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How Can We All Be Better Grown-Ups For All of Our Kids? Insights from SXSWedu

March 29, 2018

By: Emily Smith

I’m a worrier. Always have been. From as early as age six, I have memories of lying in bed at night unable to sleep because I was worried that I had forgotten to do my homework or had not done enough on a project. I remember worrying about relationships with friends and family, and struggles people I care about were going through. I still worry a lot today, and like most adults, the things I worry about are exponentially more stressful than they were when I was six.

When I worry now, it’s often about being the best parent I can be for my seven-year-old son. And how the divisive society that we live in today and the unknown world he will live in as a teenager will impact him. I worry about whether or not his experiences both inside and outside of school are going to truly prepare him academically, socially and emotionally to thrive in the future. I worry about keeping him safe and helping him continue to be the happy, kind and empathetic boy his is today. I worry about other adults – the conscious and unconscious actions they take and decisions they make today – that will impact the future for my child and every child.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my first SXSWedu in Austin, TX. All of the sessions I attended and conversations I had with other attendees have me continuing to reflect on this very difficult question that is at the heart of my worries: how we can all be better grown-ups for all of our kids? The voices I heard at SXSWedu shared approaches, insights and questions to think about:

  • Educators, community leaders and parents can empower students to lead. “Adults don’t always have to be in front…Create spaces for them to cultivate their own power. When students have power, transformation is possible.” -José Luis Vilson, founder of EduColor, math educator and author of, This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education.

  • We can all teach kids to dream big and work towards what they believe in. “Why teach kids to be realistic? Who do we know that has changed the world that had a realistic mindset?” -Juliana Esparza, President of Live it Out, a non-profit launched by teens to help other teens reach their full potential and finish high school.

  • School leaders can open community-wide conversations on better preparing ALL students, and ask, “Why do we continue to focus on just math, science, English and social studies, when we know students need content mastery, plus critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity and other critical skills? What skills will kids need and are we doing all we can to help ALL students achieve them?” –Ken Kay, CEO, EdLeader21.
  • All of us can get to know the children in our communities and the impact of poverty, and help students take ownership of contributing to solutions. “When you know where your students are coming from, it changes you. Once you see poverty up close, how does that not make you angry? How does that not make you want to change it?…Can you imagine if you were taught to solve the problems of your life? What if your classroom becomes your life?” -Michael Sorrell, President, Paul Quinn College

  • Each of us can help kids learn how to make sense of media and information, and give them freedom to develop positive relationships with caring adults. According to Danah Boyd, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder of Data & Society, rather than simply focusing on media literacy and critical thinking, we should help kids develop empathy, appreciate how people interpret information differently, and understand how to find gaps in stories and fill them in. And relationships with adults can help students navigate what they are consuming in everyday media. “Our system is too focused on age segregation, if students want to engage with adults we need to be open to them, on social media as well as in person or in the classroom.

A few days after I came home from my trip to Austin, I laid in bed with my son trying to comfort him as he worried about school and friends just as I had when I was his age. I’m thankful for the caring adults that are making their way into his life and into the lives of other children, and hope that our collective worrying, thoughtful action and big dreams from strong kids will make us all better.


Emily Smith
Senior Director of Network Advancement

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