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Emotional Stress

We’ve discussed at length the negative impact stress can have on brain development and learning.  We know how important this work is.

Today, I want to emphasize how ubiquitous chronic stress can be.  Often, I make the mistake of assuming that children who are growing up with instability are the most likely victims of chronic stress.  Not true.  It’s everywhere.  Merely a few paragraphs into a publication by the Institute of HeartMath, and I was reminded that my assumption is wrong.

Their article, Emotional Stress, Positive Emotions and Psychophysiological Coherence, taught me about the symbiotic relationship between stress and emotions.  Stress can’t thrive without emotions.  In fact, they even renamed stress: emotional unease.

The danger here is that experiencing negative emotions – even in the absence of environmental stressors – can lead to chronic stress.  Feelings of insecurity, judgment, and worthlessness can elicit a physiological stress response (think: increased heart rate, difficulty focusing, fight/flight instincts).

Children, specifically adolescents – your tweens & teens – are especially vulnerable to this type of emotional unease.

Their study states that emotional and cognitive centers in the brain work in tandem.  Info flows from emotional to cognitive and cognitive to emotional.  But here’s the kicker: more data flows from emotional to cognitive than from cognitive to emotional.   To put it simply, we can’t outsmart our emotions.  They run our reasoning.

This means that recuperation of individuals dealing with chronic emotional unease must be focused on emotional rehabilitation, not just techniques which harness positive thoughts.

As teachers, we are not trained to provide emotional healing.  But, we can do one of two things:

  1. Outsource for help – call on those incredible social workers on your team
  2. Acknowledge feelings of insecurity and provide positive feedback with encourages and develops confidence.

Oftentimes helping students to understand how and where they succeed can be the crucial stepping stone to the path of emotional recovery.

Hugs,

AK

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Spring break

This conversation starter can be unpacked to unearth quite a few levels.  With spring in the air and spring breaks popping up in school districts across the country, now is a good time to discuss:

How much vacation time should we have?

Be prepared for the answer we are sometimes eager to give: unlimited vacation time!

Empathize and acknowledge, then ask any or all of the various follow-ups:

  • How would you spend all of that time?
  • If time weren’t metered, do you think people would better appreciate the time they spend working/going to school?
  • What would it look like if there weren’t rules about how we spend our time (for example, the dictated length of the school day)?
  • Then a meaty one: do rules help us or hinder us?

The objective is to lead students to examine their own values regarding time.  If there were no limits, how would they spend their time?  If they weren’t required to, would they work/study?

This conversation also invites them to reflect on how they may thrive or feel boxed in by rules and guidelines.  Introspective students may begin to realize that, by following set timelines for either a vacation or the school day, they are able to be more productive than they would be if they were required to motivate themselves.  For others, they will feel the opposite.

Ultimately, these are questions all people examine and need to wrestle with in order to maximize their productivity and their success.

For younger students, this is a great way to kickstart a conversation about how they enjoy spending their time.  Do they love the outdoors?  Their books? Or time with family?

Let me know what they come up with!

Hugs,

-AK

 

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Providing a framework

This article, which was published yesterday, provided another sober reminder of the global demand for social and emotional learning in the classroom.  The author opens with her experience working with students on a Native American reservation, which resonated with my experience working as a teacher on a reservation.  Then, she provides similar experience from a colleague teaching in China.  Violence and emotional trauma abounds worldwide.

As teachers, the more we learn about our students the more appreciation we have for their reliance on us, the adults, to provide a framework for dealing with everything that’s going on in their lives.  Sometimes they merely need a sounding board.  Other times they need to be referred to a professional.

The Eight Hugs Curriculum can in no way substitute for sound, professional mental health help.  Nevertheless, we cannot enter our classrooms without acknowledging the life happening outside their walls.  Emotional intelligence cannot be divorced from academic intelligence.  By starting the conversation, we, as teachers, are saying:

Your feelings are valid and navigating them is difficult but integral to life success.

Don’t be surprised if that is the first time they’ve heard that message.

Surely, we are not trained to provide counseling support.  Instead, I hope that through the lessons on neuroscience we can provide a context for the busyness of their hearts and their brains which will encourage self-exploration instead of self-loathing.

Hugs,

-AK

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A quick trick to promote fluency

In order to truly incorporate a new word into your vocabulary, you must encounter it twenty times.  And, not just any twenty, twenty iterations in context.  To fluently use a word you must witness it used fluently.  (No, flash cards won’t help!)

Many vocabulary terms students will have come from historical references or literature.  These are great sources because they provide the first encounter with the word in context.  However, it can be very difficult to provide a subsequent 19 exposures to the word in context.  A few years ago I shadowed a teacher who had figured out a brilliant solution.

This teacher had provided her English class with a list of vocabulary terms which were sourced from the text they were reading.  From there, she did something different.
She offered students two bonus points for using the words during class discussions.  An unaware bystander, I realized this only after hearing a student comment in class.  When she casually slipped a vocabulary term into her answer, her classmates raised two fingers.  This was the signal that she had earned her two points.  Her classmates were excited for her.

This quick trick is brilliant for a few reasons:

  1. It encourages students to use new words in context.
  2. It encourages classmates to listen for new words used in context by their classmates, which provides them a chance to get closer to 20 exposures.
  3. It is an alternate assessment strategy for students who may struggle with traditional vocabulary testing.
  4. It’s fun.

In our case, it gets even better.  Using vocabulary terms that describe how we feel makes us vulnerable.  By providing incentive for the use of these words – by offering points for their usage – teachers can take a little of that vulnerability away.

Hugs,

– AK

 

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