The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

Self-Care as Resistance

Black woman meditatingThe events of the past few months have left me overwhelmed and exhausted. From the COVID-19 pandemic, whose victims are disproportionately Black, to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, the Black community has faced countless heartaches. As a Black woman, my emotions have ranged from sadness to rage to hopelessness.

In order to take care of myself, I’ve hunkered down and grounded myself in daily practices that center my mental health and wellness. I’ve limited my intake of social media and news, and increased my daily practices of meditation, exercise, and most importantly, rest. There are days when I lie down between work Zoom calls — just to have moments during the day that feel like respite.

I’ve also needed to be intentional about my energy reserves, and what I can afford to put my limited energy towards. For several weeks, I wasn’t able to sit down and write about how I felt, or even to explain it to folks who are not Black — it seemed like a misuse of the small amount of stamina I had. I just needed things to feel easy.

I’ve encouraged my kids to do what they need to take care of themselves, as well. They have listened, and limited their own social media and news intake. They’ve also made the conscious decision to prioritize things that bring them joy: listening to music, dancing, chatting with friends. Of course, they haven’t been through and seen as much as I have (and I pray they never do) so their level of exhaustion isn’t the same as mine. Still, it has made me proud to see them center joy for themselves and understand they are worth that effort.

I’ve always been a social justice activist — it has been the foundation of all of my work, including my role as director of Open Circle, a social and emotional learning program for grades K-5. But I haven’t spent the past few weeks going out and protesting in the streets, much as I want to. I haven’t been calling my government representatives and lobbying for change. Right now, for me, my activism looks like self-preservation and self-care.

When you’ve lived under the specter of racism your entire life, rest can be a form of resistance. Activist Tricia Hersey recently spoke to NPR about how “rest disrupts and pushes back and allows space for healing, for invention, for us to be more human. It'll allow us to imagine this new world that we want, this new world that's liberated, that's full of justice, that's a foundation for us to really, truly live our lives.” Amidst so much heartache, that imagining is critical for the Black community right now.

For many, this might be a time to march in the streets, or to start conversations, or to read and learn. For others, it might be a time to just lie down and rest. Wherever you fit, we all have a role to play in building a better world.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester, M.A., CAGS, is the director of Open Circle, an action program of the Wellesley Centers for Women that equips elementary schools with evidence-based curriculum and training to improve school climate and teach children essential social and emotional skills.

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Guest — Sammy
Hmmm we're all looking forward to seeing that time when the blacks will get justice for this racism. Thanks so much kamilah
Sunday, 20 September 2020 13:12
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When the News Is Scary: 4 Ways to Support Children During the Coronavirus Outbreak

child washing hands with soap and waterAs the mother of four children ranging in age from 5 to 17, I think I’ve heard it all when it comes to the coronavirus COVID-19: every rumor and misunderstanding that gets shared at school and on social media about where it came from and how it spreads. In gently redirecting my children toward the truth--and helping them manage their well-founded anxiety--I’ve leaned on my knowledge of social and emotional learning (SEL).

As the director of Open Circle, an evidence-based SEL program for school-age children, I know that it’s important to help kids develop skills to recognize and manage their emotions. It’s also important for them to feel safe and cared for, especially in the midst of a crisis. Effective SEL strengthens our ability to understand, name, and manage our emotions all while building healthy relationships with others that foster increased empathy and community.

Here are a few things I’ve kept in mind while having conversations with my children about COVID-19, which might be helpful to anyone who has similar conversations with kids in their lives--whether their families or those they interact with in a professional capacity.

Children take their emotional cues from adults.

Kids look to us for how to react to a crisis, so it’s critical that we mind our words and actions when in their presence. We should convey calm and compassion, and focus on the facts available. Familiarizing ourselves with what’s known about COVID-19 and how it spreads allows us to ensure we’re conveying factual information to the children around us. Displaying an overly anxious or fearful affect is “contagious,” and causes children, in turn, to become overly anxious and fearful. We need to remain calm and reassuring as much as possible--and to lean on the other adults within our communities when we need to share our own fears and concerns.

“Othering” behavior and speech must be interrupted.

An unfortunate by-product of this scare has been the othering of Asian American communities, which has led many Chinese restaurants and businesses to lose customers. I’ve heard children say things like “Chinese people caused this” or other disparaging remarks. It’s important for adults to immediately and firmly interrupt these types of comments and othering behavior.

Calm breathing and mindful pauses can help.

At Open Circle, one of the threads woven throughout our curriculum is calm breathing and mindfulness. Teaching children to take three slow, deep breaths or a one-minute mindful pause throughout the day helps them develop the tools to cope when they’re feeling anxious.

It’s OK to say you don’t know.

None of us have all the answers to questions children may ask about COVID-19, and that’s OK. Sometimes these questions do have an answer, and we can find it for them by utilizing the resources available to us: our doctors, school nurses, reputable online sources. Some questions simply can’t be answered with any definitiveness. In those cases, all we can do is help children understand that life comes with gray areas, and not all questions have a straightforward answer. What’s most important is for them to understand that the adults in their lives--whether at school or at home--will be there to protect and assist them, no matter what. As Mr. Rogers’ mother used to say, when there’s a crisis, “look for the helpers.” Knowing that there will always be helpers may go a long way toward relieving children’s worry.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester, M.A., CAGS, is the director of Open Circle, an action program of the Wellesley Centers for Women that equips elementary schools with evidence-based curriculum and training to improve school climate and teach children essential social and emotional skills.

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Guest — Yashi srivastava
It is very important to follow these mindful steps and each and every person should help each other to be safe by the correct ways... Read More
Monday, 16 March 2020 01:20
Guest — Mark Philip
WHAT TO DO IF THERE IS A RISK OF EXPOSURE TO THE VIRUS? • Respect the incubation period and stay in quarantine, symptoms can take ... Read More
Monday, 23 March 2020 04:17
Guest — Pavithra Suresh
Good. Nice analysis with the different angle of thinking, of course the children and mild and young are people are confuse with th... Read More
Monday, 27 April 2020 11:50
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Addressing DACA Impact on School Climate

A diverse group of children sitting together at a library tableThe Trump administration has announced the rescinding of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This decision will affect 800,000 young people in our country. Within six months, they could lose their protected status. This will undoubtedly impact students and their families in a profound way.

At Open Circle, we are deeply concerned about how this will affect the way students engage with school, teachers, and their peers. It’s important to acknowledge that this decision will have ripple effects that will permeate every facet of a school community since schools reflect the fears, concerns, hopes, and aspirations of the neighborhoods they serve.

It is critical during these times of uncertainty that schools remain places where children and families feel welcomed, safe, and cared for. Equipping our children with skills and tools to talk about and express their feelings is essential to emotional wellbeing. Key to this process is providing time in the school day when students are explicitly taught social emotional learning (SEL) skills and have the opportunity to share their emotions and experiences in a non-judgmental, nurturing environment. Encouraging this skill building and providing this communication channel ensures that children are well cared for and able to stay engaged in school.

Focusing on the quality of relationships is another important way to support your school community. It is important to reassure children and families that the positive relationships they have nurtured within their school community remain strong and unwavering.

As educators, we should be aware that feelings of anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and sadness may arise for many members of our school community.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • As much as possible, keep the lines of communication open and free-flowing.
  • Be clear on what your school stands for and reaffirm your mission and commitments to the students and families.
  • Give grace and empathy when necessary.
  • Create time in each day for both students and staff members to talk about how they are feeling.
  • Teach specific coping strategies and give students opportunities to practice.
  • Provide children with the tools they need to manage their feelings and give them permission to express the range of emotions that will no doubt be present.
  • Schedule time daily for meditation, calm breathing or reflection through journaling or sitting quietly. These practices can reduce stress and increase focus which supports learning.
  • Take care of the emotional needs of the adult community. We must first attend to our needs before we can adequately care for the needs of our children.
  • Share facts about current events as you understand them with students.

Sometimes we think that making students aware of what’s going on in the news will make them upset or anxious. Saying nothing may invite rumors and heightened anxiety. Students need to receive and process information with the guidance of caring adults.

Whether or not the rescinding of DACA directly impacts us or people we know, we will all feel the effects of this in our lives. Our children need to know that there are adults who care, and who are willing to support them no matter what. SEL programs such as Open Circle can provide schools with the structure and resources they need to help children successfully navigate challenging circumstances.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester was named Open Circle's new Director in July 2017. Prior to that she led Open Circle’s teacher development programming, which prepares educators to implement and integrate the Open Circle Curriculum. Open Circle is a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

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The Power and Purpose of Post-Election Relationships

One of the central themes of the work we do at Open Circle is relationship building. Developing and nurturing positive and meaningful relationships in schools within the adult community, among the student body and between adults and students is the foundation for creating a learning environment in which everyone feels cared for, can be their best self and do their best learning.

In these post-election times, keeping the focus on relationships is even more important. Now more than ever we are charged with intentionally taking time to address the range of emotions and feelings that our children are experiencing. Giving children the tools needed to speak up, to be allies and positive leaders can empower them during a time when many are feeling confused, uncertain and/or powerless.

Social and emotional learning provides a framework in which to engage students in discussion, reflection and action that can lead to clarity, bridge building and calm.

In the midst of caring for our children we must first attend to ourselves. Similar to the flight attendant instructions of “put your oxygen mask on first,” we cannot expect to be effective with helping our children manage their feelings and how to disagree without being disagreeable if we don’t first do those things ourselves.

The complexities and the social dynamics that we have seen during the election and are seeing played out post-election contain intricacies that our children cannot fully grasp. Our children’s processing of current events is a mirror of how we are processing those same events. They know something is up, but they only know how they should feel or react to that “thing” as they observe how we, the adults in their network, are reacting. Children take their cues from us.

Our children’s pain, tears, fears and anger are often mirror reflections of our pain, tears, fears and anger. To gain a deeper understanding of what many of our children are feeling all we have to do is look at what is happening within the adult community. Children do not process their emotions nor do they take firm stances on social and political issues in a vacuum. Children’s ability to process current events is directly related to how the adults are processing those same events. Many of our children have seen social dynamics during this election season that are confusing and confounding for them. It is critical that we, the community of adults caring for children, are intentional about doing our own processing, healing and talking. Sharing our emotions, fears and hopes with each other. These moments of caring for one another as adults will equip us to be emotionally available for our children and will provide clarity for us as we model how to be in genuine caring positive relationships with one another, when we agree and even more importantly when we disagree.

With this in mind, let us be intentional about the work we do with each other. Let us not fear having difficult conversations, shedding tears, or being allies for one another. It is only when we have walked the walk that we can we be effective conveyors of talking the talk.

Now more than ever, it is important for us to lean in and not shy away from each other. Modeling for our children the power of the tending instinct.* Embracing each other, literally and figuratively, to create communities, schools, classrooms, offices in which no one feels less than, marginalized or pushed to the side. Teaching our children to care for themselves and each other increases empathy, self-awareness and social awareness, which may lead to responsible decisions when they engage with one another and to building relationship skills that bridge political affiliation, race, religion, class, gender identity, and nationality.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester is a program manager at Open Circle, a leading provider of evidence-based curriculum and professional development for social and emotional learning in elementary schools. Open Circle is a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.


 * Taylor, E. Shelley, 2014, The Tending Instinct: Women, Men and the Biology of Nurturing.

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Guest — Leon Bunch
I found this is an informative and interesting post so i think so it is very useful and knowledgeable.
Friday, 16 December 2016 00:16
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Why Relationships Matter

Relationships are essential to fostering equity and excellence in our schools and classrooms. Social and emotional learning (SEL) programs are one of the vehicles that can be used to establish genuine, caring relationships throughout school communities. SEL programs that have a whole-school implementation model and are purposeful about infusing culturally-responsive curricula further enhance the positive impact on schools. It is proven that we learn best when we are in environments in which we feel cared for and connected to others. Research has demonstrated that children who have a positive connection with at least one adult stay in school longer, make better decisions, and have better life outcomes overall. Let’s be honest, when adults work in environments in which they have positive connections and feel cared for and valued, they perform better and their employers experience less turnover. Positive relationships are good for all of us.

As we research and think about our educational system and the gaps that exist for black and brown children, SEL programming has to be a critical component of the discussion. SEL programs, such as Open Circle, which include a whole-school implementation model, not only provide curricula for SEL skill building for students but also include professional development for SEL skill building and consciousness raising for all adults in the school community and at home.

The guiding principles on which Open Circle is grounded provide an important framework for thinking about teaching and learning. The importance of relationships to cognitive and social growth, the importance of teaching SEL skills, and the importance of adults as models are the critical underpinnings of our work.

The importance of relationships to cognitive and social growth

Educators have known for a long time that “[children] don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” - Theodore Roosevelt When we show genuine care and concern for our students and their experiences, inside and outside of the classroom, and when we take the time to truly get to know and understand them, we are creating fertile ground for learning and engagement to take place.

The importance of teaching SEL skills

In my work as an educator in the Suffolk County House of Correction one of the things that struck me was how insightful and intelligent my students were. When I would ask them about their experiences in school, one theme that emerged was that being challenged by academics was not the thing that pulled them off a more positive path, but rather feeling ill-equipped to navigate and manage the social dynamics of school, family and community led to choices and situations that resulted in their involvement with the criminal justice system. Taking time out weekly to focus on SEL skill building is critical to equipping our students with the necessary competencies to cope with, manage, and rise above the daily challenges many face.

The importance of adults as models

The old adage of “do as I say and not as I do” has never been true. Parents and adults who work with children can attest that no matter what you say, children will more likely mimic what they see you do. This fact is important for caregivers and it is equally as important for educators and administrators. Taking time to invest in the quality of adult relationships and the modeling of those positive relationships is critical to this work. The student community mimics the adult community in many ways. If there is derision, gossiping, unfriendliness or devaluing among the adults, the same will hold true for the students. These ways of being permeate the space and gives it an unwelcoming, unsafe, and tense feel. Honoring our strengths, being curious and open to learn about our differences, and being honest about what we know and don’t know all contribute to the development and nurturing of positive relationships among the adult community.

By offering training for administrators, specialists and support staff, grade-level teachers, and families, Open Circle is recognizing that it does in fact “take a village.”

So as we continue the dialogue on how to fill the gaps in educational opportunity and achievement let’s not forget to start with the basics. Relationships, positive and genuine relationships, set the foundation for creating schools and classrooms in which all students and educators feel safe, cared for and engaged to do their best learning and teaching. Social and emotional programming is a means to this end. Open Circle offers the most comprehensive means of getting there.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester joined Open Circle as a Program Manager in June 2013. She is the co-founder of the Dorchester Collegiate Academy Charter School (DCA) in Boston, MA. Kamilah served as the school’s first board chair and later became the Director of Wellness to work directly with students. She oversaw the social and emotional programming at the school. This included developing the social and emotional curriculum, coordinating services with outside mental health and social service agencies, as well as working directly with students and families.

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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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