About olsond6

Middle School head at Sacred Heart Greenwich

5 Lessons From a Diplomat for Bridging the Parent-Teacher Divide

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Recently, I’ve been using globally tested advocacy and solution-building strategies to help smooth a critical friction point close to home: the parent-teacher conference.

“Gosh, those teachers were defensive,” I said to my husband, Luca, as we walked out of a grade school parent-teacher conference for our son.

“Well …” he hesitated, and then cut to the chase. “Your question about spelling was a trap.”

I was indignant. “I was asking for their side of the story before I gave my observations.”

He shrugged. “You already had your opinion. It wouldn’t have mattered what they said.”

Maybe Luca was right. Based on the tense way the meeting had ended, my approach wasn’t the best one for getting the teachers to see my point of view.

My husband is a career diplomat with the United Nations. Advocacy and solution-building are critical skills in his daily work. After he — diplomatically, of course — pointed out that my bridge-building skills needed work, I started paying closer attention and picked up a few lessons on diplomacy that have helped me to be a more effective ambassador for my children.

1. Don’t skip the niceties. Living outside of the United States for the past 13 years, I was struck by the importance other cultures place on pleasantries and formalities. Americans pride ourselves on getting straight to the point. But a diplomat would never skip protocol, and the truth is, no parent should either. There isn’t a teacher in the world who doesn’t appreciate being acknowledged as a human being before being bombarded by a concern.

2. Find common ground. All negotiations have to start somewhere, so look for something you can agree on. (Perhaps you think 20 spelling words a week is too much pressure. Can you first establish a common respect for the importance of good spelling?) Or is there something positive you can mention before getting to the hard stuff? (Maybe spelling is a disaster, but before getting to that, can you let the teacher know how well you think math or science is going?)

3. Choose your words carefully. Diplomats plan the message they want to convey before entering the negotiation room. Think through what you want to say before you go, state your perspective without attacking or accusing, and frame your concerns so that it is clear you are seeking a solution.

4. Seek input and be ready to listen. A successful negotiation is never one-sided. You may have a clearly defined end goal, but diplomats look for innovation on how to get there. While you’re the expert on and ambassador for your child, your child’s teacher is the expert on and president of their classroom. Not to mention that, unless you are a teacher too, he or she is likely to have far more experience with a range of child behaviors, personalities, learning styles and strategies. Ask for the teacher’s perspective on the concern you are raising. If you have ideas on how to address it, that’s great. But maybe he or she will come up with a few ideas that are even better. Pick the teacher’s brain for solutions; don’t just try to dictate your own.

5. Watch your body as well as your words. Effective diplomats tune in to nonverbal cues to help them read a situation. Perhaps it’s because I’m an introvert by nature, or maybe it’s just habit, but I’ve noticed that I often sit with both my arms and legs crossed. When meeting with teachers, I make a conscious effort to uncross, so that I don’t inadvertently send a message that I’m not open to listening. When I feel strongly about something, I sometimes furrow my brow — it is a sign of my passion for what I am saying, but can come across as irritation or anger. No need to grin your way through a meeting, but a friendly expression can go a long way in establishing rapport.

A couple of months later I went back in for another meeting with my son’s teacher. I was worried because my son seemed bored by school. (This was at an international school in Beirut, Lebanon; our family has since moved to New York.)

I made an effort to smile and choose my words carefully to be sure to avoid implying that the teacher was boring. I asked for her observations from the classroom. I asked if she had ideas on how I could help at home. The teacher’s defenses went down, and we were able to brainstorm together some solutions to the issue I was raising. The teacher became as open to hearing my ideas about ways to engage my son as I was to hers.

By the time we got up from the negotiating table, we’d done more than arrive at a solution. We’d declared a truce, and transitioned from adversaries into allies.

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Things Parents Of Children With ADHD Wish Someone Had Told Them

Sacred Heart Greenwich Middle School Faculty Blog

HealthCentral

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Credit: istock

Parenting a child with ADHD isn’t always easy. Because every child with ADHD is unique and comes with a different set of challenges, there isn’t a roadmap to tell you what to do. Every day, it seems, you are faced with a new set of trials to overcome. When you finally think you have control of one issue, a different one pops up.

The following are six things parents of children with ADHD wish that someone had told them when their child was diagnosed.

YOU ARE THE EXPERT AND THE ADVOCATE

When your child is diagnosed with a medical condition, you might expect doctors to understand how the condition impacts everyday life. But not every doctor understands ADHD.

Some doctors might diagnose based on a few questions, and some might suggest medication without a thorough evaluation. Some might not…

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Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?

Sacred Heart Greenwich Middle School Faculty Blog

The disintegration of Jake’s life took him by surprise. It happened early in his junior year of high school, while he was taking three Advanced Placement classes, running on his school’s cross-country team and traveling to Model United Nations conferences. It was a lot to handle, but Jake — the likable, hard-working oldest sibling in a suburban North Carolina family — was the kind of teenager who handled things. Though he was not prone to boastfulness, the fact was he had never really failed at anything.

Not coincidentally, failure was one of Jake’s biggest fears. He worried about it privately; maybe he couldn’t keep up with his peers, maybe he wouldn’t succeed in life. The relentless drive to avoid such a…

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Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Sacred Heart Greenwich Middle School Faculty Blog

Northeastern president discusses his new book on how higher education can train students for careers where technology cannot make them redundant.

September 12, 2017

In the era of artificial intelligence, robots and more, higher education is arguably more important than ever. Academic researchers are producing the ideas that lead to technology after technology. On the other hand, a challenge exists for higher education: how to produce graduates whose careers won’t be derailed by all of these advances. Now that robots can pick stocks, this isn’t just about factory jobs, but the positions that college graduates have long assumed were theirs.

Northeastern University is involved in both sides of that equation. Its academic programs in engineering, computer science and other fields are producing these breakthroughs. And its students — at an institution known for close ties to employers — of course want good careers. Joseph…

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Learning to Learn: You, Too, Can Rewire Your Brain

Sacred Heart Greenwich Middle School Faculty Blog

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Barbara Oakley, a professor at Oakland University in Michigan, in her basement studio where she and her husband created “Learning How to Learn,” the most popular course of all time on Coursera.CreditLaura McDermott for The New York Times

The studio for what is arguably the world’s most successful online course is tucked into a corner of Barb and Phil Oakley’s basement, a converted TV room that smells faintly of cat urine. (At the end of every video session, the Oakleys pin up the green fabric that serves as the backdrop so Fluffy doesn’t ruin it.)

This is where they put together “Learning How to Learn,” taken by more than 1.8 million students from 200 countries, the most ever on Coursera. The course provides practical advice on tackling daunting subjects and on beating procrastination, and the lessons engagingly…

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Your Face Scares Me: Understanding the Hyperrational Adolescent Brain

Sacred Heart Greenwich Middle School Faculty Blog

Take off your snarky hat. Adolescents get a bad rap, says Dr. Daniel Siegel, and he should know. He’s a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center, Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, Executive Director of the American Psychiatric Association, and author of many books, videos, and articles on the mind. Despite his endless awards and titles, Siegel displays in lectures the warm avuncularity of James Taylor in an off-the-rack suit as he urges parents and educators to stop viewing adolescence as a grim and crazed space that kids need to cross through quickly. Why? Because teens will perceive these attitudes and act accordingly.

Siegel’s recent and sobering book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, relies on recent neurobiology research to explain how the mind works during adolescence, the ages between 12 and…

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When Black Hair Violates The Dress Code

Sacred Heart Greenwich Middle School Faculty Blog

dress code.
Mai Ly Degnan for NPR

Raising teenage girls can be a tough job. Raising black teenage girls as white parents can be even tougher. Aaron and Colleen Cook knew that when they adopted their twin daughters, Mya and Deanna.

As spring came around this year, the girls, who just turned 16, told their parents they wanted to get braided hair extensions. Their parents happily obliged, wanting Mya and Deanna to feel closer to their black heritage.

But when the girls got to school, they were asked to step out of class. Both were given several infractions for violating the dress code. Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, north of Boston, bans hair extensions in its dress code, deeming them “distracting.”

When administrators asked the girls to remove their braids, Mya and Deanna refused.

The next day, Colleen and Aaron Cook came to the…

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