Friday, November 05, 2021

Afterschool Programs: Ideal Opportunity to Develop Social Emotional Learning

This book that I co-authored offers
educators many SEL activities and 
valuable SEL information. 

 A director of an afterschool program reached out to me today to see if I would be interested in speaking to the afterschool program teachers about social emotional learning and behavior management. It has been a while since I presented on a teaching/learning topic, but I couldn't resist this opportunity to speak about a topic I am passionate about and a topic that directly relates to the positive development of children. 

I deeply believe that we have what it takes to help all children thrive today and into the future, and too often we don't take the time to seriously consider our efforts and potential in this regard. The way we mentor, engage and work with children directly affects how they feel about themselves and who they become. 

As I thought of the diverse teaching team which includes many new teachers, I began to think about what is most important when it comes to working with children. How do we empower and enrich children's lives in meaningful ways. 

Know and Appreciate Children

To be an effective educator at any level, you have to get to know and respect the children within your charge well. Beware of judging a child in any way, instead have an open mind to whom every child is, what they care about and whom they want to be. See yourself as a servant/mentor to the children--a person who will help them to achieve that which they desire, and a person who will lead them in positive life-enriching ways. 

Model the behaviors you want children to use

First, we have to think about how we want children to behave--what do we expect from them, and then we have to assess our own behavior to ensure that we are modeling those behaviors. That's not always easy to do, and as an educator some of those desired behaviors came easily to me and others were more difficult. For the most part, we hope children will act in the following ways:

  • Be courteous to one another by using respectful language, gestures and actions
  • Solve conflict with words not force. Take the first step and try to solve a conflict peacefully on your own, and if that doesn't work, take the second step and seek the help of a teacher. 
  • If you see something dangerous or destructive, seek a teacher's help right away--don't try to solve it yourself.
  • If you are troubled or worried, speak up right away--it is always best to get help rather than let worries and troubles hold you back. 
  • Become the person you are meant to be--discover your interests, pursue your passions, find a friend group that supports you and that you enjoy being with, develop your voice and look for models and  mentors who help you to be that person you are meant to be. 
  • Know your needs - if you're upset, try to figure out why. Are you hungry, uncomfortable, tired, bothered, discouraged. . . . . . .Let a teacher and/or friend help you to figure out what's going on. 
Foster activities and groups that help children learn about themselves in meaningful, enjoyable ways
  • The best way to learn is to engage in meaningful, enjoyable activities
  • Choice empowers children and builds confidence--whenever possible give children a choice about the activities they choose and the groups they work with
  • Infuse social-emotional learning into activities as a way to build a strong cultre and a caring community that develops self awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. 
Deal with behavior issues in calm, focused, positive ways
  • Begin every activity with a group meeting. Briefly set the ground rules, take questions and then begin the activity. 
  • If a problem is dangerous or destructive, intervene right away by peacefully (with words rather than force) separating the children involved and following these steps:
    • If someone is hurt, get help right away
    • Clearly review what happened separately with each person involved
    • Relay the incident to another staff member, preferably a supervisor - keep a record
    • Decide on next steps to ensure safety for all involved
  • Face problems by asking questions. For example if a child is acting in a way that is worrisome, hurtful, or problematic in any way, bring the child to a quiet space and ask these questions:
    • Are you okay?
    • Do you need a few minutes to calm down?
    • I noticed that you _____________, and that's problematic because ___________. Why did you do that?
    • How do you think we should handle this situation (Children almost always know the right answer to this question).
  • You are mandated reporters so if you ever see signs of abuse, by law you must report the situation. This will not happen often, but it may happen so it is important to know this. 
  • Continually assess the success of activities and revise as needed. These questions will help you to assess programming success:
    • Are the children happy?
    • Are the children learning something new--what evidence of this do you have?
    • Are the children working/learning/playing well together?
    • Is everyone getting a turn?
    • Does the activity foster social emotional learning? How do you know that?
    • Are children able to relay what they've learned and participated in with family members, and perhaps continue the activity/learning at home?
    • Do children have a say in how the activity is led, run, created?
    • Are their leadership opportunities for children?
    • Does the activity help children to know themselves better and discover their interests and passions?
    • Do the activities help children to develop greater self confidence?
When problems don't go away

Sometimes children will have a bad day, and sometimes children will display a series of behaviors that point to a bigger issue, the kind of issue that requires greater support from the program administrators, parents and others.
  • Keep a simple log of the issues children present
  • When an issue won't go away, seek the support of the program administrator
  • Use the protocol outlined in the program for dealing with significant issues
  • Put an action plan into place to positively support the child as they endure this situation.
Inclusivity and Respect

Don't allow any kind of language or action that demeans or excludes children or families for any reason. Keep an ear open and eye out for any kind of bigotry that makes a child feel uncomfortable or excluded because of their body size, skin shade, religion, economic class, culture, family style or more. Language and actions that exclude do not belong in any kind of child care setting. If a colleague or child errs by using this kind of language or action, speak up right away to help them do the right thing. If that persists, seek help from the program administrator. Typically prejudice of any kind is rooted in ignorance, and dispelling that ignorance leads to greater camaraderie and respect.

Holidays and Special Celebrations

Every youth program deals with holidays and special celebrations in different ways. I always preferred a child/family-centered, inclusive approach that helps children to feel proud of their personal/cultural/religious celebrations by having the chance to share those celebrations with one another. This can happen by letting children share a tradition, activity, story, and experiences that relate to their special holidays and celebrations. By allowing children to talk about and share these events, you build a more respectful, knowing, inclusive culture that includes many varied religious, cultural and personal traditions and celebrations. Typically, if you do include holidays in your programming, it is good to have similar holiday and non-holiday choices. For example, you could have Creature Day--a day when children have the choice to make all kinds of creative creatures during the holidays. Some will choose creatures that relate to the holidays and others will choose different kinds of creatures. 

Working with Families

Families know their children well, and when a family has a concern, entertain that concern with the utmost respect and a spirit of family-program collaboration and teamwork. When families and educators work together, the child has the greatest opportunity for success. Usually a family's concern can be easily met via collective home-school efforts to make all programming child-centered and sensitive. If a family-educator conflict arises that cannot be easily solved, then it is time to consult the program administrators.

In summary, before- and after-school programs are ideal environments for child engagement and the development of social emotional learning. Without the tight curriculum parameters of the school day, there is lots of room for creativity, collaboration and care. Utilizing child-friendly protocols and policies to lead these programs helps every child to engage and develop in positive ways. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Reading today is not a simple affair

 When I read nonfiction books today, it's not a simple affair. I find myself reading with my laptop next to me. As I read, I find myself looking up places on a map, videos of the places/events/people listed, and articles about the events detailed. I do this because I want to fully imagine where the story takes place--I want to better walk in the author's shoes. This makes the reading a complex, but rewarding affair. Right now I'm entering the experience of Caroline Kautsire. I love this chance to walk in Caroline's shoes and look at the world through her experiences. Just at the start of the book, I am already moved by her family relationships, the descriptions of Malawi, the music she listened to as a child, the influence of American television, and her curious spirit. As with any story I learn from and enjoy, this story will change my life in some positive ways. Onward. 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Letter to a new teacher

 Dear New Teacher, 

First of all, thank you for your choice to teach. The world needs awesome teachers. I truly believe that teachers are nation builders and people builders. You have the great potential to make people's lives better and make our world better too. We need you. I applaud you. 

Next, you have chosen a BIG, limitless job, and looking back at my 34-year career as an elementary school teacher, I have some suggestions you may want to consider. These suggestions come from my experience both positive and challenging as well as advice I got from dedicated colleagues who worked with me. I hope this helps you a lot. 

Teaching is a limitless proposition, so choose your priorities

The teaching stage is a limitless proposition which means that what you can do has no end. This can be overwhelming which means you have to choose your priorities. Make the time to think deeply about your position and choose your top three priorities for the year ahead. For example, a new teacher may decide that her top three priorities are to make a good connection with the students, teach reading well, and take one related professional development course to build her repertoire for teaching reading. No teacher is superhuman or can do it all, but by prioritizing and focusing your time on your priorities you will begin to build a solid, overall professional foundation. Also, it is important to match your priorities with the overarching themes and goals of your school and system leadership--to do this is a win-win because you are reaching your goals while helping the greater school team reach their goals too. 

A little for today and a little for tomorrow

"A little for today and a little for tomorrow" was my dad's sage advice to me which meant spend time doing the job in front of you while also building your skills, knowledge, and capacity for the years ahead. That's why professional learning via books, conferences, courses and more is so important. Plus that professional learning or "little for tomorrow" invigorates your daily teaching with new ideas that will engage you and your students with meaningful learning endeavor. 

Understand the context in which you work, and make decisions about your work habits based on that

Too often, I didn't give myself time to truly observe and think about the context I was working in, and that was a mistake. For example, I worked in a tightly knit, populated environment filled with good, hard working people. I wanted to be friends with all of them, but honestly, that was impossible given the scheduled time-on-task, work expectations, and my personal commitments. To be friends with all your colleagues in an unrealistic expectation. Instead, I recommend keeping most of your friendships outside of the work environment--save your personal life and endeavor, for the most part, for your own time. That gives you something to look forward to and prevents you from being "all school" which can be dangerous and make you dull. You will make some good friends in your school, and rather than trying to befriend everyone, nurture the few good relationships you have. Professionally make sure you nurture the professional relationships with your closest teammates--those you work with everyday to serve the needs of the children. Those professional relationships are critical to doing the work necessary. 

At first, take time to listen to the conversations, observe your colleagues, and get a feel for the climate of the work place. Avoid negative, unprofessional cliques and conversations. It is easy to be drawn into that culture, but not positive. Don't overcommit or over-promise--school life as one writer defined is like a little city, complex and difficult to navigate--make decisions about how you will simplify that to ensure success. 

Be professional

At times, schools can lose the professionalism that is so important. At all times be professional, and always remember that those you work with will be writing the references for your next job. If you are in doubt about what is professional, do some research and consult experts preferably outside of your school environment to understand that. 

Work for positive change

There is limitless opportunity for positively changing, updating and developing the school environment in a beneficial way. It is good to work for change, but you have to be savvy about how you work for change. I started my career awkwardly and unsuccessfully trying to change the entire environment all at once. That doesn't work. Instead prioritize one or two areas for change, find colleagues who also support that change, and join or create a team to work for that change. Use good change and development strategies such as doing your research, finding support for the change outside and inside the school environment, making an evidenced-based case to administration, trying out the change, collecting data on the success rate, and sharing that data with decision makers. Too often I tried to make change without the needed steps of good strategy and team. Later in my career, I was able to do that better. 

Join the union and know your union

Teacher's unions have a lot to offer teachers by way of professional development and support. Join the union, know the union, and take advantage of what they have to offer. I did this late in my career, but profited greatly from the union's benefits and professional learning. I wish I did this earlier. 

Develop your professional reputation and work

It is important to continually develop your professional reputation and work. The more you know and better you get, the more satisfying the job is and the greater impact you have on your students and their families. It's best to match your professional growth with salary increment steps so that while you gain expertise, you also increase your salary and benefits. Study the salary structure and contracts in your system so you can make this work for you. Additionally, if you truly want to make change in schools, work your way up to an administrative position. Currently the expectations for classroom educators make it difficult for those educators to have the time or capacity to make significant change while administrators typically have greater time and capacity for that work. 

Plan for the future

Early on in your career, put some of your salary in a retirement account and make sure that your paycheck and other benefits are working the way they should be. As a young teacher, you have all the energy and time in the world, but later on, if you have a family and as you age, your energy and time will be more taxed and it will be important to have a good retirement account and substantial benefits. Take some time out to understand this and begin planning for your future. You won't regret that. 

Use a servant leadership focus

Once I learned about servant leadership and took on the focus of serving my students and their families, my relationships with students and families as well as my teaching work improved substantially. Working as a team with colleagues, families, and students is the best way to teach well. Initially as a young woman, I was flustered when families challenged my decisions and work. Later, I learned to listen well and work better as a teammate with families. I understood that they loved and knew their children well. This collaboration greatly enriched my ability to serve children and their families. 

Teach the child first, not the subject

When you teach, teach the whole child with a focus on their happy, successful future. Teach children how to learn, make the projects meaningful and personal, and never lose focus on the fact that confident, skilled, positive students who believe in their ability to create good futures for themselves and those they love is the number one aim of teaching.

Make time for yourself

All school and no play makes a teacher dull and frustrated. Carve out a good teaching/learning routine for yourself and your students that includes time for meaning and fun in your life. I always put my family first as an educator and I never regretted that decision. I also carved out time for fun during most weekends. Like most teachers, I sometimes worked too-long hours making myself tired and less effective, and as mentioned before, I should have prioritized more because no teacher is superhuman and when you try to do too much, you often fall short with the most important priorities. 

Smile at the children

When in doubt, smile. Smiles are magic in a classroom. 

When frustrated, take time out

Teaching can be very frustrating. When you are frustrated, take time out rather than yelling or doing something you regret. You can always ask someone to cover your classroom, while you take a break in the restroom. 

Take care of your health

Many teachers are not as healthy as they can be. This, I believe, is due to many factors. Many teachers are teachers because schools are where they were nurtured and cared for, and they want to do the same for students. Those kinds of teachers often grew up in situations that were less positive for their health and may bring to the profession some challenging issues and unhealthy practices. Teachers like that should seek counseling to deal with personal issues and health challenges as that will require new learning and dedicated support. 

Other teachers simply work too hard at the job leaving little time for their own healthy eating, sleeping and activity. Those teachers have to realistically look at their schedule and expectations, and make time for healthy living. Teachers, in general, have to work together to lobby for more realistic and healthy teaching schedules and environments. Too often schools are unhealthy places to work and this has to change. 

Teaching is a BIG job and a very important job for society. I wish every new teacher a great year ahead. I hope these suggestions help you to teach with happiness and success. 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Who has a hold on you?

 Who has a hold on you, and why do they have this hold? Is the hold life-enriching or life-defeating? If enriching, how do you show gratitude and strengthen this hold, and if life-defeating, how do you diffuse or rid yourself of that hold? 

When people step on your dreams

 People will step on your dreams, and when they do that, you have to consider if there is any truth or wisdom in this oppression. Typically there are nuggets of truth, but there is also likely a lot of garbage too. 

When people step on your dreams, you have to revisit the dream and find the value in it--you have to reach deep inside yourself to gain the energy needed to continue your quest (that is if you really believe in that dream.)

Too often we may step on each other's dreams. Why do we do that? What propels us in that direction? How can we stop this dream-ending, dream-squashing behavior? What can we do instead.

Which brings to mind this very special poem by Langston Hughes. 

Turning another corner: navigating challenge

 After grappling with a trying situation all summer, I finally found a probable path of peace. I was ready to give up, then a series of events led to a new solution, and that solution seems to be working. The success of the solution is apparent by my general sense of peace and the fact that the situation particulars are running their course without any grave worry or concern. 

Could I have reached this resolve earlier?

Honestly, I spent the summer searching for a solution. I tried out many different approaches that failed miserably. This is not the first time this has happened. In my earlier years, there was a similar situation--I tried and tried and tried to make a difference, and perhaps I did have some subtle impact, but the overall situation turned out to be beyond what I could do to significantly change what was occurring. And in the next situation, it was much the same. All three of the situations had these similar elements:

  • A personal vision for something better, brighter
  • Lack of collaboration or team related to my vision and the problem at hand
  • Employing many various strategies with little success
  • Feeling the heavy weight of the problem day in and day out
  • Eventually divorcing myself from the situation and moving on
If I look at the situations from the outside, I notice that the situations are very complex and essentially webs of people, places, and events--these were not simple problems, and when I finally left the situation, I was sad that I didn't achieve greater success, but I was not unhappy overall with my attempts to make change. I would have been far more disappointed if I didn't try at all. 

Contrary to these situations, over the summer, I also tackled another problem area of life and have thus far achieved a fair amount of success in that arena. Why the difference? First, I had more control of this situation. In some ways this issue was singular rather than plural. While this situation included a similar amount of problem solving, consistency, and trial-and-error, I enjoyed far more teamwork and collaboration than in the other situation. In many ways people were working for and with me in this situation whereas in the other situations it seemed like people were working against me. The overarching philosophy related to the success situation was shared by all involved whereas in the other situations, there were multiple philosophies at play--there was not concensus. 

Perhaps there will be less frustration for future issues, if I determine whether there is a collaborative team ready and willing to work on the issue up front, and also acknowledge where the team agrees and where the team disagrees. It's also good to understand who is in charge of the situation--your position in the situation does make a difference. 

I am happy to turn the corner from the summer's struggle. I am far more relaxed. Still ready to do my part, I've surrendered with regard to my hopes for teamwork and collaboration. And, as for the successful summer goal, I'll stay the course and continue to think about the factors that have made that road positive, peaceful, and productive as I'd like to apply those factors to future pursuits. Onward. 

Grateful for good people

 Think of all the people who have touched your life in significant, positive ways. The number of positive people I've encountered over time far outnumbers the negative encounters, and many of those positive encounters included people who did not have to go the extra mile to support me, but they did. Who were/are those people and what did they do?

  • Parents - so much love, sacrifice, time, energy
  • Siblings - countless gifts of love and support over the years
  • Partner, cousins, children, friends - endless attention, care
  • Colleagues, neighbors - multiple acts of kindness, care
  • Public servants, teachers - a steady stream of service and care over the years
  • Strangers - often there at the just right moment to help out with acts great and small
We often don't spend time discussing the good, because there is typically far more good than bad in our lives. The bad is the abberation, the illness, the problem, the focus for change. 

Those that are nearest and dearest to us bring the good, but also can bring the bad--the more intimate our relationships the more room there is for a range of experiences, emotions, and impact. None of us are always as good as we want to be and none of us always have what another person needs. 

I am grateful for all the good people I've encountered in life and the many, many ways they have impacted my life for the better. I hope that I can repay their acts by doing my best by others too. Onward. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Cultivate a best possible lifestyle

 How can you cultivate a best possible lifestyle? Assessing how you spend your time, the goals you have, and the challenges your face can help you move in that direction. 

What will you add? What will you take away? How will you transform the weak and inefficient ways with meaningful, beneficial lifeways?

Math that matters

 At the start of the school year, the first goal is to create a dynamic classroom community of students that support and know each other. One way to do that is to teach math lessons that matter--lessons that help students to know themselves and each other. 

One such lesson involves teaching students how to collect data that gives them a meaningful perspective about their lives and helps them to know each other too. 

First, ask students to privately answer the following questions:

  • What activities are most meaningful to you in life?
  • What activities do you spend the most time doing?
Then help students create an online or offline chart of the days in a week and the hours in a day. 

Next, ask students to complete the chart by stopping each hour to write down what they are doing during that hour.

At the end of the week, have students add up the time they spent on each activity, then make a bar graph of that data. Arrange the bar graphs from activities that they spent the most time on down to the activities they spent the least time on. 

Once that's complete, have students analyze the data with these questions:

  • What three activities did you spend the most time on?
  • What three activities did you spend the least time on?
  • Does your data support your initial answer to the question, What activities do you spend the most time doing? Why or why not is this true?
  • Do you believe you spend enough time on activities that are meaningful to you? 
  • Why or why not? Will the data you collected and analyze lead to change in the way you spend your time? Why or why not? 
  • Some people say, "You are what you do." Do you think this quote accurately reflects you? Why or why not?
Stay sensitive to students' privacy and engage in a conversation about the metrics collected and follow-up analysis. Discuss how good data collection can sometimes reveal a reality that we might not predict since so many of our beliefs are subject to our emotions, experiences, and memory. 

A good follow-up discussion or activity is to have students identify a goal they have, and then chart out their time/activity path to achieving that goal. 

Prior to doing this activity, you should try it yourself as it will help you to use your time better and teach the lesson better too. Onward.