In Robbinsville, we have an ongoing commitment focused on developing responsible and resilient students. Because we value the importance of academic rigor and achievement, we actively research best practices in curriculum and instruction in order to create an engaging and meaningful environment. Additionally, we believe that in order for students to succeed they must feel safe and ready to learn.
Therefore, we recognize the importance of teaching the social and emotional skills necessary for students to become critical and compassionate citizens. To address this aspect of our curriculum, we have developed what we call Robbinsville Ready Skills. Each year we expand our vision of what these skills look like and how we can best integrate them into the daily lives of our students. Our ultimate goal is to prepare students to eventually meet the challenges of life beyond school.
Robbinsville Ready Skills were created around expectations that over time students become resilient and self-directed scholars, effective communicators, informed and involved citizens, collaborative team players, emotionally intelligent learners and innovative thinkers.
This September, as one way to help kids of all grade levels practice their R’ville Ready skills, we will be instituting a “No Drop Off” policy pertaining to forgotten items. We understand that students occasionally forget their homework, leave their science project on the kitchen table, or forget to put their sports equipment in the trunk of the car. With an integrated partnership among parents, staff and administrators, we can help students navigate minor challenges like these and offer them a sense of perspective. After all, in the grand scheme, a forgotten assignment is just a blip on the radar.
We believe that if we allow students to work through these simple everyday challenges now, they will begin to build necessary skills such as problem solving and self-regulation to develop resilience for the more difficult challenges, disappointments and hardships which they will face.
Because we love our kids and want them to be happy, we as parents often do more for them than we should. When we do things for our children that they can do for themselves, we inadvertently send them the message that we don’t believe they are capable. Whether we run interference, “help” with homework, or clear obstacles from their path to make their lives easier, we end up rescuing our kids rather than allowing them to figure out ow to navigate adversity. Recently there has been an alarming increase in the number of college students arriving on campus unprepared for life away from home. Predictably, this inability to function in a higher ed environment leads many students to stress and anxiety, preventing them from learning, thriving and realizing their potential.
Once again, we want our students to flourish and live healthy and productive lives. Therefore, school personnel and parents will need to share the responsibility of teaching the skills kids need when things don’t go as planned.
Beginning in September, when you or your child realize that he forgot lunch, left homework on the dining room table or the tennis racket in the mudroom, we are requesting your support in letting the scenario unfold organically. In other words, please do not bring the forgotten item to school. With your help, we will guide your child to problem solve the situation and develop a future plan. After all, we want school to be a safe place for kids to make mistakes. It is our mistakes that often lead to our most valuable lessons.
As author Julie Lythcott-Haims reminds us, when we notice students struggling with a problem it is important that we “empathize and strategize” rather than jump in to solve the problem for them. Through active brainstorming, we empower the child to own the problem and take responsibility for the solution. This strategy helps avoid seeing a setback as an ultimate failure beyond control. Instead, she will begin to see how to face adversity and bounce back from defeats. This in turn leads to resilience. I encourage parents to practice this type of role playing at home. We will also be reinforcing with staff the importance of responding to children appropriately when they forget things.
To help strengthen these skills, the district continues to integrate executive functioning skills throughout the curriculum. Executive function skills are the mental processes that enable students to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, prioritize, problem solve and juggle multiple tasks successfully: all key components of building resilient and self-reliant learners.
In fact, next school year the district will embark on an executive function pilot program with select staff to infuse these important skills and strategies within the school day. Examples include: reading comprehension, studying for tests, time management, organization, problem solving, flexible thinking and self-monitoring.
Although we want the “No Drop Off” policy to become one shared measure to build resilience and self-efficacy, there is also an unintended consequence that could benefit parents. Now, when a frantic child asks that they drop everything to save the day, mom or dad can cite the new policy and thereby eliminate the overwhelming sense of guilt and pressure that often accompanies a request of this type.
As we move into the 2019-2020 school year, we will continue to work together to ensure that our schools are places in which students feel safe and can thrive academically, socially and emotionally. Thank you for your ongoing support and partnership.
Kathie Foster is superintendent of Robbinsville Schools.