Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative

Supporting Children’s Virtual Learning

Child in Harvard t-shirt looking at a laptop.
Photo by Rohit Farmer on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

Families, these are tough times! As a parent of children who are virtually learning, I completely understand the daily dance trying to navigate their needs (and different schedules) along with my own work demands, anxiety, and never-ending to-do list. As an educator, I rely on strategies I use in the classroom to support my own children. Success looks different everyday in our house. Sometimes my goal is to get everyone outside and active, other days, I have to give up on expectations for anyone so we can get through the day with our relationships intact. 

Here are some strategies that have worked in our house. I would love for you to add to the conversation and share what is helping for your family!

Space: We can’t all have “Pinterest-worthy” work spaces. Creativity is key. We don’t have an “office” or spare bedroom in our house that we can turn into a workspace. In the main space where my kids work, we worked together to create a space that fit their personalities. We gathered a few favorite school supplies and they displayed artwork nearby. One of my kids likes to keep their space tidy and clear, with a caddy for supplies within reach. My other child surrounds themselves with colorful objects they love. They both have simple ways to organize supplies – a pencil cup, a magazine file (or cereal box) to hold notebooks, folders, etc., and a calendar to keep track of due dates. A school day schedule hangs nearby for easy reference. Through all of this, I’ve learned that we actually need multiple work spaces. We can share spaces when we’re working quietly, but when both my kids are participating in virtual meetings at the same time, sitting in the same room doesn’t work. We’ve created several workstations around our house with paper, pens, access to an outlet, and a place to sit.

Make a Routine and Create Expectations: As a teacher, I have seen the power of routines. When a person is dealing with stress or trauma, consistency can help ease our daily lives a bit. It calms our brains to know what comes next. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day helps our rhythm. Set timers for your child’s meetings, so you’re not trying to remember everyone’s schedules. Set out some healthy snacks that your children can grab for themselves. Build in movement breaks and some outdoor activity, if possible. If older children have a phone, talk together about the distraction of technology during school time. Some families “park” phones away from workspaces. Ask your child how they will manage social media distractions and discuss the effects of multitasking. 

Talk with your children about how to ask for help from you as well. If you have young children, consider making a stop sign to place near your space if you cannot be interrupted. A favorite technique is to place my hand on my child’s when I want them to wait a moment before talking. The physical comfort helps them know I see their request. I can say, “Just a minute, please,” and finish my conversation before giving my attention to my child. As helpful as routines are, they require flexibility. On some days, your routine may need to change; the schedule will need to be loosened. 

Relationships First; Focus on the Positive: It helps me to think ahead to what I want my kids to remember from this experience. I want my children to know they are loved. I want them to gain empathy, understand we are all connected to each other, build resiliency, and channel their feelings into action (which sometimes looks like rest and other times means solving problems). When I remember those goals I am a better parent, so I posted them near my work space. Give hugs to each other and occasionally ask your child how they are feeling and what they need. Notice your child’s strengths and celebrate them regularly. Comments like, “I am so proud of you for staying calm when the internet went down,” or “Wow, you stuck with that assignment even when it was a struggle,” can help boost your child’s confidence. My family also started a family gratitude journal that we complete at dinner. It’s just a simple list of a few things each day that we notice. Setting time to talk about what brought us joy or remind us of how much goodness we have in our lives is crucial right now. 

Show interest in their work: Talk with your family about their days. Asking specific questions can spark conversations. “What book did your teacher read today?” “How did the science quiz go?” “What made you laugh today?” “What was something kind that you saw or heard today?” It is important to become a team with your children’s teachers. Most teachers are missing their students and relationships with families. Reach out to them in their preferred method (email, school-to-home text app, phone call, etc.) and ask how you can best support your child’s learning. If your child is struggling with something, share that with the teacher in a way that fosters problem-solving, “I notice that Sierra seems frustrated during independent work time. She is unclear about what her job is. Where can I find her assignments so I can help her?” or “Oscar is struggling during math time. Is there a time when the two of you can connect so he can ask some questions?”

Ask for help: Many families are needing a variety of supports right now: mental health, food, school supplies, financial. School districts and local organizations are coming together to offer aid. Groceries, gas gift cards, laundry cards, internet hot spots, desks, headphones, rent assistance, even scholarships for childcare may all be possibilities for your family. Reach out to your school and district for connections for what your family needs.

Take care of yourself and your family and offer grace for each other when emotions get the best of yourself. Take some deep breaths and remind yourself that this is temporary, but the relationship you are building with your child will stay with them forever. 

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 Children about Native American Heritage Month

Silhouette of adult and child in front of a sunset
Photo by Harika G on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

One November, I spoke with a neighbor who recently moved from another country. He had a young son who was learning about Thanksgiving in school and asked me what the holiday meant. I asked what his son was learning and heard a typical version describing a celebration of harvest meal between Pilgrims and Indians. I shared that this is what young children are traditionally taught, but that he might want to explore the perspectives of Indigenous peoples about Thanksgiving who sometimes refer to the holiday as the Day of Mourning. As a parent and educator, I try to balance celebrating gratitude and my love of joining together with extended family to share a meal with the fact that the Indigenous people in our country are continuously mistreated by exploring with my own family how we can help. As with all heritage/history months, learning about Native Americans can happen all year long. We take special focus this month to consider how we can improve upon our efforts and continue our learning and unlearning.

Here are some suggestions to support learning and growth with our children at home:

Educate Yourself: There is a wide diversity of Indigenous tribes in our country. Customs, languages, dress, and habits vary. Stereotypes are harmful and wrong. As you are learning with your family, try to be tribal-specific. Listen to Native people share their experiences. Understand that many of us learned a white-washed version of Thanksgiving and Indigenous peoples’ experience. Read about the assimilation attempts used in boarding schools for Native children. Start noticing phrases and words that may be offensive. Words may be sacred and shifting our language can be inclusive. Eliminate phrases/words such as: my tribe, spirit animal, Indian giver and more. If you are unsure, think of another phrase to use.

Educate Your Child(ren): You might begin by asking your children what they know about Indigenous People or Native Americans. Look at a map together to learn the names of tribes who live or lived where you do. See what else you can learn about your local tribes. How do/did they connect with the land? What languages are/were spoken? What did their traditional dress and shelter look like? Acknowledge that present day tribe members often live in homes just as any other community members and dress similarly too. When your children are old enough, help them understand what colonists did as they arrived in this country. It is our responsibility as Americans to understand our past so we can improve life for all the people who live here. 

Engage in Indigenous Rights Issues: Finding ways to turn our childrens’ feelings into action can help them find their advocacy voice. Empowering our children with the truth and steps they can take to create positive impacts will help them process hard history while building their resilience and empathy. Connect with local tribes to see how you can support their efforts. This is also a way to learn more about the place where you live and your ecological connection to it. Another way to become more connected to your natural environment is to garden and to take care of the natural world around you. Consider seeking out national Indigenous efforts that you can support with your time and money. Ask your family how you can work on environmental issues. Begin asking yourselves when shopping if it is something truly needed. How was the object made and by whom? Rethink Black Friday and consider engaging in Buy Nothing Day and Opt Outside Day instead. Consider sharing your wealth when possible with Indigeneous organizations through donations and purchases

Thanksgiving: You may still want to celebrate Thanksgiving with your family. Instead of recreating “The First Thanksgiving,” shift the focus to gratitude. Name and write down all that makes your family feel thankful. Bonus points if you have prompts to spark conversation. When talking about Native Americans, speak in present tense so your children know Indigeneous people are alive and part of your community today. Consider eating locally grown foods as Native people historically have. This is an opportunity to connect with your community, local Tribes, and the Earth as well as your family.

Picture Books:

Books for Middle Grade/Teens:

Books for Adults:

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 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.

Tips for Raising Grandchildren

By Megan McQueen

Download a copy of the full PDF here.

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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.

tip-sheet-disabilities

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.

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