An Author-in-Residence with Conscious Discipline

Byline: Jenny Shannon

Teacher, Conscious Discipline Action Team (CDAT) leader, and longtime Conscious Discipline Instructor Jennie Gries seemed destined to intertwine paths with Andrew Newman, a children’s book author, CEO, and Founder of Conscious Bedtime Stories. They both have dedicated their lives to the integration of social and emotional learning into daily life and activities in school and at home, but it wasn’t until they met under extraordinary circumstances that the trajectory of their plans, their lives, and the lives of the students at Park Community Charter School in Kaukauna, Wisconsin were forever changed.

From the Page to the Stage

In 2018, Andrew Newman attended a national onference in Las Vegas where Conscious Discipline’s own Dr. Becky Bailey was also in attendance. With tables adjacent to each other and with similar company names, attendees kept mixing up the two. To avoid further confusion, Andrew strolled over to Conscious Discipline’s table to introduce himself and meet some of the team. What he discovered in this chance meeting is that they had more in common than either of them expected.

“I didn’t know anything about Conscious Discipline at the time,” Andrew says, thinking back, “but we were both on the same page.” After speaking for a short while, Dr. Bailey invited Andrew to speak and share one of his stories, “The Hug That Got Stuck”, from the stage at the Elevate Conscious Discipline Conference in Florida- in ten days’ time. Andrew, a native of South Africa and only visiting the U.S., was so taken by Dr. Bailey’s passion and mission that he agreed.

 

Engaged and Elevated

Andrew found that his enthusiasm for fostering deep connections and a felt sense of safety and belonging within children were matched by the hundreds of attendees at the Elevate Conscious Discipline education conference. “This noteworthy experience of the energy of the room and the balance of care, patience, and skillfulness that I experienced for the first time was so good. I know nourishment when I see it.” At Elevate, Andrew jumped into reading what he calls “the big blue book”. He knew then he wanted more exposure to Conscious Discipline in a real-world environment but wasn’t sure how. Then, he saw Jennie Gries speak.

The Stars Align

“I saw Jennie present (at Elevate) and got a warm feeling when I heard her talk about the integration of executive functioning skills, the way that kids are assessed at a Conscious Discipline school, and how they’re supported to grow in the skills they lacked,” he said. “It really showed me what I didn’t get as a kid and helped me understand the frustration of having to learn things as an adult that I should have learned as a child.”

Andrew felt his access to his audience (children) was limited. He wanted a deeper, visceral experience to inform his own research and writing. He knew immediately that Jennie’s class would be a wonderful place to start. “I asked her right away if I could come and observe,” he said. But he did so much more than that.

The Author-in-Residence Program is Born

Jennie Gries has taught second grade for over 30 years at Park Community Charter School in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. As the Conscious Discipline Action Team (CDAT) Leader for the past ten years, she led the implementation of Conscious Discipline throughout her school. She specializes in embedding Conscious Discipline with academic instruction to support self-regulation, the School Family, and executive skill development for educators of students’ pre-K through fifth grade. Her classroom is a model for educators worldwide to witness the power of Conscious Discipline in action. Jennie’s openness and relatability make her receptive to exploring new ways to encourage Conscious Discipline practices with her students. When Andrew approached her with an idea, she was all ears.

Andrew wanted an immersion opportunity to grow and learn in a Conscious Discipline school; Jennie wanted her students to learn from and collaborate with a real, live author who believed just as much in self-regulation as they did. Thus, the first ever Conscious Discipline Author-in-Residence program was born.

The Program in Action

Andrew Newman spent February 1-16, 2024, as the Author-in-Residence at Park Community Charter School, working closely with Jennie Gries. He spent his time observing, learning, connecting, and teaching with the students and staff. Andrew spent the first few days simply observing how Conscious Discipline practices were infused across all the grade levels in different classrooms. Then, the school held a school-wide assembly where Andrew read his book, “The Boy Who Searched for Silence” to the student body. At the beginning of every one of Andrew’s books, there is a breathing exercise that goes like this: “I breathe for me, I breathe for you, I breathe for us, I breathe for what’s all around us”.  This provided a mini Brain Smart Start. The collective act of breathing is something Jennie will always remember. “What a beautiful moment to have all the kids breathe in silence.”

Andrew and Jennie engaged the students in the creation of a classroom book and an individual book based on a Conscious Discipline power. They used crayons and materials found in their Safe Place, leaning into the integration of Conscious Discipline practices with creativity and literacy.  Andrew also provided opportunities for parents to ask questions and learn more about self-regulation practices through the power of storytelling. “It is better to help parents nurture the spirituality of their children before their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are fully formed, and hopefully the next generation will not need to repeat the same painful path that so many of us had to.”

The Future of the Author-in-Residence Program

When asked if the author in residence program is something they would like to undertake again, the answer from both Jennie and Andrew is a resounding, “yes.” Jennie is continually looking for opportunities to bring creativity and relevancy into her classroom in ways that support the executive function and emotional health of her students.  She believes the program was an exceptional way to do just that. Andrew’s takeaways were just as positive. He expressed that he would love to continue to explore opportunities in other schools to learn from and with others who are implementing Conscious Discipline practices.

Learn more about the academic integration aspect of the Conscious Discipline Author in Residence program in the second article in this series, The Secret’s Out: The Key to Increasing Literacy Is Regulation. 

Bios:

Jennie Gries

Andrew Newman

Resources:

Conscious Discipline Literacy Resources

Increase Connection and Literacy with I Love You Rituals

The SAFE Place

Andrew Newman’s Conscious Stories

Elevate Conference