Engaging with Families While Accounting for Trauma

Engaging with Families While Accounting for Trauma
Impacting the Classroom
Engaging with Families While Accounting for Trauma

Aug 08 2023 | 00:55:23

Episode August 08, 2023 00:55:23

Hosted By

Marnetta Larrimer

Show Notes

How can educators use trauma-informed strategies as they work to engage with the families of their students? In today’s episode of our podcast, we dive deep into the transformation of family engagement in education amidst the challenges posed by the pandemic. Today’s guest is Sean M. Bryant, Director of Professional Development and Adult Learning with the Child Lab at Yale University.

With Sean's expert guidance, we unpack the major shifts in early learning settings caused by the pandemic and how educators should be thinking about different facets of family engagement going forward. Listen to the episode to learn more about what trauma-informed engagement means, how suspensions and expulsions cause trauma within the family, and how to engage more fathers in their children’s education. 

Topics Discussed in This Episode

  • [00:00:51] Introducing Shawn and his background
  • [00:02:40] How family engagement has changed since the pandemic 
  • [00:11:36] New ideas for engaging families
  • [00:14:30] What trauma-informed family engagement really means
  • [00:24:38] Three states of the brain
  • [00:28:02] How movement and memory work together
  • [00:29:28] Discussion of trauma in the book My Grandmother's Hands and how that relates to workplace trauma
  • [00:32:15] How things like expulsions and suspensions affect the family unit and create trauma
  • [00:36:32] How schools should think about discipline
  • [00:41:57] What it looks like for schools to engage fathers
  • [00:48:13] The importance of female guardians acting as gateways instead of gatekeepers
  • [00:50:39] Encouraging more men to enter the early childhood education workforce


Marnetta Larrimer

Shawn M. Bryant


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Episode Transcript

Marnetta: Hi, listeners. It's me, Marnetta Larrimer, host here at Impacting the Classroom. As always, we like to kick off our conversation by asking what's impacting the classroom. This season, we've talked a lot about addressing challenges facing education by focusing on what happens in the classroom, but as far as we know, a child's education is impacted by more than just what happens at school, and what happens at school can have a huge effect on their life at home. Today, we're talking about interacting with families in a way that is respectful of their many varied experiences including trauma. Today, we're joined by Shawn M. Bryant, Director of Professional Development and Adult Learning with the CHILD Lab at Yale University and Director of YesToECE Consulting. Welcome, Shawn. Shawn: Thank you, Marnetta. I'm happy to be here. Marnetta: Wonderful. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our listeners about yourself before we get started? Shawn: Sure. I am the co-author of Trauma-Informed Practices for Early Childhood Educators and the contributing author of Trauma-Responsive Family Engagement. I know we're going to be talking about families. Marnetta: I didn't know you were an author as well. I'm going to have to get an autographed book after this. Shawn: Yes, you will. Marnetta: Wonderful. In one of my last episodes, I talked about who would the actor or actress be to play you in a movie about your life. Who would that be for you? Shawn: Because I am the quintessential Leo—my birthday is in a few weeks—I would have to play me. Marnetta: Cracked me up. Happy early birthday. That would be something to see on the screen, I imagine. The audience has not figured out who I will be, and I'm still waiting for you to tell me who should play me. Let's jump to business. We're going to be talking about trauma, so it's going to get a little heavy. I'm really looking forward to this discussion with such an expert. The pandemic happened—a big thing. We're still figuring out the effects of the pandemic on children during that time, but here's my question. After coming out of the pandemic and seeing increasing economic difficulty, how has family engagement changed? What should it encompass today? Shawn: I'm going to start at the beginning and then move myself forward. We do know that family engagement in this country has not always provided fairness and equity for parents and families and their children. Sharon Ritchie, in her book, PreK-3rd, chapter six, talks about the history of—they call it—parent involvement and family engagement in this country. They go back to the beginning of it and how we used to tell parents, drop your children off and go back home. You don't know anything. Then they said, you don't know anything, but stick around a while. Then they said, you know what, you're causing too many problems, so go back home. It was this ping-pong effect that we've had for 150 years with families around education and schooling in this country. I believe that that still persists today. The global pandemic really just intensified that in many, many ways. Parent involvement and parent engagement, if you think of it as a continuum and if we think about interactions with families, the big difference in terms of family engagement is that the interactions really occur in the context of a collaborative and ongoing relationship. We tend to make better choices and families tend to make better choices around practices and experiences when the goals are centered around what they've identified as opposed to what we've identified. If we think of something like a pandemic, we often were telling parents to mimic what we were doing at school. We're forgetting that at school, we have routines and schedules. At home, families oftentimes have a rhythm to their home. Some of that was difficult for families because they were used to the rhythm and we were telling them to create a routine. That isn't always synonymous. If we think of this continuum, we're moving from involvement to engagement, be it responses to a family's culture or how they pay attention to time and attention in partnering with families. If those things were able to percolate up to the top during the pandemic, what we found was those parents and families and children were thriving because they didn't experience yet the burden of something else I need to change or something else I'm not doing effectively as a parent. We actually had some research that happened at the very beginning of the pandemic. Our colleagues at Early Learning Nation told us some things around family involvement and parent engagement—depending on that program structure—in the expectations that we had in early learning settings and what those expectations look like when children go to kindergarten. They could contribute to changes both positive and negative in terms of we know that there's oftentimes a greater emphasis on academic skills. The class size changes for children who were used to being with a teacher and 7 other peers are now with one teacher and sometimes 30 other peers. We know that the frequency of homeschool connections drastically decreases. All of those things took place during the pandemic for some children and families. The added stressor was they actually didn't meet the teacher in person in the beginning. I actually took a trip to Salt Lake City during the pandemic to train a group of early childhood educators. During the session—it was a full day—one of the teachers said, I haven't met any of these children's parents. I forgot that we were in a pandemic for a moment. I said, what do you mean? It's a big beautiful building. She said, they get dropped off at the front door outside, and someone brings them upstairs to my classroom. I was thinking, what? We ended up spending some time triaging how we'll still engage parents and families when we've never seen them face to face. What are the things could they do immediately to engage them, reach out, and build connections that we typically build when we see them face to face? They hadn't thought about, oh, we need to stop and think about how this is really happening differently. Not so much just dropping children off and bringing them upstairs, but how am I going to build the relationship as the teacher when I don't have any contact with them at all that's physical and limited contact with them in terms of virtually, if at all? We were actually lucky enough to spend some time thinking about what tools exist, what mechanisms they could use to reach out to all the individual families, and how they could share information. What happened was the knowledge was right there in the room because oftentimes next door, they're doing something that we don't know about. They all ended up exchanging information, and we created this big list of some things that we all could do to engage families. The other thing that comes to mind is this old research. It's researching this notion of constrained and unconstrained learning. We know that typically, in early education programs and settings, children experience what we call constrained learning. They're learning to count 1, 2, 3 in terms of how I can know the alphabet and the numbers. I'm writing them down. But then unconstrained learning happens at home. This was the pushback that I gave some of my colleagues at the National Head Start Program around this notion of learning loss. Children are learning differently, and it's not necessarily a loss. How can we maintain this strength-based perspective of, I may play with shapes and blocks and talk about how it feels and how big something is with my abuelito or granny, but they may not open the book, read the book from cover to cover, or say, this is the author, this is the illustrator, and this is the spine. She may open to the middle and say, oh, what do you see on the page, Shawn? And I say, I see a tree and some flowers. We're still learning, but it's unconstrained. We realized that in the middle of the pandemic instead of saying there was learning loss, how do we hold up and spotlight those ongoing instances where young children were engaged in daily unconstrained learning? Instead of pitting them against each other, valuing both of them really surfaced for me in terms of parent and family engagement. Marnetta: I love that. I hated the term learning loss. I felt like it was so disrespectful. As if parents are just sitting at home not doing anything at all with the children and have no idea how to engage them in a way that would elevate their understanding and learning around their environment and the things that they're doing. Shawn: It has this effect, Marnetta, that when they hear that too much in whatever they thought they were doing, what often happens is they would stop, thinking, well, this isn't helpful. This isn't what I should be doing. I'm not a trained early childhood educator. I don't know enough. I need to just get my child there so that they can teach them this traditional way. That actually happened to many parents. They were hearing that resounding message of learning loss and children aren't learning anything at home, so what they were doing, they stopped. Marnetta: Which also makes it challenging for the teachers because you have an extra load. You're frustrated because you're just like, you're not doing anything at home to support. It's just this—like you said earlier—ping-pong thing that's going back and forth. It just really doesn't go anywhere and really harms the children in the bigger picture. I love a lot of the things you were saying. You were talking about fairness and equity. When I think about the pandemic and what happened where I live in that expectation—as you said, I need you to mimic the school environment at your home for your child to be successful—that's inequitable in itself. There's the Internet and technology. I knew a lot of families who were using their Internet for parents to be able to work, so bandwidth was a big issue. Again, technology and computers, but also, if you have this mixed message of you don't know what you're doing, there's a lack of support for the children who were attending online from the parents because they're just like, I don't know what I should be doing in the interim. Pretty challenging and pretty hard, but you had some time too. You were talking about this list that you made about how to engage families, but you didn't tell me anything that was on that list. What are some of the things you all came up with? Shawn: They came up with using that little program. One of them is the reminder app, putting all the families in there and sending them messages, which two of the teachers were using in other groups. I was like, I didn't know that that existed as a way to communicate on the net. Teachers can upload pictures and write little messages. You literally could see in the moment, my kid just did this five minutes ago. They could send them voice messages on the web-based program around, oh, Shawn didn't come to school today. Is he all right? What's going on? Here's what we did today. We learned this new thing, or we experienced this thing. We'll do it again, but just for you to know, I hope he's doing all right. All of those types of information so that they can still connect with parents and families and children. Marnetta: Is that ClassDojo? Shawn: That's what it is, Class Dojo. I kept thinking, and the word dog kept coming to mind. I was like, it's not dog. But it was ClassDojo. That's exactly what it is. That was difficult. I was struggling. Marnetta: I could tell you were struggling, and you really want to [...]. Shawn: That's what I'm saying. It's not the word dog. And even things like Dropbox where they could have free accounts and upload little videos of what they did with the whole group with parent permissions. They were really just triaging all these kinds of ways that were, in many respects, economical, free, or really low costs that we oftentimes see K-12 educators using and not preschool educators. I saw [...] that lift to start using all of those resources to communicate with parents and families. The beauty of it is now that we truly are out of that stage of the pandemic, they're still able to use those resources and leverage what's happening. We use that during the pandemic, but here's this way I've brought technology into my teaching and shared space for young children. Marnetta: Yeah, another modality to make those connections between family and school. Definitely, I'm all for adding these to my tool belt. You can never have enough things, especially as a teacher or an educator. It encompasses all. I appreciate all of that. You said a lot. Thank you for some of the resources and just the thought around your processes so that the listeners can get an idea of how that worked. You talked a little bit about this, but I want to get more specific. Let's talk about family engagement and what it means to be trauma-informed. Shawn: My favorite topic these days. Dr. Bruce Perry says that trauma-responsive practice is always guided by our understanding of the neurobiology of stress and trauma. What he's really talking about is what we call state-dependent functioning in the literature. I'm not going to bore all your listeners with that kind of conceptual, heavy stuff because I really like to lay it on the practical stuff that we can grab a hold of and implement the next day or the day after. We all have these kinds of internal states, Marnetta, that are always changing along what we call an arousal continuum. I like to say that the arousal continuum is like a staircase. At the bottom is calm, and at the top is terror, and then we have all these states in between. The states of our emotions and stress move up and down that arousal staircase throughout the day. If we move up and down it and think of parents, parents' and families' stress response systems are activated. We get close to hyperarousal, and we call it fight or flight, or hypoarousal. It's more like a freeze or even a fallen state moving across that continuum. When our stress response becomes less activated, we connect and get closer to calm. Here's this thing. In that parallel process, if I work with parents and families, I'm really aware that I have to have them sometimes connect to my calm because when we connect to calm, we think clearer, and our prefrontal cortex helps us to be logical, make decisions, and solve problems. But sometimes, that's just not the reality. In the book, I actually offer an example. I'm going to send you signed copies of both, but one of the stories is a real story. I was in Oakland, California at a Head Start program. The parent came in, and she was really upset. She had a child with severe disabilities who went to the school district in the morning, and she came to Head Start in the afternoon. She was 4 ½. She had no verbal language skills and didn't know sign language. The mother had these papers, and she was angry. She was at the front desk saying, everyone here is trying to kick my daughter out, which wasn't happening. She had misunderstood what the papers were. They had mental health consultants, coaches, family advocates, and the director. Everyone could hear her at the front desk, and no one went to help her. The director says, Shawn, will you go talk to her? I'm the consultant, so I walked out there. Most people in the world are taller than me. I will say that out loud. I got close to her, just looked up at her, and said, you love your daughter. You're supposed to be upset. She looked at me like, what? I said, you love your daughter. You're supposed to be upset. Would you sit down and talk to me? She sat down, and I sat close enough so our knees kept bumping. It was all intentional on my part. What I didn't do was say, calm down. If you don't calm down, I won't talk to you. You're yelling. If you don't stop yelling, I'm going to call the police. These are some things that sometimes our early childhood staff are trained to do. She just began to tell me what happened. She connected to my calm and was able to access her calm in the way that she told her story, which was important. Then, she said, here's what I need. I explained to her I was the consultant, but every time she returned to the school, guess what she was looking for? Marnetta: You. Shawn: Right. I said, this woman is the director. These are the family advocates. She was always looking for me. When we think about interaction and relationship and her being really stressed, I know enough to know that what I was met with was her trauma. Those are her past experiences that got ushered to the front. The other part about this notion of stress and trauma is that our perceptions of threat and fear impact our internal states. Our perceptions are our reality. If I perceive Marnetta to be a threat, even though she isn't, every time I engage with her, I'm going to see her as a threat because our perceptions become a reality. When we think about our sensory systems and what we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and feel, those are all perceptions that can impact how we engage with families. If we're not aware of that, what often can happen is apparent and families' prior experience can show up in our early learning setting, and they can pull us into their sunken place. If we're not aware as early childhood practitioners, there are some complaints—or sometimes we'd like to say their volcano or vortex—we can get pulled into, so then we're not helpful. If we think of that arousal continuum, we allow them to pull us right up that staircase instead of anchoring ourselves so that we can situate ourselves at the bottom. I mentioned that staircase. If all your listeners would imagine a staircase with at least five steps, if not more, the bottom step is calm, but as you move up the staircase, the next phase would be alert, then alarm, fear, and unfortunately terror. As our stress increases, that fear and threat as we move up that arousal state are happening to a lot of our families who live in situations or an environment where they're constantly faced with fear and terror. Our early learning settings are oftentimes the safest spaces for them to land, and we don't realize that. When they land there, sometimes not the best parts of them show up, and then we react to it instead of responding to it by understanding, oh, this is trauma that's oftentimes been normalized. When it's been normalized, it shows up first instead of, uh-oh, some other stuff was going on, which is why it's so important as early childhood professionals not to have just a working knowledge of what trauma is and how it's different than stress but to work on our own stuff because if we don't work on our own stuff, it's so easy for us to be activated and triggered by our parents' and families' situations or circumstances around the activation of that stress response. If we think of things that are novel and events or experiences that are unfamiliar, parents and families can perceive those as dangerous, even showing up as a new teacher. If we think about our teacher shortage, if there's always a new person, that's a novel experience that the parent and family and the children can perceive as dangerous, and then it becomes unpredictable. If they don't have levels of certainty and that predictability, that constant sense of change—no matter how you classify it, small T or big T—is trauma. What we robbed them of is that personal agency and control when they feel like I don't have any control over this preschool classroom. I don't have any control over where I have to bring my child because I have to go to work, and I have nowhere else to take them. That all sounds sad, so I'd like to stay on the other side of it, which is a whole other training. Just like stress is contagious, I like to remind professionals that calmness is contagious also. These things called mirror neurons are activated when we witness someone else taking action. This notion of how we begin to move toward calmness, or a child or a parent gesturing for assistance, or someone experiencing any emotion. If I'm walking through the park with my four-year-old and see someone sitting on the bench, and my four-year-old might say they're crying, I might say, yeah, I see the tears. They might be sad, but sometimes we cry when we're happy. But a lot of people cry when they're sad. I have to name and explain it because they noticed it, that whole mirror neuron around how we see these tears and begin to understand it across the continuum without knowing all that that person is experiencing demands some things from me as an adult. If I don't have a repertoire of emotion and feeling language and don't have that language, when the four-year-old notices it, I might just say, uh-huh, and just keep walking. The big question is what helps each individual connect to calm? One thing I know that works for me is when I'm stressed, I spend a lot of time on Zoom. Sometimes I'm in meetings, and I have a colleague that says something that activates my stress response. Because I'm aware—I know that my neck usually gets tense, and my shoulders get tight—when that happens, I keep lotion on my desk, I squeeze some lotion on my hands, and while we're talking, I do this. Almost 99% of the time, what begins to happen is I immediately start feeling better. If that doesn't work, I keep some room-temperature water—that's orange juice now—and I sip that because it activates my vagus nerve. The more we can, we should help professionals understand that we all have this. When they're working with parents and families who may not have it, if they're building their repertoire of what to do, they can connect to calm. The more that they're grounded, they can pull them into that situation with them instead of being pulled the other way. Marnetta: You said so much in there. I'm just writing notes. Because I am a terrible person, I instantly want to know what kind of magic lotion you're using. Shawn: Any kind. Some people like to smell things. For me, it's about the movement. If we think about the three states of the brain, I'm going to give you a rudimentary definition some brain scientists would say, but this is the one most of us use. Understand that our brains are broken into three parts. The bottom part is distress, the middle part is feeling, and the top part is our prefrontal cortex. The three stages of the brain all have languages that need to be spoken to them. The language that communicates with the bottom part of the brain is sensation. When we're stressed, we do things like rubbing the lotion on my hand and drinking room-temperature water. But one of the best things that we can do is actually walk. Movement and memory work together in this way in the same way we can get trauma in our bodies. We can work to get it out. One of the best ways to do that is to move. When I'm working with parents in particular, I'll say, think of your childhood. What's the one thing from your childhood that you are happy that you brought into your parenting, and what's the one thing from your childhood that you're not so happy that you brought into your parenting that you were taught and what was modeled? Then, I say, find somebody else in the room, go for a 12-minute walk with them, and share. Every single time across the country when I do this, Marnetta, with parents and families, people come back and someone says, that's the first time I talked about that, and I didn't cry. That's the first time that I was able to tap into that and finish it all together. Movement is really connected to this healing that we don't value enough. I do it intentionally because I want them to say that. Two things happened. You were talking to a stranger because I say pick someone you don't know. It's often a little bit easier to tell a stranger those deepest parts of ourselves sometimes. Then they don't realize that because they're moving and not sitting still, there's some healing attached to that. Now, sometimes we need to do it over and over and over. There's even a type of therapy called Walk Therapy. It can be really helpful for adults and young children, this notion of moving, to work through and work with whatever—small T or big T—trauma they may have. Marnetta: Thank you for breaking that down. Like you said, we're in this environment. We have all these meetings and whatever, so I fidget with things. I got what you meant with the lotion. I think I just really wanted the listeners to understand that this is a normal thing. It's actually a good thing. It has a purpose. But people are still going to want to know what your favorite lotion is. I agree that movement does help. I recommend anybody who's working at home to get a standing desk. That way, you can get those steps and just move around while you're having to work or whatever. It really does just create this calm that you may or may not realize is happening. Shawn: I want to add something to what you just said. You reminded me of the movement that we're talking about. Oftentimes, people will listen to folks and they'll say, sit with it, sit with the difficulty. My response is don't listen to that. Particularly if you're female and Black or Brown because the research says that you become weathered, meaning sitting with it means it can metastasize in your body—that trauma and stress—and it actually can lower your lifespan. I say, don't sit with it. Do something with it. Most of the time, doing something with it is movement around the memory and how movement and memory work together. Marnetta: Appreciate you advocating for my Black and Brown sisters because that's what we do. We just swallow and hold all that trauma, and it does affect us in so many ways. And because we're so busy taking care of other people, we don't take care of ourselves. I can't list on my hands how many of my friends, coworkers, or whatever are going through some really major health issues at younger ages than they should because of the life that we're expected to hold on to, our emotions for how it might be perceived, and things like that. I appreciate that shout-out. Shawn: I'm having a really good time with this conversation with you. In the book, My Grandmother's Hands, Resmaa Menakem talks about this notion of trauma decontextualizing, in a person, what we call personality. We walk into the early learning center and say, Miss Eloise has been working here for 40 years. That's just how she is. No, that's not her personality. That is 60 years of trauma that's inside of her body that we all meet and just say she's just cantankerous. She's just mean to everybody. No, that's trauma decontextualization. He talks about trauma decontextualized we call personality. Trauma decontextualizing the people will say, oh, that's their culture. No, that's not their culture. That's historical and generational traumas showing up in the people that they sometimes may have normalized, but that's not normal. It even happens in our workplace. Trauma in the workplace, we mask as workplace standards. We get the job and they say, we're open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Then, someone says, Marnetta, we all show up at 8:30 AM. Your letter said 9:00 AM, but we're all working with our computers on at 8:30 AM. We all don't leave until the work is done. But your agreement letter says, here are your hours and here are your breaks. Anything beyond that, you feel the pressure of work which becomes not just oppressive but stressful, and it can become traumatic. On our end, we got to consider how it can show up for us. For parents and families, how they may or may not show up, we've got to see it through a different lens of dysregulation. Then, if we understand it through that lens, which is closest to our trauma lens, we walk away with a different perspective about that parent or family. Marnetta: I love what you just said because it really segues into the next question that I wanted to get to. I'm loving the conversation as well. I feel like an hour is not enough time for us to spend together. We talked about how that shows up and those years of trauma. We just meet people where they are, name it for what it is, and make it where we want it to be where we sit and comfortable. When we think about that from other communities dealing with different types of families, how do these activities of expulsions and suspensions affect the family unit and create trauma? When we think about that trauma that we have sitting in us that we may not have let go of, what should school leaders keep in mind when disciplining students? Shawn: Excellent question. I'm going to answer this in two ways. The frame for most people around becoming trauma-aware and trauma-informed initially was what's wrong with you? We've all seen Oprah in Bruce Perry's book, and we've seen them on YouTube because they recorded the conversation. We moved to this. What happened to you? My pushback is that those are entry points, but that is not the safe place to land because the third component is what's strong in you? As early childhood practitioners, we should be asking parents to locate what's strong in you. They may not be able to answer it the first time, so when I work with parents and families, another thing I do is say, I'm going to give you six minutes to think about what's one thing you do well as a parent of a child under age six that you can stand up and teach the rest of us in this room, and their eyes go away. When they come back, what we always hear is I was thinking about the three things that I need to work on. I never think about what I do well. See? How we show up in these implicit messages are communicated to parents and families, and then they end up locating the one thing that they feel like they can tell everybody, the thing they do well. The other part of our responsibility is what can I do to help. What can I do about it? It doesn't mean I'm going to fix it for them, but the metaphor I like to use is if I'm working with Marnetta, and I say, Marnetta, identify what's stronger than you, and you identified that, then I say, what can I do to help. What's really happening is you're climbing a rock wall. I'm your anchor. I'm holding that rope, and I'm anchored to the ground. That's what I'm doing about it as a support in terms of becoming trauma-responsive. I'm not going to climb the wall for you because that's your work and your work alone, but when I get past what's wrong with you and what happened to you, and we engage in the third tier of you identifying what's strong in you, then the fourth piece is what can I do about it. To me, that's a more whole version of being trauma-responsive that I like to have people and engage as much as possible. That same thing applies to young children. If we think about suspension and expulsion and what happens to families, we know children who are suspended and expelled, either soft suspension or hard suspension. A soft suspension is go to the principal's office or go next door to Miss Smith's classroom. Anytime I'm asked to leave my classroom, I'm suspended. We've got to really understand that. These are from my colleagues at Early Learning Nation. There's a 37% redundancy rate in content overlap between children in preschool and kindergarten. The kindergarten teachers are saying, these kids won't sit still, they're bored, and they have so many problems. It's because you're repeating what they already know. If we think of the pushdown effect and this attachment to suspension and expulsion, when children are suspended or expelled or parents are constantly called, we know that it actually ruptures the parent-child diet. My parents love me, but they're constantly called to come get me. The teacher speaks to them on the phone. They're just delivering negative messages. That will actually rupture the parent-child relationship. The school is already seeing Shawn as a problem, so now my parents see me as a problem. How unhelpful is that when we think of suspension and expulsion in the family unit in how we're creating and adding to trauma? Marnetta: Yeah. Because the parents see us as the expert in all things. Sometimes it's more credit than we deserve. It would shift how they think about their children depending on their relationship, of course, with the school entities or whatever. Shawn: You asked about disciplining students. I would encourage all schools to review on a yearly basis what's written down and implemented around this notion of having guidance policies as opposed to discipline. I think languaging is important here because discipline gets close to, I have this three-year-old, this four-year-old, or even this two-year-old. Research says that in Philadelphia where I am now, the two-year-olds in the city were asked to leave toddler programs because they were demonstrating toddler behaviors that the caregiver saw as problematic. They're just kids in diapers. They're saying, you're acting like a two-year-old, and we want you to act like a four-year-old. Here's the problem. That's not the two-year-old's responsibility. That's us. [...] suspension is an adult problem, not a child's problem. If we move towards guidance strategies in this ongoing and continuous education and learning in figuring out where these policies come from, who are they affecting—we know they affect little boys that look more like me than anybody else—why is there a disparity, and then being committed to doing something about it, I think the first commitment is to say, you know what, we work with families. We work with children and families. What I find is school leaders no longer have to say we don't suspend children. Because that can activate someone's memory, the replacement is we work with children and families. I'm like Stuart Shanker, who's up in Canada at The MEHRIT Centre. He basically exposes that young children in terms of self-regulation is a social phenomenon. What he's talking about is at no point should a young child be responsible in terms of self-regulating on their own. They have to do that with Shawn and Marnetta, which means we have to be self-regulated so that they're co-constructing that with us. He says self-regulation is a social phenomenon. When we do that repeatedly over time, then they can get to controlling themselves later. For me, that's that suspension and expulsion piece. What aspect of this child has percolated up where they're saying without using those words, I need you to support me in a different way, or some of my needs aren't being met. Instead of saying your problem, we lean in differently and now in with this. We actually know—this is research from the '70s—that little boys, particularly little boys of color, who were gifted, over time, when their gifts were not honed, their behaviors started to look identical to the little boys with disabilities. Imagine all of our preschool classrooms across the country where children show up quite talented with agency and this school readiness out of them. Like the other child who needed a different level of support but who may be more internalized, if I'm externalized in how I'm demonstrating that, my behavior is seen as problematic, and I get suspended or expelled and tagged and labeled without ever realizing that there were all of these gifts and talents there that never got honed. My plea to leaders, teachers, and anyone listening is to rethink it. If you have discipline policies, read through them and say, is this efficacious and supportive of developing each individual's child's agency? Does this help teachers develop agency as the teacher to be supportive of individuals and groups of children? And then ultimately, how can this be supportive and connected to what parents and families are doing at home? Marnetta: You're talking, and I was thinking of all things because you're just telling so many truths now. As a mother of two beautiful Brown sons, I've had my share of struggles in the school system. I also was thinking about these early interactions and how it impacts the dropout rates and student's interest in remaining in school because it's no longer a place that they trust, feel seen or heard, or find value in because they're not getting what they need out of it. We can talk about family engagement without the big stereotype. We're talking about family engagement. Let's talk about engaging with fathers. What does that look like? How can we get more of it? Talk to me about being a father and part of this engagement. Shawn: There are two big things because I do a lot of fatherhood work in Alameda County in California. Kevin Bremond is the fatherhood administrator there. They've been doing great work for a number of years. Dr. Natasha Cabrera is in Maryland, I believe. She and her colleagues said years ago that no single definition of successful fatherhood and no idea around fatherhood can claim universal acceptance because it depends on the individual father. I want to start with that. The second piece is the Pew Foundation did some research on fathers. At first, I was like, this is a mistake. It's the only internalized voice stepping up. What they did was they compared children up to age 5, and then children basically age 5–18. They really spotlighted a number of fathers, but the three that got pushed to the top were Latino fathers, White fathers, and Black fathers. For children up to age five, the remarkable part is when they think about feeding and meal prep, dressing and bathing, reading and playing with children. At the top percentile in those three categories were Black fathers. That's never what the news talks about. Of course, I was sharing it with everybody. I was like, wait a minute, why isn't this the narrative that we hear? It was kind of refreshing. Then, at a high percentage, they looked at fathers living with children and fathers not living with children. Again, Black fathers outshined the other two categories in terms of birth to five. There weren't big shifts in 5–18. There were some shifts, but for me, the population that I genuinely serve were thinking of infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children. Those two things are really important when we think about engaging fathers richly and deeply as caregivers. We do know there's an uptick in fathers who are at home. They're engaged in meal prep and eating with children. We have solid research that says when parents and families actually eat meals with children, we engage in talking with them, and it has beneficial and lasting effects across the ages around getting older and assisting with homework, reading, talking, and those things. There are some key things that I've been saying for a number of years when we think of engaging fathers differently. New York had a father engagement program. They said sign up, and we're going to teach you some skills. None of the fathers signed up. I kind of reworded it, but it was sign up and we're going to teach you some things. Nobody signed up. They didn't change the curriculum. They changed the language on the flier around things you can do with your child. It was focused on the child, and 80% of the fathers showed up. We know that language is important. The first one was a reminder to the fathers that they didn't know anything and it needed to be taught. The second one landed differently as, hey, we know you're engaged. Here are some other things that you might want to do that you can add to your toolbox. For me, the first thing we need to do is learn how to start listening to fathers instead of sending messages to dads. It's really crucial. Then, once we listen and understand what listening is, it isn't listening that we all know to respond to but listening to hear what they need me to understand about what they're saying. When we do that, we can begin to build relationships with fathers instead of providing early learning programs to dads. They're not the same, and we think they're the same. When we do that, we can move towards highlighting what the father's strengths are even during challenges. They may be having a challenge with the other parent, but if we highlight their strengths, it helps us not to buy into those negative stereotypes. I showed up with some negative stereotypes about fathers who looked like me, and it was like, oh, the research has completely shifted. I think part of our role is to help fathers experiment with new practices instead of giving them advice on what to do and how to do it. How they begin to experiment with you might not like this, your child might, we don't know. But experiment with it. In this notion of fatherhood and parenting, I think early learning programs are ripe, to situate it so that it shows up as a relationship, which is not the same as how you resist the old ways of building around those kinds of formal systems that parents and families are in. Lastly, and this is not just education, but I think of healthcare, social service, and all those other places where fathers and their children take up space as citizens to see our relationships with fathers as a critical component of their fathering. We oftentimes focus on fatherhood as a set of techniques. If we rethink that and revamp it and see that relationship as a critical component, then we're doing some things differently. Marnetta: I love everything that you were saying. I know I keep saying that. I sound like such a fangirl. When I think about my time in the classroom and family engagement, it really was built around this expectation that it was going to be mom, maybe grandma, or whatever. I'm hoping that we're moving more into a shift of encompassing fathers into that, but then also, in addition to supporting them, they are still here. I should expect to have the same type of communication with the family as a whole and have these other things that can support fathers as well. Shawn: There's something to that, Marnetta. You just tapped into something. This is literally for mothers and females who are listening. Mothers and females have to see themselves as becoming gateways instead of gatekeepers because the reality is many mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and female teachers have long been gatekeepers. We will say no, don't worry, just tell me, don't tell him. Don't call him. You don't need his number. It's gatekeeping. I'll use this way even though it is oftentimes used in a different way. There's room at the table for both parents. When both parents are actively involved, we know different things are afforded to young children. Thinking about turning your gatekeeping into gateways for father involvement is also important. Marnetta: I also think as an educator, pushing for that. We know there is a father. Not being rude or whatever, but we want to make sure that this experience is the best experience and involves all the people that we can to make sure that we have this wonderful, beautiful collaborative relationship that really benefits the children. It could take some push on my end, too to say, hey, this is important, and I want all the people at the table. Shawn: Definitely. Which is about the female teacher dealing with her bias also. Sometimes they'll have that same bias. Oh, he's Dad, he doesn't care. He's just picking them up. I'll have all the important conversations with Mom. Marnetta: It all ties back to those experiences and trauma and where you are on that ladder with those experiences. You said a lot. I want to ask one more question, and I would be remiss if I did not ask. Since we are talking about fathers and just men more generally, I'm curious if you have any thoughts on how to encourage more men to join our early childhood education workforce. Shawn: That's a big one. That's quite a provocative question. There are many things, but the one thing that keeps percolating up for me is this notion of a welcoming space, one that tells males you belong here. The welcoming space shouldn't just say you're welcome but you belong here. I think too many early childhood spaces send invisible but loud messages to males that you don't belong here, or you definitely don't belong in the classroom. We see it in [...] also. Men are encouraged to become assistant principals and principals to get out of the classroom to be this other thing within the system. The same thing happens in early childhood. We're encouraged by many females to get out of the classroom. I think the other part of encouraging more men to join is the compensation has to change. I love doing this, but I'm charged with "leading or supporting my family" if that's their family's value. That's a surefire way for them to say, I'm going to go do something different even though I enjoy doing this and it brings me happiness. That happiness brings me sadness because I can't care for myself or my family. I don't think many people can reconcile that. For me, I think this notion of a welcoming space that really resonates, you belong here and we want you here and the compensation. Marnetta: Compensation shows up in all of our conversations across this podcast. Hopefully, people are listening and just understand the value and why it's so important. You said a lot there because as a man, we go back to stereotyping roles. As a woman, it's okay for me to have less compensation—unless I'm a single woman—because my income might be secondary in the family. I can see that that's a whole other challenge. I'm not a guy, but that was definitely a perspective that I didn't think about as a head of the family and how more challenging that would be because I need my dollars, but I can only imagine the disparity for men in that position as well. Shawn, you are going to have to circle back. There's so much more to this conversation, but we are out of time, unfortunately. You said something earlier that I absolutely cannot agree with more. Here at Teachstone, it's what we say too. Interactions matter. Those interactions are important and impactful. We have to be very mindful of them from the inception of our contact with different individuals. Thank you for your time, Shawn. Some of the things that you said that I want our listeners to remember are guidance strategies instead of discipline. Let's think about that and how we can move forward and lessen the trauma that's happening with our families. Movement removes that stress, so let's get moving. But of course, lotion. We still didn't get his favorite lotion. Shawn: I just grab whatever's available. Marnetta: He's just like, whatever is in the house. I can tell you my favorite. Stress Relief by Bath & Body Works is amazing. I love the smell of the eucalyptus and whatever. Or I'll burn a candle. Like you said, the smell. Then,just connect to calm and remember that calm is contagious. Lots of wonderful quotes and lots of things and nuggets for us to hold on to and hopefully embed into our everyday lives as we move forward. Shawn, again, this was amazing. Thank you so much. Shawn: Thank you, Marnetta, for having me. I've enjoyed my time with you. Marnetta: Wonderful. Listeners, you can find today's episode and transcript on our website, teachstone.com/podcasts. Remember, as always, behind great leading and teaching are powerful interactions. Let's build that culture together.

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