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.