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Posts from the ‘Teaching with the Heart in Mind’ 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.

Last week, I was fortunate to spend 2 days with a fantastic group of new teachers. They reminded me that supporting the social and emotional growth of adults, children and youth is doing the work that matters. It touches human hearts with long-lasting effects. It is time well spent.

As you start the new school year, you probably have a long list of things to prepare and get done during the first few weeks. If you are feeling excited and overwhelmed at the same time, I would encourage you to look at your list and consider:

What’s the work that matters?

Then, prioritize based on these insights. Let yourself be driven by the work that is most important for yourself as an educator, and for your students. Does it change your priorities? Give yourself permission to redo your list based on this question!

In my forthcoming book, Teaching with the HEART in Mind, I explore one of the most important lessons that I have learned growing my own social and emotional skills-there is nothing wrong with having emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant. We tend to judge ourselves for experiencing embarrassment, fear, anxiety… as if it were bad to feel these emotions. A big part of teaching SEL is helping children, youth and adults to approach emotions without judgement. Here’s a snippet about this. Let me know how you may incorporate this with yourself and your students during the first few weeks of the school year. I love hearing from you!

Honoring emotions is an important skill to increase self-awareness and develop a stronger sense of confidence, and it is a building block for the rest of the competencies in the HEART model. Honoring your Emotions means naming, interpreting and appropriately communicating feelings.

No judgment. As previously mentioned, emotions are data; they can provide valuable information which can help us to make better decisions. At the same time, if we don’t have tools to process them, they can be confusing and make us feel out of control. Children and youth may feel the need to avoid those strong emotions that feel uncomfortable: fear, anger, embarrassment. The reality is though, there is no way to avoid our feelings. In fact, it is good and healthy for kids to feel and express these feelings. An important message in teaching students to honor their emotions is this: there is nothing wrong with having these emotions; feelings are not good or bad, they are just information.

This is something that adults often forget. Imagine a child sharing with her gymnastics coach that she is nervous about the upcoming gymnastics competition.  The coach looks at her with a smile and says: “Don’t be nervous, everything will be fine. I will be there with you.” Although the coach’s intention is comforting the child, he is invalidating the kid’s feelings. Like in the earlier example where the parent left the room when the kid was upset, this child may be learning that she shouldn’t feel nervous. A better way to respond to the child would be:

“I understand you are nervous. It is okay. If I were competing, I would probably be nervous too. Do you remember when we had the Fall Festival? You were nervous then too, right? Do you recall what you did to calm down? (Coach waits for the child to respond) Oh, you took some deep breaths. That’s a great strategy. Would you like us to do it together? I will be there with you.”

Validating the child’s experience is a key part of this process, as we want children and youth to regularly tune in to their emotions. If we judge how kids feel (“you shouldn’t feel that way”), they will be less likely to develop their emotional literacy and ability to manage their emotions. Validate first, then help them cope and process the emotion. Finally, support them to interpret and communicate.

To a productive and joyful school year! Keep me posted on your SEL progress, and get in touch if you need any additional support.

Sign up for updates about the book or follow #teachingheartinmind on Twitter. I’ll be sharing another excerpt soon. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

Summer is for Self-Empathy

“I don’t have enough time to do everything that needs to be done.” The end of the school year is a busy and stressful time of year―for teachers, students and parents. Schedules are packed with deadlines, school activities and family events, leaving everybody feeling stressed and overwhelmed. According to research, our perceived time pressure is about how well the activities we need to perform fit together in our heads and how much control we think we have over them. This is good news, because it means we can do something about it! Check out this article from Greater Good Science Center, if you need some tips for handling time pressure. Read more

Creating an SEL Mindset

Two weeks ago, I visited a high school in Los Angeles (California) to gather data for a case study that I am conducting with the Learning Policy Institute. Serving around 500 mostly low-income students, the school has raised its graduation rates from 83 percent in its first year to 99 percent last year. A school that is built on teacher leadership, the educational program prioritizes a whole child approach with a relentless focus on providing students with the social, emotional and academic supports they need to ensure they are ready to lead successful and productive lives in college and beyond. Read more

Removing Barriers to Learning

I just returned from attending the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), one of the largest educational research gatherings in the world. Among the thousands of scholars participating in the meeting, there is a special interest group for those passionate about SEL. This year, I organized the program for SEL researchers and was excited to see some new research areas, such as parenting and SEL, cultural competency and diversity, and teachers’ wellbeing. At the same time, I was disappointed to encounter several inquiries that measured social and emotional skills, while ignoring (conscious or unconsciously) the context in which this learning takes place. 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

The Power of Relationships

Think about your relationship with a good friend or a close colleague; you may push each other to do better, seek comfort when you are struggling or simply share a good laugh. As social beings, human relationships are at the core of a healthy development. This is true for all—children, youth and adults. From the infant who is starting to develop a bond with their caregiver to the elderly person, nurturing our human capacity to form and maintain relationships is essential to developing a positive sense of wellbeing. Read more

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