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What is your dream school?

As August nears, many are preparing to head back to school.  Something I’ve done with colleagues which effectively focuses the team and inspires a fresh outlook on the year ahead, is brainstorm what our dream school looks like.  Some focus on the aesthetics of the building, while other dig in and reenvision the curriculum.  By beginning with the dream school in mind, the team can better make decisions about whats most important for the coming school year.

I propose asking kids the same question:

Tell me about your dream school?

This question is ripe for incorporating multiple intelligences.  Consider encouraging students to answer creatively using pictures or video.

The point of starting this conversation is two fold:

  1. To learn about your students’ priorities when it comes to school
  2. To give students the opportunity to practice advocating for what matters to them

For younger kiddos try asking:

What should we learn in school?
What should school look like?

Can’t wait to hear what they come up with!



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Who do you respect?

Becoming emotionally intelligent requires a willingness to share your views on life and an ability to listen when others share theirs.  That’s why these short conversations are so important.  They give kids the chance to practice sharing their feelings, opinions and big ideas in a safe and structured way.  As students practice each week, their comfort will grow alongside their voice.

Last time we discussed respect.  What does it mean?  How do you know if you’re getting (or giving) it?  Now, let’s apply it to people they know and love – their friends.

Start this conversation: What do you respect most about ________?  Or, who’s someone in your class that you have a lot of respect for?

Of course, follow these with the big W:  Why?

Here’s why this question is so important.  We gravitate toward people we respect.  We try to emulate their strengths and live according to their morals.  If kids can grow up developing an awareness of the kind of people they respect and if they know why they respect those qualities, they’ll have an easier time (1) navigating future opportunities, (2) making friends with beliefs they support and (3) accepting the differences of others.

Through respecting others we choose the people we rely on as guideposts.  Let’s help kids identify those guideposts.

For younger kiddos try asking: What do you like about ______? (insert friend’s name)

Remember, the objective isn’t to influence who children respect, it’s to instill in them an awareness of their values as it applies to their relationships.

Let me know what they come up with!



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Emotions vs. Moods

In the new book I’m reading Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become author Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D. reminds readers that emotions are fleeting, temporary experiences.  This triggered me to dig deeper into how emotions are measured.  I found interesting research that explained the distinction between emotions and moods.

Emotions are discrete experiences triggered by an identifiable event which consist of three parts:

  1. A psychopysiological expression (how we react verbally/our thoughts)
  2. A biological reaction (how our body reacts)
  3. A mental state (how we process in light of our emotions)

Moods are less well defined.  They are considered a mental state which can occur without a trigger and can last an indefinite period of time.  If you’ve ever woken up on the wrong side of the bed,  you’ve experienced a “mood“.

Another difference: emotions can occur simultaneously.  Moods, on the other hand, are experienced in sequence.  Typically, we have to conclude experiencing one mood to move into another – consider those days you are just “in a funk”.

So, as educators, what can we do with this information?  First, let’s explain this to our students.  Let’s give them the appropriate vocabulary with which they can explain their experiences.  Then, let’s listen to them.

Once we can all distinguish between a mood and an emotion, we can take better care of one another.  Personally, I feel lighter knowing that emotions are temporary.  No matter how challenging, I know they will pass.

On the other hand, with an understanding of these differences, I can now communicate with my students in a way that sets their expectations.

When I explain that I am in a sad mood, they will know that this (1) has nothing to do with them and (2) might last a while.  Likewise, when they come to me with that explanation, I can tailor my approach to them to support what they are experiencing.

Imagine how these words could change student-to-student interactions!

What do you think?  Have you ever discussed with your students how you are feeling?  How did they respond?




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Define respect.

I heard once that teachers and students are at odds over the same thing.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  Teachers complain most often about a lack of respect.  Likewise, students complain most often about a lack of respect.

It’s funny how something so universally important and desired is so seldom felt.  I believe the issue lies in the diversity of our understanding of respect and not in our willingness to offer respect to one another.  This was confirmed when I polled my students and asked them to define respect.

You guessed it: no two definitions were alike and mine did not match theirs.

My charge to you today is to start this conversation.  Ask your students:

What does respect mean to you?  How do you know if you are being given respect?  What do you do to respect others?

Keeping in mind that the microcosms of classrooms often suffer from a collective feeling that respect is absent, please emphasize the actions behind respect.  Respect is a verb.  How we do respect is just as important as the ways in which we feel respectful.

As part of our larger mission, we want to equip kids with the tools they will need to live happier, more empathetic and resilient lives.

I’m confident that sharing our diversity of opinions about the what and the how of respect will enable our students to better understand one another, to feel more respected and to receive the respect that new people they encounter will offer them into their future.  Because, without an awareness to receive the respectful actions of peers and colleagues, we cannot enter into a respectful relationship with them.

Younger kids can work through this exercise, too.  They will need more supports and models of examples of respect.  This is a great opportunity to reach out to families and incorporate storytelling and tradition sharing.

I hope you’ll share what they come up with!



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