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A Conversation between the Authors of "The Teacher’s Toolbox for Every Child"

Interview between Peggy Stern, CEO & Founder of SuperDville and Diana Baron-Moore, Education Content Developer at SuperDville who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Bilingual Special Education and General Education about their book:

The Teacher’s Toolbox for Every Child

Activities to Build Children’s Strengths Through Art, Improv and Conversation.

a cartoon drawing of a group of kids, arm-in-arm, smiling.

Peggy: I’m really excited to be able to interview Diana Baron-Moore, my co-writer for The Teacher’s Toolbox for Every Child as her role was extremely critical. When we decided to take the SuperDville videos and turn them into short read-aloud stories, we knew we needed to develop new activities and luckily Diana, a wonderful teacher, who had helped us develop our online curriculum was available. 

SuperDville and this book are very personal for me. Growing up with dyslexia in the 1960’s was difficult, I was stressed all the time in school and there was very little awareness or support. When I interviewed Diana, my first thought was – I wish she’d been my teacher. I could have had a different trajectory in school if I’d had someone who thought the way she does about children, which is why I’m extremely thrilled to have her discuss her role in writing the book and share her educational philosophy.

Peggy: Why do you think this book is relevant? Why is it important?

Diana: Kids are always going to need and do better when they are being supported as whole people. And the idea that we can just focus on academics will work for some kids, but then there will be others who get left behind if we don’t also make sure that we’re supporting their social needs, their emotional regulation. This book offers the tools to ensure that we’re supporting every child so that they can show up for those content pieces that we are working so hard to make sure that they learn and pick up. 

Peggy: Would you say this book is then just for teachers? 

Diana: Definitely not, it could work for support professionals, OT’s, PT’s, social workers, and counselors to name a few. There are activities here that would be really ideal for small group work and that could be paired with skill-based work. Plus if you have a student who is working on handwriting and they’re feeling frustrated, it might make sense to do your handwriting work in companionship with something from this book. There are also activities in here that would be lovely to do at home, like Best Part of my Day, which is a practice in here about reflecting on the good things. I also think that one thing that can be really helpful for parents is having the same language as their kids. We hear about this with new math all the time, kids come home with their homework, and their parents are like, what is this? So I think for parents, one way that this book could be really useful is to help them develop a shared language with their children about some of these social-emotional concepts so that they are able to really meet each other. An infographic with a girl's face displaying different emotions: Confident, Nervous, Disappointed, Excited, Frustrated, Peaceful, Embarrassed, and Confused.

Peggy: There are many themes prevalent in this book, can you elaborate on them and why you feel they are important for the kids this book is targeted towards? 

Diana: So, particularly for neurodivergent kids it’s important to explicitly teach about emotions as there’s a lot of research that shows that helping kids to have language for emotions, to identify and think analytically about emotions, can be helpful. So we start with that as a basic place, helping kids think about the simple core emotions – happy, sad, mad, scared – and then expanding that to think about some of the more nuanced emotions and how it might be useful to know a lot of different words for feelings. 

Then we acknowledge something that is kind of universal for kids with disabilities, which is stress at school. Kids who are having a hard time with learning content are experiencing stress, and that’s part of their school day. They’re managing that as a core piece of what it means to be at school. So we go straight there and we talk about some coping mechanisms, get them thinking about what that looks like in their lives. 

The next three chapters are different angles and tools that are helpful for all students. So perseverance, gratitude, and curiosity. All of these are attributes that research shows are valuable for students as they give kids different angles to think about: how do I embody this attribute? What is curiosity like, for me? There are opportunities in the book for kids to see how they personally relate to these attributes.

Finally, we shift to some of the skills that kids need to feel good at school, so the last three chapters are self-acceptance, confidence, and self-advocacy. In these early chapters, the kids may have been identifying that I’m really stressed at school because I am overwhelmed with my math homework, I just can’t get it right. And these final chapters offer them a chance to, in a very grounded way, say, okay, yeah, I’m having a hard time with math. Can I still feel good about myself? It might be true that I’m having a hard time with math but I’m still an awesome person. And finally, in self-advocacy, how do I ask for the help I need? So that thing that’s hard for me, that math class that I’m really struggling in, I am letting teachers know when I need help. A cartoon showing a student with a bullhorn saying

Peggy: Speaking of teachers, as an educator yourself, is there anything you’d like to tell them directly about this book and how to get the most out of it? 

Diana: In the book, there are a couple of places where we make some recommendations; like “make the book your own”, “you know your kids best”. These activities are really a starting place for you to modify and tweak so that you meet your kids where they are. This book is about social and emotional learning, and it does offer content, but we know that the kids are going to be showing up to these conversations with their experiences and their emotions. So making sure that as you try to explore the activities, there are pauses enough to really check in on how the kids are feeling and to validate those feelings. 

Peggy: From what you are describing you have strong beliefs about educating kids, can you tell us more about your philosophies and how they’ve developed over your teaching experiences? 

Diana: Ross Greene said, ‘Children do well when they can’, and I think that is a really important starting place. And very clearly where the book is coming from is the idea that if kids have the tools, they want to do well in school, they want to succeed. And so it’s really our job as teachers to figure out what those needs are and then relentlessly pursue a space where we can offer kids those things that they need. It’s clear that feeling safe, competent, and connected at school are prerequisites to doing any academic learning and if you don’t feel supported at school, it’s going to be hard for you to show up with all of your resources when it comes time to learn how to read. And we know for kids who are going to have extra struggles with reading or with other academic content, that making sure those pieces are shored up is a really important move for teachers to be making in order for the kids to succeed. A cartoon of a child riding a unicycle while kicking a soccer ball and juggling.

Peggy: Where do the activities in the book derive from?

Diana: I have done versions of a lot of the activities in this book, particularly with after-school kiddos such as Thank You Card or Perfect Learning Space. There are also pieces in here that are expansions of conversations that I’ve had with students based on places where social-emotional stuff gets tricky and kids need things to be broken down and explained in a more granular way. There’s an activity in the book called Best Friend Voice, which is a really good example of an activity that sprung out of a conversation that I had with a kid about how they were talking to themselves. And so now the activity explores that idea of how are you speaking to yourself? Are you being kind to yourself? 

Peggy: What are your goals for this book? 

Diana:  I hope it finds its audience. I hope it finds the teachers who really need this kind of support, just like a jumping-off place with some ideas to get them diving into these topics with their kids. That’s my goal. I want the people who pick it up to explore what’s in here and to make it their own. 

Peggy: We could have kept talking to Diana, she has so much deep thought about how to help kids succeed and feel good about themselves. And what makes me so happy is to have shared some of this with people, because I think anyone who buys the book will get a tangible version of what Diana was talking about. The activities in this book are so beautiful because they come from her philosophy; her artistic ability, and her love and understanding of children. I think people will love it – it’s a great tool, and I hope that it gets used widely. 

Purchase your copy of The Teacher’s Toolbox for Every Child here!

SuperDville is a Vita-Learn Purchasing Consortia Partner which provides a fun peer-to-peer, video-based social-emotional learning (SEL) tool with corresponding curricula and hands-on activities for kids 7-12 year-olds who learn differently, (dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and ADHD). Learn more about SuperDville!

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