August 2019: Cultivating Independence

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, one in which students can thrive as learners. 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, much like yours, is to prepare students to eventually meet the challenges of life beyond Robbinsville Public Schools. 

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
  • Innovative Thinkers

This September as one way to help kids of all grade levels practice their Robbinsville Ready skills we will be instituting a “No Drop Off” protocol 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 students are encouraged 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 ultimately face.  We will also be reinforcing with staff the importance of responding to children appropriately when they forget things.

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 they are not capable.  Whether we run interference, “help” with homework, or clear obstacles from their path to make their young lives easier, we end up rescuing our kids rather than allowing them to figure out for themselves how to navigate adversity.  Recently there has been much written about 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 has forgotten lunch, left his homework on the dining room table or his tennis racquet 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, just like at home, we want school to be a safe place for kids to make mistakes.  As many of us have learned over time, it is our mistakes that often lead to our most valuable lessons. 

Author Julie Lythcott-Haims reminds us that when we notice students struggling with a problem it is important that we “empathize and empower” rather than jump right in to solve the problem for them.  An empathetic response sounds something like this: “Oh no, that must not feel very good!” After empathizing, through active brainstorming, we empower the child to own the problem and take responsibility for the solution. It sounds something like this: “How do you think you’re going to handle it?” This strategy helps her to avoid seeing a setback as an ultimate failure beyond her control; instead she sees that yes, she is responsible for what happened, and also that she is capable of solving it. She will begin to see how to face adversity and bounce back from defeats.  This in turn leads to resilience. 

In a recent conversation about Robbinsville’s No Drop Off protocol, Ms. Lythcott-Haims shared the following thoughts.

As a parent, I know how tempting it is to fetch, manage, handle and fix things for our kids. But as a college dean, I saw that young adults accustomed to being rescued don’t know how to do things for themselves. I applaud Robbinsville for taking the long view. The “No Drop Off” protocol will teach students to be responsible and accountable for their actions, which will pay huge dividends when they get out into the real world.

We couldn’t agree more! 

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 protocol 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 protocol and thereby eliminate the overwhelming sense of guilt and pressure that often accompanies a request of this type. We also look at this as an equity issue as many families have working parents unable to leave their jobs to deliver the forgotten homework or lunch. As child development experts Sam Goldstein and Robert Brooks write, “While we do not want our children to face ongoing failure, to attempt to overprotect them and rush in whenever we fear they might fail at a task robs them of an important lesson, namely, that mistakes are experiences from which to learn” (Brooks & Goldstein, Nurturing Resilience in Our Children, 2003).   

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.  Please note that in the upcoming weeks we will communicate more on the No Drop Off protocol. Thank you for your ongoing support and partnership.  

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