A community of practice is simply a group of people who agree to meet regularly and work together to improve practice.

We invite you to join us in our community of practice. Are you a:

· Youth or young adult,

· Family member,

· System partner,

· Community leader, or a

· Cultural leader?

Let your voice be heard, join our community of practice! **Be sure to tell them you hear about their opening from PA Parent Alliance.**

Contact Kelsey Leonard leonardkt@upmc.edu

What is a Community of Practice?

In Pennsylvania, the community of practice has several parts:

First, OMHSAS and the directors of SAMHSA funded projects join together in a community to connect around issues, learn what each has to share and act together to influence practice.

This community has reach and influence, but they alone cannot make meaningful sustainable practice change. They need individuals in many places and in many roles to help them identify and address barriers to effective practice. Likewise, when a promising practice change is identified, they need a network of individuals who will help support practice change in the field.

The PA Care Partnership Cultural and Linguistic Competence Community of Practice (CLC CoP) encourages decision makers, practitioners, families and youth to work together to make a difference. The CLC CoP will meet regularly as agreed upon by practice group members.

Learn more about the PA Care Partnership

The CLC CoP goals will be collaboratively determined by members but may include to:

· Assess and improve upon cultural appropriateness of services for children, youth, family and community-driven practices

· Continuously gain an improved understanding of cultural issues and social justice

· Involve youth, family, and community partners in decision-making

· Identify training opportunities related to cultural competency

· Commitment to CLC assessments and data driven decision-making

· Encourage local commitments to support cultural competency

· Assess service needs of cultural groups and make recommendations to adjust services to meet needs

· And more . . .

Questions?

Contact Kelsey Leonard leonardkt@upmc.edu

#pamhpafa #mindfullness #stayingactive

If you have been, or are currently scrolling through the internet, or a social media platform you probably have come across articles explaining the benefits of an active and mindful life. These articles go in-depth on why being mindful and staying active has obvious physical benefits, but can also promote good mental health. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance recognize and appreciate the benefits of mindfulness and an active lifestyle but want to extend that not only to adults but to children of all ages. We sat down with Allegheny County preschool teacher; Becky Jones** to get an inside view on why she thinks it is important for her students to practice mindfulness, and do something active at least once a day. Jones will also explain how her students have been impacted by this and different ways that you can ensure your own children are practicing mindfulness and living an active life.

Staying Active

"When we have a job we don't expect to sit there for 9 hours straight. It is expected that our bosses give lunch breaks and reasons to get up and get away from our desk. It is the same thing with children, they need to get up and move in order to be a productive student.", said Jones. Temperature permitting Jones loves to get her students outside in the fresh air and moving before an activity where they have to be still. "If you are a teacher or a parent who has an issue getting your children to settle down and stop being wiggly for an activity allow them to get their energy out."

Two young boys carrying backpacks walking up steps into school.Two young boys carrying backpacks walking up steps into school.

While it is essential to keep kids moving, sometimes it can be hard to get them interested in the activity. "What you really need is a hook. An activity we often do is get the children in the gym and put on songs they can dance to. When there isn't a specific dance move we will add in something like a jumping jack or a lunge to increase the benefit it has on their physical health while they are all having a great time. This is a lot of fun for them and a lot of the kids get really into it. For the kids who aren't usually into it, I like to let them pick the first song, one that makes them want to dance. Once they get their momentum going they are generally more into the activity as a whole." Jones went on to say that this is really helpful for shy students to get them out of their comfort zone. Jone's best advice for any teacher trying to get their students active is to "get down there and do it with them. If they are doing jumping jacks show them that you enjoy being active too and want to be active with them.".

Research on the importance of physical activity in schools

Child sleepingChild sleeping

When asked why it's important for parents to reinforce physical activity at home, Jones said there are a number of reasons. "First and foremost it helps with their sleep schedule which ultimately helps with their productivity levels at school. If they go home and sit in front of screens all night their bodies need to decompress before they can sleep because it stimulates brain activity. Also, their bodies are not as tired so they don't sleep as well." Other than sleep schedule enhancements being active lays the foundation of an active life.

Two children playing on a standing swing.Two children playing on a standing swing.

Beyond the physical benefits of making sure your children remain active after school, it also can help strengthen your relationship with them. "If your kids are driving you a little nuts and they won't settle down; go on a walk with them, go outside and play catch, or do something that excites them and allows you to spend time together. These memories without technology or distractions will be some you both look back on fondly". Jones went on to say that not only are you bonding but they are also doing an activity you have set up and approve, and not doing something like jumping on beds or being chaotic.

Mindfulness

The benefits of physical activity have been obvious for decades and there are many parenting tips available for all ages. Mindfulness is a relatively newer concept that involves bringing your attention to the current moment and being fully aware of how you are feeling. This is a therapeutic activity that can help a person relax and relieve anxiety. When most people think about being mindful they think of adults doing yoga or meditating, but few realize how impactful it can be for children of all ages. Jones has made it a point to promote daily mindfulness in her classroom.

A child cryingA child crying

"It actually was not my initial intention at all to make mindfulness such a priority. It came out of necessity based on some of my students behaviors. We had a lot fo physical aggression and students that needed an effective way to calm themselves down. This has been an instrumental teaching technique for me as a teacher to ensure the safety, and productivity of my classroom.", said Jones. Breathing exercises have been the most effective way to promote mindfulness for her students. The techniques are simple ways to have them focus on the breathe flowing in and out of their body in an attempt to get them to calm down. Giving them this time to focus on themselves takes away the anger and anxiety they have associated with what is going on in that moment. Jones likes to try and get her students to do one of these breathing techniques before they explain to her the situation that is going on so they have had a second to relax.

For a list of some breathing techniques Jones and other teachers utilize click here

Mindfulness doesn't just help with aggression and inappropriate behaviors but also can help them focus. "If I am about to transition into an activity that requires them to sit still and be calm and I notice that a lot of them are being really silly I will conduct a breathing exercise to calm the energy in the class.

Two children walking across a bridge holding hands.Two children walking across a bridge holding hands.

Now Jone's students have a tool belt of breathing techniques that they have learned to use when they are feeling stressed or anxious. When asked what the biggest difference she has seen since promoting mindfulness Jones said; "the fact that they have picked it up and adopted it for themselves. I have a student who has a really hard time sharing and will start to cry when she has to share. Just the other day she started doing a breathing technique I had taught her, without being prompted, and did it until she felt like she was ready." This is a skill that Jones' students can take with them on their educational career, and through life in general that will help them cope with problems that only get bigger and more stressful.

Laying a strong foundation is essential for making sure your children make both their physical and mental health a priority for the rest of their lives. By starting when they are wearing light-up shoes and scraping their knees in the front yard you will help to ensure that they are better equipped at the ages of college applications and peer pressure.

**name of teacher has been changed**

#papfa #preschool #parentteacher

Every parent of a school-aged child knows just how exciting, sad, and surreal it is when your kiddos go from being home all of the time to venturing into their first solo social experience, preschool. This transition is inevitable and although it can be bumpy for some, if you work to keep communication open with your child's teacher, and support the skills they are learning at home, you can help to make it a strong foundation for them to build their educational career on. We sat down with Pittsburg preschool teacher, Debbie Peters, to get an inside view on how she recognizes early classroom struggles, how she brings them up to students and parents, and what parents can do to make sure their child is getting the most out of preschool.

Many preschool teachers are the first non-family member adults that interact with your children and are well equipped to notice challenges that should be addressed. "How well a child communicates with me and with their peers helps me determine whether or not a child needs extra attention"; said Peters. She went on to talk about how communication affects the child. "If a child doesn't have strong verbal skills it can cause them a lot of frustration. If they can't properly communicate to others about what they are thinking, or what they want it can frustrate them and in turn, they can lash out with physical aggression."

Peters also makes sure to notice how each child interacts with others throughout the school day. While playtime may seem like a time of relaxation and fun for young children, it is so much more. Having free play ignites and strengthens problem-solving, creativity, and social skills. The social skills observed during free play give teachers great insight into the development of the child. "Social-emotional activities like taking turns and sharing with their peers are skills learned and refined during playtime. Conversely, if a child is not interacting at all or is participating in what we call parallel play, just playing next to their classmates rather than with them, it indicates they may need some extra attention.

Research on the importance of play

Another sign a child is having difficulties is reoccurring outbursts, or partaking in what some might consider "unruly behavior." When outbursts occur it is before a teacher to get down to the child's level, and remain as calm as possible". Peter's favorite and, in her opinion, most impactful tool is to redirect the child." As long as safety is not a concern I like to redirect the child's attention to get them to stop acting in a manner that isn't productive for the classroom. An example of this is if a student is doing something that is disruptive, but not a huge problem; like yelling really loudly in class, I will say something like 'can you sing your ABC's for me'. I know that this child knows their ABC's so redirecting their attention like this can make them stop the behavior.

It is important that preschool teachers are aware of signs or concerning behaviors that can point to the need to request a formal evaluation by a professional but it is equally important that parents are on the same page. Peters mentioned that the number one thing that can benefit a young student is open and honest communication between teacher and parent. Peters recommends starting off the year with a brief communication. "If a parent is really conversational with the teacher and were to tell me something like 'Hey, we went away for the weekend and got back really late last night so they may be a little tired today', it builds repour and helps me keep an eye out to avoid a challenging behavior before it starts " It is always good for a teacher to know how things at home may impact behaviors at school, but also now the teacher feels comfortable talking to the parents if a bigger issue were to arise.

Tips for busy teachers to help build positive relationships with parents

According to Peters, open communication with a parent helps her feel supported like the parent sees them as being on the same team. If a teacher and parent haven't built a rapport the teacher can be very nervous to bring up issues that can be sensitive for the student or parent. "Go to all of the parent-teacher conferences or set up phone conferences if you have a tight work schedule. Interact with your child's teacher at drop off and pickups to get the conversation going."

If your child's teacher does approach you to talk about a need for a formal evaluation or support services Peters wants to remind parents to stay calm. "In my experience, the children don't know that they are getting a "special" service. If a speech therapist or other professional comes into the classroom to help a child, other children do not know that it is because their classmate is behind or having difficulties. Many students think these "classroom helpers" are really cool because they usually have new toys and games for the students they are working with. I've occasionally seen some children get slightly jealous that so and so gets to play with those fun toys or special person." I like to remind parents of these facts because even if it's scary to think that their child might have a delay or disability requiring extra attention, now is the time to do it.

What to do if your preschooler isn't hitting their developmental milestones.

Often children can outgrow specialists because of how fast young children pick things up. If this does not happen to be the case and your child requires a classroom aid or special services to continue it may be easier for them socially to have an aid in the first place rather than have them introduced at an older age. "Going to school in rural PA, I had a classmate who had autism and had an aid with him throughout school. None of us thought anything of the aid being in the classroom because someone had always been there with him and we were used to it. We just knew "George" had a helper."

Preschool is a time of fun, learning, and a lot of change. One of these big changes is your son or daughter being introduced to a school environment with peers and teachers. As a parent of a preschooler, it is important to connect their teacher to make sure they are getting everything they can out of the school year. It is also important if you or your child's teacher are concerned about a delay or social, emotional or behavior challenge that your child might have to act quickly to get ahead of it and adjust things accordingly to make sure your child is set up for a knowledge-filled, and fun school experience. While the ABC's and messily drawn pictures seem like fun and games, they are the building blocks to a successful education.

Resources:

Tips for connecting with nonEnglish speaking parents

Best blogs for teachers of young students

Blog for parents of preschoolers