Becoming a community champion for science was not what Dr. Darlene Clemens of Port Angeles, WA, envisioned when she retired from a successful 36-year career as a teacher and a principal. “I was going to learn French; I was going to learn how to play the piano and travel,” she said.
Her plans began to change in 2013, when Clemens wrote a letter to Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making: Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs. And so began a five-year correspondence with the then-stranger Galinsky affectionately now calls, “Dear Darlene.”
Galinsky describes how it happened:
In 2013, I received a letter from someone I didn’t know. She wrote, “My name is Darlene Clemens and I want to use your book Mind in the Making as a resource to the families and professionals in northwestern Washington State.”
Of course, I was thrilled. I have always likened writing and publishing a book to casting it into a dark sea. You never know where, when or even if it will bob up. Of course, all authors hope their books will make a difference.
In 2014, I heard from Darlene again. This time, I was more than thrilled: I was inspired. As the consummate educator, Darlene, along with her husband, Michael, accomplished something creative, fun and very sharable by organizing the Mind in the Making book into 93 practical mini-messages. These tips are sent every Monday morning to more than 1,300 parents and teachers in the Port Angeles public schools.
Because Clemens believes so strongly that research should lead to action, her work with the Mind in the Making (MITM) program has sparked other work in the schools. In the Jefferson Elementary School, the Mind in the Making booklists that promote skills are displayed on a bulletin board created by the school counselor, Vicki Rockholt, and children actively select skills in themselves to promote.
In the Roosevelt Elementary School, Principal Michelle Olsen, promotes brain-based instruction and trauma-informed practices, including a space where children who are feeling stressed can recover, learn how to self-regulate and develop life skills.
Last month, Galinsky traveled to Washington State to meet Darlene and Michael Clemens, to see the work in action, and to make presentations to families and professionals in this burgeoning early learning community.
Over a recent pancake breakfast with Darlene and Michael Clemens in lovely Port Angeles, Galinsky and Darlene discussed the beginnings of this early childhood initiative.
Galinsky: How did you find my book?
Clemens: I discovered Mind in the Making through Norma Turner. Norma’s an activist and has done wonderful things in the community. She started an organization called Prevention Works! that purchased 100 copies of Mind in the Making and gathered all kinds of people in the community to read them. And then we got together in small groups to discuss it. As I’m sitting at my house reading Mind in the Making — I was barely into it — but it was like “Where was this book when I was raising my kids?” So I just started outlining it because I knew I had to do something with it. I just didn’t know what.”
Galinsky (laughing): And that “what” became your need to synthesis the science of early learning into life skills available to parents and others who interact with children.
Clemens: Yes, in a letter to the community, I wrote: “Because I know how busy your lives are and how little time you have for reading an entire book, my husband and I divided the book into 93 mini-messages for you.”
Galinsky: This is brilliant. So you’ve completed this remarkable synthesis. What was the next challenge?
Clemens: Well, we needed a way to get the mini-messages out into the community. Since my background is in education, we began with the school system.In March 2014, I started attending school events again. I went to all of the Parent Teacher Organization meetings. I went to all the teacher-staff meetings. We have an event called Kids Fest in the early winter where parents bring their children, and I went there.
We started an e-list and organized it into groups: for families and for professionals. We have also created lists by children’s age, including babies, which led to creating a booklet just for babies that we distribute throughout the community. We also make bookmarks.
Galinsky: And now, four years later, are you still attending all these meetings and events?
Clemens: No, we no longer have to do that. This initiative has become part of the community fabric. Each fall, when the kindergarten teachers meet with parents, they sign them up to get the messages so all I have to do is add the new subscribers to our list.
Galinsky: Have you heard from people who use the tips?
Clemens: Yes, which is always gratifying. For example, a father recounted how his baby was crying hysterically and he couldn’t calm him down. He walked the baby over to the light switch — a suggestion from the mini-messages to promote the skill of focus — and the baby stopped crying right away!”
Want to start your week by receiving Darlene and Michael Clemens’ mini-messages each Monday morning? Contact: Dr.DarleneClemens@olypen.com
Ellen Galinsky is the chief science officer at the Bezos Family Foundation where she also serves as executive director of Mind in the Making. In addition, she is a senior research advisor for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). She also remains president of Families and Work Institute. Her life’s work revolves identifying important societal questions as they emerge, conducting research to seek answers, and turning the findings into action. She strives to be ahead of the curve, to address compelling issues and to provide rigorous data that can affect our lives.
In addition to their mini-messages work, Darlene and Michael began alerting families and professionals to the resources that the MITM program has created, along with Vroom resources, including:
- First Book — a MITM library of children’s books with free tips on how to read them in ways that promote life skills
- Skill-Building Opportunities — downloadable tip sheets that show how to turn challenging times (like parents who disagree on child rearing or screen time) into opportunities to promote life skills; and
- Vroom — the Bezos Family Foundation program that offers 1000+ tips that turn the time parents already have with their children into brain-building moments.