What are You Carrying in Your Invisible Backpack

Have you ever stood outside a busy school and noticed all the bags and backpacks carried by students and teachers? The small backpack with a cute design on the front. Or the large over-the-shoulder backpack that could store everything, plus the kitchen sink!  

We all have invisible backpacks that we carry with us to school or the workplace every day. Sometimes that inviable backpack is light; we have everything we need to feel safe and to go through our day. Then there are days when the invisible backpack is incredibly heavy, maybe even overwhelming.

An invisible backpack can be filled with,

  • Caring for an elderly family member
  • Someone being sick
  • Grief over a loss of a loved one
  • Concern for a family member with mental health issues
  • Paying bills
  • Losing a job
  • Not knowing where the next meal is coming from
  • The high expectations at work

Even positive activities can add to the weight of the invisible backpack, attending activities outside the work day and the tough decisions that need to be made, like what to make for supper. This backpack can be a heavy load carried daily by the people at your work.

Some days people come well-adjusted and well-prepared to take on the day; other days, not so much.

  • What might your colleagues be carrying in their invisible backpacks?
  • What might you be carrying in your invisible backpacks?

“Consider that everyone is doing the best they can.

Based on their knowledge, skills, and experiences,

they are making the best choices available to them. 

Including you.”

Elana Aguilar. Onward

I have worked in several different school districts as a teacher. I had colleagues come to me and complain about another staff member that they perceived was not doing enough in the classroom, not being on committees, or leaving right at the end of contract time. I have also been that teacher to complain about others on staff. Little did I know what that person was carrying in their invisible backpack and how hurtful those assumptions can be on the workplace culture. In the workplace, there must be a balance of grace and compassion with work expectations.

Grace, compassion, and setting expectations for yourself and others are subjects that I have covered in the past. Grace to let go of my closely held expectations and simple acts of compassion can create a connection with others.

Grace can show up in your workplace by extending forgiveness to a colleague, overlooking an off-hand comment, or giving someone another chance. 

Compassion involves not simply observing and feeling for the person in suffering but taking action to alleviate a person’s suffering. Compassion is different than empathy which is putting yourself in another’s shoes, and sympathy or pity creates an emotional distance between you and the other person. Compassion starts with listening with an open heart. Also, compassion for others begins with self-compassion, extending kindness to yourself, and refraining from the self-critical unforgiving voice in your head. 

Expectations sometimes need to be lowered for us to have the strength and energy to make changes.

When you hold a space filled with grace, compassion, and lower expectations, you aren’t advocating for making excuses but for understanding ourselves and our co-workers.

You can increase your compassion and grace with co-workers by telling and listening to another’s story. Start a staff meeting or conversation with one of the sentence starters below and listen closely to the answers you hear. 

  • A positive experience I had with a co-worker was …
  • A teacher that positively impacted me was ….
  • Three things I’d like you to know about me are …

Bring grace and compassion into your workplace by recognizing the load some people are carrying and knowing they are doing their best at the moment, just like you.

Sources:

Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh

Introduction to Trauma Informed Education workbook by Dr. Jessica Doering

Change is Necessary

Fall is always full of changes with the new school year starting and the leaves turning from a bright green to a golden brown, yellow or red. Change can be seen in nature, and I can feel it within me.

One of the biggest changes is that our house is so quiet after years of school kid-related activities that seemed to go non-stop. My life has completely changed, and the school-related notifications for activities have abruptly stopped. Last September, three of our four children lived at home. Now none! It’s a bit disconcerting to have a house where I can hear the squeaks and groans very clearly, both of the house and my body.

The other huge change I made over the summer was to let go of a 17-year relationship. No, not my marriage. That has lasted longer than 17 years. I am referring to my part-time work with a non-profit organization I have worked with for many years. It was an amicable break and a much-needed one. I found myself putting more time into the programming for the non-profit than into programming for Wildewood Learning. The non-profit and I do similar work; however, I felt it was time to move on and work with organizations on my own. 

It’s hard to leave a work environment when you like the people and the work, yet in my heart, I knew that I needed to leave. The director and I parted ways through a short friendly email and an invitation to dinner sometime soon.

When I said “no” to working for the non-profit, I developed a space for myself to say “yes” to other opportunities that fit my values. I was on the lookout for invitations to gatherings of other like-minded folks. One of the gatherings I was invited to was a four-day train-the-trainer event in southwestern Wisconsin. This opportunity was to become a Sources of Strength provisional trainer. (Do you want to see me in action at the training? Watch the top video here.)

The vision of Sources of Strength is to empower a well world. How? Through training high school adult advisors, community members, and youth peer leaders to use their voices as agents of change and connectors to help. Sources of Strengths is a recognized suicide prevention program; however, suicide attempts are outcomes of a larger issue. Most suicide attempts are linked to substance use, bullying, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. 

What would happen if we flipped the sad, shock, and trauma script into a message of hope, help, and strength?

I have read many books and attended many webinars about adverse childhood experiences, trauma-informed strategies, and mental health issues. When the webinar or book ended, I was looking for some tangible program or action I could take to implement protective factors in my community. I was looking for a program like Sources of Strength.

The goal of Wildewood Learning is to create trauma-sensitive strength-based schools and organizations. It’s important to know about the effects of trauma and build best practices that acknowledge and support youth who have experienced trauma. It’s equally important to have strategies that acknowledge and supports resilience and strengths within ourselves and others.

Change is not just good; it’s necessary. Creating space to say “yes” has led me to places I feel I am called to serve, a quiet grounding that I need, and knowing that it’s okay to let go of relationships. Saying “no” allowed me to take action and move forward to create my own story of hope, help, and strength. 

Take Action Now:

  • To find out more about Sources of Strength, click here.
  • Set up a short chat with Kathy about bringing Sources of Strength to your school or organization; click here.

My Montana Experience

My young adult son was in middle school and had a challenging time. Instead of talking to me about what was happening in school, he became quiet, anxious, and withdrawn. Being bullied led him to lash out at others, and his reaction made him spend time in detention.  

I attended a 3 hour ACEs presentation for work during this same time. As I sat and listened to the presenter talk about the long-term effects of traumatic childhood experiences on health, it all clicked with how my son was reacting at school. He and his three siblings all had various degrees of trauma. At that moment, I felt relief, awareness, and sadness. I also felt like my children’s future was doomed. I thought,” This can’t be it! I had to find out more!”

My drive to learn more brought me to become a certified ACEs presenter. I created a video about “Why You Need to Know About Adverse Childhood Experiences” and gave workshops for educators and parents. I still wasn’t satisfied with how the ACEs story ended. I needed to know more. There needed to be more hope for my children and others. 

I have found it! 

The big skies of Montana were looming over me as I attended the Montana Summer Insitute at the end of June. The Montana Institute, directed by Jeff Linkenbach, works with community coalitions, schools, and organizations to develop positive community norms.

The Montana Institute was a conference focused on the positive! After the week-long conference at Big Sky Resort, I walked away feeling recharged to go out and make a change in my community!

Here are my biggest takeaways from the conference: 

  • YES! We now have the research that Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) mitigate Adverse Childhood experiences (ACEs). This one was a no-brainer to me; however, the research presented at the conference backed up the hypothesis.
  • The 7 PCEs researched are NOT big trips with your family or being in a bunch of extracurricular activities. The experiences are relationship-based with family, friends, and other adults in the community and are free!
  • Most of us have one or more of the seven experiences in our childhood. When you have these experiences, there is an increased correlation between health outcomes and PCEs.

Every weekday, I receive a fantastic resource in my email called the PACE CONNECTION. This resource highlights the work done to bring Positive and Adverse Childhood Experiences to all aspects of life. Health, education, social justice, the justice system, and policy-making are just a few topics on this social networking site. 

Looking for what is right with a person, the positive aspects and relationships can have a huge and long-lasting impact on another person’s life. When I first joined the online resource, the networking community was called the ACE Connection. With the science of Positive Childhood Experience, the P=Positive was added to the name. The research of identifying the seven experiences has influenced the network of communities interested in the research to change its name from the ACE Connection to the PACE Connection (Positive and Adverse Childhood Experiences).

What is the positive message you are passing on to others?

Recently read an article focused on a story about a teen who places encouraging messages on sticky notes for others around his school. 

I loved the idea of placing positive messages in obscure places. What would happen if you checked out a library book, and on page 107, there was an uplifting message. Or you went to the park; there was a positive note on the bench. 

You can use technology to make someone’s day. I challenge you to take out your phone or open your email. Send a positive message or email to someone right now. It just takes a minute; however, it can have a huge impact!! 

My attitude from attending my first ACEs presentation has come a long way. I am searching for more resources and research to help establish the protective factors to mitigate ACEs. The fact to keep in mind is that ACEs are preventable. We can all work on preventing ACEs and expanding opportunities for our families, schools, and communities for Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs). 

My experience at the Montana Institute validates my work in cultivating trauma-sensitive strength-based schools and organizations plus, it was fantastic to be in a conference room full of people looking for the positive! My Montana experience was a great way to kick off my summer learning.

Trauma-Sensitive Strength-Based Resources for Teachers

Do you have teacher envy? 

Do you look over into the other classroom, and as you walk by, you see a teacher smiling, students gathering around desks working together, and creating fantastic projects in their classroom. Do you think, how can they do all of this? What do they have that I don’t have?

Great teachers have self-awareness of what works for them as a teacher and what doesn’t. They know what comes easy for them and can manage the challenges. Great teachers know their strengths!

I taught for over ten years in a middle and high school science classroom. In my first couple of years of teaching, I would watch veteran teachers and believe that I had to teach just the same way. I often would learn new tools to add to my toolbox of strategies. However, when a method that I tried repeatedly didn’t work with students, I felt awkward and very uncomfortable in front of the class. I am sure the students could feel that too! I now see that I wasn’t teaching in a way that fit my strengths.

What has helped good teachers become great is being aware of their strengths. When they know their strengths, teachers can see their students’ strengths to build a classroom that honors diversity.

Two resources to help you create classrooms that develop strengths and honor diversity

Teaching to Strengths, Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence, and Chronic Stress by Debbie Zacarian, Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz, and Judie Haynes

Classroom educators have the job of being one of the leading influencers on how a child views themselves and develop their unique set of assets and strengths. Teach to Strengths is written by three English Language Learner (ELL) instructors that approach the instruction of a diverse group of learners from a trauma-sensitive strength-based approach. As stated in the book’s introduction, the fastest-growing segment of U.S. school students is English learners, many of whom have experienced trauma, violence, and stress in very distinct ways. These learners come to the classroom with many unacknowledged strengths and resilience. The authors use case studies and many examples to help educators develop the strategies and skills for creating a strength-based inclusive classroom that capitalizes on the asset of the learner. 

This book offers ways to bring strength-based approaches into the classroom, families, schools, and community. A strength-based approach to supporting students with trauma, such as EL learners, can be a way to help educators to see their strengths and values that helped them through adversity and build resilience. When classroom teachers can recognize students, who have suffered adverse situations, they have strengths that have helped them create resilience. We need to acknowledge that the flip side to trauma is resilience.

The teacher-student relationship is one of the most significant influences on student engagement and achievement. As stated in Teaching to Strengths, “the power of our influence in our interactions with students and the methods we use have a great deal of significance in student outcomes.”

The first step is to identify your strengths and values as a classroom teacher. “Our strengths, our assets, and our capacities to support our own well-being and that of others are based on our own uniqueness.” 

If you are not familiar with your strengths, I would like to suggest the following books as excellent resources.

Teach With Your Strengths, How Great Teachers Inspire Their Students by Rosanne Liesveld and Jo Ann Miller with Jennifer Robison

Teach With Your Strengths is specifically written for the classroom teacher to know and develop their unique strengths. Teach With Your Strengths uses the Clifton StrengthFinder assessment to help teachers acknowledge their strengths and relate them to teaching strategies that can best help them be better teachers. 

The book starts with what makes a great teacher. “Great teachers’ methods and intuitions are different. They don’t operate like other teachers, and they don’t believe everything they are taught or told.” In other words, great teachers know their strengths and weaknesses. They have developed their strengths to create successful relationships with their students. They have also developed successful systems to manage their weaknesses. 

The first step in your journey is being aware of your strengths. The book comes with a code to the Clifton StrengthFinder so teachers can start by identifying their top five strengths. If you would like to know all 34 of your strengths in order, you can go to the website and pay a fee to access all 34 strengths and many resources to help you go deeper into each strength. Teach With Your Strengths ends the book with supporting teachers. The rest of the journey is learning to own and apply them in your professional and personal life. 

Self-awareness has been a huge part of my journey as a lifelong learner. I have used the process of identifying, developing, and applying my strengths and value to become a better speaker, trainer, and coach. If you would like more support in identifying and using your strengths in your classroom, book a call with me, and we can talk further.

Four-Step Strategy for Challenging Behaviors

I want to introduce you to one of my closest friends, Kim Hruba. Kim is an author, book coach, speaker, and mom to five children. She often writes about her family’s adventures on her weekly blog published Saturdays on the Wannaskan Almanac site. 

She recently posted a blog that so fantastically illustrates the 4 C’s – Create Your Calm, Co-regulate, Connect and Change, that I immediately asked if I could share it with the Wildewood Learning readers. In her post, she shows how to use the 4 C’s when her daughter felt anxious and nervous about the upcoming piano festival. 

I created a video explaining the 4 C’s for this month’s post and sharing Kim’s post to demonstrate how the 4 C’s would work in real life. I would suggest you watch the video and then read Kim’s post to see if you can identify the 4 C’s in action.  

After learning about the strategy and reading about how a parent used the process, I would love to know about your 4 C’s experience.

You can find Kim’s blog post on the Wannaskan Almanac HERE. Plus find out more about what Kim does at her business website Redshoes Writing Solutions.

If you want to know more about the upcoming classes in 2022 for Strength-Based Resilience, click here!

Three Reasons to Find Your Resilience Support Team

This time of the year is for traditions, celebrations, and community. It’s also a time for rest, darkness, and solitude. In some ways, this time of the year is a paradox for me. How can I be both happy and sad at the same time? Can I be in the dark area of my soul and then see the light?

As I have aged, I believe that I have felt this paradox more strongly than ever. I see both sides of the story. I want to be with family and friends, yet at times I just want to sit on my bed by myself. The paradox is confusing. Life isn’t as cut and dried as we sometimes think it needs to be.

I want you to know that if you feel the push and the pull of the season, that is perfect. You are feeling, aware, and knowing that most people’s lives are not like the family photo on the Facebook page. 

I work with a small school that I am lucky enough to support with staff professional development working on resilience skills. The resource we use is a book written by Elena Aguilar, Onward Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators. It is a wonderful resource, and I have used it for the past two years. 

I was first privileged to be part of a small group that read several chapters in the book; there are twelve for each month. However, we had started the book later in the year. Now I am part of an online book club that is reading and discussing the book, plus I am co-facilitating a local book study group of educators and community members at school. 

There are three needs that I am currently seeing addressed through both groups:

  1. The need for community and support. We need to know that we are in this together. The feelings coming up, especially this time of the year, can be confusing. Knowing I am not alone in that feeling makes it okay. Giving voice to what you feel is a path to self-awareness and self-management.
  1. Learning skills that can be used to build our own resilience. Onward and many other resources are full of skills to develop our resilience. Knowing and implementing those skills can be a way for adults in the school or organization to regulate their nervous system (calm brain and body). There are many ways to regulate, and you can pick and choose what will work for you.
  1. Stress relief is huge and needed! One of the ways the groups relieve stress for me is through authentic connection. At the beginning of our sessions, we have a set of norms. We talk about having confidentiality within the group. This norm helps to give people a safe space to be authentic and vulnerable. When we feel safe in a relationship, growth and learning can happen. 

In my last post, I wrote 

“Even when I know better, I don’t do better.” 

We go for the immediate rewards of the short sprint when we really need the consistency of the long haul. Building resilience, emotional intelligence, and ways to relieve stress, plus doing it with the support of a community, is the life preserver that we all need. I hope you find that group of compassionate adults who can support you in 2022. 

Wishing you all the best in 2022!!

If you want to know more about the upcoming classes in 2022 for Strength-Based Resilience, click here!

How Are You Doing?

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Maya Angelou

Even when I know better, I don’t always do better.

How about you?

I know I need to exercise more – however, it’s a struggle to get to the gym or out for a walk.

I know that I need at least 7 hours of sleep to feel my best – yet I stay up watching Netflix.

I know that yelling doesn’t solve any problems – and I find myself yelling at my family.

I know better, but am I doing better?

How about you? 

I believe that many educators thought schools would be back to normal by now. At the beginning of the fall 2021 school year, I heard educators say, 

“2021 has to be better than 2020!”

“We can now get on with fixing the learning loss of the past school year.”

“Let’s just move on from 2020 and put it in the past.”

Many people were hoping for school to be “back to normal,” yet that has not been the case; 2021 has been a challenging year.

When teachers talk about the last 18 months, words such as sadness, blah, and isolation are shared. Many are looking for support in the form of community, conversation, and connection.

Not just teachers are feeling the effects of the pandemic so are all the school support staff. Bus drivers, custodians, kitchen staff, school nurses, social workers, substitute teachers, and paraprofessionals are feeling the stress and exhaustion of the lingering Covid-19 pandemic. Plus, there is a lack of people to fill the numerous open positions in many districts. 

The effects of the pandemic are undermining the mental health of our children. American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry posted a statement in October declaring a national emergency of a mental health crisis among children. 

Behaviors never seen before in school classrooms are cropping up. Intense conflict levels, screen addiction, increase in substance use, disengagement, and lack of motivation are just a few of the behaviors educators have experienced. School leaders ask parents and caregivers, who are also at the end of their rope, to help with their child’s behaviors.

Self-care and mental health has never been so important to school leaders, educators, and support staff as it is now. What is going on now with teachers will not be taken care of by a couple of mental health days during the school year.

Self-care professional development is on the rise for educators, and rightfully so. When the school’s system and culture set self-care as a priority, it can help the staff develop routines for improved well-being. 

I will not share my top 10 tips for self-care or tell you to get a massage or take a bubble bath. However, that does sound good! Self-care, well-being, and mental health practices are a habit that you set for yourself. What might work for one person as self-care might not work for another. 

However, there are a few areas that by setting a routine it can help you make considerable gains in feeling better:

  • Sleep
  • Good nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Fun
  • Connection
  • Nature
  • Setting boundaries

James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, quotes, “In the long run, the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our habits.” He suggests starting with a tiny change. Maybe it’s setting a time of the day to exercise. Every day you exercise at that same time, maybe for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or you just get your shoes on. When you start, the length of time isn’t the goal, and the goal is consistency. You then become a person that doesn’t miss time to exercise, and a habit starts to form.

Many years ago, I set my morning routine to meditate and journal. I do it almost every day, sometimes for 10 minutes, sometimes for an hour. I have now become a person that meditates and journals in the morning, and I rarely miss a day. When I do miss a day, it just doesn’t feel right.

You are a person worthy of self-care, no matter what shape or form it may take for you. As an educator that honors self-care, you can do your work, change kids’ lives, and have time for yourself. Just develop the habit by starting small. Your students, colleagues, and family will thank you for it!