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!

Summer is for Learning

Welcome!

This past week I have been teaching in the summer school program at my local school. Every year in early June, the school district has a week called “Summer Fun at School.” It’s a week where the elementary students can select hour-long classes that are experiential and of interest to them.

 

This week I am teaching three classes, Daring Dudes for boys, Adventure Girls for girls, and Game 6 Feet Apart; all are for 4-6 graders. Today as one of the girls left the classroom, she said over her shoulder, “This is the best class so far!” Score one for the old lady!

 

I like to work with older students; I prefer ages ten and up. I marvel at educators and providers that can take care of the little ones. The way they can interact with and hold their attention is impressive. Learning is so essential at any age. Keeping current and developing new skills is necessary for you, just like it’s vital for the children in your care.

 

This summer, I have teamed up with Becky Schuler of Rebecca Schuler Training and Consulting to offer a four-session series, Self-Management for the Workplace. This series is specifically for early childhood educators and direct care providers. Becky and I have carefully selected topics that address social and emotional learning, communication skills, self-care, and emotional intelligence, all with a focus on you and the children in your care.

 

The summer series will be held virtually on Friday mornings from 10 am-noon, starting on June 25. The following three sessions are on July 9, July 16, and July 23. We will be recording each session, and you will have access to the recording for 30-days following the session. A total of 8 continuing education hours are available for the series.

 

The format of the webinars will be engaging and interactive. No sitting back, taking notes, and drinking coffee, we want to help you integrate your learning in a meaningful way that will impact your life. 

 

We invite you to join us in this new collaboration of two seasoned trainers for this series of interactive webinars. You can click here to see the full details of the “Self-Management” series and register.

 

Be well!

 

Kathy

P.S. Registration is closing on June 22! Click here to register.

Grace

What happens when your expectations are high, but the reality is much lower?

Change!

 

The idea of having a family did not cross my mind until I was in my mid-thirties. My husband and I were not sure we wanted to have children. However, as we both grew older, the idea of having a family became more and more prevalent in our life. We were not able to have biological children and looked at other options for creating a family. We chose adoption through the foster care system. We wanted to adopt two children; we were blessed with four. 

 

In our minds, we had expectations about what our family life would be like: Days filled with joy and happiness, rainbows, and tripping through snowdrifts (it was January in Minnesota when they came to our home). Oh, we knew there would be times where we would struggle. I had read many parenting books about adopting children from hard places. I was prepared! Yeh right! 

 

I am glad my husband and I didn’t realize how little we knew at that time. Our expectations of parenting did not match our reality. Not even close! There have been times of tremendous joy and happiness, countered with times of overwhelm, worry, and struggle. It’s not easy going from 2 to 6 people in a house, literally overnight.

 

I had to let go of the expectations of a perfect family. However, in letting go of those expectations, I gained so much more!

 

Showing myself and others grace

 

Grace can mean courteous goodwill and can be challenging at the best of times. One of the changes I gained was to practice grace. I needed grace for myself before I can have it for others.

 

There have many times I have practiced grace for myself. One such instance was when my son had a minibike accident.

 

“What did you do that for?” is what I blurted out to our 10-year-old son after his mini-bike accident. He was riding his mini-bike in the yard, Racing faster and faster around the lilac bushes. I could see the deep path in the dirt around the bush. He cut a curve to close, and slip went the bike out from under him, slamming into the sharp, newly pruned branches.

 

After I asked my blunt question, he lifted his pant leg and displayed a deep puncture wound in his leg. Tears started to roll down his dirty cheeks. You can imagine the disappointment in myself for not showing empathy when my husband brought him to the hospital for nine stitches. 

 

In this instance, I had to allow a little grace for myself. The words slipped out of my mouth before I even thought through the impact of those words. I have done this more than once, not considering the effect of my words. 

 

Grace to Children

 

Our children came from a hard place. Their early childhood was less than idyllic. In listening to the podcast interview of Oprah and Dr. Bruce Perry by Brene` Brown, the question to ask about a child’s behavior is not “what is wrong with them” but “what has happened to them.” Early childhood trauma can have a lasting effect on a person’s health, behavior, and learning. 

 

When looking at a child’s behavior, ask yourself, what has happened to this child? What is the child’s story, and how can I give them some grace in this past stressful, overwhelming year? The act of grace comes in all forms, saying sorry, smiling at a child that has just made a rude comment, or taking a deep breath (or two) before you consider what to say. 

 

Take the time to give yourself, your family, and others a bit of grace in your life. Interestedly the word grace has increased in use over the 20 years – maybe because we need to show more of it. We all need it.

 

Photo Credit: Image by kalhh from Pixabay

Strength-Based Parenting Book Club

Today is my birthday!! 

I will not tell you how old I am; however, I will say that the ’80s was the best decade of music!

My daughter and mom are planning a surprise mystery afternoon and evening of fun for me. I can hardly wait to see what they have cooked up. Whatever we do, it will be great because I am spending time with people I love.

I like spending time with people and having great conversations around a particular topic. One way I get that need met is through book discussions. Right now, I am in three different book clubs and reading a fiction novel. My friends gave me a gift certificate from a bookstore because, in my opinion, you can’t have too many books! 

My Learner and Input strengths love the process of learning and digging deep into a topic. How about you? Would you like to learn more about your strengths? Would you like to find out how you can bring out the strengths in children? Knowing your strengths can help you to see the strengths within your child or learner. 

My friend  Monica Cochran of Learning Without Borders and I are offering the Strength-Based Parenting Book Club for parents and educators looking to help children find their unique brilliance. We made a short video for you explaining the book club:

 

If you would like more information about how you can join the book club, click here.

I look forward to seeing you at the Strengths-Based Parenting book club starting on April 28 at 7:00 pm CST.

Here is another cool thing about the Strength-Based Parenting book club; the group will be on the Workspace Sky platform. The registration fee includes a free month in Workspace Sky. Find out more about Workspace Sky at https://www.workspaceeducation.org/

 

Whoa, Whoa, Whoa

This past year during the pandemic, I was looking for ways to connect with other people. One of my past instructors was offering an online business class. I decided to join the class to brush up on a few skills and meet other coaches and consultants.  At the first session, there were several other people on the Zoom call. The instructor introduced himself and jumped right into the “how-to” of the topic. 

 

Whoa, whoa, whoa, my brain was saying. I was not concentrating on what the instructor was saying at all. Instead, I looked at the faces (or black box with a name), wondering, Who are these other people? What do they do? Am I safe to share about myself? 

 

In the past few weeks, teachers have welcomed students back to the classrooms. As soon as the students step into the room, many teachers choose to jump right into the subject matter.

Why?

Maybe the instructor feels the pressure of covering X amount of material, and we only have X weeks to go in the school year. Perhaps there is an expectation set by the administration to keep students moving forward. Or it could be all the discussion around learning loss as a pervasive message that learning is just for a short period of life. 

 

Many of the students might be going, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” 

 

The transition back into the classroom and face-to-face instruction doesn’t need to be abrupt when remembering that relationships are currency.

What do I mean?

Our relationships are the currency that we build with the learners. I can remember back to when I had an instructor that I loved. Engaging, funny, and told stories to illustrate a point. I didn’t like the subject; however, I learned to like it more than I did before I took the class because of the teacher’s enthusiasm and connection with the students.

 

Here are several points to think about as students and staff come back to the classroom:

 

  • A safe brain is a learning brain. We (yes, you too) have been under a lot of stress over the past twelve months. Stress can do crazy things to your brain. If the brain is feeling consistent stress, it can’t concentrate on the algebra problem because it’s too busy figuring out if this place or person is safe or not.

 

  • Students coming back to school may look distracted, frustrated, and overwhelmed. According to researcher Marc Brackett, these behaviors may look like learning disabilities or behavioral problems. However, these disabilities and behaviors can be manifesting due to prolonged and unmanaged periods of stress over the past year.

 

  • We are all suffering from loss and grief. We are experiencing loss and grief from losing a loved one, losing time with friends, losing family time, losing jobs, homes, and so much more.

 

  • Loss, grief, and stress take emotional and physical energy. When our energy is being placed in other areas to stay safe, it feels like we are in a holding pattern. Just holding it all together and with one slight pull of a pin, we come all undone.

 

Stress, loss, and grief is taking a toll on teachers, learners, and parents. Pretty much everyone.

 

What can you do? 

 

  • Start slow—Check-in with students by using a morning question or start the class with a question. Either share out loud or put answers on sticky notes—some way to check in with each other.

 

  • Breathe. Take some deep breaths and have others do it with you. If you are in a classroom, don’t try to ask students to do things you can’t or are unwilling to do. So take a deep breath, or maybe 3 or 4 together.

 

  • Take the view from the balcony. This is one year in your life, maybe two. This is one year in this child’s life. What does the long view look like? How do you want your students to remember this past year? 

 

  • Weave in some ways during your day to complete and manage the stress cycle for yourself. Plan into your day either exercise, quiet time, laughter, connection with others, a phone call, singing, or creative playtime. Whatever that will help you to slow down, breathe, and feel safe.

 

Consider taking some time to pull back on the reins as we go back to the classrooms. Be intensional as you welcome students, staff, and families back to the school.

As my friend Stacy reminded me, we are all navigating the storm of this past year; however, we are all experiencing the storm differently. Life can be difficult, yet when we slow down, breathe, take the long view and do some self-care, we can build relationships that will feel safe for other staff, parents, and students.

 

Photo by Eva Tomankova on Unsplash