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Dr John DeGarmo On Helping Children Thrive and Excel In School

Yitzi Weiner @ Authority Magazine

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Authority Magazine
Be Involved. You can help your student in his development by encouraging your child to participate in activities outside of the classroom. Many schools have extracurricular organizations and activities with various school sports, music, and clubs. Along with this, community sports and organizations also allow kids the opportunity to not only participate and develop these skills, but to learn new skills, develop talents and to exercise.

School is really not easy these days. Many students have been out of school for a long time because of the pandemic, and the continued disruptions and anxieties are still breaking the flow of normal learning. What can parents do to help their children thrive and excel in school, particularly during these challenging and anxiety-provoking times?

To address this, we started a new series called ‘5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School.” In this interview series, we are talking to teachers, principals, education experts, and successful parents to learn from their insights and experience.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure to interview Dr John DeGarmo.

Dr. John DeGarmo is an international expert in parenting and foster care and is a TEDx Talk presenter. Dr. John is the founder and director of The Foster Care Institute. He and his wife have had over 60 children come through their home as foster parents. He is an international consultant to schools, legal firms, and foster care agencies, as well as an empowerment and transformational speaker and trainer for schools, child welfare, businesses, and non profit organizations. He is the author of several foster care books, including Helping Foster Children in School: A Guide for Foster Parents, Social Workers, and Techers, and writes for several publications. Dr. John has appeared on CNN HLN, Good Morning, America, and NBC, FOX, CBS, and PBS stations across the nation. He and his wife have received many awards, including the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us a bit about your “backstory”?

Thank you for asking. I am Dr. John DeGarmo, a leading expert in foster care and parenting. I have been a parent to over 60 children from the foster care system over the years. I have been a high school teacher in both Australia and in the United States. As the author of several books, I travel the nation and globe working with child welfare programs, foster care agencies, as well as legislators across the country and in Washington D.C. on foster care reform.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, I think back to when I was teaching English in a rural high school setting, shortly after my wife and I moved back to the United States from Australia. One of my students was pregnant with triplets. Recognizing that the environment that she and the father of the children grew up in and lived in, I was concerned for the welfare of the triplets. One afternoon, I went home to my wife after work, and asked her “What if we cared for those triplets?” Our first child had died from Anencephaly, and as a result, I wanted to help other children who were suffering in some way. That led to a discussion about foster parenting, which changed my life in so many ways. Each child that has come through my own home has changed me in some way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Winston Churchill famously said “Never surrender” We must never quit, never surrender working to help these children. There is so much more work to be done, and today, this very moment, there is a child who is hoping and perhaps praying that someone will help them.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

That’s a great question.

One trait I try to embrace is that of patience. Over the years, I have had children who are suffering from trauma and anxiety not only in my classroom, but living in my home. Many times, these children are unable to process the many emotions and feelings that overwhelm them from their trauma. As a result, sometimes they lash out at me or my family, as we are the ones who are closest and nearby. Patience has been a virtue, so to speak, that I have found most important, as I remind myself that it is not about me, but it is about the child who is suffering. Indeed, we as educators and caretakers need to be patient as we care for children who are suffering.

Along with that, compassion goes hand in hand with patience. Children who are suffering need compassion from the adults in their lives. Sadly, I have found many children in today’s society lack a compassionate and caring adult in their lives, and this is truly tragic. Each child deserves someone who cares for them in their lives.

Finally, I firmly believe that one of the traits that is missing in today’s world is that of kindness. I feel that the power of a kind word goes a long way in helping a child heal. Time after time, children come to my home, never hearing a kind word said to them. Never complimented on school work, how they looked, or for anything else. Never encouraged to try their best. Never being told they were loved. As Yehuda Berg once said, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

Words DO have power. Words can heal, and they can hurt. Words can encourage, and they can destroy. The power we have when we speak is indeed significant, and can be life changing, mountain moving.

As a parent, I understand that what I say to my children is detrimental to their development. Each day, I try to find something positive to say to each child, and to thank each child for something they did throughout the day. Whether it is praising a child for unloading the dish washer, or how their hair looked, I understand that my children crave a kind word from me. As a former high school teacher, I tried to find some way to complement each student on a regular basis, never speaking harshly or negatively, and showing kindness in my deeds and my words. In both worlds, as a parent and as a teacher, the words “please” and “thank you” were a large part of my vocabulary, and I tried to not only use them throughout each day, but model them as examples for their own way of speech.

Words of affirmation, of trust, and of compassion are building blocks in the life of a child. Words of patience, of kindness, and of love are essential to the wellbeing, mental health, and emotional stability of each child.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have been working with Jen Lilley, a celebrity actress and foster/adoptive parent on reforming the reunification process in foster care alongside legislators in Washington D.C. Foster care needs reform, particularly in this area, with the goal of protecting children from additional harm and trauma when they return home. In addition, I have a couple of book ideas, as well.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority about how to help children succeed in school?

As one who has been a teacher in both Australia and the United States, as well as one who is a leading expert in foster care and child welfare, not only have I worked with children in crisis in the classroom, I have also had so many as part of my family, helping them with both their educational needs and their emotional health. I have studied this area in full, written much on it, and lived it as part of my daily life style, as well. I believe I bring a unique perspective to it that most authorities do not.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Can you help articulate the main challenges that students face today that make it difficult to succeed in school?

Where does one start? There are so many challenges. The breakdown of family, to begin with. So many children are coming from broken homes, and do not have positive parental support in their lives. This translates to their success in school. Many children do not have a parental figure in their lives cheering them on to success in school, or simply helping them with their school work. So many children have come to live with me and my family, children of school age, and do not know how to write their name. Children who have never had a parental figure sit down and read a book to them.

Social media is another challenge that children face today. There are dangers regarding children using social network sites. For one, children can be introduced to a world of harmful sites while using these sites. Not only can a child easily come across a site that is not child friendly, links and click ads are also easily
accessible, as they are seemingly everywhere. Along with this, internet predators continue to seek out young internet users, waiting to prey upon unaware children. Cyberbullying, or bullying through the use of the internet, is also a new problem among child social network users. Parents need to be aware of who their children associate with on social network sites, teach their children about the dangers of posting personal information while networking, monitor their internet usage, and ensure that social networking profiles are set to private
and not public.

Can you suggest a few reforms that you think schools should make to help students to thrive and excel?

Like today’s child welfare workers that I work with around the nation, today’s teachers are overwhelmed, overworked, under resourced, under supported, under staffed, and under paid. Teachers have more and more paperwork and accountability each year, leaving less and less time for what is most important, helping children learn and grow. We need to ensure that our teachers have all of the resources and support services available to them, lift some of the paperwork and accountability that demands so much of their time, and allow them to do what they do best, and that is teach.

In addition, we need to recognize that many students today are filled with a number of different anxieties. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds in the United States. In addition, many studies show that up to five million children in the United States experience and/or witness domestic violence each year. Whether it’s watching an act of physical or sexual abuse, listening to threats or sounds of violence, or viewing the evidence of such abuse in a victim in the signs of bleeding, bruises, torn clothing, or broken items, the effects are damaging to a child, in a variety of ways. As a result, it is imperative that we utilize our school counselors more, and recognize the important and very valuable role they play in our schools today.

Here is our primary question. Can you please share your “5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School?” Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Keep in Contact. Reach out to school employees and form a positive working relationship with them. Let school counselors, teachers and administrators know that they can always call or email you if needed. Also obtain contact information from your child’s teachers. Attempt to remain in regular contact with them. Use all forms and means of communication. Through text messages, email, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, there are numerous ways to reach out to teachers and school employees. It is essential that you remain up to date with your child’s progress, both with academics and behavior.
  2. Update Teachers. Not only should you as a parent request regular behavior updates from the child’s school, but a responsible parent will provide such information to the school as well. If your child is having a particularly difficult time at home, let the teachers and counselors know, allowing these educators to be prepared and equipped to handle any difficulties that might come their way.
  3. Help with School Work. School work may not come easy. Today, many children are behind in math and reading skills. It is important that you and the child’s teachers set realistic goals for the child. Find out where the child’s learning ability and level of knowledge is, and work with him at this level. Talk to your child’s teachers about his/her abilities and if any accommodations need to be made. You should encourage your child to set goals and expectations, and celebrate every success, no matter how big or small they may be.
  4. Be Involved. You can help your student in his development by encouraging your child to participate in activities outside of the classroom. Many schools have extracurricular organizations and activities with various school sports, music, and clubs. Along with this, community sports and organizations also allow kids the opportunity to not only participate and develop these skills, but to learn new skills, develop talents and to exercise.
  5. Touring the School. Before his very first day in class, take some time to go on a tour with your child through the building. Ask an administrator or school counselor to guide you and your child through the school. This will allow your child to feel more comfortable once he begins class

As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?

This is a difficult time for teachers, on so many levels. To be sure, teachers are a lot like the child welfare workers I work alongside with. Both are overwhelmed, under resourced, under trained, under supported, under staffed, and under paid. Today’s teachers need more support services in place, less day to day paperwork and hoops to jump through, more understanding, and better pay.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Can I name three please?

Melania Trump has done amazing work as an advocate for youth who age out of foster care, which is one of the areas that I have devoted my life to.

Ashton Kutcher is working hard to bring awareness to Human Trafficking, something that I have been working steadfastly on for several years.

Shaquille O’Neal has a heart for helping children, and I believe that he has the opportunity to play an important role in addressing child abuse and neglect in our nation.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thanks for asking. I can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Linkedin at Dr. John DeGarmo Foster Care Expert, and of course online at The Foster Care Institute.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder Authority Magazine. He is also the CEO of Authority Magazine's Thought Leader Incubator, which guides leaders to become prolific content creators. Yitzi is also the author of five books. In 2017, he created the popular, “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” series that highlights the empowering lessons learned from the experiences of high-profile entrepreneurs and public figures. This series has inspired a mini-movement among writers, with scores of writers worldwide profiling inspiring people to share their positive, empowering, and actionable stories. A trained Rabbi, Yitzi is also a dynamic educator, teacher and orator. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and children.

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