Build Healthy BELONGING

Healthy belonging is a necessary growth factor.

Belonging.  It’s a feeling… a feeling that has a powerful influence on everyone’s life.  We all know when we feel that we belong, and we all know when we don’t feel that we belong. (And “all” definitely includes young children.)

That feeling of belonging is one of the most fundamental needs that subtly, but powerfully, influences all of us … and it has always influenced us, pretty much from Day 1 of our lives. 

Healthy belonging must be nurtured.
BELONGING is a deep-rooted need that must be developed in healthy ways starting at the youngest ages.

 

The instinct to belong is as natural as breathing.  What we want and need to belong to can and does differ widely as we grow, which is a good thing and makes a lot of sense – right?!    But …

… as young ones, just starting out in the new adventures of preschool, kindergarten and first grade, discovering shared values, feelings and instincts with classmates and peers is a powerful approach to building the healthiest kind of belonging. The kind of belonging that – very long term – can help to neutralize feelings of isolation that, research has shown, are one of the deep-rooted influences that, so heartbreakingly, result – later on – in school shootings and student suicides.    

Healthy belonging can help to neutralize the negative effects of isolation.
Building healthy BELONGING is one very positive way to reduce the isolation that research confirms is part of the cause of school shooters’ motivations.

What kinds of values, feelings and instincts can young children discover that they share, so that ‘belonging’ is naturally built within the day-to-day dynamics of their class?   

Here’s the answer to that question, and it’s an answer that can enrich every teachers’ class management … making class management much, much easier:  Present groups of kids with appropriately challenging questions that evoke, that draw upon kids’ own hard-wired •empathy, kids’ own •ability to distinguish what’s fair and what’s not, and kids’ natural •instinct to ‘tell it like it is.’

When young children are provided with multiple opportunities to collaboratively discover solutions to challenges with which they’re all familiar, during times in which none of them (this is important, of course) … none of them is ever made to feel defensive – even when those familiar challenges are extremely, even exhaustingly, familiar … When young children are provided with multiple opportunities to collaboratively discover solutions they respond with solutions that invariably surprise and delight teachers. 

Healthy shared experiences build healthy belonging.
Recent brain imaging research shows that when humane instincts are activated and engaged, all associated areas of the brain connect and, with enough consistent repetition, become integrated.

Recent brain imaging research has demonstrated that when the brain contemplates and combines distinct pieces of information – for example: the ‘what, where, when, why and how’ of specific events, different areas of the brain are activated and connect. When different sensibilities and humane instincts are also activated and engaged within those same exercises, all of those areas of the brain connect and, with enough consistent repetition, become integrated. When that kind of healthy, creative and constructive brain activity is shared amongst peers, is it so difficult to appreciate how much more effective at building belonging that is as compared to passive or rote learning experiences?

When groups of children have consistent opportunities to analyze familiar challenges and problems, through a series of respectful and open-ended questions  (yes … truly open-ended questions), they readily stay engaged and interested into the next level of open-ended questions (and again emphasizing: open-ended questions) that invite them to share ideas about possible solutions. 

Typically, a class full of young children ,during these shared opportunities, is a class full of raised hands with answers and solutions that make sense to everyone.  What’s incredibly sweet to experience, as a teacher, is that the kids who have some personal familiarity with a specific challenge or problem (you know, the kids who push, who rarely share, kids who constantly use their outside voices inside, or … you name it)  … those kids actually listen and really take in their classmates’ answers and solutions.  Because, for one reason, they’re not being TALKED TO, so they remain receptive, and for another reason, it’s their peers who are talking – which is much more interesting and relatable than grown-up’s lectures and instructions. Duh.

Back to the concept of building belonging, and I’ll repeat that I’m referring to healthy belonging.  When healthy belonging is prioritized and creatively activated as the binding and strengthening influence for everything else that needs to happen in the classroom, everyone wins – including you, of course … short term, long term and even onto very long term. 

Short term belonging happens within circle time shared discovery opportunities, with kids’ genuine engagement and collaborative contributions. Long term belonging shows up when kids bring their own collaborative solutions onto the playground, into the lunch room and into different learning activities of your classroom.  Very long term belonging is what grows and takes roots over time, because that healthy belonging had a chance to get started as a formative and foundational  influence from kids’ earliest ages.

Healthy belonging requires deep roots.
Deep roots of healthy belonging need to be nurtured from the earliest school experiences.

Obviously, we shouldn’t expect significant results to stick with the snap of our fingers, or with one or two shared thinking circle times – but results do stick when young kids are consistently provided with opportunities to engage in this truly important and mutually respectful way.

The rightness of this kind of approach is validated by kids’ constructive engagement … aaaand by how much you get to learn about, and with, your young students.

Yes, there’s a learning curve – but it’s not steep, and if you’d like some support, please let us know.  That’s WHY we’re here… for you, for your students.

Listen to the podcast (EPISODE 14) of this blog on iTunes, with this link:   https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/not-your-normal-social-emotional-learning

Love in the Classroom

Love can be our most practical teaching super power.

I was a teacher for 20+ years, and in that time I discovered, beyond any possible doubt, that  love must be central to what we do and who we are with our students.  I hope you agree, but if you don’t, or if you’re on the fence about bringing love into the classroom, I hope you’ll keep reading.

First, though, a quick story.  I was born and raised in California.  And to make me even more of a Californian, after my parents divorced, my time with each of them was divided between the San Francisco bay area – with my father, and Los Angeles, with my mother.   My California roots go even deeper.   I’m a 5th generation Californian, and my two sons are 6th generation Californians.   All that to say, when a great career opportunity presented itself to my husband, several decades ago, we enthusiastically moved our growing family to a small town in the midwest.  Talk about culture shock.   WOW !!!

  I am NOT proud to say how obnoxiously proud I was of my heritage, my upbringing, my ever-so-cool California, big city roots.    

I wasn’t overt about my pride of origins when I shopped for groceries or perused stores for my children’s needs, nevertheless  people were palpably  hostile towards me.   Why?  I smiled. I asked how clerks were, and answered with a friendly tone when they asked how I was.  It was mysterious and  weird, and really uncomfortable..

After a couple of weeks of life in my new surroundings, the unfriendliness was really getting to me.  Didn’t these people “get” how cool I was?  How much I had my (bleep) together?!!!

Then one day, after another icy and incredibly unsatisfying interaction, a fresh thought popped into my mind.      (Don’t you love it when those ‘fresh thoughts’ happen?)    

What if I changed my mind set?  What if I wasn’t so full of myself and my self-proclaimed  California-ultra-coolness the next time I walked into a store?     What if I opened my mind and heart to the possibility, just – for starters – the possibility that the locals were just as valuable and interesting and worthwhile and lovable as I was so sure that I was?      

I thought … well, maybe.  I mean, how could it  hurt to experiment with that concept ?    I wasn’t going to say anything, because – really – what could i say?    “Hi, I’m not going to be all full of myself any more. Instead, I’m experimenting with the concept that you might be just as valuable and interesting and lovable as any other person from any other place on this big beautiful planet.”   

NOPE.  Definitely wasn’t going to say that – thankyouverymuch.

But I was going to own that concept, but there couldn’t be any half measures with this experiment. Right?!  What would be the point of that? 

Bottom line:  everything changed.  I mean:  every interaction. Every.   To this day it blows my mind.

That experience, taught me that, in a sense, we’re all mind readers.  You. Me. OUR STUDENTS.  Oh, yes.  Very definitely our students. 

Feelings are communicated wordlessly.
NEVER underestimate children’s sensitivity to what we are truly feeling about them.

So, when I brought into my classes the mindset that each of my students was  valuable, interesting and a person worthy of love (no matter how un-lovable he or she might sometimes act), my classes ran so much more smoothly …. NOT because I told the kids that I thought they were valuable, interesting, worthy of love and respect, but because that was the GROUND ZERO from which I taught and interacted with them…. even when I had to lay down the law, even when I gave them tough assignments, even when I entrusted them with projects that required a lot of independence and self-motivation.   Over and over again, their ‘mind-reading’ skills served them and all of us incredibly and constructively well.

So what’s my point?  Well,  I’m still trying to work out the details so that I can explain how all this works – internally / on the inside – so the impact can be seen – externally / on the outside – but an important and immeasurably practical piece of all this is that we teachers need to, we GET to, explore and discover what love looks like when it’s put into action within all our classroom interactions.    

For me Love looks a lot like respect.   Love also looks a lot like trust … genuinely trusting that the best within our students actually WANTS to express itself, even though their best sometimes can’t actually be expressed without our respectful facilitation efforts on their behalf … which sometimes takes patience.    

When I failed at all this Love stuff … it hurt, but I learned, and I learned how to fail a little bit less the next time.  I keep learning, because I keep trying to pay attention to the ‘signals,’ if you will, that the mindreaders around me are picking up on.

Does that make sense?  Does it ring true for you?  Share your thoughts, your successes, and your challenges around this topic.  I’d love to know what’s going on for you.    

Here’s a link to the associated podcast.

Feeling More ‘Visible’ = Feeling More Valued

Consistent quality (not quantity) of attention matters.
Consistent quality (not quantity) of attention matters.
We all need to analyze the quality of our attention on children.

We consistently observe that children love attention, but have we ever analyzed what’s underneath that obvious fact?  Since the answer is in this brief article’s title, I’ll say no more on that. I will, though, emphasize the need to analyze the quality of our attention on children.

When our attention is complete and undivided, how do we imagine the impact will be on children’s feelings of being valued?  If the answer to that question doesn’t come straightaway, can you reference your own childhood, and the quality of attention you received, to gain insight? 

For uncountable reasons, attention on others cannot always be pure and undivided, but moments (yes, just moments) – every day – can and do have deeply nourishing impact … especially when those moments have nothing to do with situations that require corrections which, unfortunately, are the most common times our attention is undivided. Let’s see if we can stretch our pure and undivided attention ‘windows’ to include neutral, happy and constructive moments.

A few more important elements: words aren’t necessary. In fact, they’re sometimes a distraction, with their labeling and ‘boxing’ effects.  Just be consistent and uncomplicated, then notice the effects over time.

Guns Are the Voice of Anger, Repression and Isolation

Rejection? Depression? Envy? Shame? Disrespected?

Parkland’s shooting is the most recent reminder that we have a chronic anger problem in our country.

Anger, aided by guns, kills students and teachers in Florida.
More victims of the anger that compels violent acts against others.

Enacting sensible gun laws will be a necessary and constructive step forward for our country, but we can do more … much more.  

We want to blame the NRA and the politicians for defending what, in our minds and hearts, is indefensible.  If only legislators would pass more sensible gun laws, we want to believe that the curse of ongoing atrocities would be lifted from our country; but more is needed … much more.

Time to process

First, we need time to process the crushing incomprehensibility of yet another act of violence.  One of the most difficult pieces of ‘processing’ is forgiveness.  Scarlett Lewis, the mother of 6-year old Jesse Lewis (shot down in the Sandy Hook tragedy),  is a living example of forgiveness in action. Her message is healing and deeply important.

Without accepting the challenge of forgiveness, how can we expect life to move forward and build better tomorrows?  Watch Brené Brown’s short  explanation about the essential, yet not-so-obvious elements of true, life altering forgiveness.

Is understanding possible, or even necessary?

Is it even possible to understand the toxic mix of emotions that sometimes transform into anger … which, over time, transforms into murderous rage?   Understanding might be too much of a stretch for most of us, but that doesn’t excuse us from acknowledging  – and constructively responding to – difficult truths.

Unprocessed experiences and emotions

Mental health issues as a ‘go-to’ answer dooms us to loose and sloppy responses.  “Framing the conversation about gun violence in the context of mental illness does a disservice both to the victims of violence and unfairly stigmatizes the many others with mental illness,” says American Psychological Association President Jessica Henderson Daniel, and “… it does not direct us to appropriate solutions to this public health crisis.”

Acknowledging the role of shooters’ unprocessed experiences and emotions is a first step towards neutralizing the root causes of their explosive violence.

Disconnected individuals are dis-empowered individuals who sometimes make tragic decisions.
Guns are sometimes the tragic ‘delivery systems’ of unprocessed negative emotions.
“… he’s going to explode.”

Sheriff’s offices got at least 18 calls about the Parkland shooter over the past decade. Those calls described guns in his possession, threats and violence.  It got so bad that some teachers even went so far as to ban him from their classrooms. “Looking in his eyes, he just looked like there was a problem,” one teacher told The Washington Post.  Children need opportunities for collaborative problems solving rather than punishments or lectures.

Developmental delays are not meaningfully corrected with punishments. Expulsion, rejection, and exclusion do not help. Those responses from teachers and classmates only exacerbate problems – as we have witnessed too many times.

There are, though, constructively pre-emptive approaches, available for K-12 students that have been shown to ease the isolation, frustration and dis-empowerment resulting from warped perspectives on reality. When groups of young students consistently exercise, together, their innate reasoning  and perspective-taking skills while focusing on age-appropriate challenges, unimagined (yet hoped for) alignments and connections develop.

The TOGETHER element is essential. Absolutely essential.

Collaborative problem-solving experiences, when age-appropriately relevant, (without intrusive, judgmental, or lecture-y comments from adults) does more to ‘build belonging’ than any structured curriculum ever could.  Why?  Because, as Dr. Lilian Katz’ research has documented:

“The younger children are, the more they learn from interactive experiences, rather than passive experiences.”

Solving age-appropriate challenges in collaboration with peers builds belonging by building mutual-respect along with self respect… experiences, we can all agree, are totally lacking in school shooters’ lives.


The younger children are, the more they learn from INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCES, rather than passive experiences.
Early education must prioritize helping young children to make better, fuller, deeper and more accurate sense of their own experiences.

“Children who are generally disliked, who are aggressive and disruptive, who are unable to sustain close relationships with other children, and who cannot establish for themselves a place in the peer culture are seriously at-risk for the rest of their lives. The elements of social competence are not usually learned through instruction, or lessons, or lecturing, or preaching.

“Scolding or preaching about being ‘nice’ is the wrong content for relationships between adults and children.”                       

~ Dr. Lilian Katz


We must empower students to collaboratively solve problems and challenges.
When the natural and healthy instinct to solve challenges is consistently interrupted with lectures and pre-packaged answers, frustration mounts.

Even very young children resist being told what to do, how to think, and how to behave all of the time. Children are, though, completely open to, and interested in, collaborative problem solving around challenges that matter to their own well-being.  It is an instinctive/primitive approach to real learning which, by the way, is conclusively validated by contemporary brain science.  Putting into action, which includes giving personal voice to, personal understanding is one of the most efficient approaches to building real understanding that is really used.

Neuronal connections that can save lives

Amygdalae, small almond-shaped areas of the brain, located deep within the limbic system, receive all incoming signals from the environment in about 20 milliseconds. The pre-frontal cortex, where logic and self-regulation reside, receive those same signals about 280 milliseconds after the amygdalae… putting the pre-frontal cortex at a serious disadvantage for responding in the most well-reasoned and appropriate ways.

A physiological explanation for emotional responses hijacking reasoned responses.
The emotional response area of the brain (limbic system / amygdala) receives incoming signals 10 x sooner than the rational area of the brain (pre-frontal cortex).

The result, when mindfulness practices and shared-thinking opportunities are experienced on a regular basis: walls of separation and isolation are dismantled,  while connections between students’ prefrontal cortex (executive functioning) and amygdala are strengthened – due to an increase of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), the calming neurotransmitter. Emotions are still felt, but they no longer have the power to consume, because neuronal connections to constructive options have been physically built up in the ‘hard-wiring’ of the brain … something lectures are incapable of accomplishing.

“Neuroscience tells us that positive emotions are generated in the brain when students develop their own ideas.”      – Prof. James Zull

Real solutions exist, AND THEY NEED TO BE IMPLEMENTED NOW!
The feeling of belonging cannot be taught, but it CAN and must be experienced.
Young students need to directly experience being acknowledged and feeling that they belong.

Young students need to directly experience feeling included, feeling that they belong … and we need to accept our responsibility to consistently provide those types of nurturing experiences in order to neutralize the toxic build-up of anger that is so impossibly, heartbreakingly destructive.

Surprisingly Successful Approach for Students’ Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

Social Emotional Learning: Blank Slate Theory vs. Innate Human Potential
Teach Smarter, Not Harder, to Increase Students’ Social Emotional Learning

Socrates and John Locke are influential philosophers separated by 2,000 years. They are also separated by very different assessments of inborn human capabilities.

When educators want to succeed at students’ mastery of numbers and the alphabet, Locke’s “Blank Slate Theory” is completely relevant and valid. But Locke’s perspective that young children lack humane instincts, valid insights, reasoning abilities, and collaborative problem solving skills evaporates when held against experience-based research and current brain science.

It’s more than obvious to anyone who lives or works with very young children, that each is born with personal likes and dislikes. Research at major universities confirms the fact that children also come into the world with the very skills and capacities necessary for successfully navigating the social-emotional challenges presented by their own personal likes and dislikes.

The theory of mind that young children acquire in preschool years provides conceptual foundation for metacognitive skills required in school.
Research shows that shared-thinking experiences create better learners. Metacognitive skills are initially developed during preschool years.

Research also shows that by age 4 – under the right circumstances – children are (1) willing and able to communicate ideas and feelings, (2) listen to peers’ ideas and feelings. They are also more than willing and able (3) to adapt what they discover about peers’ ideas and feelings to improve their own responses / interactions, for everyone’s benefit, including their own, rather than just their own benefit – without repetitive interventions from adults. 

Perspective-Taking Skill Shapes Social Emotional Success

Perspective-taking in visual form.

We’ve all got our own perspective. Each has some degree of  validity, but perhaps not the whole picture. Perspective-taking, which includes but is not limited to empathy, is the #1 skill with the greatest potential to shape the most broadly beneficial outcomes in business, politics, and religions; in other words, perspective-taking is the most significant foundation of any successful interaction. Enabling and empowering 4 and 5 year olds to connect with, and exercise, their natural born perspective-taking skills results in measurable social emotional learning and development. Established tools like play and team sports create the interactions that help young children see the world from others’ perspective and provides spontaneous opportunities to exercise and apply their ‘hard-wired’ perspective-taking skills.

Facilitated, intentional shared-thinking opportunities provide educators with an easy-to-implement format for teaching smarter, not harder by expanding beyond the happenstance of play and sports to accelerate and coalesce  social emotional learning.

The Kids’ Own Wisdom Approach

So how do educators provide young students with the numerous advantages of perspective-taking without adding excess preparation and work to their days? 

In the next 7 blog posts about Social Emotional Learning we will describe:
  1. Why facilitation is educators’ easiest and most successful approach to developing students’ social emotional learning in and out of the classroom.
  2. Three benefits of developing learners’ self-awareness and self-trust.
  3. Brain science of self-regulation for learners’ accountability and agency.
  4. How to build belonging in the classroom, which includes both shy and challenging children.
  5. Why the communication that happens without words, is as powerful as words, and why young children need to share this understanding.
  6. How to create SEL opportunities that release neurotransmitters and hormones that affect mood, emotions, attention and focus.
  7. The school readiness benefits of consistently exercising young children’s critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving skills.

Mindfulness Practices Change Brains for the BETTER

Mindfulness practice creates positive brain changes that influence the quality of behavior and emotions.
Mindfulness meditation re-routs counter-productive reactivity.

Source: How Mindfulness Meditation Permanently Changes Your Brain | Big Think

Mindfulness practice creates positive brain changes that influence the quality of behavior and emotions.
The amygdala, without the benefit of consistent mindfulness practice, dominates the pre-frontal cortex.

Mindfulness meditation nurtures the brain by decoupling regions that have tended to function together… and generally not very helpfully, except when being chased by tigers and bears, oh my!

Mindfulness meditation, regularly practiced for a just a few minutes a day, creates new neural connections and changes how different regions of the physical brain relate to one another… most specifically the amygdala (the center for fear, anger, and ‘knee jerk’ emotional reactions) and the pre-frontal cortex (the center for logic, reason, executive function responses).

Teachers don’t have to figure it out on their own

There are so many quality resources for bringing mindfulness into the classroom – even for very young students. Consider Thich Nhat Hanh’s many clean and concise offerings.

Mindfulness meditation decouples amygdala (fear+anger) from pre-frontal cortex (exec. function). Everyone benefits.
Mindfulness, regularly brought into young children’s classrooms improves brain function and emotional well being.
quality resources for bringing mindfulness into the classroom
Gentle resources are abundantly available for everyone’s benefit in and out of the classroom.

Although the KIDS’ OWN WISDOM approach does not, specifically, teach mindfulness, there are many parallels in approach and benefits:

  • Providing opportunities to increase students’ awareness of their own (and others’) inner and outer experiences.
  • Recognizing that thoughts are not set in stone – that other options are available, based on free will and best judgment.
  • Engaging in peer group discussions for collaboratively re-evaluating situations and responses, which often, spontaneously, results in impulse control.
  • Increased internal freedom to consciously choose actions and responses over unconscious reactivity.

Regular practice, with either or both approaches, provides measurable short and long term benefits. In other words, Mindfulness practices and Kids’ Own Wisdom shared-thinking experiences are highly compatible and complementary practices for supporting young children’s well-rounded social, emotional and cognitive development.

Problem Solving is a Requirement for Children’s Real Learning!

Problem solving = real learning.
Problem solving. Discovery. Expressing ideas. Exploring. Constructing knowledge.

Young children, even very young children, need consistent opportunities to wrestle with age-appropriate challenges, conundrums, complications, obstacles, issues and “big fat botherations.”

Why?

BEWARE: Obvious answer ahead… because life is full of problems (always has been ~ always will be) and resisting them, complaining about them, or running away from them is just no way to live.

What kinds of problems do children need to solve?
Empathy cannot be forced or taught, but it can be evoked.
Does making kids share make them generous?

SHARING & INCLUDING, for starters:  Kids don’t always want to share. They don’t always want to include others, either… BUT kids do always want others to share with them, and they do always want to be included. How do we, their teachers, put those two seemingly irreconcilable opposites together?

ANSWER: We enable children to discover their own solutions by asking them the kinds of questions that get them thinking, together, in fresh ways (with fresh perspectives) about old familiar problems.

If we’re going to really succeed at supporting our students in resolving their own challenges, then we must view our role from a big-picture point of view, rather than attempting to implement immediate ‘fixes’ or behavior modifications. Kids need help with honestly exploring their own and others’ feelings about challenging situations that are oh-so-familiar.  Children need gentle *guidance (where to look, but not what to see) in order to understand that all kids in their group feel pretty much the same when it comes to sharing.   (*Guidance is best achieved with the right kinds of questions that invite kids, within peer group discussions, to safely express themselves and listen to each other, in a non-judgmental setting.)

The more kids learn and experience how much they genuinely share feelings and understanding, related to a variety of situations, the less alone/shy/isolated they’ll feel, and the stronger will be their sense of belonging to, and being part of, the group. Sharing is easier in that kind of environment. And if not sharing, then shared understanding about why “it’s just too hard to share that last cookie with someone else.” 

Sharing isn't always possible
Sharing isn’t always possible, but understanding each other is a big help.
Communication is key for real problem solving to occur.
Communication is key to problem solving for children.
Collaboration is an essential problem solving tool.

 

Self-Trust is Essential for a Life Well Lived

SELF-TRUST
Everyone is born with instincts and innate skill sets that, when honored, engaged and cultivated in the early years of life, have major influence on developing and anchoring self-trust.
 
Think about it: every baby knows when she’s hungry and tired. Every toddler knows what he likes to eat and with whom he wants to socialize. Children start out knowing and honoring their own rhythms, specific tastes and personal preferences.
 
And then “big people” start managing the details of children’s lives, because they know better. That message (that adults/outside authorities know better) is resisted for awhile, and then it progressively dominates, resulting in diminishment of intrinsic self-trust.
 
There are various responses to this progression, from resistance and rebellion to increased reliance on guidance and approval from ‘authorities,’ resulting in diminishment of self trust.
 
Outward manifestations of diminished self trust include:
  • Self-doubt
  • Indecision
  • Need for approval
  • Desire for external validation
  • Perfectionism
  • Fear of failure
 
Manipulative marketers and politicians accomplish their self-serving goals more easily when their audience is populated by people with diminished self-trust (people whose dominant orientation is: “Others know better than I do.”)
 
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO THE KIDS’ OWN WISDOM® APPROACH?  When students receive consistent opportunities to participate in, and constructively contribute to, shared-thinking opportunities based upon *Stretching, *Open-ended, *Age-appropriately challenging, *Relevant, and *Respectful questions (SOARR-ing questions), they experience their own validity, and their self-trust is the ultimate beneficiary. 

3 Ways to Help Students Who Are in Pain

Learn antidotes to pain to engage kids with learning.

Young people experiencing anxiety, sorrow, depression, hurt feelings, social isolation – any emotional pain –  are seriously handicapped in their ability to learn. Teachers can help these students, without ever analyzing the source of those students’ problems.

Get Kids Moving

All kids, to one degree or another, are kinesthetic learners. Engaging their bodies in whatever lessons we’re trying to teach makes life and learning easier for everyone!

Working movement into as many lessons as possible might seem like a tall order, but the rewards can be worth the extra effort. Try:

  1. Role-playing right in the middle of story time.
  2. Pantomime opposites during vocabulary lessons. (The teacher can say the word big, and the children can pantomime small.) Here’s link to a starter list of 38 opposites.
  3. Get kids learning to rhythmic beats. Kids of all ages can learn just about anything (letters, numbers, multiplication tables) while moving to a rythmic beat.

    Emotional pain limits learning. Rhythm is the antidote.
    When kids are in motion, they’re not in as much emotional pain, so learning is easier.
Get Kids Laughing

Laughter has the power to fuel engagement and help students learn. It’s the best medicine … we all know it. And science confirms it: when we laugh, cortisol (the stress hormone) is reduced. Other benefits include:

  1. Release of health-giving chemicals into the brain.
  2. Building a sense of togetherness and trust.
  3. Triggers creative thinking.
Laughter is good for the brain and the heart.
When kids are in emotional pain, laughter is the best medicine. Fun is the kindest cure.
Get Kids Thinking and Problem Solving Together

Peer group discussions can provide important opportunities for kids to:

  1. Express their own understanding in their own words, and discover their significance when peers and the teacher actually listen to them.
  2. Learn that others feel and understand in ways to which they can relate, even if not the same ways. Thus, they discover the significance of others.
  3. Grow in a sense of belonging, which is the opposite of pain causing isolation and loneliness.

How can that kind of a meaningful experience be consistently brought into the classroom?  It’s relatively easy:

  1. Find images of situations with which all the students are familiar and, to one degreee or another, are challenged by.
  2. Before showing the picture to the kids, create a list of 10+ open-ended questions that respect, and age-appropriately challenge, the kids’ intelligence.
  3.  Ask the questions – then really, really listen to the kids’ answers. These discussions are not the time for lectures. When one question stops eliciting engaged discussion, ask another one, and be sure to get as many of the kids talking and sharing their ideas as you can.
Emotional pain can be lessened with the feeling of belonging.
When kids participate in RELEVANT group discussions, they feel like they matter and that they belong.

Here’s a link to receive some specific ideas for helping bring kids into alignment with their own inner resources and strengths. We want to help kids learn, and sometimes we first have to help them be open to learning. Try any and all of the above 3 evidence-based approaches and then leave a comment with your results.

Inspiration: Brains in Pain Cannot Learn! | Edutopia,    Using Humor in the Classroom | NEA, Validation and Alignment

Empathy and Self Control: Connected in the Brain

Self control=empathy for future self.

Empathy and self control are just two halves of the same coin, as are their opposites impulsivity and selfishness.

Neuroscientists have reached consistent agreement about the part of the brain where empathy activates responses. What’s fascinating is that current research is linking this same part of the brain with self control.

Can Empathy be Taught?

From the Kids’ Own Wisdom perspective: NO. And from the neuroscience perspective, I imagine the answer would be the same. So, what to do? Empathy is essential for humanity to remain humane.

Empathy can be drawn out. Empathy can be exercised. Several programs are succeeding at just that task. ROOTS OF EMPATHY is one time-tested program:

A growing number of educators and social entrepreneurs across the country are discovering that the secret to learning empathy, emotional literacy, self-awareness, cooperation, effective communication, and many of the other skills classified as “social and emotional learning,” lies in experience, not in workbooks and rote classroom exercises.  Unleashing Empathy: How Teachers Transform Classrooms With Emotional Learning

Enlivening empathy - naturally.
Babies brought into classrooms are wordlessly enlivening young students’ empathy with the ROOTS OF EMPATHY program.
Dogs in Classroom Help Children Learn Empathy

A South Carolina education program is proving that dogs themselves can do plenty of teaching:  Healing Species, sponsored by the Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Assault, is a compassion education and violence prevention program being taught in two schools in Florence and Darlington Counties. There is high hope that these programs will expand to other schools.

The concept is pretty simple: bring kind rescue dogs into classrooms to help kids learn empathy and pique their interest in difficult subject matter. But the effects are profound.

“Even for my toughest kids, the most street savvy, it almost physically transforms them into a child with empathy. I’ve got guidance counselors giving me specific instances where students are applying what they learned and taking care of each other when that wasn’t there before.”

Healing Species develops empathy in students.
HEALING SPECIES is a highly effective school program that brings dogs into classrooms to facilitate the development of empathy in young students.

Kids’ Own Wisdom is another effective approach that does not attempt to teach empathy. Instead, peer group discussions are structured around SOARR-ing questions to evoke kids natural inclination to collaboratively solve problems. Kids willingly (enthusiastically, even) resolve their own challenges. They just need the right kinds of questions,  under the right circumstances (peer group discussions) to ‘spark’ their innate creativity and perspective taking abilities. 

Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, imagine that neuroscience would combine with babies and dogs to help us help our students create better lives for themselves?  Fascinating times, to be sure.

Neuroscience Explains: The Empathy-Self Control Connection

An interesting experiment helped to demonstrate this connection: Volunteers saw a picture of a man standing in a room with red discs on the wall. The volunteers could see all the discs, but they had to try to estimate how many the man in the room could see. This required them to shift their perspective to the man’s, and they were less able to do this when the rTPJ, (the location of empathy in the brain, as identified by scientists), was disrupted. What’s even more fascinating, this experiment predicted both impulsivity and selfishness – the opposites of self control and empathy – as measured in different experiments.

Long term consequences

Impulsivity and selfishness are just two halves of the same coin, as are their opposites restraint and empathy. Perhaps this is why people who show dark traits like psychopathy and sadism score low on empathy but high on impulsivity.

Perhaps, also, it’s why impulsivity correlates with slips among recovering addicts, while empathy correlates with longer bouts of abstinence. These qualities represent our successes and failures at escaping our own egocentric bubbles, and understanding the lives of others—even when those others wear our own older faces.

Source: Self-Control Is Just Empathy With Your Future Self – The Atlantic

Growth Mindset and the MAGIC WORD

Most teachers and parents understand that when we step in and solve children’s problems we’re not doing them any favors. Not really. Not in the long run. But when kids’ frustration builds and they get close to quitting, sometimes it just feels easier to get everyone (including us) past obstacles and into solution territory.

Rather than solving kids’ problems, if we’re truly committed to preparing them for a lifetime of challenges (problem-solving opportunities), we should commit to helping them build growth mindsets.

There are many ways to encourage growth mindset. Unfortunately, there are also many ways to discourage growth mindset.

To make sure we are doing all the right things to encourage perseverance in our students, our children, and even ourselves – let’s get clear on what growth mindset is.  According to psychologist, Carol Dweck who popularized the term in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, people [of any and all ages] with growth mindset …

“… believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

How do we nurture kids’ perseverance? Well, we could follow Yoda’s approach by being really good examples – which, of course, is never a bad idea. Check out this video:

Yoda's instruction to Luke Skywalker, interpreted through the lens of GROWTH MINDSET.
Yoda’s instruction to Luke Skywalker, with a contemporary interpretation. (Thanks to Linda Lewis)
We should definitely avoid these common mistakes
  1. Praising effort alone: “Great effort” has become the consolation prize for children who aren’t actually learning. In other words, “Great effort” translates to “ineffective effort,” which sends the totally wrong message.
  2. “Try harder” is more empty feedback.
  3. “You can do anything” does not magically make it so. Students need knowledge, skills, strategies, and resources to solve their problems.
  4. “You’re so intelligent” and “You’re so smart” are actually counter-productive messages. (Many teachers have known this for decades, and instead use more specific statements: “You really stuck with that math problem until you figured it out. Wow.”)
  5. Scolding and shaming for not persevering and learning effectively. OUCH.

Excerpted from Edutopia article by Carol Dweck

So … what’s so magic about the word “YET” when seeking to nurture growth mindset?

It’s not just what we say … it’s how we say it.

“Yet,” when spoken with genuine respect for effort, can lighten the crushing effects of accumulated frustration. Acknowledgement of effort – when it’s REAL, rather than empty, consolation prize praise – helps to keep minds + attitudes open for learning new strategies.

Hard work is still ahead. “YET” provides a ray of hopeful sunshine to keep on keeping on.

Being "seen" when making an honest effort helps to neutralize frustration.
“YET” is a magic word, but only if we say it with genuine acknowledgement of observed effort.

 

Students Living With Adversity

Kids living through adversity need to feel safe.

Educators with behaviorally challenging students must double-down on cultivating relationships that those students feel they can trust. But, according to Dr. Ross Greene, “whether a child is behaviorally challenging or not…collaboration is the key to improved relationships, better communication, and solving problems.”

How can one teacher accomplish this with a room full of wildly diverse kids?  One way is to provide regularly scheduled peer group discussions around topics and challenges important to all the kids in the class. Kids are naturally interested in what their peers think and care about, (whether or not they’d ever openly admit it) so they’re inclined to listen to each other’s answers IF the questions used to move the discussions along are neither leading nor overly simple.

Familiar challenges at ‘comfortable’ distances

When all the kids in the peer group discussion are listening to each other, you can be listening for clues about each child’s values and personal challenges. Surprisingly, when peer discussions are objective – in other words, focused on pictures that keep familiar and relevant challenges at ‘comfortable’ distances, kids are much, much more likely to reveal their honest thoughts, feelings and insights. Those are the times when you can learn so much that will help you gain deeper appreciation for all the kids, even (and sometimes, especially) the ones who create the most challenges.

For more insights and wisdom from experienced educators: When You Can’t Relate to Your Students’ Experiences – Edwords Blog – BAM! Radio Network

Enough theory …

Okay, so enough theory.  How’s about a sample of an effective peer group discussion around PLAYING FAIR?  Check out this link.

Just remember that for peer group discussions to succeed, the teacher does not so much ‘teach’ as ‘facilitate.’  Facilitating is all about keeping discussions moving forward by asking new questions whenever the current question has lost its ‘engagement factor.’ Facilitating, more importantly, is about listening, really listening.

Real listening happens with ‘full on’ attention

Our attention – when it’s open, accepting, interested, and sensitive to our students’ unspoken messages – is one of the most nurturing ways we can, with consistency and over time, develop a sense of safety for our students who are living with adversity.   Get ready to do some powerful learning of your own. Learning that will help you create more safety and ‘belonging’ for all the kids in your class.