My Top Three Secrets for Creating Mindful Moments

Our refrigerator has more uses than just keeping food cold. It’s my billboard for reminding me how to keep sane with all that goes on in my life. This makeshift “board” in the kitchen holds various reminders that keep me from losing my cool and help me stay focused on what is important in life.

My life can feel like chaos theory in action. I’m involved with our two active teens at home, helping our two young adult children navigate life, teaching, and trying to have some time with my husband.  With all that’s going on in my life, here are my top three secrets on how to create mindful moments for myself. Mindful moments allow me to have the energy to support others in my home and my work.

Secret #1

The first secret is to know the definition and feeling of Peace. I have the following quote on my fridge door:

Peace –  It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

This simple refrigerator magnet reminds me to be in the moment. I need to stop and breathe, recognize that the only moment I have is this moment. Then ask myself, “how do I want to spend this moment?” The practice of mindfulness has helped me to pay attention to the heartfelt intention toward myself and others. I say practice because that is what it is, doing the same thing over and over within myself.

This morning I noticed that my son was very slow in getting up for school. In the past, I would have been loudly encouraging them to “get a move on and daylight is burning.” I would yell this up the stairs. This morning I reminded him of the time and when his friend was coming to pick him up. Then I went about making my breakfast. It was hard to not keep reminding him to hurry, but I stopped myself, took a breath and ate my eggs. He made it on time!

Secret #2

There are days when I can’t calmly take in the behaviors of my teens. This is when I use my second secret, giving myself an Adult Time Out. When the kids were younger, we had a “time out” chair for them. Out-of-hand behaviors got them a few minutes in the “time out” chair to calm down. Now they are a little big for the time out chair and yet there are moments I wish I could return them to that spot.  I am now the one that takes the time out.

In moments when my emotions are so heightened, I grab my journal and my needs and feelings cards off the top of the fridge. In a state of heightened emotions, I head to our bedroom for a little Adult Time Out.

What do I do there? I take out my feelings cards and go through them searching for the feelings I am currently having in my mind and body. I lay the cards out and ask myself, “What was I needing at that moment from myself and from others around me?” I quickly shuffle through the needs cards to search for those needs that resonate with me. Then I journal.

Sometimes my handwriting is large scribbles and heavy-handed. As I exhaust my emotions onto the page, my energy changes and so do my words, taking me to a place of calm. Calm enough to move from the bedroom into a discussion with those around me, I share what I needed and was feeling in the moment.

For times when I am not able to get away, I use another form of the Adult Time Out. I hum upbeat songs under my breath and busy my hands washing dishes or with some other task. This helps me to check in with myself and allows me to take a step back from the problem.

Secret #3

My final secret is the process of stepping back and taking a view from the balcony. I keep a poster on the front door of my fridge: “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys”. The poster is a reminder that many of the conflicts and problems my teens encounter are not mine to own. The problems are theirs, and they need to solve them. Sometimes the solution comes through the valuable lessons learned from making mistakes. They will fail, begin again to become resilient adults.

We were at our lake cabin this past summer and I was walking with my sons in the woods. They were ahead of me arguing about something. At one point I wanted to step in and beg them to stop. Instead, I hung back on the trail and watched the conversation. Recognizing that this conversation was not “my circus,” even though they were “my monkeys”. Finally, the discussion ended and we were back on the trail heading for home with a whole new topic of discussion. I allowed my teens to come to the conclusion that they can agree to disagree.

Being a parent and teacher has been a journey of self-discovery for me. I have found myself learning more about how I want to show up in the world, My three secrets of being mindful, Adult Time Outs and removing myself from the circus have helped to keep me in the present moment. Knowing that all I really need is right here and right now.

Attitude of Gratitude

Happy New Year!

The beginning of the new year is a great time to start a practice of gratitude. When you practice gratitude you can increase happiness, decrease depression and strengthen resiliency. Use the game “Grategories”, that I demonstrate in the video, to guide students in creating an attitude of gratitude.

You Are So Much More Than A Grade

 “The more we want our children to be (1) lifelong learners, genuinely excited about words and numbers and ideas, (2) avoid sticking with what’s easy and safe, and (3) become sophisticated thinkers, the more we should do everything possible to help them forget about grades.”

― Alfie Kohn

Many schools carry out parent-teacher conferences several times a year. Conferences are a time for a parent to hear all about a child’s learning and the evaluations that have been completed for the grading period.

As a middle and high school teacher, I did not enjoy assessing students by giving out a letter grade. I enjoyed teaching science and I valued my relationship with my students. However, I felt uneasy with evaluating students for the work that I claimed to be important to science and to them. Sometimes I tried to avoid the process of traditional assessments by using tools that would help students’ reflect on what they had produced and learned. The self-reflection space opened up the door for a conversation instead of a one-way evaluation. I noticed that the evaluation the students gave themselves was very honest and accurate.

Self-reflection is one skill that is highly needed in today’s fast-paced world, yet only occasionally in the classroom do teachers use self-reflection as an assessment tool. 

As a culture we are so caught up in grades for school achievement that we lose sight of what are grades really to convey to the teacher, student, and parents.

Is the grade really a reflection of what the student learned? Or is grade the reflection of a student’s effort put forth in a class? Or is the grade a reflection of what the teacher perceives to be important to the subject?

How often do teachers and students sit down to really reflect on our lives and learning?

Many students that are not meeting the expectations of school and take low grades on the report card as a reflection of their worth. Can worthiness really be associated with a number or a letter? Is this a true reflection of a student’s knowledge or learning?

When a teacher takes time to help a student identify her strengths, she then can see the talents that are within herself. Identifying strengths can be a way to convey that a letter grade on a report card is not who she is as a person.

As children travel through the school system a mantra that needs to be said often is “you are not your grades”. Each child has a unique set of strengths and talents. It is my belief as an educator that part of helping children grow is to help them find outlets for their strengths to shine.

Here are a few questions to try with the young people you work with to assist them in discovering and reflecting on their strengths.

What do you find easy to learn …?

What helps you when something get tricky …?

The most interesting thing about _____________________is …

I prefer to work by myself on activities that …

I like working with others when …

If I can, I try to avoid activities that …

I find it easiest to understand when …

When I don’t understand something, I …

I’m getting much better at …

One good question I asked (or thought of) today was …

One of the things I do best is …

The Collaborative of Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has five competencies to help guide educators in assisting students in developing social and emotional learning skills. As part of the responsible decision making and self-awareness competencies, self-reflection is a key skill. More information about CASEL Core SEL Competencies can be found at https://casel.org/core-competencies/

No matter the age of the child, you can help them reflect upon their learning and themselves. Asking open-ended questions can start the conversation of helping children reflect on their strengths and identifying what is good and right within.

 

Relationships Really Matter

In this week’s video, I ask the question: Who is the person that you would want to be stranded on a deserted island with for six months? Pick a person that you know and trust, not a celebrity. The follow-up question I ask helps students dig a little deeper into the relationships they identify.
According to the Search Institute, when students identify the positive relationships in their lives that have five key elements, they are more likely to develop motivation and other positive character strengths.
The activity I demonstrate in the video can easily be done with upper elementary to high school students. This simple activity can help young people to think about the elements of a positive relationship they have with the people they value in their lives.

 

Social and Emotional Learning – Minnesota Style

Rain, Rain, GO AWAY! That’s the chant we are saying in northern Minnesota. The cloudy skies and the drizzle over the last two weeks have put a damper on my mood.

I decided that the best way to handle the gray skies and the gray mood is to have a little fun with it. In my most recent video, I demonstrate the five competencies of Social and Emotional Learning with a little Minnesota humor.

I hope you enjoy it and please help me reach my goal of 100 subscribers by clicking on the red subscribe button to receive notification of new videos.

 

Stories Connect Students to Their Strengths

Many things can bring me back to my childhood, however, nothing can do it better than a story I enjoyed during my youth. One of my favorite stories was Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burns. I loved that book and would read it over and over again. I remember snuggling next to my mom, requesting “Andrew Henry’s Meadow” to be read to me for the umpteenth time. The story really spoke to me through the pictures and words about Andrew Henry and his family.

Andrew Henry was the middle child in his family. Clearly his strengths of creativity and executing were not appreciated. He invented contraptions to help his family. However, his mother and father, twin older sisters and twin younger brothers did not see it the same way. They told Andrew Henry that he was just making a mess and spoiling their fun.

Andrew Henry took off with his tools and traveled to a wide open meadow. In the meadow he constructed a house that would meet his need for inventing. Very soon many of the village children came to his meadow with their passions, such as, bird watching, tuba playing and drama.  Andrew built a home for each of them that would meet their particular interests and talents.

Very soon there was a village of homes, each unique to its owner’s passions and strengths.

When I go back to read a children’s book as an adult, many times a deeper meaning hidden by the author is revealed to me.

What is the deeper meaning of Andrew Henry’s Meadow?

  • Is it as adults we don’t always understand or honor children’s passions and strengths?
  • Is it our children each need their own part of the “meadow” to build the “house” that will fit their strengths?
  • Maybe we each have our own passions and strengths to bring to our family or community to help each other, just like Andrew Henry did for the other children?

I believe that Andrew Henry speaks to me because it is a story about helping children recognize their own strengths and the strengths of others.  I believe we are here to help each other create a community that honors each of the unique part we are to play in that community.

At the end of the story the families of the children are concerned. They search and find the little community of children with their homes. Everyone celebrates! Andrew Henry’s strengths are recognized by his family and he is given a room in his home in which to invent and create.

If choose to read Andrew Henry  here are a few questions you can consider,

Do you recognize the strengths of the children in your classroom? Notice the interests that each have in and outside of class time.

How can you give the youth you guide “room” to grow their passions?

Read Andrew Henry’s Meadow to your students and ask your students if they were a part of Andrew Henry’s community, what would their home look like?

One of the core competencies of Social and Emotional Learning is self awareness of strengths. Literature is a great way to help students identify strengths by identifying the strengths of a character in a story. Through identifying the strengths of the character, students can identify their own strengths they bring to the community. What are other stories you can use to help students identify strengths?

 

The Power of Knowing Your Passions

What are you passionate about?

This can be a difficult question to answer. Being passionate about something can lead a person to be totally immersed into a topic or activity to the point that it takes over life! However, I would encourage you to seek a broader understanding of passions as a deep journey into an activity or topic that can last for a short time or a lifetime.

“Do you want to work as a cook at a summer language camp?” I asked my daughter this spring. My daughter is not an experienced cook. She has a short list of things that I have seen her prepare in the kitchen with Ramen Noodles being at the top of her list.

However, I asked her this question after talking with a colleague about my daughter’s recent experience as an exchange student for a semester in Denmark. “Would your daughter be interested in cooking for the Danish Language camp this summer? The camp is in need of kitchen help,” She told me.

Just asking my daughter the question related to her interest in the job has led her to have an enjoyable experience at camp this summer. Through her experience, she has learned more than just cooking skills. This summertime experience has fueled her interests in cultures, language, and meeting new people.

This deep dive into the Danish culture and language through her recent exchange and currently spending time at the language camp has fueled her passion for international travel. She wants to know more about languages, people and cultures of the world.

In my past two posts, I have talked about the power of knowing your strengths and values. Knowing your passions is the third component of helping yourself and learners to develop a path for self-directed learning and possibly careers.

Sparks

When helping young people discover and deepen their interests, supportive peers and adults are the keys to encouraging the development of the activities into something deeper.  All the adult needs to do is add a small amount of kindling to the fire, to ignite the passion. Maybe it’s offering multiple exposures to an activity or encouragement  to try something new. Parents and teachers can nurture the spark of interests through fun and low stakes experiences.

However, a word of caution for the supportive adult: just like placing a log that is too big on a fire that is just starting to burn, the flame goes out. Similarly, if the supportive adult becomes too serious about the activity and take away the sense of choice from the young person, the spark of interest will more than likely die out.

The Search Institute describes a spark as a hidden flame within students that lights their fire, gets them excited, and taps into their true joy. In a past post, I described more about knowing your teen’s spark.

Identifying, developing, and deepening a student’s sparks can lead to greater purpose, autonomy, and mastery, all elements needed for motivation and accomplishment of new skills and internal development.

Ways to support Sparks

Teachers, parents and other supportive adults can help young people find their sparks through a number of strategies:

  • Short conversations asking questions about what they enjoy doing or are really good at doing.
  • Teachers’ classroom observations wherein teachers discover which topics interest the young person.
  • Developing engaging experiences where young people execute a project motivated by what has sparked their interest.
  • Self-reflection with the young person on what what about the activity caught his/her attention, or not, and why.

 

Other ways to embed the interests of the young person into learning is through the simple activity of show and tell. Even in the upper ages, show and tell is a great activity to have in a classroom that will give insight into a young person’s interests.

 

Spark Interest in a Career

 

Incorporating a student’s sparks into the curriculum through project choices and real-world experiences can help a student develop and deepen an chosen activity. Informal and formal experiences can also help young people develop a path that might lead to a future vocation.

 

Informal experiences such as interacting with different cultures, travel, volunteering and trying out a new endeavor can create a sense of excitement that can spark greater interest.

 

Formal experiences such as jobs, apprenticeships, or courses can create skills and knowledge that can, again, lead to an interest in an occupation. Both informal and formal experiences are meaningful and needed in supporting young people in developing a path for the future.

 

When working with older youth there are many resources toto help them determine their interests and identify career paths that might support those interests. My Next Move is a website that helps look at the interests of youth and pairs the interests with potential occupations based on the Holland Code. This website is chocked full of helpful information when looking at different professions.

 

20 by 20 is an activity done with youth that helps brainstorm dreams for the future. It’s a simple activity wherein students are given a short period of time to brainstorm 20 things they would like to do by the age of 20. Let the students dream and not edit the list. Then have each student write 1-2 of the activities on a note card with their name. Post the notes on the wall or collect for use when developing projects and activities that could engage their various interests.

 

These are just a few ideas on how to support a young person’s interests both inside and outside the classroom. The young person’s interests may turn into a career or a lifetime hobby. Whatever the path the interests take, it is important to remember that caring, supportive adults like you are the power to helping youth find their passions.

 

Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

The Power of Knowing Your Values

A few weeks ago, my daughter graduated from high school. We held the traditional graduation party to honor her achievement. As she stood by the entrance greeting the well-wishers to her party, I heard a variety of questions being asked:

What’s next for you?

What do you want to do?

Where are you going next fall?

All these questions had to do with her future, however, I believe there is one question we rarely ask of graduates,

Who do you want to be?

The underlying element of the “who” question is asking young people to communicate their personal values. Values are the foundational beliefs that we hold and that often shape our choices.

When a young person identifies such values, articulates these personal values, and has the capacity to act upon the specified values, the impact on learning can be significant. Here is a short exercise you can conduct with a young person to assist in identifying values that are personally important.

Identifying Values

We all have stories in our lives where we have felt proud of our accomplishments. Maybe it’s a story about overcoming an obstacle, working with a group of others to finish a project or setting out to do something never attempted before. Whatever the story that comes to mind, your values are hidden in that story.

This activity works best if you can tell your story to a friend or family member. The person listening to your personal narrative can help you identify the values within the narrative. If you need a list of values to look at while listening there is a list on the VIA Character Strengths website of 24 values people hold.

After you finish telling your story, ask your listener to help you identify the values you talked about in the story. Write those values down in a journal or notebook and write further descriptions of how each value shows up in your life. VIA (Values In Action) Institute on Character has a free online assessment tool for both youth and adults that can help identify your top 5 values.

Impact of Values on Learning

When a young person knows the values they hold, and is able to talk about their personal connection to these values, the result of this simple action can impact learning performance.

Dr. Claude Steele, dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Education, conducted a study involving white and African American Middle School students. In the experiment he had half of each group write about values that were personally important to them and why. In the control group, he had each of the students write about which values they felt were the least important.  This exercise was performed periodically throughout the school year, and the student’s work followed. The results, especially for the African-American students, was a significant increase in student performance in the group that wrote about their personal values. There was no change in performance in the control group or in students that were already performing at a high level.

There are several reasons why students who affirmed their personal values did better at school:

  1. Students were reminded of the number of resources available to them.
  2. The activity broadens the student’s perspective on themselves through a different lens. When a student identifies her values, maybe a test didn’t look so threatening when looking at the big picture of her life.
  3. Affirming values allowed students to take on challenges that aligned with their values.
  4. Teachers had a greater insights into the students by reading through the essays, and they were able to build positive relationships with the students.

 

Values and Relationships

Positive relationships can be formed with young people when they know their values and the adults that surround them can tap into and align with those values. This process allows young people to feel like they are seen and heard. In addition, adults can provide the support needed for the youth, and a positive cycle of affirming values can improve confidence.

Using the power of shared values can have positive and lasting outcomes for young people, leading them on a path to finding success.

The next time you are talking with a graduate or young adult about ask a simple question:

Who do you want to be?

 

This post is Part 2 in a four-part series. You can find Part 1 here.

3 Easy Steps to Spotting Strengths

A “chatterbox” child can sometimes be viewed as a distraction in a classroom.

However, what would happen if that negative behavior was reframed as a potential strength?

How would your attitude towards the child change?

Spotting strengths in a child or youth can be easy when you use the three suggestions in the video.

Strengths spotting can be one tool you use to bring personal learning to yourself and the children you interact with.