The Power of the FEC!
by Oliver and Rachel DeMille
Some of the most important parts of Thomas Jefferson Education include:
- The three types of education (conveyor-belt education, professional training, and leadership education)
- The Phases of Learning
- The 7 Keys of Great Teaching
- The 5 Environments of Learning
- The genius within every student
- The Key of Keys, which is families reading together
- The two competing views of childhood (children learn like adults versus children learn in a distinct way)
- The three types of inspiring (the carrot versus the stick versus the love affair)
- The principles of effective student whispering
- The 55 Ingredients of a Leadership Education home
All of these are greatly effective in helping young people get a superb education, and, in fact, in the broader work of raising a family—regardless of the educational focus.
One idea which doesn’t get enough attention in most modern families is what we call The Family Executive Council (FEC). In fact, this is Ingredient 1 of the 55 Ingredients of Leadership Education homes.
People use Leadership Education principles with children in elementary, high school and college, and in public, private, home, Montessori and other non-traditional school settings. We have watched TJEd families send students to Ivy-League and other top universities as well as achieve great success in the corporate, entrepreneurial and political worlds.
There are TJEd families applying the principles of Leadership Education in every continent, many nations, and from all major religious and political backgrounds. Single-parent families, grandparents raising children, parents of special-needs children and many other types of families benefit from the TJEd principles of quality education.
In all this, we have repeatedly seen the most success and highest quality in homes where the FEC is a consistent part of the regular family life. Families that routinely hold the FEC have a lot more success in achieving their family goals—in education and in all facets of life. The FEC is a great tool for family success. Unfortunately, it is almost a lost art in our contemporary world.
In Allan Bloom’s bestseller The Closing of the American Mind, this type of repeated meeting was referred to as one of the lost “rituals” which modern families so desperately need. The FEC is a powerful and profound tool of family leadership. Without it, any family is living below its potential in many ways.
The family members who attend the FEC meeting are Mom and Dad. The FEC establishes long-term family policy including assignments and rules, and is the highest authority in the family. The following agenda items are usually included and discussed in each weekly FEC meeting:
I. Schedule the Week
This includes discussing all events for each member of the family, which we correlate on a central family calendar. We also discuss any events we feel need to be included (i.e.: “Sara needs some time alone with you” or, “We really ought to get those bulbs planted” or, “The car needs to be detailed” or, “Let’s spend some extra play time with Hyrum this week,” or, “The leaves in the canyon are changing and we’ll miss it if we don’t go in the next four days”), and plan them.
We make the assignments needed to effectively accomplish the family plans for the week. When we give an assignment to someone who is not in the FEC, we write it down and inform them later. We very often say “no” to things vying for a place on the calendar.
Guilt doesn’t earn anything a mark in ink on our calendar. Nothing is untouchable. With so many people’s priorities to consider and so many young ones to look after, hard choices are made every week and our youth have come to trust and respect the FEC’s decisions, even when they might be disappointing. We have had experience with fudging on FEC decisions and regret has always followed—and it wasn’t lost on anyone.
II. Structure Time
Next, we decide how we want to structure school time for the week, and we write it on the calendar. We have an overall structure which changes little from week to week, but we always go through it because almost every week includes some variations.
III. Discuss Problems
First, Rachel brings up her concerns, if any, and we discuss possible solutions and make plans and assignments. After Rachel is done, Oliver brings up his concerns, if any. This is not a complaining session, but a time for making decisions, commitments, and policies. Any decisions that are made require a unanimous vote. If it seems consensus is not forthcoming, we may table or postpone an issue to be discussed at a later meeting.
We usually set a time limit on this part of the meeting. We have noticed that on items of controversy there is a point of diminishing returns for discussion. Thirty minutes is about right for us, but couples with different communication styles might decide on more or even less time.
If more than the time allotted is needed for a timely or urgent decision, we schedule a special meeting on the calendar. This can require discipline and trust, but we have found that an orderly approach to such matters is almost always more successful. Other couples have stories of how they have made similar systems work for them.
FEC has also been helpful in conflict resolution. If a disagreement arises during the week that could lead to an argument, either of us has the prerogative to “refer it to committee,” meaning the Family Executive Committee. This means that further discussion must wait a minimum of 24 hours and must take place in the context of an FEC which can be convened especially for this issue, if necessary. We have agreed to use this sparingly (not as a weapon of passive aggression) and to honor it unfailingly.
The times that we have “referred” an issue to committee and been privately prayerful in anticipation of the discussion—well, honestly, the discussion has never yet come. In every instance it resolved itself without further repartee and the meeting was subsequently cancelled.
This does not mean that we foresee no discussion on such issues in the future; just that when we apply this technique our answers thus far have come as a result of a commitment to not arguing and being prayerful about the solutions. This pattern has become so pronounced that it has been a few years since we have even referred anything to committee.
This process has taught us new skills in communication and fostered more trust between us so that we do not get so anxious or defensive or critical when solutions are not immediately forthcoming.
IV. Discuss Children
Finally, we discuss the children individually—including concerns, needs, opportunities, problems, struggles, hopes, fears, doubts, talents, any particular impressions one of us may have regarding them, etc. We start with the oldest and talk about what we can do to help each. This is the first and most important step to mentoring a child in any phase of learning.
In single parent homes or other situations with a non-traditional FEC, the FEC still benefits greatly from a formal weekly meeting where decisions are made prayerfully and planning is done in advance.
Oliver recalls a story he read in a magazine about a young man who was doing a service project with his church group. They were taking gift baskets to the widows in their congregation. The youth was confused when they dropped one off to his mother.
Although his father had died several years before, he had never thought of her as a widow. Whenever an issue of discipline or conflict arose in the home, Mother would excuse herself, “to go talk it over with father.” She would then kneel beside her bed with her deceased husband’s photograph nearby and pray until she knew what to do. She would return later and proceed confidently with the solution she had arrived at. This woman was participating in an FEC, even in her difficult circumstance.
After FEC each Sunday, we hold parent/child interviews. Each interview covers areas of concern, opportunity, etc. (as just discussed in the FEC) and gets the child’s input. Interviews are used to give assignments, review past work or performance, coach, suggest changes, review how the child is using his structured time, inform him of events in the upcoming week, ask deep questions, resolve problems, and so on.
We ask how they are living the tenets of our faith, how they are fulfilling their family stewardships, what worries or questions they have and how we can help them in their lives. With our young Core and Love of Learning children, we usually ask if there are any particular interests they have that they need our support to pursue.
We may ask the older Love of Learning and Scholar Phase students to bring their compass: a list they make at least every six months of things they want to study. The compass is an excellent source of topics for discussion both about what they have done and what they want to do.
It is not uncommon that the interviews have absolutely no academic content at all. We may feel inclined to just let the child talk, and talk, and talk; we may re-teach a basic principle. We may discuss in detail a relationship the child has, and how she might take responsibility for doing her part to make it a healthy one. Other times, lots of academics are covered.
In short, we hold the meeting and talk about whatever we feel impressed to cover. We structure a time for the meeting, and basically let the content take care of itself. Sometimes we miss a week; sometimes we even miss two in a row. As our family got bigger we started interviewing only one to three of our children per week.
In Dad’s planner, we keep track of who has had an interview and when. This way we feel comfortable taking as much time as is necessary with each child, with no pressure to “get through them all.” But we try to interview everyone at least once a month. If you get in the habit, the children will likely inform you if you start missing. Our children like the attention and their weeks go better when we meet.
If the FEC works well, the whole system is on good footing. FEC is the basic building block of the Leadership Education home, like flour in a recipe or the number “one” in math.
For us, the FEC has to happen every single Sunday (or on another day if that is best for you) without fail. Over time, as the couple learns to depend on the FEC, the pattern of relating and coordinating becomes as much a daily procedure as a weekly meeting.
You can personalize interviews to your family needs, but in our experience, the FEC simply must occur weekly. The first ingredient—truly the most important ingredient—of successful Leadership Education homes is the weekly FEC followed by quality interviews. Every family will see truly great benefits by implementing the FEC.
For more on the Family Executive Council, see “The Family Way,” by Oliver and Rachel DeMille.