Have you been talking with your children about the new school year? Many schools are starting the year fully remote; some, including New York City’s public school system, are vowing to provide in-person learning; some colleges and universities are staggering their calendars and only allowing select classes of students or majors to return to in-person learning. Many schools and colleges that began the year with in-person classes have already had to rethink and readjust their plans. As a parent, with so much in flux, you may feel like you have no control. But you can develop a plan with your child that will help to set you both up for some success this year. Even if your plan gets cast aside, the planning process itself is a useful skill and tool; it will make you agile and flexible to pivot and face whatever unexpected changes you both face.
Whether your student is a first grader or a senior in college, we’ve put together 12 questions meant to provoke a thoughtful conversation that will lead to a proactive plan for the semester ahead, one that addresses your student’s feelings, values and goals.
Uncertainty has many components that may be broken down into more individual and manageable pieces. By understanding that decisions are based on a mixture of emotions, information, expectations, values, goals, judgments and behaviors, we can tackle each area of the process individually.
The result addresses the uncertainty mixture that we naturally inhabit, giving us multiple perspectives for how to think about a situation and move forward with greater confidence and conviction. It’s important to start with feelings first because emotions are the most subconscious and nonverbal part of our thinking and decision-making. They are the lens through which we see–correctly or incorrectly-how other aspects of the problem are understood. By dealing with the feelings first we can at least identify and then possibly “quarantine” the emotional piece from the other parts of the problem.
- Feelings: Describe how you are feeling about going to school this year? Sad, nervous, excited? What comes up and in what order of importance? What are you excited about? What are you sad about? What scares you? What makes you angry?
- Information: What pieces of information are making you feel that way? What have you heard from friends? Family? Your school? What are you hearing more broadly in the news, maybe not about your school, but more generally about schools?
- Expectations: What are you thinking your school experience will be like? How do you think your days, your classes, your learning and your free time with peers will unfold?
- Values: What will be most important this year to you? Forming new relationships? Having new experiences? Staying safe? Getting the most out of school? Getting the best grades? Joining extracurricular activities?
- Values: What will be least important to you? Forming new relationships? Having new experiences? Staying safe? Getting the most out of school? Getting the best grades? Joining extracurricular activities?
- Goals: What do you want to achieve? Deeper relationships? New relationships? Good grades? New academic experiences? A change in academic direction? Deepening a specific academic pathway?
- Alignment: Do your values and goals align? Where are there differences? How might you bridge the gap?
- Information: What are your school’s safety rules? What precautions are being taken? What is your role in upholding those policies? What are the consequences of breaking the rules?
- Judgment: How reasonable do you think the rules are? Which rules seem reasonable? Unreasonable?
- Behavior: What behaviors will you have to change to live your values? List the behaviors that need modification. How easy/difficult do you think adhering to modifications will be? How can you proactively plan to maintain them, even if others don’t?
- Behavior: Commit to action: Write down a proactive plan for how you will communicate your plan to others. How will you tell other people your preferred behaviors? How will you show other people your preferred behaviors?
- Behavior: Conduct a Pre-Mortem: What will you do if your plan fails? What are the situations where your plan is most likely to fail? How will you feel speaking up about protecting your, or others’, safety? If you don’t feel comfortable speaking up, what other courses of action are available?
This year will definitely be different for all students, and experiences that everyone, from kindergarten to college, were looking forward to won’t happen as planned, whether sharing a desk in first grade or joining fraternity rush. But talking about what the year ahead will and won’t bring before the school year starts will make it a more successful year and may also bring an easier openness to whatever does occur. While the plans you lay out most likely won’t unfold as expected, the planning gives you agency to better navigate the uncertainty. It will help you and your student feel more confident knowing what he or she wants, expects and feels about the year to come.
We hope these questions bring you closer to your students, to your and to their values and to safety for each–and for all–of us. To a good semester!
Cheryl and the AREA Method Team
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