This interview with Diane Tavenner was recorded on December 3, 2019. The transcript for the audio excerpt can be found below and the full show audio recording can be heard here.
Laura V.: Hi, this is Laura Vanderkam. I’m a mother of four, an author, journalist and speaker.
Sarah H.: And this is Sarah Hart-Unger. I’m a mother of three practicing physician and blogger on the side. We are two working parents who love our careers and our families.
Laura V.: Welcome to Best of Both Worlds. Here we talk about how real women manage work, family and time for fun. From figuring out childcare to mapping out long-term career goals, we want you to get the most out of life. Welcome to Best of Both Worlds, this is Laura. Um, we are very excited today to be interviewing Diane Tavenner, who is the founder of the Summit Public Schools, which is a network of charter schools that has some fascinating ideas about education, has done some amazing things in terms of sending graduates to college and not just that, but getting them through college (laughs), which it turns out to matter as well.
Laura V.: Uh, she is the author of the new book Prepared: What Kids Need For a Fulfilled Life in which she shares how many of the ideas that have been used at the Summit Public Schools can be put into practice more broadly. For those of us who would like to raise self-directed children who can regulate their own learning, seek out challenges and make the most of the opportunities they’ve been given. So we’re really excited about that.
Sarah H.: Well, speaking of self-directed (laughs), but the first thing I thought about when I saw this, this guest bio and her book was telling me what to do about homework, but I feel like that is-
Laura V.: Oh yes. Which we get to [crosstalk 00:01:37]. Please listen to the rest of the episode.
Sarah H.: But I just feel like that is where I really kind of, it’s a pain point in terms of how independent to let your kids be, what the teachers expect, what, even if maybe if they don’t expect something, is there a right way to do things? Because kind of the goal is in my mind, is to eventually have your kids be pretty independent with their schoolwork. And I know that when I talk to peers, we all say the same thing. “Oh, back when I was a kid, no one stood over me while I did my homework and yet I feel like I’m expected to in this day and age.” So it’s a struggle.
Laura V.: Yeah. Yeah. I mean I, I push back against this as much as possible and I know that, um, Diane talks about one of the strategies they encourage in the school is appropriate help-seeking. And I think that is a great way to describe it because we have definitely faced some challenges where our kids be like, “I don’t know how to do this.” Knowing that is not my problem (laughs). If you want to come to me with a different question, then we can talk. Um, if it is a specific math issue that we can look at it and say like, hmm, I, I still will feign ignorance though.
Laura V.: I, I will often faint ignorance and be like, I wonder how you could figure this out. Let’s see, I wonder if there’s, there are Khan Academy video. Is there something back in your textbook earlier you could look at? Oh, I wonder if that’s related… you know, if I can look and say, is that related to another problem you just did? I wonder if we thought about it a different way or it just, but I don’t know. I mean, I, I just keep thinking it’s, I, I already did this grade, I’m done (laughs).
Sarah H.: I mean, part of it, and actually I will say interestingly, I, Annabel is a fantastic teacher sister. Like I, I’m just so impressed. And there’s less homework (laughs).
Laura V.: Yeah.
Sarah H.: So I don’t know if they’re just doing more in school. So I do feel like some of this is driven by what’s assigned. Like, and I’m not placing blame on anyone, but if a teacher sends your kid home with stuff that they truly cannot do and then are going to chastise the child if it’s not complete, like the missing link is us, right? And I’ve been in that position before, even though for the most part I’ve been really happy with my kids’ teachers.
Laura V.: Yeah. No, it’s rough. It’s, it’s hard to know what to do in those situations. And of course it’s frustrating for the children. And yeah, people don’t like homework. I’m sure adults wouldn’t like the idea of, I mean if you think about what so much of homework is, it’s kind of, it’s not real practice, which is what it should be, where you know it’s not about whether you got it right, it’s like can you do this skill, can you do it over and over again too? And then which case it doesn’t matter if you get it right or wrong, like do you know the skill? That’s what we’re trying to get at.
Laura V.: But you know like adults wouldn’t want to be like, okay so now you need to go home after work and write another memo about this topic, which, which by the way, it’s not for an actual meeting. Like it’s just so you get extra practice writing memos but we’re not going to do anything with it. I mean either they’re going to say it’s good or bad and that’s it (laughs).
Sarah H.: Yeah. It’s true.
Laura V.: It would feel like such a waste of time.
Sarah H.: And it’s, you know, school… like the other thing is kindergarten used to be like three or four hours and now it’s a full day in most places and then they’re still asked to go home and practice things with their parents. Like that’s, that’s a lot for a five-year-old. I mean, I know not everywhere has kindergarten homework, but I’ve only been in two schools and both of them have had kindergarten homework. So that’s, that’s all I know. And I don’t like it very much.
Laura V.: No. No, I wouldn’t be a big fan either. We, we have, I mean we only have half day kindergarten around here, which is an entirely different issue, which I wish they would get themselves organized to do [crosstalk 00:05:11].
Sarah H.: Oh, I see that. That makes that. I mean for me, modern day, like logistics standpoint, full day kindergarten does make sense. I just don’t know that it all has to be so academic. It could be half a day of play and half a day of work.
Laura V.: Work. Yeah. But so Diane’s got some great ideas and so we look forward to this interview and to sharing it with you. Diane, thank you so much for joining us. Can you introduce yourself to our listeners?
Diane T.: Yes. Good morning. I’m Diane Tavenner. Thank you for having me. I am, uh, the author of Prepared: What Kids Need For a Fulfilled Life.
Laura V.: Awesome. And can you tell us a little bit about your career and family journey that, uh, you’re, you’ve been a teacher and you’re also a mom.
Diane T.: I am a teacher and a mom and an educator for the last 25 years and my career and my motherhood sort of we’ve together, as you might imagine, my son has attended one of my schools for the last, since sixth grade. And so both parts of my life comes together on a regular basis.
Laura V.: Yeah. I know that’s a really cool part of hearing about that in, in the book. And so Diane, I mean in your, your career with, within education, uh, one of the things that led you to the creation of Summit Public Schools, I mean you had taught in so-called bad schools, you’d taught in good schools, so called good schools, but you found that many kids like still weren’t prepared for their futures regardless of whether it was sort of a, you know, dysfunctional school problem or allegedly functional school, but they still weren’t learning what they needed to. So talk about how this led you to create Summit Public Schools and your philosophy behind your schools.
Diane T.: Yeah. Summit Public Schools really was a, a community effort. There was a big group of parents that came together as they were seeing the same things that I was seeing that, um, who were either, like you said, not functioning well for really anyone. But even those schools that were, you know, ranked at the top or thought to be really great, were still in an, in a time, in an era where they were teaching skills that aren’t really needed or valued today in our world. And they actually weren’t really looking at kids holistically as whole people.
Diane T.: And they, they aren’t really designed for the outcomes that we now want as parents for our kids, because what we want as parents is, for kids of course, to be economically secure and have, you know, enough success in their life where they’re safe and happy. But mostly what we want is that second part. We want them to be happy and the schools just weren’t designed to really prepare kids for the future they’re entering. And so this group of parents came together with me and we set out to, to create a school that would do just that.
Laura V.: And, and the interesting thing is you had just become a parent when you launched.
Diane T.: Exactly.
Laura V.: That, that same year. In fact, I bet that was fairly intense.
Diane T.: Six weeks. Yeah, six weeks apart. I had my son and six weeks later we started Summit, but still.
Laura V.: Any, I imagine that starting a school is a very full on endeavor as is dealing with a newborn. Do you have any memories of what life looked like that year? Just put that out there (laughs).
Diane T.: Um, no, it’s really, it’s, you know, when I think back now, it’s almost, I think about, wow, how did I actually do that? I’m sure you guys have had that experience too. You look back to the beginning and you’re like, “Whoa, um, I’m not sure how we survive that.” But somehow we did. It was incredibly intense. And yeah, I think somehow as moms we just, we just plow through and managed to do it. And I guess in my case I was very lucky because both things I was doing were so important to me. And so there was never a question of, uh, if it was worthwhile or valuable. It was so, so imperative.
Laura V.: Yeah.
Sarah H.: Can you, ooh, can I sneak in and I’m just curious as someone who, you know, my kids are pretty on the younger side. Second grade is my oldest child. I listened to an interesting Freakonomics episode recently on how Steve Levitt wishes that math was no longer taught in schools the way it is. He would prefer them to teach economics and sort of more in statistics, especially like, you know, how to understand data. So that’s like one example, but can you give me a few concrete examples of ways you felt that traditional schools were failing or what they were missing or, or perhaps what they were doing that wasn’t worthwhile?
Diane T.: Yeah. I think two big things. Um, and the first, um, most important is the curriculum in most schools is not project based. And uh, what we mean by that is it’s not asking kids to solve real world problems. And I mean what they’re learning together and it’s sort of coherence, bigger idea. And so what you, you know, you guys are familiar with school. Most people are, you go in to a class, you sort of, especially as they get older, you have a unit of study and it’s going to be about, I don’t know, the World War II or something like that. And you know, kids sort of learn these discrete facts and information usually from a lecture and then a book or a textbook and they answer questions and then ultimately they take a pass or maybe write an essay.
Diane T.: And um, so that’s kind of the traditional mode of learning. And what you do in project based learning is you actually start with a really big question and ask that question. So you know, and, and it often will include multiple subjects in that question, um, where you have to bring together knowledge and ideas and concepts from all different parts of the curriculum in order to solve the problem or, or in order to get to an answer. And so in project based learning kids… and then you’re doing a real performance at the end, the performance test.
Diane T.: So you’re doing a debate or a Socratic Seminar or a presentation or a model or something that’s much more real world that would actually be part of something that you know, you and I would need to do in the course of our work later in life and really getting kids ready for that or, or their real life. And so that’s a big part of it. And then the second part is just really developing as people. And so focusing on what we call the habits of success. So these are everything from interpersonal relationship skills. So how do I connect with others and communicate with others and collaborate with others to my own self management?
Diane T.: How do I self-regulate to, how do I learn how to learn and how do I learn how to set my own goals and direct my own work, um, in a really thoughtful and strategic way? It’s aligned with who I am and what I care about and what I value. And so those two big parts are not really, um, part of the traditional design of school.
Laura V.: No, not at all. And one of the things you talk about in Prepared at, you go through a class where, um, they were doing goal setting and it was fascinating to hear about… I mean, I was sort of hoping all my meetings would be structured this way in the future.
Diane T.: (laughs).
Laura V.: Um, but, you know, the, the students took the first minute or two of class, you know, like, what is my goal for this class period? How am I going to go about doing that? Then you have like your 40 minutes devoted to the goal and then at the end the reflection. Can, can you talk a little bit about that?
Diane T.: Exactly. And that really is a core of sort of the Prepared philosophy. These, these three parts where you start, we, we say, first of all, you look back. So you think about where am I coming from? Like what did I do last period or what did I do yesterday? Or you know, where I, am I? So you, you reflect on that and then you think ahead in this next 40 minutes and this next two hours, in this next 24 hours cycle. What is it that I want to do in order to move myself forward to my ultimate goal? And breaking things down like that. And you know, well, we’re working with kids. You have to start a bit, well, quite frankly, sometimes with adults too, as you guys probably know, but you have to start with small time, time segments at first and it could be 15 minutes at first.
Diane T.: You know, where you just think about how am I going to purposely use these next 15 minutes in order to ultimately get where I want to go based on where I am. And in that is the rhythm and the cycle that we use throughout the school day in the whole entire context. And, and then we pick it out, you know, much further than that. So we have ninth graders sitting down and thinking about four years later. Well, they can do that when they’re practicing those like small segments on a daily basis that ultimately add up into the same set of behaviors that you can make them bigger and longer and more complicated as you practice that discipline.
Laura V.: Yeah. And I think what’s great about that is that, you know, it’s, it’s wonderful that you all do that as a classroom, but any kid could also start thinking that way. And so we have parents, you know, kids aren’t going to a summit school for instance, who might say-
Diane T.: Exactly.
Laura V.: But yeah, what, what would you like to get out of your, your math class? And you can go in and think about that. Do you guys have, um, you talk about the five power behaviors, um, that summit teaches kids to take charge of their own learnings or different sort of learning strategies. Can you talk a little bit about those?
Diane T.: Yeah. And so this comes from… everything we do is really comes from the learning science and what, you know, there’s a whole body of knowledge out there that most schools either sort of know about or know a little bit about but haven’t really applied into what they’re doing. And you know, a lot of these folks are, have written books and so parents read about them too. But what we’ve tried to do is bring that kind of comprehensively together. And so these five power behaviors of self directed learners really come out of the mindset work. A lot of it, you know, Carol Dweck and Growth Mindset and David Yeager who actually worked with us on them.
Diane T.: And so those five behaviors are about helping kids really taking ownership and agency of their own life and then their own work at school. And so for example, this includes what a lot of people would call persistent. So it’s like persisting through a challenge. And so what happens when, um, a child runs up against something or they’re doing something and uh-oh, they hit a blockade. And so what we know is we want them to be able to either move over that or around it or through it. And so that persistence through a challenge is one of those five behaviors.
Diane T.: You know, what we just talked about that routine of setting, looking back and planning ahead and thinking about how connected is one strategy kids would use, but there’s a number of them that they could use. Another on the other end of the spectrum is challenge seeking. And so a lot of kids are in school and they’re just sort of dialing it in because it’s not challenging to them. But the ways they think about it is like, well, I just do what the teacher tells me to as opposed to really thinking about what do I want to get out of this and how am I going to seek out challenges because it’s helping me aim towards my goal. Another one is appropriate help seeking.
Diane T.: And so it’s pretty common in school where you know, kids are often, and maybe as parents we even experience this where our kids are like, they come home and they don’t know how to do their math homework and they just sort of throw up their hands and are like, “I don’t know how to do it and basically, you know, tell me how to do it.” And then oftentimes what happens is a parent will sort of get in there to try to help but ends up doing it. We see this a lot on, you know, science fair poster boards and things like that. And so appropriate help seeking is where a student is actually really empowered themselves.
Diane T.: They know specifically and targeted what they need help on and then they go to the right source for that and ask for that specific piece that enables them to get unstuck and move forward. And so these are the types of behaviors that people who have a lot of agency and who really consistently are able to meet their goals and perform, engage in. And so these are the types of behaviors that we’re working on every single day in the course of regular classes and the mentoring relationship with our students to build those skills. Because their habits, they take a long time to build.
Laura V.: Yeah. Well, and I love, you just mentioned the, the mentoring relationship. You talk a lot of, in Prepared about mentoring rather than directing. And you’ve had to learn this kind of in your own parenting journey too. I really appreciated the anecdote about your son’s kind of crappy thank you note, he wrote.
Diane T.: (laughs).
Laura V.: About, uh, the, the chaperone of one of his trips. Uh, can you, can you talk about that and how you guys worked on that thank you note?
Diane T.: Yes, definitely. So, um, like, I’m sure many moms who want their, their children to be grateful and express thankfulness to people who do great things for them, I wanted my son to send a thank you note to this wonderful woman, Lila, who he’s gone on this incredible trip with, which was, that’s a powerful experience for him. And so he didn’t want to do it, didn’t want to do it. I was sort of nagging him and then finally, okay, he did it. He came back and showed it to me. It was like one sentence of like, dear Lila, thank you for the nice, exciting trip or something terrible like that.
Diane T.: You know, in the moment what I wanted to do, quite frankly, it was like yell at him and say, you know, why do you think this is acceptable? And sometimes it would just be easier. I could have just resorted to basically writing it out for him and making him copy what I wrote. But neither of those would have helped him grow. And so I tried to, to connect it to, to his own goals. So I knew that he was working on… he loved like creative writing. I knew he was working on some creative writing at school and trying to get better. And so I just called back to that and said, you know, what’s yours standard for your writing?
Diane T.: And um, we had this whole conversation that is much more like a mentoring or coaching conversation where I was asking him questions about what he wants. And he had also told me that he really appreciated Lila. And so we talked about that. And I just helped him to see how is she going to get that from this one sentence and don’t you want her to know that? Um, that’s what you told me? And when he realized that and the meaning of this, it wasn’t me just being mean and making him stop playing or write a, a note, but the actual purpose of it, he was willing to engage and came back with a significantly improved and actually meaningful note for her.
Diane T.: And so I just thought, I think about that as a parent where we’re tired and we’re busy and we know what kids are supposed to do and it can just be exhausting to try to get them to do those things. And if we can pause for a moment and um, key into what do they want and what are their goals and how do we help them match their behaviors with their own goals and motivations as opposed to ours? Um, that ultimately will lead them to engage in a way that is much more probably consistent with what we want, but also, you know, meaningful for them to develop those skills that they need to develop.
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Laura V.: And another one of those skills, um, you’ve been working on with your, your teenage son, you guys wanted him to cook dinner.
Diane T.: Yeah.
Laura V.: You know, occasionally. And so what did the learning process for that look like from somebody who knows all this research on, on education and how children learn [crosstalk 00:23:28]. I, I think, you know, viewing it through this rubric of… allowing children to fail small, that’s the phrase I took for that. So talk about how this, this cooking journey (laughs).
Diane T.: Yeah. Well, it started, um, when he was about 13 and my husband and I started thinking about, you know, like a lot of parents, “Wow, it’s only five years until he leaves.” And you know, sometimes, I don’t know about you, but I got nervous. I was like, “Oh my gosh, how’s he going to be able to take care of himself when he leaves?” You know. And one of the things that we were thinking about was how, you know, how was he going to eat in a healthy way? And we’re really sort of a best, you know, healthy, good food. And so we thought to ourselves, well, you know, cooking something that you practice. My husband and I learned over many, many years.
Diane T.: And so what if we just asked him to make dinner one night a week. And, um, you know, he always had opinions about what we were eating and some things he liked better than others. So we turned it into this opportunity where he sort of got to control dinner one night a week then, but not like completely. We tried to really start with a sort of curated experience to set him up for success. So, you know, I pulled out a bunch of recipes that were fairly simple, kind of beginning cook, a small number of ingredients that would probably be something he would be interested in.
Diane T.: And he would pick from that and always, you know, figure out the ingredients and they would be on the shopping list for the week. And then he had his night that he would cook. And it took my husband and I had quite a long time for, for us to figure out our role in his learning, because at first he didn’t really know anything. You know, cooking can actually be dangerous. You can cut yourself, you can burn things, you know, all sorts of things. And, um, when he first started getting in there, we hadn’t really been thoughtful about how we would engage. And so before you know it, you know, we’re in the kitchen with him and then we’ve taken over and we’re starting to do it even though we intended to show him how to do it.
Diane T.: And we had a number of false starts where we were doing what parents often do, which is tried to prevent him from failing. And quite frankly, I think we were, we wanted, we expected dinner to be as good as we would make it and as quickly as we would make it right out of the gate, which was just an unreasonable expectation. And that usually ended up us just taking over and he wasn’t learning anything. And so we finally had to sort of sit down and have a reset about how are we going to actually teach him the thing we want him to learn, which is how to cook. And so we set up some rules. We, we required ourselves to stay on the other side of the counter.
Diane T.: So we’re in the kitchen, but we weren’t in his face. We would, you know, keep an eye out and observe, but we’d be doing something else. So we weren’t a 100% focused on him. When he, you know, got stuck or had issues and he would ask us, we would verbally help him. Very rarely would we demonstrate, but sometimes we would, but we’d have him sort of hand the thing over to us so we could do it on the other side to show him something. So we weren’t taking over. Some bunch of stuff like that that enabled him to really begin to practice.
Diane T.: And the truth of the matter is like what he made took a lot longer than if we were making it and what he made wasn’t as good as if we had made it and the kitchen was significantly messier on those nights. But over time it got better and better. And what I think we had to realize for ourselves, you know, we had to let go of some of those expectations of kind of high quality perfection right out of the gate in order for him to actually learn and develop the skill. And it really made me reflect as a mom about how many things in our lives do I want to sort of be, if you will, perfect or at my standard where I ended up taking over and doing it because I want it my way.
Diane T.: And um, as opposed to letting the child actually have the moment of the little small failure and trying it and then us talking about that and then learning from that because that’s the only way that you end up learning and growing. And so it’s, it’s been a really powerful experience for all of us and a big awakening for me from the mom’s side over to the educator’s side of, what does that actually look like in schools as well? Because oftentimes people now have this idea of you need to let kids fail, but they wait till these giant high impact moments, whether it be a course or a giant test or you know, the internship or something as opposed to finding those no moments where the learning can really happen and the stakes aren’t so high that doors have closed for the future for your child.
Laura V.: Yeah, yeah. Now we’ve, we’ve heard that from a few guests in the past that, you know, maybe the college application is not the first time you allow your child to fail (laughs).
Diane T.: Correct. Exactly.
Laura V.: But this, this leads me to my next question on, on homework, which is, um, is, is an issue we hear from a lot of our listeners. You know, even kids who are younger than, than the kids would be in this summit sort of high schools and all that. But a lot of parents really struggle with how to deal with homework and sometimes it’s so that their children are getting a lot of it. Um, some of it is seemingly by design the children cannot do by themselves or there’s just so much of it that it’s, it’s overwhelming for a child who’s like seven, eight years old.
Laura V.: So how do you recommend parents deal with homework? I mean, is this a place where you can sort of say, yeah, you do you and you small fail on this? I mean, should you have conversations with teachers if it seems to be too much of it or outside their level? Just how as an educator would you recommend people deal with this?
Diane T.: Yeah. This is, um, in fact this, the conversation about homework was the conversation… with my girlfriends is the, the conversation that prompted me to ultimately decide to write Prepared. It is such a common stress point in families and for kids and quite frankly for teachers too. And this is where I think we are not, um, working collaboratively at home and at school and I think there’s a lot of like disconnect and misunderstanding there. And so let’s talk on two levels. One, just me as an individual parent dealing with my own child and then two sort of bigger picture, how do we collectively work together to maybe make this homework situation a little bit better?
Diane T.: So let’s start with the individual parent. This is a place where if, I think we as parents, like the cooking example I just gave, we have to figure out what our role is and it can’t be doing the homework for children. And so, and homework is sort of the lowest stakes moment at school. I do think where there’s opportunity for failing in order to learn. And so I think, um, as parents, one of the things that we can do is we, we often have in our mind the best moment and the best way for our kids to do their homework. And one of the things I learned as a mom from my own son when he was in elementary school is I had made all these assumptions that were not consistent with how he viewed homework.
Diane T.: And it was a really humbling experience to discover that, you know, he was really resentful of having to do work at home. He didn’t understand why, he didn’t understand the purpose of the work that he was being asked to do. He felt like in his mind, school was school and home was the time where he got to be with his family and play with his toys and play with his friends. And he was very, um, frustrated that that sort of Google came in and interfered with that. And so, uh, when I was expecting him to come right home and do his homework, because in my mind it was like, that’s the smart thing to do and then you have the rest of the evening, he was really angry about that.
Diane T.: Um, and quite frankly had been sort of trying to focus and sit all day and didn’t have the ability to come straight home and do that. And so I had to really spend some time talking with him about, you know, why you would do homework and what parts of it made sense to him and didn’t. And then we ended up having to go and talk to the teacher about that. And then the teacher had all these perceptions as well. And for example, when he wouldn’t do the homework, she would make him stay in for recess, which is a common thing teachers do, which was the worst possible thing for him because he needed that time to be out and moving around in order to be able to focus in class.
Diane T.: So we were doing all the wrong things and it wasn’t until we actually talked to him about it and understood it. And one of the strategies I share in the book around that is, the five why’s. And it’s basically, you don’t often get the, the real answer in the first go around when you ask why, you have to keep asking why and why and really be quiet and listen to get to the bottom of things and then be able to work with your child in order to come up with something that works for both of you. And so I guess my very specific advice would be like if, if your child is not coming home and able to do their homework consistently, like you, you have to get to the bottom of what it is for your child.
Diane T.: And it’s probably a combination of a whole bunch of things that will include working with the teacher around that to, to make sure this is actually meaningful and working and impactful and makes sense. And what I would say on that sort of jumping to the higher level is, when you talk to teachers, most of them feel pressured to assign homework by parents, believe it or not. And there is sort of this mental model of good teachers who are “rigorous” assign homework. Like that’s what you do. But the reality is most of the homework that gets assigned in this country is not actually appropriate for independent student practice and or meaningful.
Diane T.: And so kids are smart and they know when something is impactful or meaningful or useful to them. And they resent that and they don’t like that. And it’s really getting assigned so that the perception of parents will be that their child’s in a good classroom with a good teacher at a good school that expects this of them. But when that sort of escalation happens before you know, it, it becomes work that only parents can do. And then we get into this terribly vicious cycle between schools and families. And so I think we all need to sort of take a step back in a bit of a timeout. Um, and I think that starts in the individual relationships, but then we need to think more globally about that as well.
Laura V.: Yeah. That’s great advice.
Sarah H.: And it’s still hard to do in practice (laughs) because there’s so much, there’s so much pure stuff surrounding this. Like, I, I’m sure you’re aware that like many classes have like a WhatsApp group of all the parents and I’ve just, I have started just ignoring it. Like if people start debating, you know, the right answers to the second grader’s homework that the parents can’t figure out. I’m like, what? There’s that one will be wrong tomorrow. Like I’m not spending time looking at this. But it’s tempting or you feel like you’re doing something wrong as a parent if you choose not to engage.
Diane T.: Completely.
Sarah H.: So I like that. I like that you’re reminding us that you know, there, there could be like a plan C, you know, it doesn’t have to be do everything the teacher says, do none of it. Like you may, you may have to ask yourself why and maybe delve up the right kind of, you know, play a balance for each child.
Diane T.: And maybe a lot of parents don’t realize in that moment is when the second graders come back with homework where their answers are all right, because the parents have figured it out. What does the teacher see? The teacher sees all the right answers, right? And so the teacher is just going to keep doing the same thing because what the teacher is seeing, it lines up into, okay, well, this is working, right?
Diane T.: And so I think that’s where it is really incumbent upon us as parents who are at home who see what’s happening, do actually makes sure that the student is doing the work, because that is the feedback to the teacher about the appropriateness of the homework. And if we just come in and compensate, then the whole thing just keeps spiraling and escalating. You’re right, it is one of the most challenging topics we have in education.
Laura V.: Yeah. Well, it’s always difficult to keep our eyes on the end goal versus in the moment, uh, what seems easiest. And uh, so that was one of the really cool things about reading Prepared and hearing the story of, of Summit Public Schools and how it, you know, what it looks like when people completely rethink that. Um, so Diane, we always, uh, end our interviews with a love of the week, which is just something that is really cool for us at the moment. And I, so we can go first so you can (laughs) have a moment to [crosstalk 00:36:59].
Diane T.: Great.
Laura V.: So, you know, one thing I have actually enjoyed doing is our, our middle schools and high schools use PowerSchool Portal, which probably a lot of systems use. So you can see the teachers will post grades, they’ll post, you know, test scores, homework completion, all this so you can go in. And I will not look at it except with my son. So I’m never going to look at it except, you know, if he and I are standing there together, it’s usually because at this point, because he’s asked me to look at it, um, because he wants to share something with me. And I have also said that I will never start by like looking at the lowest grade (laughs), but that is not, I’m not allowed to lead with that.
Laura V.: Um, that, uh, but I, I’m, you know, I’ve had to put guidelines on myself for using it, but now that we have it, I really appreciate it because it opens up the opportunity to talk about grades. So I, I do it like the system, I think obviously it could be very easily [inaudible 00:38:00]. Um, but I am enjoying having that access. Um, so that’s something that I think is really cool right now.
Diane T.: Great.
Sarah H.: Cool. Um, mine is also, I decided to go to school themed as well, but I do appreciate when the teachers use the apps that make it very easy to communicate with them. And I’ve used both remind and ClassDojo depending on which teacher it is. And um, I’m always respectful. Like I don’t, I don’t expect to like get an answer from them, you know, immediately if I send it. And sometimes I’ll even write that like respond when you get a chance totally non-urgent, whatever. But they seem to check that more reliably than they check email and it will even work for a quick line. Like today they sent out an email because the aftercare program is closed, so they wanted to know where the kids were going.
Sarah H.: And I, while we were recording this podcast, was able to just say [crosstalk 00:38:50] he’s going to be in the pickup line today and she already responded back. So, yeah, those apps are, are great. And I think the teachers are very good about like, you know, they don’t look at them when they’re not, when they’re busy with the kids.
Diane T.: Right. Great. Well, thank you for the opportunity. It’s such a great idea. And here’s what I’m loving this week, we have started this community of who we’re calling Prepared Parent. So there’s a lot of parents in the world who wants to be active and engaged and help their kids develop and are doing the best they can and they’re really busy. Um, and they need like short tips and quick advice and they need reinforcement for the good choices they’re making and they need, you know, examples and models and a community that’s supportive.
Diane T.: And a colleague and friend of mine has launched this amazing website prepared for success.org that is about that community of parents and has really pragmatic quick like five minutes tips and ideas for parents who are interested in parenting this way. And I’m loving the stories on that site and the parents and how they’re engaging and collaborating with each other and trying to put these practices into daily life.
Laura V.: Wonderful. Well, Diane, thanks so much for joining us and our listeners will need to check out her book Prepared, um, which tells both the story of the Summit Public Schools and has great tips, uh, that parents can use to help mentor their children and help them become the sorts of people that we want them to be. So thanks so much Diane.
Sarah H.: Thank you Diane.
Diane T.: Thank you. Thank you both. I appreciate it.
Sarah H.: All right, that was fascinating. I feel like now I have at least a little bit of groundwork in terms of my future approach to homework. I don’t know about you. Um, but we can move on to our Q and A. Alright, so I will read the question from listener A. My friend group includes three babies, mine being the most recent edition. One couple seems to think my husband and I are the perfect option for babysitting now. It seems they think we can treat evenings, which is fine except that I don’t want to be a babysitter and I am perfectly happy hiring someone rather than expecting my friends to take turns with me.
Sarah H.: Am I being too harsh? How do you say no when a friend expects you to be their childcare option on nights and weekends? This couple also has family in the area that they use for babysitting and daycare as well. I know they don’t mean any harm and they would be happy to watch our daughter too. I just have issues with using friends in this way, especially if I haven’t actually agreed to the arrangement.
Laura V.: Yeah. I mean, I thought this is a kind of fun question. It’s, there’s, people have different kind of philosophies in a way as they approach life. And there’s certain things that, I mean, if you are trying to save money for instance, and you have a broad social network, this can be a great option. And in fact, if somebody wrote this question the opposite way to me and say, well, we just don’t have the money for date night but we’re trying to stay connected as a couple, what can we do? I would suggest something like this, you know, to see if you have peers, friends, neighbors that you can swap with. Um, and that can be awesome.
Laura V.: And it may just be that this, this couple has such an extended network that they just don’t even think in terms of like, you know, pay childcare. And so in their minds, you always ask a friend or neighbor that should be your first choice, right? That may not be your sort of way you grew up or the philosophy. And in your case, you, you just like the straight forward paying somebody, exchanging money for goods and services, which is also a great approach to making these things happen. So I mean I, I think that you could compromise if you wish to, um, you could say that you would do it maybe like once a month you guys would swap.
Laura V.: That might be somewhere that you could sort of cement those social ties, uh, and yet not feel like you are always the Friday night babysitter because you don’t actually want and every Saturday night babysit or whatever they’re willing to trade off with you. You can also sort of proactively invite them for stuff that you do together as a family. Um, so that way you are nurturing those social ties but there’s no sort of question of, of swapping kids for it or you know, couples only things. And, and so then you’re not available for each other as, as sitters, um, because the two of you as a couple are doing stuff together.
Laura V.: But you also can, can sort of imply that you wouldn’t be the right people to do this. I mean, one thing you can just be, you know, your, your schedule, your and your spouse’s schedule has been really unpredictable because of maybe extended family issues or work and you’d just hate to, you know, leave them hanging. Like, do you think this would be really rough on the relationship if, you know, were not able to watch their baby some night when they were expecting you to? Um, and I think that’s totally legitimate. Like you, that could be a very rough part of the friendship if you had to not do it. So why don’t you just say like, yes, there will be times we can’t do it. And so I think you probably want to seek out a different solution.
Sarah H.: Yeah. If somebody, I mean, I, like, my mind was even blown by this (laughs). I’m going to come up much more like harsh than you did. I just think like who would make that assumption without a discussion? I totally think it’s great to arrange that kind of swap if that’s what everybody wants to do. But I, I wouldn’t even necessarily… look, I’m a board certified pediatrician and I still don’t really want the responsibility of watching somebody else’s baby.
Sarah H.: Not because I think something will happen to them, but like, especially if we’re talking about young babies, you’re like, are they going to cry for hours on end? And then I’m going to be like, oh, would the mom want to know? Would they not want? Like my head is like, I just cannot (laughs) really wrap my head around wanting to do this or maybe my friends, I just can’t imagine anybody asking for this so-
Laura V.: You’ve had, you’ve hosted play dates for older children, it’s not that you would not watch other people kids (laughs).
Sarah H.: Yeah. And I, and I don’t mind doing that at all, but that’s like on my terms. Like I invite them for a play date, not like… I mean, if somebody asks me for help, you’re right, with an older kid, it would be a lot different thing. But the idea of like standing over someone’s baby and putting somebody else’s baby to bed. Like I just feel like I have a hard enough time. I don’t know. I don’t know, I’m just, I’m coming off as terrible as I answer this question, but I guess, this is to say that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea to watch other people’s children. And I hope that that friend would respect that.
Sarah H.: And I would hope that you could say like right now that’s, you know, when I have a break from… when I want to take a break from, from babies, I want to go out and then when I want to be with my baby, I want to be able to focus on my baby and not worry about an additional baby. So now is probably not the time for this. However, we’d love to have you guys over for a play date dinner, bring your baby. We can all hang out together.
Sarah H.: Like you don’t want to sever the, the friendships, maybe, maybe it makes sense to organize some more group activities that involve the kids, um, that would make them feel like they can have some adult time where they’re also present around their kid. Maybe you could recommend some babysitters so that they get the hint like, “Oh, I have this fantastic.”
Laura V.: (laughs).
Sarah H.: No, seriously. Especially if you’re comfortable sharing. Great babysitter wrecks are gold, and so, um, if someone does share that kind of thing with me, I’m usually like, wow, that was really, really nice. So I don’t know, I just don’t think you should feel pressure, especially in this time after you’ve had a baby. That’s a stressful time for you as a couple. If you want to do this, great, if you don’t, please give yourself permission to opt out.
Laura V.: All right, good advice. All right, well this has the Best of Both Worlds. Um, we’ve been interviewing Diane Tavenner, the founder of Summit Public Schools and we will be back next week with more on making work and life fit together.
Sarah H.: Thanks for listening. You can find me, firstname.lastname@example.org or at the underscore Shu Box on Instagram.
Laura V.: And you can find me, Laura at lauravanderkam.com. This has been the Best of Both Worlds Podcast. Please join us next time for more on making work and life work together.