Last week, my daughter came home commenting about a new bathroom rule at her school: all girls now have to use the restroom 2 at a time due to the fact that girls keep writing on the bathroom walls. As a teacher, I understand why the rule was implemented. As a parent, I understand why she feels frustrated.
Since she just recently asked me to help her set up her own “real blog” (ie, can be read by a real audience), I asked her how she would feel about blogging on the subject. She took to that idea right away — especially once we figured out the speech-to-text feature so she didn’t have to keep fretting about spelling (teacher note: I really like the way speech-to-text requires the kids to pause & reflect to figure out exactly how they will verbalize each sentence).
Once she had her post written, “Fair School,” I, of course, went ahead and shared it with my PLN.
She was amazed to watch the comments pour in, and even took action on a couple of their ideas. She has since shared the post with her teacher, and she plans to try and see if she can meet and then introduce her classmates to their custodian(s) to create more empathy (Thanks, Abe, and everyone else!!)
This has also led to a lot of discussion about how we can inspire people to do good things rather than just try to get them to stop doing bad things. Not an easy task for anyone, that’s for sure, but a very rewarding approach!
Once again, I have found this whole experience to positively reinforce the concepts of digital citizenship, flattened classroom walls, and #StudentVoice. When we provide opportunities for students to share their authentic voices on things that matter to them, powerful learning happens.
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:
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 volition, choice, 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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
The beginning of Netflix’s rendition of The Little Prince begins with a mother unveiling her child’s life plan to ensure admission to the “right school.” She tells her daughter, “Let’s face it. You’re going to be all alone out there. So we can’t afford to make any more mistakes. You’re going to be a wonderful grown-up.”
While it’s certainly an over-the-top portrayal, when we think about all the societal pressures to ensure our kids’ success, it’s more representative than it might initially seem.
I remember a day a few years back when I was feeling like a particular failure as a parent. I decided to make a list of all the things that were stressing me. In so doing, I realized that it wasn’t so much the daily to-do list itself that was weighing me down; it was the fear of what would happen if I failed at any given item on the list (ie, make sure the kids get quality outdoor play each day OR ELSE they might not develop proper health habits and someday contract heart disease; make sure the house stays clean OR ELSE they might grow up to be hoarders featured on some reality-tv show, etc, etc).
Dire consequences were attached to every task. And it came down to me to prevent every one of those consequences.
As I continued my list, I came to the essential realization: I had thought my actions were driven by love; turns out they were actually driven by fear.
At first, it may seem that what’s driving the action is irrelevant, as long as the results are the same. But upon closer inspection, we realize what happens in a fear-driven environment:
We focus less on others’ agency and more on control.
We don’t share the load, even with people who have an interest in it.
We trust less.
We worry more.
We stress over timetables & milestones.
We are exhausted.
As I have instead worked to start from a place of love, I have found that I focus more and more on the agency of those around me. Because only when I stop worrying about whether I’m enough can I more clearly realize see their strength. Their capacity. Their courage.
This quote from William Stixrud resonated with me so much that this is my second time sharing it in as many weeks:
“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.””
When we’re driven by fear, the burden rests with us to prevent calamity and shape the world.
When we’re driven by love, the burden rests with us all in an open, thoughtfully-discussed, and shared manner.
This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.
As is often the case with these PYP elements, appreciation is another attitude that can be so easy for us to take for granted in our students (and ourselves). We might find ourselves shaking our heads about “kids these days” when the truth is that many kids may not have had the clear exposure, or opportunity to investigate these valued qualities for themselves. So this week’s provocation is designed to give them that very opportunity. Enjoy “Appreciation!”
Resource #1: Noticing the Soundscapes of Yosemite National Park via The Kid Should See This (a bit long, but even just the first minute or two will be sufficient for this provocation!)
Resource #2: “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson
“She smiled and pointed to the sky. “Sometimes, when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.””
Resource #3: “Windows” by Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale
“Then you arrive home again, and you look at your window from the outside. Someone you love is waving at you, and you can’t wait to go inside.”
Resource #4: How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher (a chapter book, but the first couple chapters are a great dose of self-appreciation about our potential to contribute as writers).
“Lies about writing your life story: Lie #1: You have to be a famous celebrity.”
What does an appreciation attitude or mindset look like?
How does appreciation impact an individual’s life?
How does appreciation impact society?
What are ways/environments in which you can best feel appreciation?
What is our responsibility to appreciate people? Nature? Ideas?
This is part of a series of provocations for essential elements of the PYP, including individual attitudes, learner profiles, etc. For more, click here.
Risk-taker has always been my favorite of the PYP learner profiles. It seemed the most natural of conversations in the classroom as it connected to any new venture on which we embarked. After all, authentic learning takes a large degree of courage. But do how often do we really dive into naming and investigating what it really means to be a risk-taker as a learner? This provocation is designed to help students ponder more the what and why of risk-taking.
This is part of a series of provocations for essential elements of the PYP, including individual attitudes, learner profiles, etc. For more, click here.
For a culture of kindness to truly grow in our school, we need to constantly nourish and discuss it. After all, if we limit the discussion to the occasional anti-bullying assembly we can’t really expect students to thoroughly catch the vision of what it really looks like, and to feel comfortable speaking up for kindness. If your class is in need of a recharge, please use any or all of these resources to inquire into what it means to be caring!
Resource #1: “Give a Little Love, Get A Little Love” Kritovatka
Resource #2: Kind is…Radical Hospitality by Soul Pancake
Resource #3: The Gnomist: A Great Big Beautiful Act of Kindness by Great Big Story (this is a longer video at 17 minutes, but if you happen to be able to make the time, I promise it’s worthwhile. Here’s the trailer, too!)
Resource #4: “Those Shoes” by Maribeth Boelts and Noah Z. Jones
What does it mean to be caring?
What is people’s responsibility to be caring?
What are the different perspectives in a community when it comes to public acts of kindness?
What are some obstacles that sometimes stand in the way of expressing caring?
What can we do to overcome obstacles that sometimes stand in the way of being caring?