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.

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!

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

Looking for the Bright Spots in 2020

Welcome to 2021!! A new year and a new set of possibilities before us. However, before you jump into the new year’s setting goals, resolutions, or intentions, I invite you to take some time to look back to the past year.

 

The past year has been a roller coaster ride of a year. I look back and see many downs and few ups throughout the year. How about you? Do you see any bright spots? Glimmers of positivity and hope?

 

In this month’s video, I talk about why it’s so easy for humans to see the negative and how you have to train your brain to see the positives. It’s all about practicing to look for the bright spots.

 

I would like to hear about the bright spots in your past year. Please leave a comment under the video and tell me about your bright spots for 2020.

 

I wish you much happiness and health in 2021!

 

 

5 Strategies to Access the Learning Brain

This time of year can come with a variety of emotions. I am sure many emotions have popped up over the last few weeks for you in some way. As a former science teacher, the study of the brain and the connection to resilience is fascinating. When we are dealing with our emotions it’s important to know why and how our brains are reacting to that emotion.

 

In the video, The Learning Brain v.s. The Survival Brain, Dr. Jacob Ham explains how stress can affect learning for our students. We need to create safe environments in the classroom that assists children in learning. One of the ways we can do that is through using tools that you can teach to your students that will calm the brain down.

 

In my recent video, I demonstrate five tools you can use with your student to help them feel safe and access their learning brain.

Moving Through Fear and Anxiety

Happy Halloween!

I thought today would be the appropriate day to talk about fear and anxiety.

Sometimes fun and fear can go together like today! Halloween is the annual time of the year when spooky costumes and scary movies can be fun!

However, when you are truly dealing with fears and anxieties, there is nothing fun about it.

We all have fears and anxiety. It’s part of all human experience.

Big Fears and little fears. Realistic and imagined fears.

I invite you to practice the skills presented in today’s video to move through fear and anxiety.

Then pass these skills on to the children in your life.

 

Using Your Strengths To Overcome Challenges: Part 3

I love it when I receive questions from followers. Last week I had a really big question from a follower,

 

How do you help adults overcome

childhood trauma and toxic stress?

 

Wow! Big question! This is too big of a question to cover in a ten-minute video or even in a blog post. However, I can give you a few tools to start on a path that will decrease your toxic stress response and increase your self- regulation. Once your nervous system is regulated, tapping into your strengths to build up your resilience is key.

 

You can build your self-awareness toolbox as an adult and tap into those tools when stress enters your life.

 

This is a journey where each new tool you use and practice can help you along your path of resilience.

 

Watch Using Your Strengths to Overcome Challenges Part 1 and Part 2 to add more tools to your toolbox.

 

 

Strength-Based Resilience is a four-part course for educators, parents, and caregivers. A new session starts on September 9, 2020.

More information about the course can be found here.