I have soccer games, bike rides, and trips to Disneyland to attend. It isn’t because I don’t care or am not interested in the conversation. It is because I have an additional focus – a focus that it is also fundamentally changing who I am as an educator.