Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative

Tips for Supporting LGBTQIA+ Families

Download a copy of the full tip sheet PDF.

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For families seeking more detailed information, see our earlier blog post

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Supporting LGBTQIA+ Families

By Megan McQueen

As educators, we work with everyone. I love learning from families as we build a trusting relationship. Sometimes this looks like reassuring a same-sex couple that their family is welcome and included in our conversations about families. Other times, I support families as their children question their gender identity. Always, it means that materials and books I share represent all families. The most meaningful connections I make is when I become an ally for a family. True acceptance might look like using preferred pronouns, considering restroom options ahead of time, and treating everyone with compassion. 

Here are some suggestions to help support LGBTQIA+ families in your classes:

Pronouns: Ensure our classes are welcoming of all genders by inviting everyone to share the pronouns they use. People can write their pronouns on their name tags if they like. For a variety of reasons, some may prefer not to share their pronouns with a group, so it is ideal to keep sharing optional. Wearing name tags in classes is a helpful way for everyone to learn and use each other’s names and to create community as well as keeping pronouns clear. In this way, we can easily refer to name tags to demonstrate to our families that we respect and accept them for who they are. If families have a child who is exploring their gender identity or changing pronouns, they may have questions around this. In addition, make sure materials, handouts, and examples you share are inclusive of many different types of families, including those that reflect the LGBTQIA+ community. Accepting and loving our children for who they are is important to a healthy relationship among family members, but it can be bumpy sometimes. Encourage your families to seek resources, ask questions, and keep their love for their child at the forefront. 

Create a Safe Space: As you build community within your classes, you will help families feel welcome and at ease. Be aware that some of the families may carry bias against LGBTQIA+ people. Sometimes they are aware of these biases, sometimes they are not. It may be helpful to learn about common microaggressions and to have some responses ready for microaggressions you hear or see to encourage compassion and understanding. You may want to talk to the person who made the comment privately and let them know that their comments may have been hurtful. Your goal is not to change people’s minds, just to help people interact civilly with others and increase their compassion for one another. You may also want to follow up with the person the comments were directed toward privately, so that they know how you addressed the situation. You may find it appropriate to set some class norms, or revisit them, so that the entire group knows that your class is meant to be a safe space for everyone. People can open their hearts when they feel loved and have a personal connection with a person who is challenging their belief system. You can help people connect with each other and bond over their shared desire to be loving family members. 

How Can Families Help?: Give families concrete ideas to support their LGBTQIA+ family members as well as members of their community. They can use correct pronouns and boost self-esteem by talking about accomplishments of the person. Family members can offer help, if needed, at school or workplaces, to ensure fair treatment. Many of the websites listed below have guidance for talking to schools. Normalize counseling and therapy and offer options. Keep local, state, and online support groups and counseling or therapy contact information available at your classes. Families can show support just by participating in activities that the family enjoys together – art, hiking, making music, sports, etc. Even without saying a word about a lifestyle, just being together as part of a community can offer comfort. 

Depression and Suicide Prevention: Children, youth, and adults who feel unsupported in their homes are at greater risk for alcohol and drug use and more likely to suffer from depression and more likely to attempt suicide or die by suicide. All families love their children and want them to be healthy. Let this information guide your conversations with individual families as well as in parenting groups. We do not necessarily need to change someone’s viewpoints, but we can help families recognize that they all share similar goals for their children while understanding that some children may need additional family and community support during this time. Make local or online resources for family therapy available. The Trevor Project provides suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.

Web Resources:

Books:

Picture books:

Middle grade readers:

Teens:

For Adults:

Visit this blog post for a downloadable tip sheet.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Tips for Parenting with a Disability

By Megan McQueen

Download a the tip sheet in a PDF form here.

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For more detailed information, see our earlier blog post.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Tips for Parenting Adolescents

By Megan McQueen

Download a copy of the full tip sheet PDF.

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For families seeking more detailed information, see our earlier blog post.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Parenting Adolescents

By Megan McQueen

I love the playfulness and innocence of young children. I’ve spent my career working with early childhood age kids and was fearful of parenting teens. As I find myself parenting an adolescent (defined as ages 11-18) I am surprisingly loving it. Watching my oldest child navigate new-found independence and thrive is a great source of pride. I have my fears to temper as she grows, of course. But I enjoy becoming more of a coach for her and, to be honest, I also appreciate some freedom in my schedule as she becomes less dependent on me. 

If you watch most TV shows or movies, teenagers are rude troublemakers. They push around their families and then demand keys to the car. A school counselor shared that adolescence is one of the most exciting times in a person’s life because there is such rapid brain development. It can be stressful to be a teen (and to parent one) because everything seems to be changing so quickly. We sometimes wonder which personality we will see when we greet our child. Knowing that this is a developmental stage helps me stay patient and keep a sense of humor. Even if our children are pushing us away with eye rolls, we still have great influence over their lives and choices. Talking with our kids about situations they can expect to face (themselves or as a friend) will help better prepare them. Let’s look at some common anxieties families have about the teen years and make a plan.

Peer Pressure: Many teens spend more and more time with friends than they did when they were younger. This is an important milestone that helps a teen learn to build their own network of support as they work toward becoming independent adults. As teens spend more time with their friends, they have more opportunities to define their own values. They will, with practice, learn the art of saying no to someone while remaining friends. Your kids may not be interested in practicing this with you, but you can use examples from movies or stories that you hear about and ask your child, “What would you do in this situation?” This may be a low-stakes manner to build their “saying no” muscle. Some families have found success with giving their children permission to blame their parents. Families tell their kids, “Just blame it on me! Tell your friends that we will flip out if you drink/smoke pot.” This may work well in middle and high school. We also want our children to have tools they can use when they are away from us. Even as young adults, our children will face peer pressure and need to firmly say no and remove themselves from an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. Helping our children understand how their choices may impact their lives will help them make a better decision. Remember, that peer pressure can be positive, too! Friends may influence one another to try healthy habits, like joining a club or team, or help one another develop compassion. 

Driving: There are many things we can do to prepare our kids as a driver and passenger. We can start by talking through what we do as a safe driver and model safe habits. When it is time for your child to sit in the driver’s seat, start with low traffic areas and progress to more challenging conditions gently. Find a time when you both are calm. Even after your child has a license, find a class for them to join or give them driving lessons yourself every few months. Proactively building their driving skills will help your anxiety and give your child much needed coaching and practice. Consider signing your child up for a defensive driving course when they are more comfortable behind the wheel. Have specific conversations around driving safety as a passenger. Help your teen prepare for unsafe situations, such as a friend driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a driver texting while driving, and other dangerous distractions. Give them a way to have an “out” and to stand firm to their safety beliefs. 

Mental health: Our mental health is as important as our physical health. A mental health struggle may be biological or in response to an event. Signs of an imbalance may appear suddenly, especially around a big change; or gradually impact someone’s life. These days, many educators are trained in looking for warning signs of suicide. We should all be on the lookout for signs of depression, anxiety, and warning signs related to suicide. (Call 1-800-273-8255 for immediate help.) Find support for your child when you notice things such as complaints of physical pain, increased irritability, avoiding or numbing feelings, and social isolation. Encourage your child to talk with others – family members, friends, and school counselors. Reach out to a school counselor and pediatrician to determine what counseling resources are available for your child or what path of therapy is best for your child. Talk with your child about reaching out to an adult if they hear about a friend’s mental health needs. Remind them that there is no shame in the struggle and we help each other through these times, just as when someone is physically ill. Model how to care for your own emotional health. Work together as a family to make healthy choices, including making healthy food choices and maintaining regular sleep schedules. Model how to talk about feelings – positive and negative – letting your child know that all of their feelings are okay. Take breaks when you need them; connect with family and friends to build relationships; participate in family activities, games, and hobbies; seek out counseling, therapy, or medication if necessary; and feed what brings you joy.

Eating disorders: If you suspect your teen is dealing with an eating disorder, seek out help from an experienced therapist and talk with your pediatrician about connecting with a dietician. Eating disorders have a variety of causes, but there are some things you can do to possibly prevent them. Help your teen develop a positive body image. Model this by accepting your own body. Speak positively of your body and others’. Instead of focusing on looks, comment on what your body can do or about the person’s actions. You may say something such as, “Loren is such a fast skater!” or “What a thoughtful note Cora wrote to you!” instead of a comment about their looks. Encourage your child to make a list or picture collage of things they love about themselves. Consider examining the role of media in your house. Look at the magazines, TV shows, and movies that surround your family. Do they embrace all kinds of bodies? Are there certain body types that are deemed “better”?  Look through your and their social media feed and unfollow accounts that make you feel less worthy. Also, try not to attach food to rewards. We all love to celebrate birthdays and other moments with a special treat, but consider other ways to celebrate an accomplishment. Can you visit a favorite beach or city together instead? It is not a family’s fault if a child develops an eating disorder. Our children are raised in a society that values a body ideal that is not always healthy. Again, seek out medical attention if you are concerned about your teen or their friends.

Sex education: Instead of having “The Talk,” try multiple conversations about puberty, sex, and birth control and start these conversations early in childhood when you are comfortable doing so. This will help your teens know you are approachable and that these topics are normal to talk about with trusted people. As we know by now, most teenagers don’t like to be told what to do or not do. Another approach is to offer your child information, including values and consequences, and about options they will face. Talk about the many different ways of engaging in sexual behavior. Sometimes, teens think that their choices (consent, expectations, protection, enjoyment) are different for intercourse than for other types of behavior. Prepare for various scenarios they might encounter. Offer helpful books and websites that your kids can refer to later. We want our kids to have access to accurate information instead of relying on friends and (a possibly shocking) internet search. Teens say that their parents have the greatest influence over their sexual decisions, including how to have positive romantic relationships, so be brave and start a conversation.

Websites for adults:

Websites for teens:

Books for Adults:

Books for teens: 

For a downloadable tip sheet, see this blog post.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Tips for Parenting a Child With a Disability

by Megan McQueen

Download a full copy of the PDF here.

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For more detailed information, read our earlier blog post.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

For Families: Raising Grandchildren

A young child and an elderly person walking along a beach.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

I got to know a grandmother as she took over care for her grandchild. She struggled to shift into her new role as caretaker while setting new boundaries and establishing routines. She had pictured herself being the fun-loving grandparent who got to say “Yes!” to her grandchild’s whims, but realized this role needed to shift as she played the role of parent, too. This new life as her grandchild’s caregiver was not the one she had imagined for herself. She also worried about her daughter who battled with addiction. At the same time, the grandmother relished this “bonus time” with her joyful grandchild. She thoroughly enjoyed the closeness they experienced together. 

A change in family dynamics can be stressful and traumatic. It may also bring relief to families during a time of stress and need. Grandparents who step in to care for their grandchildren may have to manage adjustments in their finances, living arrangements, and energy levels. They may also need to care for and support their own adult child (if still living), or manage their grief if not. On top of all these changes are the children’s mental health needs. As a grandparent continuing or stepping into a new role with your grandchildren, it may be helpful to acknowledge and accept all of your feelings – the ups and the downs – without shame so that you can also seek out and create moments of joy with your grandchildren. You have an opportunity to connect with a child in a new way who will remind you of the importance of living in the present. You have raised children, and you can do it again. 

These suggestions may help your new routine become more easeful with your grandchildren.

Get necessary paperwork and legal needs in order. Look into your insurance to see about adding your grandchild or apply for state assistance (such as the Oregon Health Plan). Look into medical records to ensure that immunizations, well-child checks, and preventative visits are up-to-date. Remember to include dental and vision appointments for the children, too. You can also apply for financial assistance through the DHS Self-Sufficiency Offices. Create a file for your grandchild with contact information for their medical team as well as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and others who are involved in your grandchild’s care.

Create a support team. Think about who you can lean on when you need a break. Who do you have a trusting relationship with that can watch your grandchildren? Who can help with extracurricular events and school commutes? Who can provide emotional support for you and for your grandchildren? In addition to these trusted friends, think about who can provide medical and emotional support that you and your family may need. Make a list of these people so you can easily lean in when you need additional support.

Communicate with your grandchild’s teachers. You may feel reluctant to share your family situation, but teachers are familiar with all different kinds of families. Communicating your grandchild’s background will help her teachers gain insight into how they can better meet her needs at school. By beginning with an honest conversation, you demonstrate that you have your grandchild’s best interests at heart. Attend as many family events as possible including conferences, family nights, even PTA meetings if you can. Getting involved will allow you and the community around you to support your grandchild’s time in school. If your grandchildren are young enough, seek out Head Start for assistance. Head Start offers wraparound services for the entire family.

Be active together! Use your grandchildren’s energy to help keep you healthy as well. Keep moving by gardening together, taking walks in the neighborhood, biking to a nearby park, and walking or biking to school if possible. Ask your pediatrician about recommended activity goals and nutrition suggestions. It is amazing how quickly the medical and health field updates their guidance. Realize you may need more learning about this, but you will all benefit – especially if you spend the time active and cooking together. Food Hero is a great resource with easy recipes that children can be involved in, kid-tested & approved recipes, and recipes with 5 items or fewer!

Learn about Trauma-Based Care. Often children arrive in your home because of trauma. Family members may have different reactions to the same stress. Understanding how children develop and how trauma can impact growing bodies and brains will help you respond in a caring, supportive manner. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network can provide helpful insight about how we react to stress and how we can care for ourselves and others who have experienced trauma. When you care for yourself, not only will you be a more compassionate caregiver, but you are also modeling important self-care strategies for the children in your life.

Reach out and connect with other families. Find a parenting group or class in your area to help your family create community. All kinds of parents are welcome – step-parents, foster parents, and grandparents. Your experience will be valuable to share with others. You may learn new evidence-based strategies to support your grandchild’s wellbeing and feel supported. You may find a safe place to ask questions and learn about local resources for families.

Families come in many different forms and are simply groups of people who love and care for each other. We all have an origin story and they are often different from one another’s. Be proud of your family! Many children are being raised by grandparents or other relatives for a variety of reasons. There are agencies and resources that are in place to support you. Your situation may not be what you envisioned for yourself, but you can all learn from it and grow together. You will benefit from having close relationships with each other.

Online Resources:

Books:

For adults:

For children:

For a downloadable tip sheet, see this blog post.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Talking with (White) Kids about Race and Social Justice Issues (for families)

By Megan McQueen

As a white woman, I have benefited from the foundational white supremacy that infiltrates every system in our society. I learned that the civil rights movements in the 1960’s were important moments in history that solved many societal problems. The suburbs that I grew up in were somewhat racially diverse. I mistakenly thought that my friends and classmates had the same opportunities I did. As I began teaching in a racially diverse school, I realized I had a lot of unlearning to do. I listened to the families I worked with and began to understand that the civil rights movement was not over. I learned about my white privilege that has made my life easier than my friends of color. I want my white children to understand others’ perspectives and know they benefit from racist policies. I want to see them work to dismantle racism. 

My thoughts here belong to this moment in time. I hope that I will look back on this post and see that I have grown. I hope to amplify black voices and spark conversations. I hope you may see yourself in some part of me: a white person who wants to raise anti-racist children in a racist society. I am continuing my journey into unlearning, listening, and educating myself. As an educator, I have a responsibility to serve my students. All of my students and all parts of them. Hiding negative parts of the world is tempting, but disingenuous. Children deserve to know the truth and white silence upholds white supremacy. I urge you to seek out the words, experiences, and writings of people of color to learn from without burdening them. Analyze your books, social media feed, movies, influencers, and ensure that your heart is open as you continue this journey.

We know that race is socially-constructed. Differences and designations in race were created by people to create power structures. Race is also an important part of people’s identity and culture. Our racial identity impacts how we move through the world: our culture, our experiences, our perceptions. 

Start with yourself: I’ve always celebrated diversity with my students and children. But years ago I realized that I wasn’t addressing race or racism. It is lovely to share artists, authors, and musicians of color, but it is not enough. We can talk about equality, but we need to understand some history. Sign yourself up for some homework. Recognize that you have implicit bias. Read Between the World and Me, White Fragility, and How to Be an Antiracist for starters. Watch “13th” and “I Am Not Your Negro.” Begin to learn other perspectives and how our society got to this place. Know that white privilege does not mean that you haven’t worked for what you’ve accomplished or that your life hasn’t been challenging. White privilege means that you have generationally, systematically benefited just because of the color of your skin.

Start young: Children exhibit racist ideas from a very young age. They notice skin color. Acknowledge it! Name it. Let your kids know that talking about race is okay and something you will continuously do together. Many preschool and kindergarten teachers talk with their students about racism. Young childrens’ views can be changed easily. You can undo racist ideas quickly with several conversations. Also know it is never too late to start talking about race. You have tremendous power as a parent. Ensure that you are conscious of how you are using it. You have the greatest impact on determining if your child will be racist or antiracist.

Share positive stories: Share positive stories about people. Encourage diverse friendships (not as token friends, but remember to branch out of your neighborhood or school friend group). Read books with diverse characters and talk about their experiences. Take care that normal, everyday experiences are shared, not just stories of people to be pitied or saved. As Dr. Bloodline Barthelus said in a CASEL webinar, “Balance the narrative.” When people have strong connections with a cousin, uncle, neighbor, friend, they will easily understand why everyone is worthy of love and equal treatment. 

Encourage action: Children often feel powerless in the adult world. This is an instance where they have great power. When talking together about racism, your child may ask what they can do to help. Ask them if they have ideas. How can they help everyone in their school feel safe and celebrated? How can they interrupt racism when they hear it? Role play some scenarios together. When they notice a lack of diversity in books or toys or advertisements, encourage them to reach out to the company and ask for more representation. Your family can make signs and attend protests. Your children can research black-owned businesses in your town and support them. “Kids want to help,” says Dr. Deborah Rivas-Drake; prepare to support their efforts to take action.

Dr. Bloodline Barthelus shared a story from her graduate professor who asked, “How do you raise a racist?” The students answered in many ways to which the professor said, “No. You do nothing.” Be brave and start the work today.

Websites:

Books

Picture Books:

Middle Grade:

Young Adult:

For Adults:

*Please consider supporting black-owned bookstores when purchasing books.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Parenting with a disability

By Megan McQueen

As a mother who has some physical limitations, I have glimpses into the world of living with a disability. I was told when my youngest child was a baby that the constant pain I was in would continue to worsen and I would be in a wheelchair in about ten years. I began to consider the accessibility of our home and adaptations my life would require with added equipment and decreased mobility.

We all live within a wide range of abilities. Abilities can be neurodiverse, cognitive, physical, and invisible. Your specific life experience is based upon who you are through your adventures, your thoughts, and your genes. The broad suggestions I offer below may be helpful. As you are aware, only you will know when the answer fits your specific questions. Your individual situation and family life will guide your needs so you can best meet your own or your family’s challenges.

You have value and you belong. People of all shapes, colors, and abilities belong in our society. Join a parenting class, visit your child’s school events, sign up for a mom’s group. You are welcome there. Give yourself a pep talk and jump in!

Seek out a network of people who understand. Any given group may or may not be in your exact situation, but if they share similar experiences, they may be able to empathize and offer support. Try an online search of your specific condition and branch out to seek local, personal connections as well. Friends can offer suggestions regarding resources for parenting recommendations and positive adaptations. 

Frame your situation as strength-based. Will you have challenges? Yes. Use these as opportunities for your children to learn patience, understanding, and an inclusive-based look at the world. You will tap into your creativity to design the life you require. You will have a strong system of friends and family who will support your journey. Solid personal connections are one of the best indicators of health and resiliency. 

Hire out help you need. Look into your medical insurance or social security benefits to see if there is coverage for home-based help with parenting needs or a service animal to assist you. Lean on your parents with a disability group (see above) to help research supports or trade each other services you can offer. A baby-sitting trade can be invaluable when attending medical appointments, for example. 

Lean on Early Intervention Services. Many opportunities exist for children with disabled parents in the early intervention (EI) suite of services. Ask your pediatrician about offerings through EI and head start preschool programs. 

Be a “good-enough” parent. There is so much pressure to be a perfect parent! All parents need to take a step away from the pressure of unrealistic expectations. Release yourself from the negative-cycle and enjoy your time with your family! Focus on the positive aspects of your life together and have fun. Create moments of joy and play together. Your life will not be “perfect” – no one’s is. Accept that and feel comfortable with the idea of “good-enough.” That doesn’t mean you won’t strive to learn and grow as a parent, but that you also see the value you bring to any moment. Easing up on the pressure will benefit everyone in your home.

Be creative! Oftentimes, you may need to adapt something to make it more accessible for you. Cut the legs off a crib and put it on risers to make the crib the best height for you. Use a handheld shower head instead of leaning over the side of the bathtub as you would otherwise. Keep supplies organized and within reach. There are small carts on wheels that can be handy in each room. Pull them out when needed and tuck them out of the way when you’re finished with your supplies. Have craft supplies and healthy snacks for your children within their reach, so that you can rest when you need to and your children can have some of their needs met.

Talk openly with your child about your disability. Share how living differently brings you strength and an appreciation of others. You have gained much by learning to listen to your body. Talk with your children about how there are a variety of ways to live and that our diversity makes all of our lives richer. Acknowledge the struggles you (and your children) encounter because of your condition and use that to empathize with others’ experiences. Brainstorm ideas to be more inclusive at school and in your community. By fully embracing all parts of yourself, you will model important lessons for radical self-love that will bring more satisfaction to your life.

You can love and care for your children just as anyone else can. Create a joyful home full of snuggles and love for your family. Reach out for support when you need it (everyone does!) to figure out the details.

In my own life, I have gained appreciation for people navigating a disability through learning from mine. My experiences have taught me to be grateful for all that I have been able to do and recognize that it may change. It is not always easy, but I know my children have gained compassion with their opportunities to help me. Caring for others and receiving care are some of the most tender ways to live fully. My journey may not be a “typical” one, but it is valuable and a rich source of kindness for my family.

Books:

For Parents:

For Children:

Websites:

We have also created a downloadable PDF of a tip sheet.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Teaching during a pandemic

By Megan McQueen

Oh, teachers, I wish I could wrap you up in a big hug. This is hard. We chose a career in education because we cherish our connection with others. We want to help people find success. With very little or no warning, we left our classes to help flatten the curve. Now we are home, missing our students – our children and families, and trying to figure out how best to support them from a distance. As I chatted with a teacher friend, she cried and said, “What am I supposed to do? This is who I am and I can’t do it anymore!”

Many educators around the world are being asked or encouraged to teach from a distance. We are quickly learning how to navigate the platforms available, juggling the ever-changing expectations from our school districts, organizations, programs, or bosses, and feeling overwhelmed by the needs of our students. As we transition to working from home, a great many of us also have our own families at home that need attention. It bears repeating: This is hard. But we can do this. Educators are nothing, if not flexible. We are used to shocking news, changing our plans to respond to a need, and more joy, compassion, and heart-opening love than we knew was possible as a professional. I hope you can find solace in these suggestions that have been helpful to me the last few weeks. Although some of these strategies are specific to public school settings, most are intended to support educators working in many different settings supporting children and families, including through parenting education.

This is emergency learning. Maine’s Department of Education Commissioner, Pender Makin, was quoted as saying, “This is not remote or distance learning. This is emergency learning, during a global emergency. We need to give ourselves grace and remember, this is not what we would do if we planned distance/remote learning. We have not planned this emergency.” We need to be patient with ourselves. We are scrambling to find a quiet workspace in our homes. We are trying to quickly train ourselves to use many different digital platforms and apps to communicate and teach from. We are digging through the endless links for ideas to support children and families. We are asking our own families to please be quiet while we’re recording (just me?). Through all of the chaos, take a break. Go take a short walk, clear your head and remember your why. I’m guessing that your why was similar to mine and about building relationships. Let that be your focus. You are supporting your students, no matter their age, background, level of need, through an emergency. You are providing them with some routine and connection. Take some pressure off yourself. Show your students that you are excited to “see” them and share some humor with them.

Terrible First Time. A teacher friend was walking me through some new technology that we would be using. When I thanked her for answering so many questions, she asked me if I had listened to Brené Brown’s new podcast. My already-limited podcast time was one of the first things to disappear during my sheltering time. My friend told me to make time to listen to the first episode. I immediately turned it on. Brené talks about FFT’s (which she translates to the kid-friendly Terrible First Time). She describes the vulnerable, scared, and awkward feelings we all have when starting something new. Everyday, all day long, we are having terrible first times! We are learning how to join an online meeting, how to invite someone to a meeting, our online etiquette, how to add others to our platform, mute them all while also finding ways for them to share their voices, and trouble-shoot technology issues. I’m going to stop, because this list is stressing me out. Suffice to say, we’ve probably never spent this much time with our families either. We have no alone time and no outside support. We are all trying to figure it all out at the same time. Literally, everyone in the whole world is going through a terrible first time (but some have more resources to do so than others). I relish stories from those with more experience and remember that we will get through this and things will get better.

Care for yourself. I know there are a million directions you can be going, but take a minute to plan some moments for yourself. Usually our lives are planned out to-the-second and we are lucky to have breaks when we need them. I am finding that being outside is restorative. I’m discovering that taking small walking breaks outdoors is helpful for my mind and body to counteract all this new sitting still that is new to me. I am beginning my days with some meditation and intention-setting, which most often center around responding with love to my family. Compared to my old schedule, this all feels indulgent, which is necessary right now. I have a variety of feelings moment-to-moment and day-to-day. Just as I would talk to my students, I acknowledge that my thoughts are real and acceptable, and that they are temporary. Sometimes during meditation, I repeat to myself, “Not permanent, not perfect, not personal.” This helps me gain perspective on my situation. Find what works for you to help you navigate the flexibility required for this new normal.

Connect. First, connect with yourself. Ask yourself what you need in this moment. Is it more water? A bike ride? A second of quiet? A good cry? Give yourself what you need. Then, think about your students whether they are children, youth, or families. Think about how you can build your connection in a new way. Send them funny videos of how you’re spending your time. If your students are older, share a meme that is making you laugh or smile. Find a small way to give them a virtual connection or hug. Are there students you haven’t been able to connect with? Be creative. Leave something at their door so they know you’re thinking of them. If your students are adults, maybe you can send them snail mail or ask another student if they know a better way to be in touch. How can you help your students connect with each other?  Your first priority is not content; it is connection. If you are struggling to make a connection with a student or for them to attend online, reach out to your district or organization. Many school districts and programs are reaching out to families that are in need and may have other ways to meet needs. You cannot do everything. I know that lost connections are one of the most painful parts of this. You worry about your families. Do your best, send them love, let them know you are available to talk with when they are available.

Care for your family. If you have children of your own at home, they may be seeking more of a connection from you as well. Get clear on how you can take care of your basic needs so that you can better care for your children. I find that if I wake early and meditate for a few minutes, sneak in a few short solo walks, I am a much better parent. Maybe you need to sleep in and drink your coffee in silence or hide some good snacks for yourself. Do what you need to so that you can help your children navigate this experience. When my husband and I are both in video meetings, we let our kids know that they will need to be independent and set them up before we start our meetings. Or, I tell my kids that I will be in a meeting, but can be interrupted if needed, but that their dad cannot because he is in an important meeting (or the opposite). There is no shame in plugging your kid into a device or the TV for a bit so you can get some work done. There are many high-quality options for screen time. We all just have to get through this. I try to notice the positive aspects of this time as well. I am enjoying having family lunches and dinners. Our family is watching movies and playing games together more often. I remember that this event is shaping our lives and I want my children to remember kindness, flexibility, grit, and feeling loved when they reflect on it. Parenting during a pandemic is new to me also, but I want to be stable and gentle when my children are calling out for more connection. We always have a choice to respond with empathy. We won’t always be able to pull that off, but we will have opportunities to try again.

Laugh at the small stuff. I was busily recording my voice to digital sight word flashcards that I could share with students. I had to re-do my recordings several times because my microphone picked up my husband in another room on his video meeting, my dog started barking at the mailman, and my phone rang. I realized that I was getting frustrated and stepped away. This wasn’t going to work at that moment. I switched to another project. What could I do? Getting mad at my family or the small quarters we were sharing would not help anything. I put on some good music and danced while checking my email. This is no different than the unplanned interruptions that happen during live classes anyway. Laugh and move on. 

There are no tricks to this. We have to feel all of our feelings, learn many new things at once, and love our people. That’s it, really. Sip a cup of tea, take a deep breath, and tackle one new thing. Laugh at your mistakes. Call your colleagues for help and a good cry. Hug your family and celebrate small moments of joy. Procrastibake. Try again tomorrow. Be patient with yourself. Think how incredible it will feel to leave your house and give your students a big hug someday.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

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