As the director of policy and advocacy at Committee for Children, Jordan Posamentier’s day job has a lot more to do with your family’s nightly dinner-table conversation than you might think.
Considered the global leader of research-based education programs that advance the safety and well-being of children, the Committee for Children continuously evolves innovative initiatives related to three chief pillars of activity and advocacy: social-emotional learning, bullying prevention and child protection.
We spoke with Posamentier in the dicey days after the presidential election about the work the organization is doing to support educators, students and families during the pandemic, and how parents can best help their kids thrive in testing times.
How does the mission of Committee for Children trickle down to directly impact families?
It might help to think of Committee for Children as a comprehensive problem-solver. We try to work with not just schools, but also with families, through campaigns [like our recent “Captain Compassion” campaign, focusing on race-based bullying prevention] that provide web resources and innovative solutions.
For example, we have a text-based innovation where veteran parents can help new parents in the moment around social-emotional learning. When it comes to policy, we try to create sustaining and enabling conditions through legislation, so that we can advance social-emotional learning in really smart, equitable and high-quality ways.
How has COVID-19 influenced the standing priorities of the organization?
During the pandemic, and with increased focus on racial injustice, our work has shifted considerably over the past several months. There is a greater intensity first on helping kids and families through these trying times as well as advancing issues of equity, while at the same time working to provide immediate resources for families and educators as we go through these most novel approaches to learning and child development.
We know we still have a long way to go, but we are doing our best to make sure that social-emotional learning can still happen remotely. For educators in particular, we are developing a social-emotional program for adults, so they can take care of themselves, while at the same time being better supports for their kids.
Has your work helped you grow as a parent?
I hadn’t prioritized social-emotional learning in my previous education policy work. But with this organization, I can take a step back and reevaluate — what do we really care about in growing our kids into young people, and then adults?
You sort of cross a threshold in the SEL world, and you realize, you know what? The stuff I’m thinking about as a grown-up, it’s about relationships and how I communicate clearly. It’s not what’s the main idea of the paragraph or how do I do long division. Those matter, but what makes life meaningful, where I want my kids to be okay, is in their social and emotional lives. And that’s really what I value — and really came to embrace — working with Committee for Children.
You’ve been a public school teacher, you’re a lawyer, and now you help influence policy and legislation. You’re also a dad! How do your professional experiences inform your approach to discussing complicated topics with your young daughter?
I do have a bit of an advantage getting to sit in a space that focuses on social-emotional learning all the time. And I get to work with my daughter on them. It’s sort of like my own little pilot program.
I let her feel what she wants, and I check in with her. I meet her where she’s at: She’s 6 and a half years old right now. For the election and all the jitters around it, I tried to be level, so that whatever I was feeling didn’t wash off on her. She’s watched her parents, their eyes glued to that U.S. map of red and blue, and I think at times she probably rather wished we were just playing freeze tag with her.
But you know, we just have very level conversations. We use them as a learning opportunity. I try to put in perspective that we do have control over aspects of our lives that our leaders can’t mess with one way or the other. We’ll keep bringing good into the world, we’ll keep forming relationships with those who are near and dear to us. We’ll keep reaching out to new folks, with whom we seek to be in relationship. These are all things that anybody can do, no matter who’s in charge.
In the wake of so much social, political and racial unrest in 2020, how do you think we as parents can best model leadership and character for our children?
Right now the posture — and I feel like the media might not be helping so much here — is engaging around an attack and defense strategy. Everyone is going through a threat response that seems to be a dominant process. There’s a way to transform that. One is to think about your mindset before you get into these engagements. Are you trying to convince somebody, to get your points in? Because that mindset’s going to lead to heartache and possible fracture, on top of already fractured relations.
There’s a way to still take the engagement, but approach it with a curiosity mindset, to ask questions. When I find myself, by accident, in a corner, in a conflict or in a hostile room, if I have the wherewithal to ask a question, I can preserve my own mental well-being. It gives my brain a little breathing room, and allows me to explore and seek to understand — and, heaven forbid, maybe even find common ground — before I let my amygdala hijack me, and I go into a fight, flight or freeze mode.
Just thinking about the brain process, just having that executive function, that reflection on how your body behaves, can, I think, really help us avoid getting into some painful situations that we really don’t want to be in.
How can parents best advocate for SEL support and resources, whatever their current schooling situation?
An important first step a parent can take is to inquire at their school if the school’s gone through the process of adopting a social-emotional learning program or initiative. If the school says no, then, okay, ask what you can do to change that. Our state has SEL standards now, so we have a framework to help support communities that are developing SEL. If the school says yes, then it’s just a matter of, well, how do we make sure that my kid gets adequate time for SEL? What do we need to do for that? And what else are you doing to weave it throughout the course of the learning day? Those are the basic questions.