Bridging The Worlds of Reading and Literacy 

Byline: Jenny Shannon

Teacher, Conscious Discipline Action Team (CDAT) leader, and longtime Conscious Discipline Instructor Jennie Gries and children’s author Andrew Newman of Conscious Stories are some of the nation’s pioneer educators utilizing SEL practices to increase student literacy. Their unified belief in the value of teaching self-regulation, partnered with the science of reading, led to a collaborative effort: a Conscious Discipline Author-in-Residence program developed and launched in February 2024. 

From February 1st-16th, South African Author Andrew Newman spent his time inside of Park Community Charter School (a Conscious Discipline school), leading school-wide assemblies, observing in classrooms, working in tandem with teachers, holding parent meetings at the local library, and facilitating a book writing workshop that simultaneously taught students the beauty of reading and regulation.  The results were astounding.  

Reading and Regulation Go Hand in Hand 

Andrew spent time in the classroom observing Jennie’s class and other Conscious Discipline (CDAT) members. He was able to witness how Conscious Discipline’s practices and principles were directly implemented in PreK through 4th grade classrooms and used as the infrastructure to support the academic curriculum and the science of reading.  

There was a school-wide assembly that allowed Andrew to read The Boy Who Searched for Silence, his book about a boy who attempts to escape the noises of life to find the peace he longs for. Before the reading of each of Andrew’s books, there is a breathing exercise: “I breathe for me, I breathe for you, I breathe for us, I breathe for what’s all around us.”  When you imagine an elementary assembly, silence isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Jennie mentioned how moving it was to participate in such a communal event and noted its effect on the students. “What a beautiful moment to have all the kids breathe in silence.” A room full of co-regulating students, now ready to learn. 

Andrew and Jennie had a few goals for connecting social emotional learning with literacy.  The first was to lead Jennie’s class in the co-writing of a book centered on one Conscious Discipline Skill. Each class chose a different Conscious Discipline Skill. Jennie’s class chose Empathy. Andrew focused on Conscious Discipline aligned questions he posed to the class such as, “In characters or even in ourselves, we have big feelings. What is that emotion?”  

Another goal was to have students (alone or with a partner) write a story on their own, centered around a different Conscious Discipline Skill.  The writing process is where they would experience first-hand the powerful impact Conscious Discipline has on literacy in the classroom.  

Literacy and the Safe Place 

The students worked on their stories for two weeks during writing time in class. Andrew facilitated conversations and provided mini lessons on how he creates books to merge the science of reading with social emotional learning. Not every child is skilled in literacy, however. This could have led to some outward displays of upset and frustration if a felt sense of safety and belonging wasn’t previously established. Thankfully, Jennie already had a plan in place with the Safe Place. In the Safe Place, children use research-based, developmentally appropriate tools and strategies to change their inner state from upset to composed. Only in this composed state can children access the higher brain functions needed to problem-solve and learn. “The great thing is, we have tools in our Safe Place for them to write and color, “said Jennie, “For 20 minutes they were calm and composed. This was great because Andrew talked about writing as his internal Safe Place.” Students were able to be productive writers and readers because the Safe Place helped them maintain an Executive State.  

What Did You Learn as a Writer? 

Though Park Community Charter School in Kaukauna, Wisconsin is a Conscious Discipline school, this residency experience merged their solid foundation in social emotional learning with a strong, literacy focus.  When one student was asked, “What did you learn as a writer?” His response was exactly what they hoped for: “When something didn’t go my way and my idea didn’t work, I just took a deep breath and tried something different.”   

The message was received, loud and clear: “We got this. We can try something new.” Conscious Discipline instills the skills needed to maintain the composure necessary to build confidence in the classroom and beyond. Literacy requires stamina and resilience; something second graders aren’t necessarily known for.  For ten days, second grade students were focused on a common goal and made productive strides toward it with the guidance of the structures and skills of Conscious Discipline. 

All In: Bringing in the Community 

Tackling literacy and SEL at school is quite an undertaking, however, we know that learning retention occurs best when the learning is supported at home. That’s why the residency wasn’t limited to the school’s four walls but extended to the parents and the community as well.  

Andrew sent out information about purchasing his books prior to his arrival so that parents could be exposed to the work he was bringing to their children’s school and how it aligns with Conscious Discipline principles. During the residency, Andrew and Jennie held a community meeting at the local library that focused on, “why the last 20 minutes of your day really matter to communicate with your kids.”  Jennie wove in I Love You Rituals with the parents- Both drove home the connection between regulation and literacy.  

The perception of writers is that they must be thinkers, and that is true.  The beauty of the Author-in-Residence program was to show the students that to succeed in both life and academics, you can’t just stop at “thinking.” The groundwork of self-regulation strategies to encourage a felt sense of safety and belonging is critical to student well-being and directly impacts literacy success.  

“We really should think a lot before we start writing” says Andrew, “I really hope you also feel. 



Jennie Gries  

Andrew Newman 


Conscious Discipline Literacy Resources 

Increase Connection and Literacy with I Love You Rituals 

The Safe Place