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.

4-Year Olds Are Ready for SOCIAL – EMOTIONAL LEARNING

Social-Emotional Learning for 4 Year Olds Does Not Have to be Hard!
Shared-Thinking Circle Times for 4-year old’s Social-Emotional Learning
By the age of 4, kids are ready to share with peers, in circle time, how much they know and how self-sufficiently they can choose behaviors that work best for everyone!  They just need (and want) to be respectfully and appropriately challenged!
Kids also want and need to be acknowledged for what they understand, what they perceive as real, true and valid … and they need to express what they understand with their own words … with a group of peers … in neutral shared-thinking class time opportunities – facilitated by adults who, just during these times, do not have the intention to be teaching, but instead have the intention to give all of their attention.
Young Children Have a Natural Need for Quality Attention
How many times have you read or heard about children ‘just behaving this way or that for attention?’ As if their efforts to gain your attention were a negative. Turns out that the more we learn about all the elements of healthy early childhood development, the more we come to appreciate the value of honoring children’s basic instincts, such as their natural need for quality attention.
Validating Proof from History and Human Biology
After World War II, orphans living in a clean, hygienic and basically attentive facility did not thrive. In fact, almost half of infants died, despite apparently having all basic needs met. It turned out that the infants needed at least one meaningful relationship with a caring, and involved adult in order to survive, grow and thrive. Since then, we have learned that Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is released in a manner directly proportional to the amount of caring attention children receive.
Quality of Teacher’s Attention Matters
It is now clearly understood that the quality of the attention children receive from their educators more often than not gives rise to repeated behaviors, as compared to ignored or unnoticed behaviors.  Sooooo … if we are giving our attention – yes, just simply our undivided attention – when kids are thinking together about positive and constructive solutions and outcomes to which they can all relate, surely it should come as no surprise that those solutions rapidly translate into behaviors by the children who – in constructive collaboration – gave voice to those solutions.
Constructive collaboration opportunities prepare children for future successes.
Young children welcome constructive collaboration opportunities.

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.

 

Teachers’ #1 Key to Success – Classroom Climate – Build Belonging

 

Thinking back on your own education, do you remember teachers, or do you remember methods and techniques? If you answered ‘teachers,’ then you’re with just about everyone else, because …

… teachers are the heart of the educational system. When they build belonging in their classroom, they’re building success for every student in their classroom.

Attend to Classroom Climate

As educators, we tend to believe our classroom is a neutral environment, but some settings are more inclusive and welcoming to certain types of students than we realize. It’s important to be mindful of how environments can feel “chilly” to some students and how other classrooms foster connections between the teacher and students, as well as between all of the students to each other.

One way to foster connections is for teachers to actively work to find common ground between students and provide opportunities for students to recognize similarities among their peers.

When provided with consistent opportunities to discover shared values with peers, students directly experience the sense of belonging they (and all humans – for that matter) require in order to manifest more of their full potential as learners and collaborative problem-solvers.

 

Brain Science Prioritizes Feelings Before Students Can Learn

Feelings dominate students' attention. Build belonging for everyone's success.

When students feel successful, educators feel successful.  To arrive at success, we educators must acknowledge the neurobiological fact that all brains are wired to process experiences through feelings before they’re ever able to think, reason and actually learn.

Brain science of FEELINGS BEFORE LEARNING

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… The pre-frontal cortex of our young students’ brains will not be fully formed until their early 20’s. Meantime, their amygdalae, formed at birth, are continually engaged – scanning for feelings of safety and security. 

Feeling undervalued = Emotional HIJACK

When children don’t feel safe, which can include feelings of not being ‘seen’ or respected or acknowledged, they’re highly susceptible to amygdala hijacking, which most commonly presents as lack of engagement / cooperation, resistance, defiance, hot tempers, insecurities, and isolation.

All attempts at reasoning are futile! We all know it… yet how many times have we tried to force our way past that hard and immutable fact?  When young children’s prefrontal cortex has been overwhelmed by their amygdala’s reaction to whatever it is in their environment that makes them feel undervalued, no progress can be achieved until that underlying trigger has been genuinely, collaboratively and constructively addressed. 

Fear and stress look like anger when …

… negative experiences cause emotional responses that prioritize – though granted, not very efficiently: self-preservation, however that is personally defined (and protected) by each child. Along with the amygdalae going into overdrive, blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, cortisol and adrenaline contribute to the mix.  

Making best use of this physiology lesson

Hopefully, this information can help us separate outward behavior from negative judgements about, and reactions toward, our students. Hopefully, this information can motivate us to identify and implement real, and truly nurturing solutions that, with consistency, provide positive experiences that help to make our students feel genuinely safe and valued… if for no other reason than the fact that we all need, want and deserve to feel safe and valued… and, oh yes: a whole lot more learning will happen during the school year. 

Build belonging for learning to happen

One very powerful way to build an authentic sense of belonging for our students is to provide them with consistent opportunities to preemptively experience shared values with their peers. This is not achieved, in any deep and life-altering way, with lectures, songs, posters, or puppets – SORRY.

It is, though, achieved with facilitated shared-thinking opportunities based on an approach that honors a Socratic method of engaging students’ creative and collaborative problem-solving abilities around challenges that are relevant to all of them.  Discovering shared values, insights, concerns, feelings and solutions goes a long, long way towards building belonging – a need that, when satisfied, to whatever degree – counter-balances the fear, anger and stress that short circuit students’ ability and willingness to engage in learning.

 

Uncomplicated Approach To Increase Students’ Social Emotional & Cognitive Development

Children are ready for Social Emotional Learning with an uncomplicated approach.

1. Provide visual prompts around topics that really matter to your students. The visual prompts should respect students’ intelligence and invite a wide range of interpretations.

2. Explain that you’re interested in their thoughts and feelings about what they see … then ask respectful, open-ended, non-leading questions .

3. Listen (really listen) to their collaboratively developed ideas, experiences and solutions.  Real listening, as represented by the Chinese letter for ‘listening,’ uses ears and eyes and bodies and  heart and mind.

Listening is only ‘real’ when attention is fully present … in other words: undivided. No matter our age, we can all tell when we’re really being listened to, and when we’re not.

Real listening is effortless when topics are interesting, unusual or personally relevant. KIDS’ OWN WISDOM shared-thinking opportunities are always relevant, so real listening is easy and natural for students.

What sometimes takes more practice is getting teachers to really listen – with fully present, mutually respectful, undivided attention.

4. Discover how much young children learn from and teach each other about what really matters to all of them.  POWERFUL.

How To Safe-Guard Children From Marketers’ Manipulations

Children need to develop critical thinking skills to counter-balance marketers' manipulations.

If you are concerned about the degree to which young children are increasingly the target of advertising and marketing because of the amount of money they spend, the influence they have on their parents’ spending (the nag factor) and because of the money they will spend when they grow up, then please consider the urgency of addressing this problem when children are in preschool and kindergarten.

We need to support (engage and vigorously exercise) children’s natural-born abilities to think, to reason, to distinguish truth from lies.

Develop children's critical thinking skills
Children need to exercise their natural-born instincts to question and separate truth from fiction.

We must consistently encourage children’s natural born curiosity to question everything and everyone, because at one point in their lives it will be critically important that they question politicians’ and marketers’ motivations and promises.

It is our responsibility not so much to lecture as help to switch on kids’ own awareness about the dangerous assumptions that skew perception – everyone’s: yours, mine and theirs. Trickiest of all, today’s youth needs to be able to recognize the difference between charisma and substance – as well as the unique impact of each.

Ask the kinds of questions that get kids’ minds stretching in directions that go beyond the obvious. Sharing insights and values with kids is a big part of our responsibility to them … but, for their true ownership of the values that will best serve them throughout their lives, we need to be repeatedly sparking their intelligence with the right kinds of questions that invite meaningful discussions and open the way to expression of their own personal insights and wisdom. (It’s never too early to start with this approach.)

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. 

UNlearning Is the Key to Implementing NEW Learning

UNlearning for NEW learning.

What is the value of unlearning?

The most obvious benefit is recognizing and stopping the stifling mindset that is manifested unintentionally when we feel we know.

It’s the ‘this is how I or we’ve always done it’ syndrome. The ability to rid yourself of old ideas that are no longer relevant will be the key as to succeeding in, and staying relevant in, the future.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learnunlearn, and relearn.”  
Alvin Toffler
futurist & philosopher
Feb 3, 2014

Activate and Exercise Students’ Thinking Skills: #Nuclear Option

No one lives in a vacuum. Shared-thinking opportunities reveal shared values and understanding.

As educators, it is our profound responsibility to activate and exercise students’ thinking skills every day. Shared-thinking opportunities, based on open-ended questions, can get kids engaged with current events, especially if we don’t start out with lectures.

Rules are for reasons.
Making Politics RELEVANT for the Purpose of Activating and Exercising Middle Schoolers’ Thinking Skills

The GOP’s recent use of the Nuclear Option, in order to blast through the Democrats’ attempt to filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, offers plenty of potential to increase kids’ awareness and involvement with the world they’re growing into – if we open the subject by establishing relevance(Actually, when it comes to successfully educating today’s youth, nothing – NOTHING – is a more essential responsibility of teachers than establishing relevance.)

Suggestions for Open-Ended Questions to Activate and Exercise Thinking Skills for Relevant Peer Group Discussions

(Start broadly in order to create relevance through known associations.)

  1. Have you ever been playing a game with some kids, and out of no where one (or more of them) announced different rules? Who has a story about a time like that?
  2. How did you react? If other kids were involved, how did they react to the sudden rule changes?
  3. WHY do you think that person (or people) made that sudden rule change? HOW did they justify their new rule to you (and to the other players)?
  4. Did their justifications (reasons) make sense to you?  Why or why not?
  5. What happened next?
  6. Name some of your favorite sports and favorite teams. What is it that you like most about those sports / those teams / those players? Share some specifics with the rest of our group.
  7. Is there anything you don’t like about those sports / those teams / those players? Share some specifics with the rest of our group.
  8. What does the term “Nuclear Option” mean? (Encourage students to say the first thing that comes to their mind when they hear that term. Be open to all their contributions. Explain that you’re all exploring new ideas together – so “mistakes” demonstrate effort, and nothing negative.)
  9. Does anyone know what it means when it’s associated with interactions and decision-making in the U.S. Senate?  (Very brief explanation: The nuclear option is a parliamentary procedure that allows the U.S. Senate to override / change a rule … with a simple majority of 51 votes, instead of with a supermajority of 60 votes … effectively ending a 60-vote requirement for confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee or the passage of legislation.)
  10. How could this possibly matter to your life?RELEVANCE is the all-important factor for young learners.
  11. Do any of you know how the Senate responded to Obama’s candidate for Supreme Court Judge – just a few months before he left office? 
  12. Let’s think about some reasons that might have been behind the recent implementation of the Nuclear Option. 
  13. Again … how could this possibly matter to your life?
  14. The role of judges is to interpret laws objectively. Is anyone ever completely objective? Why do you think that? What examples can you give of people being completely objective? What about examples of people (coaches, referees, parents, teachers, police, friends, teammates, etc.) being partially objective?

Complete objectivity is a lofty goal, but rarely is it not mixed with subjectivity.

Educators’ Critical Responsibility: Activate and Exercise Students’ Thinking Skills – Their Futures Depend On It.

“In our evolving world, the ability to think is fast becoming more desirable than any fixed set of skills or knowledge.  We need problem solvers, decision makers and innovators.  We need to prepare our children for their future, not for our past.”             – Mike Fleetham


Activate and exercise students' thinking skills so they're ready to deal with the world's problems.

Students’ Need Thinking Skills to Solve the World’s Problems

Critical thinking and problem solving skills must begin to be developed early in life.

How do we prepare students, even very young students, to constructively engage with the world they’re growing into? As educators, we must activate and exercise students’ thinking skills many times every day. Not, of course, in overly serious ways, because children must be allowed to develop at a natural pace through the stages of childhood.

Exercising Thinking Skills Can Be Fun and Relevant

Fortunately, there are ways to exercise children’s thinking skills in ways that directly improve their own day-to-day lives.

Thinking skills, like any skill, must be developed and exercised.
Peer group discussions, based on open-ended questions that create curiosity in others’ answers help to hone thinking along with collaborative problem-solving skills.

With the right kinds of questions (and zero lecturing), young children’s thinking skills can be exercised, so those skills naturally become stronger. Questions can and should be about familiar topics – like, how to:  √ treat animals,  √ play fairly,  √ get someone’s attention. The right kinds of questions (non-leading and open-ended) will draw upon children’s hardwired honesty, common sense, and ability to empathize.

Using Critical Thinking to Find Trustworthy Websites
Day-to-day situations and interactions are great starting points for engaging students' critical thinking skills.
When the right kinds of questions are presented, students’ thinking engages around relevant problems and challenges.

By the time students are in middle school they have become much less likely to ask questions around everyday elements of their lives. Why? Too embarrassing to appear ‘dumb.’  No problem. We, as their educators, can present topics of discussion for the entire class, with directives on how to discover the most trustworthy answers.  (DIRECT BENEFITS: Everyone saves “face,” while gaining the benefits of what they need to learn.)

What about Cyberbullying?

How do we get students thinking about the ramifications of their online communications, without lecturing? Peer group discussions with, again, non-leading and open-ended questions helps to bring issues “into the light,” without putting anyone on the defensive. When students consistently receive opportunities to think together, they will come to conclusions, and even solutions, that work for everyone.  Can you think of a better way to prepare them for developing the sophisticated problem-solving skills they’ll need as adults?

We can prepare our students to deal with the world's problems by exercising their thinking skills everyday.
The world’s serious challenges which will require serious thinking and problem-solving skills from today’s youth.

Talking Straight to Children

Healthy brain development for well rounded social emotional interactions.
By Lilian Katz, November 2013

imageNot long ago I went to my physician for my annual check up. You all know what that’s like—not exactly fun!

I must have been about the 12th woman he had seen by that afternoon. As he entered the room, he said to me: “Well, Mrs. Katz, do you get a chance to get out of the house sometimes?” Not exactly the question or comment I was expecting! I calmly pointed out that I had just returned yesterday from Washington, DC, and last week from Houston and the week before that from Northern Ireland, and so forth!!!

The incident made me think that probably all occupations that involve human interactions develop clichés or standardized and routine phrases to be used during the day for regular tasks, and that these come with the job. I was reminded of that by one of my grandsons who worked for a while at his local supermarket and complained that he said maybe 1,000 times per day “Did you find everything you wanted?” and told me that by the 20th time, he really didn’t care!!

As I visit and observe teachers of young children in many different kinds of programs around the country, I am always dismayed by how frequently they move around the classroom and say to children things such as “Awesome,” “Good Job,” “Keep going…”, “That’s going well…”, and so forth.

Other clichés that come with the job are directions given to children such as “You need to sit still,” “You need to turn around,” “You need to listen,” and so forth. But children’s needs are not relevant in these kinds of situations; the teacher is trying to convey his or her wish that the child behave in a certain way. It would be more honest and meaningful, as well as realistic and clear, to say something such as “Please sit still” or “Please turn around” and then move on with the really important content of the moment.

It worries me that so few teacher-child contacts are continuous interactions. Recent evidence suggests that such meaningful continuous contingent interactions from very early in life throughout the first five or six years stimulate very important neurological development that must be accomplished by roughly about the age of 6.

So, as teachers of young children, let’s take occasional opportunities to remind ourselves that the children need informative feedback with real meaning—not every five minutes, but as appropriate occasions arise, in contexts that can provoke continuous exchanges called conversations. Sometimes a participant in a conversation just nods or smiles as the sequence continues. But it is clear to all participants what the others mean. Engaging in such intentional interactions may mean that we have to keep the total amount of interaction lower to enable more real and informative responses rather than clichés.

So let’s keep in mind that frequent and empty phrases may just be a risk of our profession that we should watch out for.

Return to the Lilian’s Blog main page.

Ask Useful QUESTIONS. Really IMPORTANT.

The right questions focus attention in constructive directions.

There’s a world of difference between useful questions and useless questions.

What’s the difference? Useful questions help to focus attention on intended goals. Useless questions focus on the pain required to achieve those intended goals.

The illustration at the top of this article pretty clearly demonstrates how a useful question leads attention towards focusing on the long view for achieving intended goals. Focusing on the long view helps to keep attention away from immediate downsides and discomforts. When we help our students develop and maintain focus on the long view, we’re helping them to build growth mindset.

An unhelpful or even downright useless question focuses attention on short-term gains. And short term gains rarely, if ever, develop growth mindset.

Ask the right questions to get the right results.
USEFUL questions can help maintain attention on the long view for growth mindset.
It’s not just what we ask, but also HOW we ask …

When we ask one of these questions that we hope will help to develop growth mindset, let’s always remember that wordless communication has a significant effect. Can we ask useful questions with genuine respect? Can we ask useful questions with authentic openness to whatever answers the students have, so that openings are created for honest, 2-way discussions?

Whenever our students feel genuinely heard, like all human beings, they’re much more likely to also listen. (Maybe not right away, but if they get used to being heard -genuinely, with respect and undivided attention- they’ll be more open to genuinely, with respect and undivided attention, listening to others.)

IF & WHEN we ask useful questions with a true sense of positive expectation for the wisdom of our students, they will pick up on it. (Because, as you know and experience every day, we’re all picking up on each other’s unspoken signals, feelings and judgments, pretty much all the time. Right?!!)


A few more examples of USEFUL questions to help grow students’ growth mindset …
  • What do you think you might be missing?
  • What are some ways you could look at this in completely different ways?
  • Are you on the right track, but just missing a few pieces?
  • Would brainstorming with someone else help?
  • What do you think would hurt more: Giving up   OR    Making the extra effort to train your brain to eventually get it?

Conversation Starters to Grow GROWTH MINDSET

Conversations, started with open-ended questions have the most positive impact.

Sometimes kids (little ones and big ones) have resistance to our direct efforts to grow their growth mindset. That’s when questions that are actually conversation starters, can help.

Conversation implies all kinds of POSITIVES:     √ Respect for students’ perspective and problem solving abilities    √ Interest in what they think and feel and deal with     √ Engagement with their values, their priorities     √ Trust in students’ intentions     √ Listening, really listening

Listening is most important

When kids receive quality attention, on a regular basis, to express themselves – especially with regard to their challenges – they get to directly experience that they matter. When they feel that all-important sense of mattering, then the effort it takes to overcome challenges is much more likely to matter, too.

Of course, listening to endless, random complaints and whining doesn’t have much value for anyone.

Complain - meh! Problem solve - YEAH!
Complaining is very different from intentional problem solving.

But respectful conversations that start with respectful questions … now that’s a different story.  Try it, and let us know how it goes. We’d LOVE to hear your experiences.

 

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

Perspective Taking is a 21st Century Skill

Taking different perspectives keeps minds open.

It’s inevitable: people see things differently… even when they’re standing close and looking at the same situation or event. Different perspectives can cause a lot of problems, or they can improve situations. Totally depends on everyone’s perspective taking abilities.

Why are there individual perspectives?

Basically all our experiences – situations, events, what other people say and do – are up for interpretation. Interpretation is based on lots of known, and a variety of unknown, elements: past experiences, culture, faith, family values, personal preferences and previous associations to name a few. Differences don’t need to imply right or wrong … they’re just different. Period.  Even little kids “get that,” when they’re given the chance.

Provide students with multiple opportunities to exercise their own hard-wired curiosity about other peoples’ perspectives – with zero pressure for them to agree. Chances are pretty good that those kids will be inclined to open-mindedly consider others’ thoughts and feelings before arriving at their own final conclusions.

Open-minded people are psychologically and emotionally flexible enough to consider alternative solutions. When open-mindedness is combined with solid self-worth, constructive outcomes are likely.

What would the world be like without different perspectives?

For starters, life would be monumentally BORING. Creativity would be non-existent. But look at the bright side: there wouldn’t be any disagreements.  Zzzzzzzzzz!!!

Is there a way to have the best of both? Of course there is. Bring together groups of peers to objectively discuss situations and challenges familiar to everyone in the group. It really helps to show a picture of the scenario you choose to have the kids discuss. Be prepared with a list of 10-20 questions that respect kids’ intelligence in order to facilitate the most successful perspective-taking exercises.

Questions that communicate respect for kids’ intelligence and problem solving abilities are: √ Open-ended.  √ Unpredictable, but relevant.   Here’s a full example for trying out with your 5-7 year old students.  (Read through all of the questions ahead of time, so you can maintain the discussion’s momentum.)

Check out these additional resources for supporting your success at increasing the perspective taking skills of all grade levels.

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.

 

Observational Learning is Important in Socialization Process

OBSERVATIONAL LEARNING, sometimes referred to as vicarious reinforcement, can take place at any point in life. It’s most common during childhood as children learn from the authority figures and peers in their lives. It plays an important role in the SOCIALIZATION PROCESS.

The Kids’ Own Wisdom approach makes constructive use of this researched and well-documented fact about learning by creating specific opportunities for children to think together, problem-solve together, and to act upon their conclusions together.

Factors That Influence Observational Learning – Psychologist Albert Bandura (describing his own perspective as ‘social cognitivism’) is the researcher perhaps best identified with learning through observation.  According to Bandura’s research, there are a number of factors that increase the likelihood that a behavior will be intentionally observed and then imitated. Among them:

  • People who are similar to us in age, sex, and interests

  • When the situation is confusing, ambiguous, or unfamiliar

The key element to note in Bandura’s highly regarded observations is that peers learn from peers. Peers are highly motivated to pay attention to peers for all the obvious reasons – acceptance and trust being prime among those reasons.

“Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.”
-Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory, 1977
Teachers do well when they make use of the facts about how real learning happens by creating groups discussions around topics that are 100% relevant to their students. Care must be taken, though, to assure that students feel respected enough in these discussions so they can exercise their own creative problem-solving skills to arrive at their own most balanced and constructive conclusions.

Deep Thinking Trumped by “Entertain Me” Culture

Are we nurturing our students' deep thinking?

Concerned by the apparent fact that being entertained trumps many Americans’ inclination to engage in deep thinking? Then please read on.

True, life is a tangled mess these days. It’s stressful to the max, and people need a little ‘escape’ time, but have we gone too far in the ‘escape’ time direction? And at what cost?  

What does this have to do with our roles as educators? 

“We ask questions to discover students’ level of understanding. Then we quickly move on because we have curriculum to cover. Great teachers go a bit deeper. They ask questions that take students from surface to deep, and even inspire students to ask their own questions.

Is it harder for teachers to go deep because society likes surface? Or do we need to work harder to go deep to combat society’s need to stay at the surface level?”  Peter DeWitt

There are serious costs to not helping students gain personal satisfaction in deep thinking around challenging topics. For one, their vulnerability to unsupported claims when exposed to media, to politicians, and to sales people increases.

Students’ deep thinking ‘muscles’ must be exercised – regularly!

The ability to discern facts is a crucial skill for students to exercise and master, starting in their earliest years.  Reading, writing and numbers are important basic tools for learning, of course. Our responsibility to students, though, must expand beyond providing basic tools. We’ve got to exercise students’ ability to question and to evaluate, starting with challenges common to all of them.

How else will they develop the habit of dealing rather than avoiding? How else will they experience the satisfaction of ‘seeing through’ points of view that don’t deserve total buy in?

Exercise their deep thinking muscles when they’re young

Young kids’ natural curiosity can be easily engaged in circle time problem-solving opportunities. Ellen Booth Church, author of “Educating Next-Generation Innovators,” suggests circle time discussions. Get kids thinking together about what’s same and what’s different amongst characters in a story you’re reading to them.

The kids will probably start by identifying different visual features of the characters. That’s fine, it gets the wheels spinning. Then go a little deeper. Ask if the kids can identify similar needs and feelings amongst the characters in the story. Perhaps go from the characters‘ needs and feelings to a comparison of the students‘ own needs and feelings.

Early practice with deep thinking exercises, if handled properly, help students gain confidence in their own reasoning abilities.  With that confidence, they’re less likely to resist thoughtful analysis when challenges arise. Can you imagine how that would benefit our country?

Far-reaching benefits of deep thinking

Democracy cannot survive too much ignorance, or eroded civic knowledge, or complacency …  Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter explains this very serious concern with accessible language in thought-provoking 3 minute video.

Can we make deep thinking as engaging to our students as the 24-hour flashiness that is constantly available to them?  We can. It’s a challenge, but we can, and they’ll thank us forever if we consistently provide those kinds of meaningful opportunities.

Fortunately, creating consistent opportunities for our students’s to exercise their deep thinking skills is rewarding for us, too. We soon find our jobs becoming easier, rather than more difficult. Why? Because the students’ self-respect and mutual respect grow with this focus on their development as 21st century citizens.

Source inspirations for this post: What Presidential Candidates, Brangelina, and Reality Television Mean for Education and http://www.samchaltain.com/blog

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.

Keys to Enriching EVERY Student’s Experience in Inclusive Schools

Building belonging increases empathy and enriches every student's experience.

Enriching every student’s experience in inclusive schools is a worthwhile challenge on so many levels, for so many reasons. By creating ‘peer group’ discussions around topics to which all students can relate, belonging grows and community is spontaneously built. Talk about enriching!

When discussions are facilitated around well-designed lists of open-ended and wide-ranging questions, much can be learned by all participants, including the facilitators.  Just 10-15 minutes of this type of exercise, a couple of times each week, can reveal surprising layers of insight from all participants. All.

Building belonging …

Ultimately, these experiences build ‘belonging,’ in the most natural and un-forced sense. Fundamentally, we’re all interested in each other, and we’re all ‘wired’ for empathy. (And we are working with the following definition of empathythe psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

EMPATHY, if it is to grow, has some very definite requirements:

√ It can't be taught.    √ It can't be forced.   √ It's born right in us, so it just needs to be exercised.

The natural instinct to empathize is most available when there is zero pressure to do so. Peer group discussions can create those enriching opportunities. (No lectures required. In fact, lectures during these discussions, turn out to be counter-productive.)

Benefits for students without disabilities include:
  • Prepares all students for adult life in an inclusive society
  • Increased appreciation and acceptance of individual differences
  • Increased understanding and acceptance of diversity
  • Respect for all people
  • Opportunities to master activities by practicing and teaching others
Benefits for students with disabilities include:
  • Peer role models for academic, social and behavior skills
  • Increased inclusion in future environments
  • Higher expectations for themselves

Benefits for facilitators:

Take the long view when measuring WIN-WIN-WIN Gains

When peer group discussions are designed around real-life topics common to all students’ experiences, triple-wins really can be achieved. Just remember to take the long view, in terms of measuring progress. The first time you go to the gym you don’t expect to look in the mirror and see a difference. Right?  In fact, there’s no exact time when you can predict when you’ll see improvements, but you know that if you continue to workout on a regular basis, positive results are inevitable.

Same with the process of building belonging by facilitating regularly scheduled peer group discussions. If you continue to provide opportunities for kids to share their thoughts around topics that are personally relevant, commonalities, shared values, and empathy will grow. It’s a beautiful inevitability.

Committed to Nurturing Your Students’ Potential

The nurturing effect of a teacher's whole-hearted attention

This blog is dedicated to you: the one who sees kids, who really sees them. You see that they comprehend much more than they’re sometimes given credit for. Your passion for teaching is fueled by deep commitment to nurturing your students’ potential.

You see your students’ exquisite capacity to discern what’s real.  You see how they adjust accordingly, on their own, when you’ve provided opportunities to discover different ways of being and doing that work better for everyone, including themselves, rather than just themselves.

Your satisfaction as a teacher is in growing kids, not by always telling them what to think and what to do. Instead, you excel at nurturing your students’ potential with your genuine attention. That is your art.  That is your gift.  Kids love you for it, and they’ll always remember you for it.

Because at the end of the day…

“Because at the end of the day, most students won’t remember what amazing lesson plans you’ve created. They won’t remember how organized your bulletin boards are. How straight and neat are the desk rows. No, they’ll not remember that amazing decor you’ve designed.

But they will remember you … because excellence is more readily attained by being.

Being available.
Being kind.
Being compassionate.
Being transparent.
Being real.
Being thoughtful.
Being ourselves.

Your kindness. Your empathy. Your care and concern. They’ll remember that you took the time to listen ...”  http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lori-gard/students_b_4422603.html

The purpose of this blog is to provide you with the logic, the validations and the research that will deepen your confidence in the enriching value of your nurturing instincts.  https://www.kidsownwisdom.com/validation.html

This blog will also suggest useful tools and techniques to advance your positive influence on your students.