I Was An Interventions Kid

I was an interventions kid.

I was recommended for a program designed to teach “refusal skills.”

I was pulled from my elementary school classroom to talk to police officers.

I was interviewed by my counselor on a regular basis–though I thought at the time that was just because she liked playing board games.

I was an interventions kid.

Though I didn’t know the name until after starting teaching, my higher-than average Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score is one of the reasons I became a teacher. I knew I wanted to be there for other kids navigating tumultuous terrain. The more I learn about just how pervasive ACE’s are, and their profound impact on health over a lifetime, the more convinced I become that teachers everywhere must become deeply familiar with them. 

Where can we start?

 

We can begin by recognizing the seriousness of the issue.

NPR shared this graphic to illustrate some of the many health risks associated with ACEs:

According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences — ACE — study, the rougher your childhood, the higher your score is likely to be and the higher your risk for various health problems later.

As Dr. Nadia Burke Harris points out in her excellent Ted Talk  below,

“Some people looked at this data and they said, “Come on. You have a rough childhood, you’re more likely to drink and smoke and do all these things that are going to ruin your health. This isn’t science. This is just bad behavior.”

It turns out this is exactly where the science comes in. We now understand better than we ever have before how exposure to early adversity affects the developing brains and bodies of children…there are real neurological reasons why folks exposed to high doses of adversity are more likely to engage in high-risk behavior…

But it turns out that even if you don’t engage in any high-risk behavior, you’re still more likely to develop heart disease or cancer.”

We can work to identify & discuss how it is impacting our local community. 

Here in my state, we are currently facing a youth suicide crisis that has school leaders at a loss. They are desperately searching out better prevention programs and better research to identify warning signs. As we look for answers, I hope that we look to better understand the role of childhood trauma. After all, “An expanding body of research suggests that childhood trauma and adverse experiences can lead to a variety of negative health outcomes, including attempted suicide among adolescents and adults” (source); a person with a score of 4 is 12 times more likely to attempt suicide than a person with an ACE score of 0.  And that rate continues to climb with higher ACE scores.

We can reframe our mindsets regarding student behavior.

We can challenge the assumption that kids’ poor behavior is always intentional, willful, or personal. As Stuart Shanker writes in Self Reg:

“The concept of misbehavior is fundamentally tied to those of volitionchoice, and awareness. It assumes that the child willingly chose to act the way he did. He could have acted differently, was even aware that he should have acted differently. But stress behavior is physiologically based. When this happens, the child is not deliberately choosing his actions or aware in a rational way of what he’s doing…because his nervous system, triggered by a sense of threat, shifts to fight or flight. There are some simple ways to gauge when we’re dealing with misbehavior. Ask the child why he did such and such, and if he answers with any explanation — no matter what his rationale — there’s a pretty good chance he knew what he was doing. Or ask him to tell you with a straight face that he didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong. Stress behavior also reveals itself quickly. If you see confusion, fear, anger, or deep distress in that face, if your child averts his eyes or finds it hard to even just look at you, those are often signs of hyperarousal and of stress behavior.”

Kids who have experienced trauma are often in what is known as “toxic stress.” Of course, this does not mean we give them license for poor behavior, but it does mean we can take an understanding-driven stance (see this excellent example which takes a look at when we choose to focus on routine and compliance vs dialogue and compassion).

We can cultivate an environment where kids feel safe. This includes maintaining a sense of normalcy, cultivating self-regulatory skills (art, mindfulness, etc.) & building resilience by helping them to identify their strengths & to develop confidence in using those strengths for problem-solving.

This is especially important because even for kids who have high ACE scores, positive influences can still make a profound impact. As the earlier-mentioned NPR article states:

Remember this, too: ACE scores don’t tally the positive experiences in early life that can help build resilience and protect a child from the effects of trauma. Having a grandparent who loves you, a teacher who understands and believes in you, or a trusted friend you can confide in may mitigate the long-term effects of early trauma, psychologists say.

Below are some concrete resources you can apply today in these efforts.

We can own our own trauma.

For the many of us (67%) that have at least 1 ACE, owning our stories and offering our kids hope can be powerful.

I can turn the fact that I was an interventions kid — the ugliest aspects of my childhood — into something beautiful. Indeed, I’m grateful for the fact that when I had a student tell me her parents were splitting up, I could look her in the eye and tell her that it can be ok — not the chipper pep talk of “everything will be ok,” but a glimmer of hope that someone they trust has been there, too, and knows it isn’t necessarily all over.

I’ll close with another of Nadia Harris Burke’s statements from her Ted Talk: “The science is clear. Early adversity dramatically affects health across a lifetime. Today we are beginning to understand how to interrupt the progression from early adversity to disease and early death…This is treatable. This is beatable. The single most important thing we need today is the courage to look this problem in the face and say, “This is real and this is all of us.” I believe that we are the movement.”

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On Baby Gates and Boundaries #TeacherMom

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Why do I return to this concept so often as an educator, a parent, and a human being?

The latest, more tangible, example consists of our baby gate:

We had taken it down when risks for falls became minimal for our youngest. But I recently realized that I needed it to return. I needed blanket forts and stuffed animals and cars and teacups to be contained to just one part of the house at a time.

Which made me start to wonder…

…do boundaries infringe on agency?

…where’s the balance in cultivating self-care as the grown-up & in cultivating ownership and agency in children?

…can creating boundaries be an authentically collaborative effort with the very people they’ll limit? If not, does it need to be more of a two-way effort in order to be truly collaborative?

After the gate was up for a few days, I began to find some answers.

One answer resonated with another portion of Angela Watson’s comments during the season 4 episode 2 of #IMMOOC I referenced in “When We’re Tired of Coming Up with It All Ourselves.” She stated:

“The overwhelm…comes from trying to do everything and trying to do it perfectly…We need to take that overwhelm seriously because it leads to burnout.”

Quite simply: it’s ok to establish boundaries that allow us to function to serve our kids.

I’m better able to care for my family when my sanity hasn’t been shattered with worry that my kids are climbing onto the counter, scattering (and/or eating) dog food, flooding a sink, and emptying the contents of every drawer, all while I’m rotating a load of laundry upstairs.

Of course, I’m also working on helping them comprehend why all the above behaviors are problematic, but meanwhile we’ll make very little headway if I’m perpetually exhausted.

This has classroom applications as well, of course. Establishing boundaries that allow us to be more useful as teachers is best done as an ongoing conversation with our students so they understand your needs as a teacher/human being. It also works when you’ve worked to cultivate mutual respect on a consistent basis.

But two words of caution:

1. Keep channels of communication open to allow kids to give feedback when they have outgrown certain boundaries. They will let you know if you seek and value their voices!

2. Beware taking this notion too far, as it can quickly devolve to something quite ugly. (see The Price of Putting What’s Best for Teachers over What’s Best for Students). Again. leaning on students’ voices helps here.

My very small students may not be able to yet fully understand why I need some containment. But I know that as I keep sharing what I’m feeling, and give them opportunities to do the same, we’ll set the groundwork for mutual respect and the eventual removal of that baby gate.

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10 Ways for Partnering With Parents #TeacherMom

A friend in my PLN, Aviva Dunsinger, recently wrote about the re-framing of her thinking regarding student vacations during the school year.

“…I think that we have a choice here: we can focus on what children lose due to their absence, or we can look at what they might gain. My thinking is that the stronger the home/school connection, the better the chance that educators, parents, and children can work together to get the most fzrom this away time.”

Her suggestions for offering resources to parents as they take their children on vacation included ideas like offering prompts to elicit discussions. What I appreciate most about these kinds of suggestions is that it sets aside the tone that we know what’s best for their children.

Particularly when we’re facing hostility, this can be an especially difficult task — after all, we are the professionals here. But when we work to view parents through a lens of partnership (and work to walk the talk), we actually preempt those power struggles we fear.

Here are some ideas that might help!

1. Harness social media (that your students’ parents use). Instagram, class Facebook accounts, Twitter — these can all give parents a window into your classroom, which will boost trust via transparency.

2. Share reminders via text to keep parents in the loop on events. Remind is a quality app for this purpose, sending group texts without exchanging actual phone numbers.

3. Seek their input on homework. Taryn Bond-Clegg wrote some time ago about how her approach to homework shifted:

“This year I was planning on having a zero homework policy. Then I realized that it doesn’t have to be an either or… it can be a both and. If I as the teacher mandate homework for all my students, I am neglecting the perspectives of the families who value their time after school for other activities and wish not to have homework. If I as the teacher outlaw homework I am neglecting the perspectives of the families who value extended practice of the academic skills we explore in class.”

Check out the inquiry her class conducted with regards to ascertaining their homework needs.

4. Leverage their expertise. Invite them into the classroom as experts. Assign students to collect data based on parent experiences for various units.

5. Consider getting rid of reading logs. I remember a conversation with a parent of a bookworm student. She asked if she could just pre-sign all their reading logs on the year because her child definitely exceeded the daily minute requirement. Today, I can’t help but wonder if it’s really necessary to put parents (and their children) through this kind of hoop-jumping. It also seems like a good opportunity to build trust, even as we continue to encourage at-home reading. (see Thinking about Those Reading Minutes & Logs)

6. Stay curious. We may have “seen it all.” But families continue to be incredibly diverse with varying needs. Is there one assumption we can drop in favor of asking what resources we might help provide? For instance, we may love our tech-savvy homework assignment, but if you have families that are quite worried about excessive screen time, how might you use it as an opportunity to meet needs?

7. Catch ’em being good. Work to ensure that you communicate more regularly about what their children are doing well than what they are struggling with. This starts by emailing early in the school year if at all possible.

8. Write positive notes to their children. Conveying to their children that we see and appreciate them as individuals is one of the best ways to build relationships with their parents.

9. Organize volunteering. My child’s teacher has a handy sheet-protected class list with boxes you can check as we come in to read with the children. Simple yet efficient way to maximize the time I spend in the classroom.

10. Try to attend the occasional extracurricular event. If anyone understands time constraints, I sure do! But I can attest that when it comes to particularly tricky relationships, attending that game or performance outside of school can do wonders for your rapport.

Yes, we’re professionals. But we’re more likely to have parents respect our expertise when we demonstrate that we respect theirs as their children’s first and longest teachers.

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Who Owns Documentation? (Also, the 7 year old wants to blog) #TeacherMom

Last week, I wrote about the pressure we feel to do it all ourselves. Today, I want to follow up on another facet of this pressure that manifests itself differently for both parents (especially moms, it seems) and teachers:

Documentation of milestones/growth.

As moms, it seems we feel we must be these momento-keeping wizards/hoarders, which of course, includes a large dose of guilt when we inevitably fall short. But if somehow, we do manage to create the perfect scrapbook and trophy shrine, we’re put on a pedestal of “good moms.”

As teachers, we know that documentation is important, but it’s all we can do to stay on top of benchmarks for reading, writing, and math, let alone those special art pieces or project artifacts. But don’t parents love those Pinterest-worthy files at the end of the year packed with student work?

The common denominator in both scenarios? Absence of student ownership. If it’s all about capturing our kids’ growth, why not give it back to them? Why not have them document their own mementos and aha moments?

All this came to mind when my daughter came home from school to find me blogging. We’ve talked about what I do many times, and she told me, “I love that you share your writing with teachers around the world…Did you know I have a blog at school? But only my teacher can see it. I’d like a real blog.”

Of course, TeacherMom that I am, I immediately jumped on that opportunity. I got her all set up with her own Weebly, added her posts to my RSS feeds, set the comments to “requires moderation,” and reviewed safety. Then, equally important, we discussed what kinds of writing she might share!

But I’ve been blogging for 4 years now — why haven’t I tried this idea of helping her share her writing sooner? After all, she has loved writing for as long as she could form letters.

It seems that once again, it’s fear that holds us back from allowing our kids to take on this kind of ownership. From fear of loss of control (what if they miss documenting noteworthy items?), to fear of Internet safety issues (usually emphasized more than the positive ways kids can harness tech), we hesitate, and then we take on more than we should.

It’s time to ask ourselves how we can better help our kids share the load of their own learning process. We can teach them the skills and give them the tools to take more ownership. When we do so, we can alleviate many of the stresses we have unnecessarily taken on ourselves to begin with.

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On Pacing

I recently had another “aha moment” as a result of reading Seth Godin’s blog. Check out this passage:

“I didn’t let the dough ferment long enough.

And then I made the oven hotter, in an effort to get the loaves finished so I could leave to meet someone.

That’s not how great bread works. It’s ready when it’s ready, not when you need it to be.”

Pacing was my biggest opportunities for growth in the classroom. I’d plan on a “mini lesson,” only to find myself talking at my kids for 20 minutes before letting them get started. Or I’d try to keep it brief, and then find myself interrupting them again and again as I added additional thoughts.

Of course, pacing isn’t just about the length of our lessons. It’s also about gauging our kids’ learning and development in general. How soon and how fast do we push? How much room is there for students’ voices and inquiries amid the curriculum we have “to cover?” This is where the fear can also come in that Seth mentioned in his post; how often do we allow our fears to keep us letting go of control?

Either way, when our pacing is off, it’s often because the focus has strayed more to our timetable than our kids‘ timetable. Just as great sourdough is “ready when it’s ready, not when you need it to be,” kids are ready when they’re ready. The best way at being more in-tune with our kids’ needs is by listening to their voices. This might include:

  • using a suggestion box/holding class meetings
  • using wrap-ups at the end of our lessons to reflect collectively on the understanding thus far
  • co-constructing rubrics and soliciting kids’ definitions of success (both for specific units and for learning in general!)
  • talking less
  • inviting kids in on the planning
  • tapping into kids’ process for work (rather than focusing solely on compliance)

Even when we think we’re too short on time, when we choose to seek out students’ voices, we will more often find ourselves uncovering great learning and great learners.

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Do We Give Students The Opportunity to Show Their Best Selves?

I came across this incredible story this morning:

As moving and remarkable as this story is, it makes me wonder: would this kind of response be unique to just that group of students? It seems to me that this highlights the broader goodness that is inherent in our kids, if only we give them the opportunity to rise to and express it.

And what does that take? Clearly, this teacher has taken the time to form a relationship with her students. She describes a classroom environment of shared ownership as her students step up to write on the board and pass out papers as she’s confined to a wheelchair.  She gives them the opportunity to find and share their authentic voices.

Of course, it’s easy to lose sight of these things amid all the obstacles we face as teachers. Pressures of time. Pressures of curriculum. And, like in the circumstance of this Detroit kindergarten classroom with 38 students this year, pressures of resources.

We can and should do what we can to fight for improvements in our schools. But even as we wade through these limitations, we can always find opportunities for student voice/choice and agency.

This might take the form of:

  • inquiry-based learning and provocations to help them make connections and discoveries.
  • regular class meetings in which students help address issues and express concerns/suggestions.
  • Authentic problem-based learning in which students investigate personally-relevant issues.
  • Less dependence on contrived-learning (ie, boxed or computer programs that take the person out of personalized learning), and more meaningful co-constructed learning experiences.
  • Teaching them ways to positively harness the power of social media and digital tools (rather than solely focusing on cyberbullying/safety).

As we work to find ways to give our students their voice and ownership, we will be astonished again and again at their ideas, their empathy, and their capacity to lead as the next generation.

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When School Is a To-Do List…

…do kids see anything but the list?

…do they put themselves into the learning?

“Seeing a student completely zone out in front of a screen and letting the computer lead the learning is not where I hope education is moving…Let’s just remember that in “personalization” is the word “person.”” ~George Couros

…are they bringing their own energy and passion into those tasks?

…how is their ability for a self-driven life impacted? Are they more or less equipped?

“I start with the assumption that kids have a brain in their head and they want their lives to work. They want to do well. That’s why we want to change the energy, so the energy is coming from the kid seeking help from us rather than us trying to boss the kid, sending the message, “You can’t do this on your own.”” ~William Stixrud

…do they get the chance to discover the power of their own voices?

…is there any room left for curiosity, when so much energy is spent on compliance?

“How do you view the learners in your class? Do you believe children are inherently intelligent, curious and creative? Do you recognise their rights and their capabilities? Do you trust them?” ~Edna Sackson

…is there time for reflection and metacognition?

…do students feel they are making personal discoveries worth discussing?

“I want the students to sit on their own shoulders – watch themselves, notice their responses and listen to their self-talk.  I want them to slow down, press the pause button and review their actions. I want them to ask: “what am I noticing about myself in this?”  “What did I just do/say?” “What is this telling me about myself?” “What could I do differently?” I want them to bring an inquiry stance to learning about themselves as people  and I want them to carry that disposition into the rest of their lives.” ~Kath Murdoch

What small changes can we make to better help students learn to own and drive their learning?

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