Author Interview: Paula L. White’s SHAPE – and a Giveaway!

Mar 2, 2017

You know I love a good author stalking (see this onethis onethis onethis one, AND this one). And now it’s time to introduce you to yet another! I first met Paula L. White when doing work with New Jersey’s Priority Schools a few years back. I was super impressed with what she built in NJ and I also loved talking with her about all things Togetherness in parenting!

Late last year, after a 3-year stint leading school improvement for the New Jersey Department of Education, Paula published her first book, SHAPE: The 5 Keys to Parenting from Research & Real Life.  The book provides a blueprint for families to thrive by combining the solid research with old-school common sense. SHAPE really outlines a system of parenting. And since I’m a huge fan of systems, I gave the book a read and wanted to share some highlights with you here.

Maia: What led you to write SHAPE

Paula: I’ve had a longstanding interest in parenting; I’ve always wanted to “do it right.”  Within 8 years of having my first child, I was a mom of 3 boys and virtually all of my waking hours were devoted to them.  I had lots of rituals and routines to make things work, but when my marriage ended after 20 years these began to fall apart. There was a ton of chaos and confusion and emotions were running high.  I realized just how much my built-in systems and routines mattered, and how crazy things would get without them.  I wrote SHAPE to chronicle my journey of systematizing my way back to sanity during the worse parenting period of my life.  Capturing and codifying my systems saved our family. My hope is that the book can rescue others who need to define, or maybe just tweak or refine, the way their family functions.

Maia: I love the four different Family Rituals on page 101. How could teachers incorporate this into their classroom practice?

Paula: It’s really important to build rituals around the things you value most, because rituals make those values stick.  On Page 101, I share 4 different rituals related to one of my family’s core values: GRATITUDE.  The research on gratitude is really compelling.  An attitude of gratitude has some really surprising health benefits – both mental and physical – and grateful kids are happy kids.  One ritual I have in my home is a wall of gratitude, where a whiteboard or chalkboard is dedicated to expressions of gratitude.  A teacher could assign each table group in her classroom a different colored marker or chalk.  She could then write, “I am grateful for…” at the top of the board and ask children to go to the board once a week with their assigned color to write down something for which they are grateful.  This board could be thematic – one week it could focus on identifying another classmate for whom a child is grateful, another week it could be writing about a family member, and so on.  Another really great ritual I describe is a letter-writing practice where children write to someone from a list of people for whom they are grateful.  This is easily tied to literacy standards as a monthly writing exercise during journal time.  Children can write to grandparents, a former coach, a great friend – anyone who has enriched their lives by being generous with their time, love, or resources.

Maia: The self-management strategies on page 196 are so important for kids. Many teachers have a time-out space or reflection chair. But how can they add even more social-emotional health to their classrooms?

Paula: When we interact with children, whether as parents or teachers, it’s easy to feel like their misbehavior is intentionally meant to drive us crazy, but that’s almost never the case.  In all areas of life, knowledge is power.  Children often lack understanding of concrete strategies to manage their feelings, which is why they act inappropriately.  When they know better, they’ll do better.  The self-management strategies I describe can be rehearsed in class for 1-3 minutes a day for a few weeks at the beginning of the year, or after returning from a vacation break.  Then children will have a set of tools to support them through frustration or anger.  Also, the power of teaching these strategies to the whole class is that students are empowered to help their peers.  One student, after seeing another becoming agitated, can say, “Hey Jaquan, why don’t you try the Blink strategy to get calm?  That’s the one that always works for me.”

Maia: Of course, I focus on the angle of Togetherness. What are some practices parents could incorporate in their homes? 

Paula: Two life-changing practices to make your family more Together are Look Fors, and Meal Planning.  Look Fors apply to everyday expectations at home; they’re a bulleted list of things to look for to know that you’ve done quality work.  I worked with my children to come up with Look Fors for every single chore to ensure they would be completed to my liking.

The Look Fors for taking out the trash are:

  • No trash on floor around the trashcan.
  • Full trash bag placed in “Herby Curby” container outside.
  • New empty trash bag in trashcan.
  • Lid on top of trashcan.

This was a life changer!  For my son, taking out the garbage meant literally doing that and nothing else.  He would forget to put a new bag in the can, and if there were small bits of garbage that fell on the floor as he was taking out the bag, he wouldn’t grab the dustpan and sweep them up.  Those things drove me nuts!  Happily, with Look Fors, they became a thing of the past.

Another powerful parenting practice is themed weekly Meal Planning.  Coming up with meals is a heavy lift in the midst of a busy week, so planning and prepping on a Sunday afternoon is a lifesaver.  It’s easy to get stuck in the same old routine though, so I came up with nightly themes to make planning easier.  For example, we have Watery Wednesdays, which means that every Wednesday there’s seafood on the menu.  The kids focus on meal ideas like fish tacos or popcorn shrimp.  Then we have Try-It Thursdays, when we try a new recipe.  We get recipes from TV shows or websites, or sometimes we try to recreate a dish that one of us ate at a restaurant.  Having a different theme each evening gives us a frame for a routine, but it doesn’t stifle creativity, which really matters to kids, no matter their age.  Folks will have to get the book to find out the themes for the other 5 days of the week, but I promise that they’re lots of fun!

Want your very own copy of SHAPE? In the comments section below, please share 1-2 ways you’ve incorporated SHAPE-like rituals and routines into your family or classroom life. Be sure to include your first name & last initial, grade level and/or subject area, and the email address where we can reach you if you win! We will select two winners using our random number generator on Friday, March 10th.

Contest fine print: US addresses only. If winners don’t respond within 48 hours, another winner will be selected.

PS Read more Together Family stuff here!