Relationships have not only proven to be good for our physical health, but our spiritual and emotional health as well. It is through relationships with other human beings that we grow and evolve, as well as deepen and expand our love and meaning in life. As many of you are aware, today is Valentine's Day. Whether or not you like this holiday, it comes each year to provide time for each of us to reflect on and grow our personal and professional relationships.
Recently ASCD's Educational Leadership staff were contacted by a reader who, while doing research, came across an article from the December 1992/January 1993 issue on students at risk that struck close to his personal experience. He wrote,
Having come from an abusive home and just recently graduated, I think this needs to be read by every educator. I grew up middle class, and was a very "bright" student. I was beaten regularly, and I had many of these markers. I remember trying to tell a teacher about my situation, and her laughing me off. I have dealt with my issues, but I was hoping you could somehow market or re-publish this article, although it was originally published 20 years ago. I believe it needs to be seen.
This past weekend marked one year since the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. During this time, we read, listened to, and participated in discussions on how to keep our schools safe and secure. And also during this time, at least 25 school shootings have occurred, including Friday's shooting at Arapahoe High School in Colorado. School safety is a complicated issue with no single or simple solution.
Dogs are amazing creatures! They provide unconditional love, do not discriminate, judge, laugh, or criticize, and they are excellent and attentive listeners. They encourage relaxation, lower blood pressure, and brighten affect. These characteristics help to make pet-assisted therapy a natural fit for children and adolescents, and students in North Carolina's Orange County Schools will happily agree!
One of the first pet-assisted therapy programs in schools, R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) focuses on reading and was introduced several years ago in the west by Intermountain Therapy Animals. The concept spread throughout the country and there are now a variety of programs and models that work with children at school and in libraries (See Spot Read, Tail-Wagging Tutors, etc.). Pets are now being used in many ways in education settings and even help to relax students studying for exams at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The whole child movement, in my view, is weighed down by society's current inability to conceive of children as whole beings. Instead, we dissect them. Academic learning is distinguished from social-emotional learning, as if brain and heart operate in isolation. The brain itself gets divided into forebrain, hindbrain, mammalian brain, limbic system, and so on, furthering the mistaken assumption that the brain performs its miracles through isolated modules. A steady diet of units, pacing guides, and curriculum strategies reinforces this skewed view by taking a narrow aim at stimulating a child's cognitive apparatus rather than their inner life.
My son Samuel is a Red Sox and NASCAR fan, an avid bird watcher, an honor roll student and a gregarious 13-year-old who also experiences cerebral palsy.
I began making my first film—a documentary called Including Samuel—for selfish reasons. I wanted to try and make the world a more welcoming place for kids with disabilities like Samuel.
As I screened my documentary nationwide, however, I noticed a trend: at almost every screening, someone would pose this question in some form: "What about kids with 'hidden' disabilities? Can they be fully included like Samuel?" These hidden disabilities can include depression, anxiety, autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and a host of other diagnoses.
"Children should be taught to use their emotions and to be aware of them rather than control them." —Mary Helen Immordino-Yang
Succeeding "despite the odds" or overcoming adversity has a lot more to do with resource capacity than luck. We may have little control over what happens in our students' lives outside of school or the traumas that inevitably fall into each and every life. We can, however, influence outcomes when we construct the school environment in a way that reduces threat and increases the protective factors that we know build resilience and the skills needed to thrive despite adversity (Masten, 2001; Center for Disease Control, n.d.).
"The basis of all good human behavior is kindness." —Eleanor Roosevelt
It's a curiously human trait to cling to beliefs based on assumptions and preconceived notions. What we tell ourselves about what's going on with a student's behavior matters greatly and sometimes gravely. Negative beliefs and attributions are known drama enhancers. Not sure you believe this statement? Recall a recent unpleasant interpersonal experience—perhaps with a partner, close friend, your teenager, or a toddler. What do you notice in your body? Tension or ease? More or less anger? Did the argument solve the problem? I mean, really solve it?
My zero-tolerance war on Section 8C felt powerfully good while I planned it. It provided some momentary satisfaction as one by one my students crossed the line and reaped the fruits of my reaction. For a brief moment, I even thought their behavior proved the point that they were "deliberately disrespectful" and had caused my reaction. Of course, the joke was on me. In the end, I still had the behavior, one less coercive trick up my sleeve, and needy 8th grade students who had to take the test.
"The more mindful we are, the more choices we have and the less reactive we become." —Ellen Langer
In my workshops, I often invite participants to draw a large circle on the back of my handouts. They listen diligently to the instructions. When complete, I ask everyone to hold their papers up so I can "check their circles." They then place the paper on a flat surface. "Now," I say, "put your forehead in the middle of the circle. Raise it up. Lower it down. Repeat. Keep repeating." That's what I call "mindlessness."
Using a combination of intervention and prevention strategies known to dial down reaction and build resource capacity, we can indeed help students and ourselves improve the ability to accurately assess threat potential, improve appraisal skills, and build the resource capacity to increase resilience.
I should tell you now that what happened in the end with Section 8C could be called a success story. That class turned out to be my most defining experience in education. Educators knew so little back then about the brain or stress reactions. I flew by the seat of my pants, followed my gut, and remained determined to reach and teach this group of learners. To do that, I had to feel them, to sense them, and what might set them off.
In this class of 28 learners, most of these students had rich histories of adverse childhood experiences. The child study team (CST) might easily have classified 10 as emotionally disturbed. Mental health professionals might diagnose them with post traumatic stress reaction or some other mental disorder. Believe me, there were so many times I wanted the CST to take these kids, fix them, and send them back in a "teachable" condition. How I laugh at this reaction now!