To Everything There Is a Season….

It is putting it mildly to say that this is not an ordinary school year. Rightfully so, many teachers are feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. If you are one of them, keep reading, because I want you to know that it’s okay. It is okay to feel stressed and overwhelmed, but I want to remind you that this too shall pass, as all seasons do.

Fall is in full swing. Leaves outside are changing colors. The air is crisp- but not too cold. The sun is bright – but not too bright – just how I like it.

But Fall is just one season, and seasons do not last forever. They come, and they go to bring on the next season and its special moments. I encourage you to think about this time as simply a season in passing. It will not always be like this. For most of us, teaching looks different than it ever has before. This is good and bad.  During this season, there are many things that we have learned about education inequities, trauma, racism, and digital learning.  We must hold on to those lessons.  So, while some things will go back to normal, other things should never go back to what we did before March.  Embrace this season and help your students embrace this season as we prepare for the next.

Consider these thoughts as we embrace our current season:

  • Trust yourself and your intuition. If demands feel unreasonable, then they probably are.
  • Create boundaries for yourself and your time. Set limitations!
  • Celebrate your personal and professional growth during this challenging time
  • Resist the pressure to perform at optimal levels when we are not working in optimal conditions.
  • Commit to learning something new that can help you to grow
  • Give yourself grace and compassion because you deserve it.

You may feel like everyone else is trying to replicate our old routine. We are trying to force teaching and learning to look like it has been like in the past. The methods that school systems are using now, whether hybrid or completely virtual learning – are hard.  It is the response to our current crisis, but anyone who says this is ideal is not being honest or is far removed from what is happening in schools.  Schools and teachers are doing their absolute best based on the current situation.  As I look through my teacher and parent lens, I have thought, “This will not be good for anyone.”  I thought this back in March, back in July, and now in October. I’m still thinking about it!  …and I bet I’m not the only one.

You are not alone. Remember what I said earlier about seasons and their passing? Every season has its purpose, including this one. So, while things may be challenging and overwhelming, continue to remember the next season is coming. Let us take all we’ve learned and commit to helping ourselves, and our students grow and get better each day.

If no one has told you today, thank you for all that you do for children.

Do You Give Good Advice?…The Practice Of Psychological Distancing

If a friend came to you and said they were overwhelmed,
what advice would you give them?

This school year is nothing anyone could have expected or predicted. COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as a stressful and even traumatic event that requires educators to make sense of the new situation and choose appropriate coping actions. Tens of millions of students are dealing with massive changes to their education.

Teachers are expected to know how to adjust to virtual environments and significant changes to their lesson plans. All these emotions – fear, anxiety, uncertainty – are understandable. After all, there is no manual for dealing with a sudden pandemic. But even before COVID-19, teachers reported that their most frequent emotions throughout the day were fear, stress, and anxiety (Moeller, J., Ivcevic, Z., White, A. E., Menges, J. I., & Brackett, M. A. (2018). Social-emotional learning aims to highlight and foster self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and responsible decision-making. Adults and children benefit from social emotional learning.

Educators may have stress-related feelings that could encompass a variety of topics. It may be personal, including a general fear that they or someone in their family may contract COVID-19. There also could be stress around managing their own and their families’ needs while simultaneously working full-time from home and adapting to new technologies for teaching.

Here is a powerful strategy great educator like you can use for yourself and for your students to develop the coping skills needed to adjust to our new realities.  That “must do” is the practice of social-emotional learning and psychological distancing. According to Marc Brackett, a professor at Yale University and director of their Center for Emotional Intelligence, social-emotional learning is critical to managing the anxieties of this time.

Simple Things Teachers Can Do

Sometimes the best way to help yourself is to not think of yourself. That’s right.  Stop thinking about yourself and all the questions that you have.  It is a method called psychological distancing, and it is a powerful technique that adults and children can use. Psychological distance is the mental distance you create by detaching yourself from what you are experiencing.  It is a process of stepping outside yourself in your mind’s eye. It is one way to relieve the stress and anxieties experienced during times of stress. Psychological distancing has been shown to help with emotional self-regulation, decision making, and problem-solving. These are critical skills that we want for ourselves and our students.

Often, we tend to “zoom in” on real or potential problems to gain a closer perspective on the task. But this mental “zooming” can end up making some problems harder to sort out because close psychological distance can also increase negative feelings.

Teachers can begin by encouraging students to stop thinking about themselves. Much like reflecting on the advice given to an overwhelmed friend, teachers can pose the right questions to their students. Encourage them to answer questions like: “What would I do to support my best friend who told me they were anxious about the coronavirus?” Students will stop thinking about themselves and think through strategies of compassion toward someone else.  These same strategies can then be applied to themselves and to evaluate the quality of their own self talk.

This starting point can be beneficial for teachers as well. Ask yourself, “How do I want to feel?” and consider your answer. Better yet, a principal or group of teachers can pose that question to their staff. Then ask what they need to do better to achieve the emotional goals and needs of their staff based on their answers.

Another thing that teachers can do to get started are morning check-ins. Ask your students how they are feeling, how things are going, and about their concerns.  For younger students, teachers can read books virtually and then reflect on the social-emotional skills of the characters in those books.

There is no exact method for dealing with the pandemic and no sure way to “prepare” yourself emotionally for it. But one thing remains true: everyone relies on social connections to get through the difficult times and this pandemic is no different. Continue to do the fabulous job that you do as an educator and know that you are not alone.

Commit to try out the technique of psychological distancing during morning check ins – you may be surprised by what brilliant advice you and your students have for others.

 

It’s Time To Do What Is Right (A conversation on race and equity)

Over the past few weeks, I have conducted several end-of-the-year virtual sessions for schools and school districts.  The most requested topic has been on Fostering HOPE.  You might wonder why hope is the topic that is connecting with so many educators right now, and I believe that I know why. Hope is the belief that your future can be brighter and better than your past and that you have a role to play in making it better. (Casey Gwinn, J. D., & Hellman, C. 2018) Specifically, how to foster hope and promote learning spaces that address and confront issues of inequality and racism.  I have hope as I see the movement of my fellow educators demonstrating a willingness to be bold and direct about racism’s existence and the trauma that it has caused.

I am also slightly concerned.  For many, there is a desire for a quick answer to “fix” the problem.  Specifically, in a recent workshop, a participant asked me, “Shauna, what do we do now?” While some definitive actions can be done at the personal, school, and district levels, I would offer that one of the first steps should be to ask questions.  We need to ask ourselves individually and collectively some hard questions. To make it easier, I’ve compiled some important first step questions that can be used to determine your next steps.

  1. How do I view people that are different than me, the same as me, and how do they influence the way I interact with students, families, and their communities?

 

  1. How am I intentional about examining what biases I may unconsciously hold?

 

  1. What have I learned from my culture of origin that informs my values and behaviors? How is this different from what other people may have learned in their culture?

 

  1. To what extent are my actions displaying to my students that I value their language, culture, and identities?

 

  1. How am I actively seeking knowledge to address social justice?

 

  1. Where is a safe space, system, or resource that will allow me to engage in conversations on how to better serve students of color?

 

  1. If someone asked my students what they liked best about me, would they respond with comments centered around my values of equity and inclusivity?
  2. What articles or books have I read on culturally responsive teaching, anti-racism, and equity?

 

  1. Have I missed opportunities to speak up about injustices? What could I do to prepare to respond if inequities take place?

 

  1. Who can serve as accountability partners in pursuit of an anti-racist and equitable school and community?

It is okay to say that you “do not know” something…YET.  Be intentional about listening and learning from others who have different experiences than your own. The good news is that neuroscience shows that the human brain has a tremendous ability for neuroplasticity, the ability for our brains to change and reprogram itself throughout our lives. This reprogramming can happen because of new levels of awareness and new experiences that replace previous ways of deep-seated thinking.  It is essential to take the initiative and demonstrate that you want to know more. Then as Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”

Beyond learning, there is also the call to action. Challenge yourself to step up, address, and tackle racial adversity when you see it. According to Ibram X. Kendi, New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist, nobody, regardless of race, is simply racist or anti-racist in a static way. “What we say and do about race in each moment determines what, not who, we are.” It isn’t helpful to fall into essentialist categories around race,  because we all have the ability to change our behavior as we gain awareness,and we have the ability to admit when we’ve made mistakes.” Know that it is not the responsibility of those of color to challenge inequality for your school and community; it is the responsibility of all who strive to be anti-racist.

The time to have courageous conversations surrounding race and equality is NOW. We must not be afraid to tackle hard questions, and certainly not afraid of appearing as though we do not know something. I am hopeful about our tomorrow, not because of our leaders or our current situation, but because of people like you who commit to self-reflection, speaking out and taking action.  For we all must know that the time is always right to do what is right!!

Casey Gwinn, J. D., & Hellman, C. (2018). Hope rising: How the science of hope can change your life. Morgan James Publishing.

Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to be an antiracist. One world.

This school year has been one for the history books.  Congratulate yourself on all that you have done to support students during this time.  Wishing all of you an amazing and restful summer!!!!

On Another Note…

If it is of interest to you, I recently released a faith-based e-Book entitled fearLESS: A 21 Day Devotional to Feed Your Faith and it is available now on Amazon.  

fearLESS: A 21 Day Devotional to Feed Your Faith

Fear is not good, fear is not bad, it is simply an emotion, and our response to this emotion determines its impact. With this 21 day devotional, be inspired to feed your faith and live fearlessly each day. Shauna King provides you with inspirational messages that will give you the strength to face your fears and live life to the fullest.

Shop Now

What We Say Matters…Even Online

Student-Centered Language

When leading a virtual class session, it can be a natural tendency to feel that we must talk or lecture more than we would in a face to face session. The feeling that we are talking to ourselves as we sit in front of our laptop screen is deceiving since there are real students on the other end, hoping that we will acknowledge and recognize their presence.  While our intentions are usually good, a high level of teacher talk is not characteristic of a student-centered classroom.

Consider these 3 simple strategies to keep your virtual sessions more engaging and student-centered:

1.    Minimize the use of first-person language. 

According to author Mike Anderson, “First-person language can command attention to oneself even if the original intent was to get students to share with each other.”

Phrase questions and statements to direct student engagement toward each other:

“What are your ideas?” vs. “I want to hear your ideas.”

“Be ready to share what you read.” vs. “Be ready to tell me what you learned.

2. Create a learning partnership.

Author and researcher, Zaretta Hammond teaches the importance of cultivating a positive academic mindset by building an alliance with students.  Our language can foster this alliance.

“What will you do in order to log in by 9am?” vs. “I expect that you will log in at 9am.”

“How will you prepare for the next week of distance learning?” vs. “I am working on the assignments I will give you next week.”

3. Name Dropping

This technique shared by Cooperative Discipline author Dr. Linda Albert, is often used to address misbehavior in the classroom. However, if used regularly and positively, it can engage students and remind them that you see them.

“LeAnn, we are now going to discuss how to be kind and respectful in the chat room.” or “Today, Jalen, we are going to review dividing fractions.”

Our goal is to help students understand that even during our time of distance learning, they are the focus. As you plan your lessons this week, ask yourself: “How can I make my language more student-centered and less teacher-centered?

Thank you for all that you are doing for children.

Continue to Choose B.I.G BE INTENTIONALLY GREAT!

The Faces of Trauma in our Classroom

The Faces of Trauma in our Classroom

I must admit when I first began to hear the use of the term trauma, my thoughts went to soldiers who have experienced war or adults who have faced severe physical or emotional harm at the hands of another. I pictured faces of hardened and hurt adults who had been scarred by the dangers and hardships of life.

I did not picture children.

I now know that trauma impacts more than just adults. Our children, whose brains are the least prepared developmentally, are often exposed to traumatic situations and they are in our classrooms every day.

The National Institute of Mental Health (USA) defines childhood trauma as: “The experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.” One study showed that nearly half of all children in the United States are exposed to at least one traumatic social or family experience (Bethell et al, 2014).

There are a variety of experiences that might be considered traumatic. Check out this list from the Child Traumatic Stress Network and ask yourself: “Might any of my students have experienced any of these?”

  • Physical, sexual, or psychological abuse and neglect (including trafficking)
  • Natural and technological disasters or terrorism
  • Family or community violence
  • Homelessness/severe poverty
  • Sud d en or violent loss of a loved one
  • Substance use disorder (personal or familial)
  • Refugee and war experiences (including torture)
  • Serious accidents or life-threatening illness
  • Military family-related stressors (e.g., deployment, parental loss or injury)

What Does Trauma Look Like?

The effects of trauma cannot always be seen with the eye, and it does not manifest the same way in every child. It is possible for two children (even in the same household) to experience the same traumatic experience but respond in very different ways. With trauma, the symptoms can also go unrecognized because it shows up looking like other problems.

Children in general that suffer from traumatic experiences can find that they have increased anxiety, trouble concentrating, increased thinking about safety, and can find themselves reacting to “triggers.”

In the classroom, trauma can manifest itself in situations that seem relatively simple or harmless. If a teacher yells at the student in front of the class or if a child with trauma is accidentally pushed by other classmates, it can trigger a post-traumatic response that leaves the student highly emotional and reactive.

Without an understanding of the impacts of high stress and trauma, a teacher may view
a student’s behavior as out of line or unnecessarily difficult to deal with. With an understanding of trauma, we begin pausing to consider that the student may need more support with how to respond and demonstrate self-regulation.

What Can Educators Do?

There are several ways that teachers can approach their students who suffer from trauma with calm and compassionate solutions and strategies.

  1. Recognize triggers and help students cope with them. Offer them supporting statements like “I am here if you want to talk,” or “You seem to be getting very frustrated with this assignment, do you want to work with a friend, or can I help with something else?”
  2. Provide structure in your classroom that helps ease the worries of what’s going to happen next. Children who have experienced trauma feel more secure in predictable environments with few surprises.
  3. Remember how the child feels matters. We might not see the impact or the “big deal” about something, but how the child feels is important. Even if they might be safe and secure, the fact that they might not feel that way still matters.
  4. There’s a strong and direct connection between stress and learning. Avoid behaviors that may “trigger” students. Minimizing stress in your classroom is a strategy that supports student achievement. Student work and performance will improve when they feel cared for and secure.
  5. If you’re unsure, ask. We often feel like we need to go around or phrase things differently with our students and children. But simply asking “How can I help you get through the day?” can be an effective strategy for giving someone exactly what they need at that moment.
  6. We don’t need to know exactly what caused the trauma to be able to support. Sometimes, we may not be privy to the specifics of what has occurred with one of our students. Privacy is important and often the details will only be available to identified personnel. What’s important is that we respond to what we see.

Our children need us, and as educators, we can help improve their experiences inside (and outside) our classroom by providing all children with the compassion, support, and learning that they need.

With Gratitude,

 

Visit my website at www.shaunafking.com to download 10 Brain Secrets that Every Educator Should Know or visit TranZed Institute for brain-based workshops that can help educators and schools Be Intentionally Great!

Effective Use Of Praise

More than Good Job: Effective Use of Praise in the Classroom

We would agree that all students should learn in safe, encouraging classrooms. One of the ways to help that happen is by using praise, one of the most powerful tools that any teacher can use. When used effectively in the classroom, praise can actually increase the social and academic performance of students and improve the classroom climate.

Consider some of these simple yet effective tips that can help you use praise effectively so that your classroom is even more welcoming, safe, and encouraging.

1. Be Specific. Most educators believe in the benefit of a “Good Job” or “Well Done” directed towards their students. The truth is, the benefits are much greater if the praise is specific. When students recognize that you are acknowledging their efforts toward a single goal, or how hard they work, they feel more validated in their efforts.

Instead of a simple “Great Job”, try it with something more specific, such as: “Great Job! You wrote so much for our writing session. That’s two paragraphs more than last week. I appreciate how dedicated you are!” This is both praising and encouraging, plus acknowledges improvement.

Specific feedback can also use open-ended questions to cue learners to reflect. Example: “Julian, your classmates were really focused on you as you presented. What do you think you did to grab everyone’s attention?” This question not only positively reinforces what a great job Julian did on his presentation, but invites him to reflect on what specifically he did that helped him perform well.

2. Be Subtle. There are moments when public recognition is appropriate but there are also times where remaining private is better. Studies have shown that young students often appreciate being complimented publicly, while adolescents “prefer private praise.” Likewise, a 2016 survey conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst revealed that 73 percent of students ranked “quiet verbal praise” as a “top 3” instructor response (p.157).

Quiet, subtle praise could mean eye contact and a smile from across the room. It could also mean PBIS Buck or a note folded over and left waiting on a student’s desk for them to find. Perhaps a subtle “I knew you could do it” reinforcer. Whatever it is, these small, subtle commendations feel less like praise and more like sharing a special – albeit quiet – celebratory moment.

3. Be Sincere. If you don’t feel it in your heart, they won’t feel it either. Don’t patronize. One time, one of my high school teachers commented to me, “Shauna, I always look forward to hearing what you have to say.” Alone, the statement sounds encouraging yet I knew that she was not sincere. As a student who talked quite a bit during class, her sarcasm was evident. Avoid forcing yourself to give positive praise if it is not sincere to that student and what that student brings to the classroom. For a talkative student, praise their ability to always communicate what is on their mind, but don’t praise them with insincerity.

Reminder: Utilizing praise in your classroom is an effective way of improving the climate and helping your students’ performance. Stay specific with your praise and stay sincere, and think about how each student could benefit from praise that you give.

With Gratitude,

Fefer, S., Demagistris, J., & Shuttleton, C. (2016). Assessing Adolescent Praise and Reward Preferences for Academic Behavior. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 2(2), 153–162. doi: 10.1037/tps0000072

Visit my Free Resources section on this website at https://shaunafking.com/free-resources/ to download 25 Positive Responses to Negative Student Behavior. This free resource helps to focus on the positive while maintaining a level of respect and dignity for both teacher and student!

Looking for a staff development or training to promote student engagement or positive, equitable learning environments? Shauna King provides sessions that are educational and motivational. Visit King Professional Development Services website for more information or email us to learn more.

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