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Emotions in action

My central goal here is to create dialog about how our emotions and our brains work together.  A critical aspect of that conversation is distinguishing between our feelings and the things they make us do.  When we are sad we may cry.  When we are angry, stomp off.  Most kids can separate these emotions from their subsequent actions.  However, when the actions are words or thoughts, the distinction gets fuzzier.

To shed light on these grey areas, I’m going to spend a few posts focusing on what psychology calls attribution.  Attribution is part of our brains’ ongoing effort to make sense of the world so it can better protect us.  It’s helpful for teaching cause and effect (think: hot stove = burn = danger).

The brain’s most primitive region, the brainstem, sits at the base of our neck.  It’s nicknamed the reptilian brain because it’s so basic, reptiles have practically the same one!

The upside is that it’s fine-tuned to protect us and keep us alive.  The downside is that, like a reptile, it’s not great at higher order reasoning.

In the next post, I’ll discuss why attribution is key to survival.



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Understanding each other’s emotions

By the time children are school-aged they begin developing the skill required to read nonverbal cues about the emotions of the people around them. They begin sensing how changes in facial expression and body language speak to changes in disposition. Their ability to do this comes from their experiences with others and, ultimately, their awareness of themselves.

Today I’m recommending that we give students the opportunity to practice these skills. Let’s make their thinking visible.

Start this conversation today: How would you know if a classmate was unhappy and needed help?

As the conversation evolves students will begin using “I” statements. Ex: “When I am upset, I…” This awareness is crucial to their development of sense of self and how it influences their sense of others.

Because of developmental changes that occur with age, this conversation will naturally evolve depending on the age of your students. The prompt is accessible to all ages.

My hope is that they will gain a greater understanding of themselves and how they act based on their emotions.



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Bring out the good

A friend of mine is involved in volunteer organization. Recently she shared the joy she finds in placing volunteers in roles where they naturally excel. She said that for many their placement is the first time they’ve ever been told, “You’re really good at this,” whether they are organizing pamphlets, wiping down tables or passing out food.

As a teacher of children with special needs, I have had trouble shaking her comment. I praise my students for their growth and their hard work, but how often do I ever stop and recognize that they are good at something already – even if it is something as simple as always smiling at others, making eye contact with the person speaking or arriving on time to school? Not often enough.

I’m spending the next eight weeks taking an EdX course called “The Science of Happiness” which is being taught by UC Berkeley professors. I’ll be sharing what I’m learning.

Only a few minutes into the first video lecture, my friend’s comment was echoed by none other than Confucius. The Confucian philosophy of Jen “brings the good of others to completion and does not bring the bad things of others to completion.” – Confucius.

This week I’ll be seeking the joy in bringing my students into awareness of their innate gifts and talents.



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Mind dump: 3 words

This week’s conversation starter is part conversation part stop-n-jot.

This Monday ask your students to pause and write down 3 words which come to mind immediately.

Ask for volunteers to share words they wrote down.  Share your words.  See if any resonate with words other students wrote down.

This quick activity does many things in a span of a few short minutes:

  1. It sends the message that you care what’s on students’ minds
  2. It makes it okay for minds to be filled with things that aren’t tied to the lesson.  Let them know this is something adults balance regularly, too.
  3. You get quick feedback on where everyone is mentally and emotionally
  4. It’s a mini-vocabulary lesson ripe for discussion on synonyms (ex: one student writes confused while another writes puzzled)
  5. You can assess spelling ability and correct misspellings when you review their answers (more applicable for younger students)

If I did this activity right now my 3 words would be: nap, laundry and grading :)




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