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Posts from the ‘Emotions’ Category

Behavior is Communication

“What happened, Mom? What is going on?” My daughter asked the other night, while she climbed on a chair to look at my computer. I was staring at my laptop, looking at pictures of the destruction caused by hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas. I felt speechless. Miles and miles of destroyed homes, entire towns swapped away by the hurricane. According to CNN, 70,000 people lost almost everything, and thousands of survivors are still trying to escape the destroyed areas.

I closed my computer and tried to explain what had happened. She got concerned and asked how the children could to school if the buildings were destroyed. “I don’t know” I said, unable to elaborate a better response. That night, she woke up several times asking about earthquakes. She knows that we live close to the San Andreas fault, and she practices earthquake drills at school. At a certain point, children realize that bad things do actually happen.

When children live through stressful events—such as a natural disaster, losing their homes or the death of a loved one—they may become hypervigilant about these events happening again in the future. Even students who have only seen pictures or heard stories about these disasters may become worried about their safety or what they would do if something happened. If students bring up these topics in your classroom, support them by discussing their feelings and answering questions. These conversations may reduce some of their fear and anxiety, and open the door to build trust with your students.

In some cases, students may be experiencing stressful events and educators don’t know about it. As we have discussed in the past, we see the behaviors, but we don’t always know the reasons underneath them. Students might act out, show strong emotions or have big reactions to small incidents. If that’s the case in your classroom, approach them with curiosity. Behavior is communication, so investigate: What are they trying to communicate with this behavior? What do they need that they are not getting?

As an educator, you cannot control what students experience outside of the classroom. However, you can help them develop the tools they need to navigate their emotions and cope with the setbacks they will surely encounter throughout their lives. One important competency to help them with this is self-management, which I discuss in detail in my forthcoming book, Teaching with the Heart in Mind. Here’s a snippet. Let me know what you think.

Sometimes teachers have misconceptions about how social and emotional skills are developed. Educators may think that students, especially in middle or high school, should be able to “get over” their emotions. While this may be true for certain students, it is not accurate for all. Some of the students in our classrooms need additional support to (re)gain their emotional balance. The same way that students may need additional academic support at some point in their schooling, students may also need additional social and emotional supports. Many elementary schools do not incorporate an intentional focus on SEL yet, which leaves students with fewer tools to regulate their emotions in the middle and high school years. No matter which grade span you teach, do not underestimate how much you can do to support students’ social and emotional growth.

When we ignore students’ emotions or expect them to go away, we are denying students’ experiences and ignoring their value. Remember, you can help students experiencing strong emotions by connecting with their feelings: acknowledge and validate-”Your face is tense, you seem upset. What happened? I may also feel upset if that happened to me.”

Another misconception teachers may have is related to students’ ability to learn self-management skills-it is never too late to learn tools to process our emotions, especially for students whose feelings are getting on the way of learning. When students feel out of control due to their emotions, they cannot and will not learn. No matter how well designed your lesson is. Our job as educators is, as Dan Siegel says, to “co-regulate”, that is to help students regain emotional balance and to increase their capacity to navigate their feelings, so they can see things more clearly and respond to daily situations instead of reacting.

The next competency in the HEART model, Electing your Responses, teaches students and adults the tools to create the necessary space that allow us to make constructive, informed and safe decisions. The action verb in this competency, Elect, means to choose, to take the reins of our behavior and select how we are going to move forward. The word Responses means that we move away from reactions and functioning on autopilot, to step into a place of balance.

Until next time,  keep me posted on your SEL progress, and get in touch if you need any additional support.

Sign up for updates about the book. I’ll be sharing another excerpt soon. Stay tuned!

Doing the Work that Matters

Working with educators is probably the favorite part of my job. They are committed, passionate and courageous. They want to get better at teaching, because they care about their students’ wellbeing and success. They are a force for good. Read more

Adversity Affects Learning

David was a 5th grader at an elementary school in East Oakland (California), where I worked as a special education teacher¹. The school was located in a neighborhood greatly affected by crime, drugs and gangs. Many students at the school had been exposed to violence and abuse, and most students had some kind of psychological trauma. David lived with two siblings and his mom, who was addicted to drugs. I saw David twice a week to work on his reading. The minute he walked into my room, I could clearly see if he was doing well or having a hard day. When he felt defeated, frustrated or pushed in any way, he would shut down and not respond to any verbal communication. Read more

Let It Be

Emotions are an important part of being human. We don’t want to ignore or suppress them because they provide valuable data about what is happening inside ourselves and the world around us. Yes, I know, I have said this before. However, with the holidays around the corner, there is this notion that we must feel a certain way… mostly happy, joyful and excited. Well, what if that’s not the case for you or your students? Read more

Gratitude for Self

Did you know that people who experience gratitude cope better with stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy more robust physical health, including lower blood pressure and better immune function? Gratitude is the quality of being thankful, the readiness to show appreciation and return kindness to others. In the US, Thanksgiving is the holiday that celebrates gratitude and encourages us to be appreciative. Students and teachers may spend time together creating gratitude quilts, writing gratitude letters or sharing a gratitude meal (check out Stone Soup: a lesson in sharing). However, there is a lesser known form of gratitude that we often miss: gratitude for self. Read more

Leading with EQ

I have been working with an amazing group of aspiring principals in New Orleans this past week. They are enrolled in a leadership program, the Summer Principals Academy at Columbia University, which incorporates emotional intelligence (EQ) training and a daily guided mindfulness practice. We have been learning how to use our emotions to know ourselves better, establish positive relationships and lead schools wholeheartedly. Witnessing their growth and “aha” moments is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Read more

3 Key Lessons on Empathy

I did the last internship for my teaching credential in a rural town in Nicaragua, volunteering at a local NGO – Los Pipitos – that supported children with disabilities. During my time there, I worked alongside a promotora de salud (community health professional), Martha; the most patient human being I have ever met, I learned everything I know about empathy from her. Read more

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