Creating Culturally Responsive Environments

Guest post by Eva Cwynar

I want you to think about the last time you watched a movie where the main character looked like you, lived in a community like yours, or came from a similar background/culture. How often do you come across stories or texts where one or more of these characteristics are present? For some, the answers to these questions are that it happens all the time. For others, the answer may be rarely, if ever. Now imagine that you are a student in a school where the history that you learn is not the history of the culture that your family comes from, the scientists and mathematicians that you learn about don’t look like you or come from similar backgrounds, the literature that you read, music you hear in band, or sports that you play in PE don’t reflect your experiences or heritage. How do you think this would make you feel? This is a reality for many students that walk our halls and form our school community and this is why culturally responsive teaching is so important!

Culturally responsive teaching validates and affirms the culture of students in our schools/classrooms and incorporates that culture in meaningful ways in both the learning and the environment. It’s not enough to simply make mention of a race or culture or to change the names in a word problem so that they’re “ethnically diverse”, CRT is about leveraging and growing students’ existing funds of knowledge by connecting to diverse personal experiences. The following examples are simple ways to develop culturally responsive environments in your classroom:

  1. Connect learning to background knowledge – Take the time to learn more about your students’ homes, community, and interests. Parent & family surveys are a perfect way to learn about your students and their backgrounds. Think about providing the survey in multiple languages and in multiple formats so that it is accessible in multiple formats. Once you have this information, USE IT! Don’t just file it away in their student folder…incorporate these gems into the learning environment.
    • Create a library of non-fiction texts that focus on student interests and make them available in different languages that represent the home languages of your students.
    • Create a “Netflix” playlist full of documentaries showcasing diverse people, cultures, and countries, historical events from around the world, nature shows that highlight plants, animals, and natural phenomenon in different continents.
    • Bring the community into the classroom – connect social studies concepts to neighborhood events and/or landmarks, explore science concepts taking place in their backyards or local parks, engage in learning walks to identify geometric shapes in architecture.
    • Play music during transition periods that reflects students’ heritage or favorite genres.
  2. Encourage cognitive routines that foster critical conversations- Ask students to think critically about the relationships and connections between concepts or phenomenon.
    • Have your students engage in word play that’s both cognitively demanding yet fun. Taboo and Scrabble are great ways to build vocabulary about concepts students are learning while simultaneously repositioning the student as a leader in the learning by developing student agency. You may choose to have students do this by sharing the vocabulary terms in different languages, by having them define the term used in their own words, or by connecting the terms to something that they have experienced in their life.
    • Engage students in literature analysis by comparing the central idea of traditional texts in ELA and Social Studies to popular music and poetry (there is a library of songs as well as other resources that can support this type of learning at Get Free Hip Hop Civics Ed).
    • Provide texts that share diverse viewpoints and experiences to spur discussion about socially relevant topics that effect our community. These texts should provide avenues for students to think critically about current and past events in a classroom environment that provides a safe forum to share sensitive and thought-provoking concepts.

A critically important aspect of culturally responsive teaching is that these experiences, methods, and strategies do not become a single activity that you check off a to-do list once a trimester…these practices should become routine and be practiced over and over again throughout the school year and across the campus. A culturally responsive environment acknowledges that everyone brings something to the learning table and that everyone’s voice and experiences are incredibly valuable.

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JabuMind for Teacher Self-Care

Guest post by Erin Swanson, M.Ed,  JabuMind

Teachers are in crisis, suffering from compassion fatigue and burnout at an alarming rate. Tasked with adapting to the pandemic, protecting their students from school shootings, teaching to high-stakes state tests, juggling crushing workloads, working overtime for little pay, responding to their students’ trauma, and more—teachers need our help.

The JabuMind self-care app for teachers is here to help. JabuMind was designed by a group of teachers, coaches, artists, school principals, and mental health clinicians. We share a common goal of creating a safer, stronger, and more supportive classroom experience for both teachers and students. Our mission is to support teachers in their own social and emotional growth so that they, in turn, can help their students and school communities.

Why Teachers Need Self-Care

Teachers are overworked and overwhelmed. No doubt about it, teaching is one of the most stressful professions. An analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research revealed that “one in five teachers (20 percent) feel tense about their job most or all of the time, compared to 13 percent of similar professionals.” In addition, The American Federation of Teachers found that “78% of teachers reported feeling physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.”

Let’s not forget the additional weight placed on teachers during the pandemic. A March 2020 survey from Yale and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) showed that teachers’ top emotions regarding teaching during COVID included fearful, worried, overwhelmed, and sad.

One of teachers’ main stressors is compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is the experience of emotional and physical fatigue due to the chronic use of empathy. It is often used interchangeably with the terms secondary trauma and vicarious trauma.

As teachers, we care deeply for our students. When our students face trauma, we feel the weight of heartbreak, fear, uncertainty, and responsibility as their caretakers. Distraught over how to support a traumatized child, we might start experiencing the symptoms of compassion fatigue—anxiety, difficulty sleeping, exhaustion, hypervigilance, decreased motivation, trouble separating work from personal life, increased cynicism, or a sense of hopelessness.

Suffering from compassion fatigue is among the top reasons teachers leave the profession. No longer able to handle the pressure and heartbreak, they experience burnout. “Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home, work, and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu.”

The Solution? Mindfulness

Fortunately, there is an antidote to the struggles teachers face. Research shows that teachers who participated in a mindfulness course had reductions in burnout and increases in self-compassion. Additional research proved that teachers who followed a mindfulness program developed resilience to stress and nonreactivity by practicing mindful awareness.

Even more, a study on mindfulness intervention and workplace productivity showed that mindfulness produced “increases in team and organizational climate and personal performance.” Meditation, in particular, activates the part of the brain associated with more adaptive responses to stressful and negative events.

JabuMind Brings Teachers Mindfulness and Self-Care

The JabuMind self-care app for teachers uses the iRest® method to support teacher self-care. Co-Founder of JabuMind, Jill Apperson Manly, explains why JabuMind chose the iRest® method of meditation for its app in this interview. We explain the 10 tools of iRest® and their connection to teacher wellness here.

Research shows that iRest® promotes better sleep, decreases stress, alleviates symptoms of PTSD, and enhances quality of life for school counselors.

The JabuMind app offers guided meditations, daily sleep and mood check ins, and professional development designed to meet teachers’ stressors. All premium app content is free through the pandemic to support teachers during this difficult time.

Jabu2Learn more about how the JabuMind app can support your self-care in these articles:

You might also enjoy our other resources to support teachers, such as:

Teachers—you, more than anyone, deserve self-care. In a career that asks you to be selfless, be the one to prove that self-care leads to better care for everyone.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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4 Ways To Rebuild Our Students’ Emotional Health

Guest post by Monica Gupta Mehta @emotionalMUSE

Across the country, millions of teachers are preparing for what will be the hardest year of teaching in modern history. Educators are dealing with stress, anxiety and fear from unrealistic public expectations and rapidly changing plans. While we work diligently to perfect our Zoom skills and transform curriculum into distance learning content, the nagging thought on almost every teacher’s mind is an entirely different one; a looming problem of epidemic proportions. Our country is entering one of the biggest mental health crises we have faced in decades.

Once we tackle the logistics of where our children will physically be as the school doors “open,” our gears will have to quickly shift to where they are at emotionally, and how to best support them.

Like many teachers, some of my favorite work hours are spent learning from my PLC on social media. These days, our conversations center on how to include more social emotional learning (SEL), including diversity and inclusivity curriculum. However, with so much going on in the intersection of education, politics and public health, teachers are finding themselves with a Herculean labor to perform. Teachers are busy either preparing their classrooms for in-person learning to comply with ever-changing guidelines (often without adequate funds); or transforming their entire curriculum into a virtual learning format…or both. This leaves little time for SEL efforts, which often fall to the back burner despite our best intentions.

Many teachers know the benefits of investing time on social and emotional learning. CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, has collected decades of research showing the impact of SEL education. Focusing on social emotional learning leads to better academic outcomes, such as better test performance and higher graduation rates, as well as reducing behavioral issues and improving mental health. So how do we create a safe, nurturing, relationship-based environment for students when we have so little time to invest in it? One answer is to use “SEL Hacks” from the MUSE Framework for Social Emotional Learning.

SEL Hacks are stand-alone curricular components that can be easily incorporated into the classroom with minimal effort. Start by choosing just a few of these to add on for the start of this school year. As each component becomes ingrained in your curriculum, visit the MUSE website to find new ideas and learning units. SEL Skill Set #1: Modeling Behaviors

Developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky calls this concept ‘apprenticeship.’ The incredible learning that happens through apprenticeship starts very young, in the home, and continues with teacher scaffolding throughout the school years. We model emotional health for students by prioritizing our physiological and psychological well-being. We ALL must ‘Maslow’ before we can effectively ‘Bloom.’

Start by spending the first week of school sending this message loud and clear. Introduce your students to virtual tools they can use to learn and practice SEL skills, and dedicate at least 30 minutes per day to the explicit teaching and practice of social emotional learning. For example, here is a feelings board that was created using padlet. Tell students to identify which emotion(s) they are feeling each morning, and make sure you include your own name as well.

Having a feelings board shows students they are not alone in feeling such turbulent emotions. It also increases student awareness of their own resiliency as they notice their moods shift back to the positive, which can help increase optimism. Lastly, this gives you the opportunity to quietly note which students seem to be struggling more frequently. You could follow up one-on-one with these students by having private chats, phone calls home, or using apps like Seesaw that allow you to communicate with your students individually. Another great ‘first week of school’ activity is to discuss a set of classroom rules or community standards. The emphasis you place on this discussion will help you set up a safe learning environment for the school year.

Allow students plenty of opportunities to feel heard each day. Keep your lectures to a minimum and allow for group games, break out rooms, and one-on-ones. One way to accomplish this is to record your lessons for students to watch asynchronously, so that more of your synchronous learning time is spent connecting with one another and practicing their learning. Motivation theory says that allowing students to use their voice, and additionally allowing them to make choices in their learning, increases engagement.

One model example of student choice is Genius Hour, inspired by Google’s policy of allowing employees to spend 20% of their time on side passion projects. During Genius Hour, students are allowed to pursue their own educational learning objectives. SEL Skill Set #2: Understanding Emotions The Feelings Board, shown above, is one way to help students to label their emotions, which is one of the first steps in building self awareness skills. You can also add mindful moments into your students’ days. Mindful moments allow your students to check in with their emotions and their body throughout the day, an important step towards building emotional regulation skills.

Another useful time in the day for a quick check-in is just before class ends. Exit slips can be used as a simple tool for seeing how students are feeling about class, or just in general. Exit slips can also be a useful formative assessment tool for teachers, allowing insight into whether or not each student is understanding the concepts being taught.

The most important part of helping students understand themselves and their emotions is to give them plenty of opportunities to speak up and connect. “Be willing to have personal, empathetic, authentic conversation,” says fellow educator Traci Browder. SEL Skill Set #3: Social Skills

While it may seem as though socialization and the teaching of social skills has necessarily hit the pause button, there are still ways to teach these crucial life skills. If your district is doing distance learning, one practical way to start off the school year is to have a conversation about virtual classroom etiquette. Here is an infographic you are welcome to use:

Teach children to show respectfulness and kindness to their peers, even via video conference. This means using non-disruptive signals, being on time and prepared as they would be to a normal class session, and respecting each others’ privacy. If you are teaching in-person, these masks that allow students to see your facial expressions will help greatly with creating connection. Practice greetings by the door, if possible, though without the hugs and fist bumps. Make mornings fun and relationship building — for example, you could ask students to do a little dance move that you mimic as they come through the door.

If you are teaching virtually, smile and greet each student every morning by name. Ask attendance questions to get students sharing and connecting right from the start of class. Having morning meetings is just as important now, if not more important than ever. Visit Responsive Classrooms for inspiration for morning meetings.

Not all of your time on video calls needs to be academic learning. Spend some time allowing students to share, getting involved in random discussions, telling jokes, and discussing feelings — just like you would in a regular classroom environment. Create break out rooms and pair students with random “recess buddies” — you could allow them to play digital games together, or interview one another. Another idea for building relationships is to create virtual ‘dialogue journals.’ You could create a journal to write back and forth with each student, and also create journals for students to dialogue with their peers, taking turns in rotation. You can include a combination of SEL topics as well as academic check-ins in your journaling prompts.

Teach students how to treat each other kindly by encouraging appreciation.

You can build student communication and conflict resolution skills by teaching “I Statements.” I statements are scripted conversations that follow this format:

I feel… because… I need…

While this format often feels stuffy and unnatural at first, with practice you may find students attempting to use a more relaxed version on their own. For example, “I feel overwhelmed by the constant changes in expectations for teachers, and I need the administration to pick one course and stick with it for at least one solid month.” SEL Skill Set #4: Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation has been a struggle for many people lately, not only for children. Mental and emotional health issues are rapidly rising, and often result in behavioral issues. One of the most important skills you can give your students is the ability to manage their responses to their emotions.

The MUSE website has a virtual curriculum called ‘Piloting Your Plane,’ geared at early elementary age students. This curriculum uses the analogy that our bodies are like planes and we are the pilots. Our responsibility is to fly our plane smoothly without crashing. In order to do so, children learn to check their control centers throughout the day, including their emotional thermometer and hunger/thirst gauges. The curriculum comes with plenty of ready-to-use activities that could be easily integrated into virtual or in-person classrooms, creating a wonderfully playful and highly effective common language.

Teaching ‘growth mindset’ can also help students with emotional regulation. The concept of growth mindset helps students to normalize mistakes, treating them as part of the learning process rather than as a sign that they are incapable of learning.

Having calm down kits and either in-person or virtual calm down centers is very helpful for students who need to take breaks in order to remain regulated. Storyline offers a wonderful online library of books read aloud by celebrities, with beautiful animated graphics to go with them. Set up your own virtual calm down center, and teach students how to use it when they are in need of a break.

While we will continue to see the effects of this pandemic on our children for years to come, incorporating the MUSE framework into your classroom will help you begin to rebuild your students’ emotional health.

For more tips on how to help your students (and yourself) during this chaotic time, please follow me. I am working fast to upload hundreds of units of SEL curriculum for all ages to my new site, EmotionalMUSE, and will send out updates as new units become available.

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**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Wednesdays at 4pm EST on Learningrevolution.com THRIVEinEDU  Join the group here

Buncee for engaging learning opportunities!

We are a few weeks into the new school year and for many educators, it has been an interesting start to the year. Whether in physical classroom spaces or in a hybrid or distance learning environment, our focus at the start of the year is on building relationships and engaging students in learning. The challenge this year for many is  creating the right spaces to build those relationships when we are not together in our physical classrooms.  Buncee provides so many possibilities for doing just this.

Introductions

I can create with Buncee and engage my students in opportunities to not only create and engage more in learning, but provide a way that they can feel connected to each other if we cannot be together in the same physical space.  A great place to start is exploring the Ideas Lab. There are great templates available to choose from that work well for the beginning of the year and a back to school theme, or for some ice breakers to build relationships that are so important. 

Check out some of these recent additions to Buncee templates for having students express themselves by creating an acrostic poem or a virtual locker.  These are great options to have students create a Buncee to introduce themselves to their teacher and to their classmates!

(this one was shared by Buncee)

(drag and drop items into your virtual locker)

Using Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom, it makes it really easy to share these with students. For global collaboration, create a Buncee board to post all of the amazing student creations. With project-based learning, my students have been able to connect with students in Argentina and Spain and share a little bit about their experiences as students and what life is like here in the United States.  With all the options available for creating within Buncee, it’s fun for students to be able to create something that represents who they are and even to have the option to include audio or video to really get to know each other.  Being able to collaborate like this is quite valuable regardless of where learning is happening but definitely beneficial as many schools are working with hybrid and distance learning. It helps students to feel more connected to their classmates and their teachers and also to be able to connect on a global scale which is important for all students. 

Teach a Lesson

One of my favorite ways to use Buncee is to create lessons to share with my students. One of the first ones that I did was to teach about digital citizenship and it was easy to create something using all of the different options available within the media library and to give students an opportunity then create their own buncee to share what they had learned. 

Set up class expectations for virtual learning

Explore the templates and create something like this fast and make it your own by selecting from the more than 35,000 choices available in the media library! 

Ready-made templates and new topics

Something else that I’ve always loved about using Buncee is that it integrates with other tools that we use in my classroom. With this new partnership with Flipgrid,  there are even more ways to use these tools together to provide more opportunities for students to build essential skills. You can find pre-made Buncee templates available in the discovery library focused on topics like social emotional learning, goal-setting and schedulers and organizers.  Check out all of the choices today!

One of the things I love the most about using Buncee is that there is always support available. Whether you connect with the Buncee team through the different social media platforms, or make connections with educators from around the world through Twitter or Facebook, there are so many ways to learn and grow as educators. And even more importantly,  to bring new opportunities to our students. If you need some quick resources on different topics, check out all of the many options available at their Buncee help desk.

Looking for more ideas?  See what the Buncee Ambassadors are up to! Explore the 66 ideas for using Buncee from Maria Jose Giavedoni.  Did you catch the Creative Beginnings event at the beginning of August? Three days of sessions and so many topics and ideas.  Catch the recordings here.

Coming up:

Don’t miss out on the new idea o’clock with Buncee starting September 16th happening live on Facebook at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.  First up was Shannon Miller and Amy Storer is on the 23rd! Be sure to tune in to learn new ideas from Buncee educators!

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Find more in the Back to School Resources Kit

Check out the videos available here.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Wednesdays at 4pm EST on Learningrevolution.com THRIVEinEDU  Join the group here

Guest Post: SEL

This post was written by the Eduporium team, Andy Larmand and Laura Kennedy.  Opinions/products mentioned are from Eduporium. This is not sponsored content.

As many teachers know, the upcoming school year is going to be challenging from an academic, mental, and emotional standpoint. Thankfully, there is a reliable form of pedagogy that can benefit both teachers and students as they return to school whether it’s in person, through remote learning, or as part of a hybrid model. For school leaders who see creating new relationships with students and making them feel comfortable after their worlds were flipped upside down in the spring as a top priority, social-emotional learning is going to be crucial.

Screen Shot 2020-08-19 at 10.59.33 AM

While a teacher, I was introduced to social and emotional learning, which is more commonly known as SEL. This pedagogy is one that I found to be extremely important while educating diverse sets of students – even in the pre-pandemic days. In the classroom, students learn different intellectual skills, but much of that learning is affected by their social and emotional characteristics.

As leaders plan a safe return to school, many of them have already considered the mental states their students and teachers might be in and the fact that some of them may have been through trauma while in isolation. In order for them to return to the regular academic experiences they had before schools closed, their mental states will first need to be addressed.

SEL helps students focus on acquiring and effectively applying the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. As unfortunate as it is, many students may need to start developing these characteristics from at or near the beginning when they return to school.

To that end, the five main categories of social and emotional learning are:

  1.   Self-Awareness
  2.   Self-Management
  3.   Social Awareness
  4.   Relationship Skills
  5.   Responsible Decision Making

Realist educators know it will be tough for students to simply slide back into their classroom routines. There is a unique complexity to every student and just being in the same classroom does not mean they’re all in the same place emotionally. It may even be one of the first times some of them have been outside their home. It’s impossible for teachers to generalize them since each student is going to come back to school having gone through something different.

To help my students grow and learn, I truly needed to understand them and I feel this is going to be huge once the year begins. Setting aside some time blocks in the first couple weeks can be instrumental in understanding each student’s state of mind and how both SEL and academic instruction should be presented to them. The actions we see on the surface are not always indicative of the whole story.

Was one student not participating in remote learning because he or she had no desire to do so, or was it because of an accessibility issue we didn’t know about? Was another saying they couldn’t do something because they didn’t feel like it or because they lacked a clear understanding without in-person guidance? Many students likely had different distance learning experiences and teachers can, upon returning to school, make SEL a focus to ensure nobody feels like they’re behind.

So, how can teachers leverage the potential of SEL in instruction and these five areas while getting back to teaching core subjects? Maker education is a technological and creative learning revolution that utilizes SEL and helps students strengthen skills like responsibility, decision making, teamwork, creative thinking, problem solving, and relationship building as they use their heads, hearts, and hands to learn.

Combining MakerEd and SEL can prompt a shift in classroom atmosphere and enable students to reconnect with the learning they knew before schools closed since it emphasizes active learning rather than passive consumption. Students are free to be creative, collaborate, and learn from both mistakes and successes. They’re also able to discover how the emotions they’re feeling – good or bad – can be expressed creatively through MakerEd projects and experiences.

MakerEd experiences help students improve their cognition, engagement, and emotional connections to projects at the same time. In the eyes of the Eduporium team, there are three main components to social and emotional learning (the 3 H’s): Head, heart, and hands and, if educators can connect the actions of all of these body parts upon returning to school, they’ll be able to create more meaningful experiences for students.

In order to learn, students’ heads need to be engaged in the content and their brains need to be picking up on key concepts. They also benefit from having their hands involved, which is often done through the incorporation of maker tools. When their hands are working like their heads are, the relationship between the two body parts is established and engagement and creativity spike through doing and inventing.

When their hearts are involved too – when students truly care about what it is they’re building, making, or discovering and an authentic connection is built – they’ll be able to realize the importance in the values they’re learning and rebuild relationships with peers at the same time, ultimately completing the connection between their heads, hands, and hearts as they return to the classroom, creating hands-on experiences they’ve missed for the last few months.

To learn more about how the Eduporium team can help teachers incorporate SEL, MakerEd, and STEM in the classroom, visit their website.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Prioritize Social & Emotional Learning for the 2020 School Year

Guest post by Peter Davis, @kapwingapp 

Opinions expressed are those of the guest blogger.

 

The 2020-2021 school year has just kicked off in some areas, and it is already proving to be a year like no other. Heightened anxiety among students, teachers, and parents is a certainty this year, across all of the various educational methods administrators are using. Some students will be stuck in precarious, distracting, or harmful home environments, some will be forced to walk halls that could threaten the health of them and their families, and others face an uncertain fall in districts that have yet to finalize their back-to-school methods.

In total, all these changes mean that social and emotional learning will be front and center in the 2020 school year. I talked to Denver-area elementary school teacher Adin Becker about his learnings from spring 2020, his uncertainties in approaching the fall term, and his plans to prioritize SEL in the virtual learning environment. Here are the 5 main things to strive for in the fall semester:

  1. Make sure students have opportunities to interact with each other
  2. Schedule socially distanced visits when possible
  3. Make your materials more inclusive than ever
  4. Advocate for remote health services
  5. Make space for trauma
  1. Give your students opportunities to interact with each other

If you’re conducting some or all of your school through remote e-learning, it won’t be possible to replicate the social environment that your students would experience under normal class conditions. Students’ social interactions with each other are vital to their engagement in school work and their growth as individuals. Becker puts it this way:

The biggest difference this year is classroom community. Young students need social interaction to grow, and there is no question that the online learning environment is not the same as seeing your friends in-person. My school has already experienced the difficulties of limited engagement in e-learning from the last semester. I plan to introduce more in-class discussion between students, make use of online academic games, and show interest in my students’ wellbeing.

There’s no perfect way to transfer the social benefits of in-person school to the remote classroom, but there are lots of things you can do to make up for students’ loss of social engagement. Especially with younger students, their social experiences are as important as your lessons, so it’s vital to dedicate a similar amount of your time and attention to both. Something as simple as using Zoom breakout rooms for free discussion during remote class periods can help to make up for students’ lack of social interaction in school.

  1. Schedule socially distanced visits when possible

Students’ social relationships with each other are indispensable to their SEL experience, but so is their relationship with their teacher. And the same way remote classrooms can’t replicate the social experience of in-person school, Zoom meetings with your students can’t provide quite the same student-teacher relationship. Here’s what Becker has to say:

Unfortunately, it’s simply not possible to provide the same access and inclusion to students through e-learning. Districts can do their best to provide all families with laptops and internet, but there’s only so much they can accomplish – there are nearly 100,000 students in my district, for example. To bolster student interest, I am hoping that I can organize a few socially-distanced home visits with each of my students so that they can get to know me and hopefully feel more comfortable with me online.

Luckily, it’s easier to stay safe while meeting with just one student at a time. If your school’s administration allows it, try to set up socially distanced home visits with your students at least once a semester. This allows students to feel individually heard and acknowledged, so they can feel even more comfortable and engaged in remote learning sessions.

  1. Make your materials more inclusive than ever

Inclusivity and accessibility are crucial in the social & emotional learning of all students under “normal” conditions, and the remote environment of 2020’s classroom means you have to be more intentional than ever in serving all of your students equitably. Record your lesson videos at a pace that all of your students can follow, and add subtitles so every student can absorb the lesson the way they learn best. And if you’re trying to make your e-learning materials fun & distinctive, keep an eye on the readability of your resources for students with visual difficulties.

Unfortunately, even if you include helpful subtitles, visual aids, and voiceovers in your videos, kinesthetic learners won’t find the same tailored learning support that they could in the classroom. Becker explains:

In-class I like to use manipulatives to supplement student learning. Because I’m a general education teacher, I cover every subject including math. Online, I can’t provide extra physical materials to help students understand concepts like fractions. Instead, I will make use of online academic games, and interactive learning models that can engage young students outside the classroom. Because it will be exceedingly easy for students to tune out during online learning, class will need to be hyper-interactive.

Inclusivity extends to every corner of your teaching: use gender-appropriate or gender-neutral pronouns in your materials, and be wary of your students’ personal needs. When planning recorded lessons and producing e-learning videos, be efficient and make use of your students’ limited attention spans. In the classroom, you’re able to monitor your students’ engagement, but teaching remotely means that you can’t always keep an eye on their focus.

  1. Advocate for remote health services

Another important aspect of the in-person school experience that’s missing in remote learning is the accessibility of health services for students. While in-person medical care can’t be provided to students using typical school resources, it’s especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide adequate mental health resources for students of all ages.

You likely don’t have much direct control over your administrators’ use of health resources. But if you’re able, do what you can to advocate for mental health resources to be made available for your students. This might involve bringing several educators together in order to work for what you believe is best for your students, speaking with parents in order to focus the school’s entire community on students’ well-being, or doing your own research on accessible mental health resources online. This terrific list of accessible remote mental health resources is a great place to start.

  1. Make space for trauma

It would be great for your remote teaching to be just as effective as in-person school, but most likely that’s not possible in 2020. And what’s more, it shouldn’t be your primary objective. Many students are experiencing an especially traumatic year, and their health and wellness has to be prioritized over the diligence of their schoolwork. Becker elaborates:

Many students are traumatized after losing family to COVID or getting sick themselves. For that reason, social-emotional learning will be front and center this semester to address trauma. Education through this catastrophe needs a dose of realism: pushing your students harder than usual will do more harm than good.

The main takeaway here is that educators need to be especially responsive to all their students this year and rethink the teacher/student relationship. More than ever before, the parent/teacher relationship may occupy a lot of your attention, as students’ whole lives become central to the success of their education.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Exploring the World From Our Classroom

As we prepare our students for their future once they leave our classrooms, I believe that one of the most important skills that they need to develop is that of collaboration. We cannot be certain of the type of work that they will do nor the type of jobs that will exist, but being able to collaborate and to provide and receive support will be beneficial to any line of work. However, we need to go beyond the collaboration that occurs whether in person in the classroom, working in small groups or collaborating virtually through the use of digital tools. We have so many possibilities for extending their collaboration to a global scale and to best prepare for the future, this is what we must do in our classrooms. The benefit of setting up virtual collaborative learning experiences for students is that it shows the powerful capability of technology. Through different digital tools and organizations available, we can now offer faster and more reliable access to resources than we ever had before. But probably more important than this, it fosters a greater understanding of life in the real world and promotes cultural awareness for our students.

As a Spanish teacher, for years I have wanted to create global connections for my students but only until the past few years did I become more intentional about finding ways to do so. Drawing upon my experiences as a student and during the first years of my teaching career, finding opportunities or knowing where to look were areas that I struggled with. However, after doing some research and becoming more connected, there are a lot of digital tools and resources available for making these global collaborations happen and which do not take much time at all to get started.

In my practice, to connect globally, I use project-based learning is the first way that I connected my students with other classrooms and that has made a positive impact on their learning as well as on their personal growth. It simply took connecting with teachers using Edmodo as our platform and then building the different tools in to open up those conversations and create that space for students to collaborate within. Tools like Flipgrid, Synth, Padlet or Wakelet can be used for students to post messages whether written or audio or video and to work together to better understand a concept or potentially work together to solve a problem.

Resources for global collaboration and learning

Scavenger hunts: I’m sure most of us have participated in a scavenger hunt. A few years ago I found the platform Goose Chase which made it a lot easier and quicker to create a scavenger hunt for use in my classroom. What I realized is that by using digital tools like Goose Chase for example, is that those who can participate are not limited to students in the same class nor students in the same school community. Find a partner teacher to collaborate with and design a scavenger hunt that can be a way to exchange information about each respective culture, post images of the school, the town or what life is like beyond your own school community. The results would be amazing when students in both classrooms learn about another culture, become curious for learning, collaborate and problem-solve together while being in a completely different geographical location. This idea had not occurred to me until I participated in a scavenger hunt for a conference in California, from my home in Pittsburgh, and I actually won a prize. And if not Goose Chase, I can use things like Fliphunt or even Wakelet as a good friend of mine Laura Steinbrink had created. There are many tools to get started with this, but the idea is that we push beyond our own classrooms and involve other students so that we can learn and grow together.

There is no shortage of tools for use in our classrooms, whether digital or traditional format. What makes any one of them stand out is the purpose and knowing the why behind our decision to use them in our practice. When it comes to preparing our students for the future, the best that we can do is open as many doors as possible for them to look out into the world, explore, and find something that is interesting and leads them down a road of discovery. In addition to digital tools for promoting global collaboration, there are some organizations that have invested in building global awareness and digital citizenship.

Here are a few resources to start with:

Belouga: An educational platform that provides resources for educators and students to connect with classrooms around the world and engage in more authentic learning. Belouga focuses on promoting intercultural communication and offers resources such as projects for students to participate in to develop a greater global understanding. Belouga offers a deep dive series as well as a new feature that focuses on Mission 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Empatico: A free platform for use with their students ages six through 11. Educators can connect their classroom with a partner classroom and design activities to engage students in more meaningful learning as they develop greater global awareness. Through the connections made within the platform, students can build their vital 21st-century skills and take a more active role in learning.

Teach SDGs:  The “Sustainable Development Goals” are something that we have been learning more about as we’ve done project-based learning in my classroom. Exploring the website and learning more about the needs and challenges around the world has made an impact on my students as well as myself for learning. Going to the Teach SDGs site, students can learn about the 17 goals set forth by the United Nations. Together we can look at global issues, learn how places around the world are solving these problems, and use this to set up connections with classrooms globally. Again it just takes finding the right tool to communicate through. It could be with Microsoft Skype, to set up a call to talk with someone who teaches in one of those places or to connect with an expert I can talk about a specific topic, but that opens up the potential to connect our students’ work together.

Write the World: Students ages 13 through 18 can write and share their work with writers from over 120 countries around the world. Through the global platform, students have opportunities to build their writing skills and become more comfortable expressing themselves. Write the World is a good way to get feedback from students, educators, and authors and to work to build a writing portfolio. With access to writing from around the world and the ability to share their work on a global scale, students and build cultural awareness and become more connected as they design their learning journey.

Global Book!: Or how about Michael Drezek, an educator from New York who came up with the idea to create a global book! Using Buncee, he started the story by sharing it with classrooms around the world and having students add to the book. In the first year, the book traveled over 23,208 miles! This is the second year that Michael is doing this project and the focus is on the global sustainability goals. Imagine having your students come up with part of a global story and in the end to see how they’ve connected with students from around the world without leaving your classroom or possibly even their seat.

As educators, we must continue to push ourselves to learn more about resources available as well as the different ways we can become more connected. There are many online events to build our skills, including virtual learning summits, webinars, and Twitter chats our own professional development. It is through these formats that we can reach out to connect ourselves and serve as a model for our students about the importance of and the power in global collaboration. Check out some of the resources that were available for global collaboration week, there are a lot of ideas and links to excellent resources.

5 Ways to Build Collaborative Learning Skills In and Out of the Classroom

Developing skills for collaboration is a critical component for our students for their future. It is so important that educators provide opportunities for students to work together in our classrooms so that they can develop the necessary skills for working on a team which will also enable students to build social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. As we think about the importance of social-emotional learning and its role not only in education but in the future, this is why we must be intentional about finding ways to engage our students more by learning from one another in their classroom and beyond.

There is so much potential for having students work in teams or in small groups in the classroom. Technology can be an important component of these collaborations by creating access to more resources. There are many great opportunities for students to use digital tools available that help to create extra time in the day and offer various ways for students to collaborate beyond the time and space of the classroom, by fostering connections with other students in classrooms around the world.

When and Where to Collaborate

I think that the most critical piece of this is realizing that learning is no longer confined to the instruction that happens in the classroom during class. Unlike years ago when I was a student, our learning took place in the classroom and then we took time at home whether in the evening or weekends to complete homework assignments and projects. But for having opportunities for collaboration, it was far more difficult to work with partners and find a common time to meet beyond the school day. Meeting required physically going to a place to work together and have discussions. With access to new digital tools which bring innovative and more interesting ways to collaborate, these constraints on how, when, and where learning can occur exist minimally today. The biggest factor is whether or not our students and schools have the right access to the resources that are needed.

Just as students need opportunities to collaborate, as educators, we also need to find ways to work with colleagues and members of our Professional Learning Network (PLN), often beyond the school day. We also need to build our own skills and share our skill-sets and methods with our colleagues and PLN. by actively engaging in this right along with our students. We must model lifelong learning and the importance of asking for and offering help to others. Our goal is to construct a supportive foundation where we can all grow from.

Five ways to collaborate wherever and whenever

Here are five ways to promote collaboration both in the physical classroom setting as well as the virtual learning space. With each of these ideas, teachers can have students working together using different digital tools or teaching strategies. Beyond the content involved, students will build their communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving skills and develop the SEL skills at the same time.

  1. Learning stations when used in the classroom open up more possibilities for personalized learning, for social interactions, and the building of relationships between students and between the teacher and students. Using between three and five stations in the classroom, depending on class size and grade level, teachers can have students work together through a series of learning activities. Selecting a mix of digital tools, hands-on learning activities, and teacher-directed instruction creates a good mix of ways for students to engage with the content. For some, giving students the option to collaborate and design their own way of practicing the content can lead to new ideas for the whole class. Encourage students to team teach and take more of a leadership role in the classroom.
  2. Cross-curricular collaboration: How about working with another curricular area or even grade level?  Find a connector between your class and that of a colleague. Create a task where the students in both of your classes must collaborate on the same project while you do the same. Maybe you use project-based learning (PBL) in your class and you want to share that framework with a colleague or it is something that you are hoping to learn from a colleague. Find a common bond between your courses and start collaborating. I connected with an eighth-grade science teacher and our students used Buncee to create their presentation. This past year, my students connected with students in Spain and shared backgrounds, interests and other facts about their lives by leveraging technology tools to exchange information. Working together with colleagues to create these opportunities for students and helping students to engage in more meaningful learning makes a
  3. Beyond Classroom Discussions: Have you had a great discussion going in class just to have it interrupted by the bell? Or have you tried to encourage students to share their ideas but have not been successful? How about getting students to share ideas on important topics, by using some of the digital tools available for curating material or gathering feedback. We have many tools available that when leveraged with purpose, can add great benefits for student learning and student confidence. Some of the options are using things like Padlet to create a wall for discussion where students can post comments and respond to classmates. Try Wakelet to post an idea or a theme and ask students to share and create resources. To get students speaking more, use Flipgrid to create short videos as a prompt for students to discuss. Or try having students create a podcast using tools like Anchor or Synth. Which enable students to create on their own, and using Synth, students can ask and answer questions asynchronously. These are just a few quick digital ways to promote collaboration.
  4.  Collaborative Creations: When it comes to having students do more creating in the classroom, we have a ton of resources and materials to choose from. Giving students the option of using traditional formats versus digital formats is something that I do a lot in my own classroom. I want my students to have choices, however I also want them to build some other skills like online collaboration and designing. There are many tools that are adding features for students to create together. Beyond the collaborative options within Microsoft and Google, students can now work with emerging technologies. Using tools like CoSpaces and 3DBear, students can work together to create augmented and virtual reality spaces for digital storytelling. With either of these options, students work together in ways that build collaborative skills while also connecting them with more authentic and meaningful learning experiences.
  5. Blogging and Website Design: Blogging offers so many benefits in addition to building literacy skills and helping students to share ideas in a more authentic way. It also offers an effective way to build relationships between students as they exchange ideas, offer peer feedback and engage in more conversations in the classroom and online. Teachers can learn more about students and their interests, and use these ideas to create additional opportunities for collaboration within the classroom and with global peers. Tools such as Kidblog or Edublogs are good options. Creating a group project can be done using many different presentation formats, but one which helps students to build skills transferable for the future is in designing a website. Students in my school created websites for History Day and had a great artifact of learning to share and developed skills which will benefit them in the future.

Beyond these ideas, reach out into your school community and find local organizations that are open to working with students. It would benefit our students by connecting with real-world learning experiences and building skills beyond those covered in the curriculum. It benefits the school community by learning about what education looks like for students today. Providing options through place-based and experiential learning opportunities will open new possibilities for student interests and future career explorations.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Skip the Course, Get the Curriculum

Guest  post by Monica Gupta Mehta  @EmotionalMUSE

I know there are many teachers who just don’t have the time to read anything extra right now, but would love to include more social emotional learning into their virtual week. For those teachers, I have pulled together all of the student activities in one place. In order to not feel overwhelmed, I would recommend choosing just 1-2 activities to include in your curriculum this month!

These activities are organized by topic, so you can find them in the following order:

Curiosity, Mindsets, Self Awareness, Social Awareness, Self Care, Emotional Regulation, Calming Mind and Body

Feelings Board: Make a feelings board for your own students. You can do this using Padlet as I did, using your own digital tools…or simply make it an activity at the start of classroom chats, having every student share with one word how they are feeling.

Exit Slips: Use digital exit slips in your next class session to ask students what they most want to learn about a specific topic. Try to incorporate their ideas in your next unit.

Personal Projects: (Not a typical curriculum item, but especially helpful for emotional regulation and coping during this time of high stress) If your teaching team agrees, you could reduce workload for each course and jointly allow students to come up with their own project, something they would like to spend their time doing. Each teacher could take charge of one component – helping students set goals, make a plan, and checking in to see how it is going and if adjustments need made. I did this with my own kids over Spring Break – one chose to create a website for collecting people’s experiences during COVID19 (covid19capsule.org), one chose to study neuroscience, and one learned Scratch programming. It was a great form of mental engagement and inherently motivating.

Gratitude Journal: Begin a gratitude journal with your class. You can do this in numerous ways – you can use digital learning tools, ask them to complete one at home in a journal, make it simple or artistic. The practice of writing down what we are grateful for each day helps us to focus our attention on the positives in our life. A positive attitude helps us cope, and makes it easier to avoid excessive worrying.

Here is a link to one on teacherspayteachers but it costs money – fairly simple to make your own.

Gratitude Read-a-Loud: Choose your favorite picture book about gratitude and read it to your students, or record yourself reading it and post it for them. If you can find your book on Storyline Online, it will be read aloud by a celebrity and have beautiful illustrations to accompany it.

One book that works well for this is ‘Please, Please the Bees’ by Gerald Kelley – you can find it on Storyline read by Rashida Jones. It is an excellent story of gratitude and appreciation.

Everyday Heroes: For very young students, you could use this game to discuss gratitude for our everyday community heroes.

Mastery Orientation: Ask students about a time they did something well. Ask them to write a few sentences about what rewards they received. Ask them to think about what external praise they got for their work, and what internal rewards they felt. Ask them what else makes them feel proud inside themselves.

Growth Mindset Charts: Ask students to list sentences they have said or heard about their ability, and have them classify each as growth or fixed mindset on a chart. Have them convert fixed mindset expressions to growth mindset ones.

Growth Mindset Discussion Question: Ask students about something they used to struggle with, but now are good at. What are all of the things that helped them to improve?

Self Check-In: Using the Starfish/Tornado visual below, ask your students to check in about how they are feeling. Are they calm as a starfish, or agitated like a tornado (or have fun making up something in between!). Brainstorm a list of ways to calm back down when they feel agitated inside. Ask them to stop and think a few times each day about how they are feeling. It helps to give them a place to make a tally (worksheet, digital document) each time they remember to stop and check in with themselves.

Emotional Vocabulary: Ask students to process one emotional vocabulary word each week. Ask them to define it, comment on times when they have felt it themselves, and times they have seen others exhibit it. For example – ‘What is courage? What is a time when you felt courageous? When have you noticed others being courageous?’

Identity: For older students interested in personality as a component of identity, a basic starting point is on the topic of extroverts/introverts. This is an often misunderstood dichotomy, and it can help students to understand themselves better. Many are surprised to learn that being an introvert is not about being antisocial…it is about where we get our energy from. An interesting discussion point: many argue that these days, our society more publicly rewards people for being extroverted. Being in quarantine, we are seeing introverts thrive (relatively) and extroverts have a much more difficult time.

One of my all-time favorite TED Talks is this one, on the Power of Introverts.

Coping Skills: Take a ‘Coping Skills Inventory.’ Give students a list of activities that are often useful for coping with big emotions. Explain that people all around the world are feeling complex emotions – for example, a child may be happy they are getting to play more games with their family, but sad that their birthday party is cancelled. Ask them to check off which coping strategies most help them, and to brainstorm others that may help as well.

Sample List: Going for walks, Music, Sleeping, Family Movies, Online Communities, Connecting with Friends, Puzzles, Comedy, Audiobooks, Books

This site has some great printables.

Sesame Street and Big Emotions: For very young students, Sesame Street continues to have wonderful content about understanding and processing our feelings. Here is a very sweet song with Abby Cadabby about big emotions. Here is a link to activities and other Sesame Street videos on emotions.

Calm Down Spot: If possible, ask students to create a place that is just for them to sit and be calm. This is a great place to have ready for later in this course, when students will practice going there to cool down when their emotions become overwhelming. For now, it can just be a place to sit and think about how they are doing, and what they might need at that moment. They can keep a few books nearby, perhaps some coloring, or even a water bottle can be helpful. A favorite stuffed animal is always nice to have. My daughter keeps her ipod and headphones there to listen to some music when she wants to relax and reset and think about life.

Empathy and Appreciation: One fun way to build empathy is to give your students an ‘Acts of Kindness’ challenge. Explain that to do effective acts of kindness, students need to observe others and think about what would make the recipient happy – not what the student themselves would want. Ask students to document their acts of kindness, ideally in a way that can be shared with their classmates. For example, you could ask students to create short videos about their act of kindness using FlipGrid or to create Padlets. For older kids, share the Berkeley study on acts of kindness and their impact on happiness. The study discovered the greatest benefit to self came from doing 5 acts of kindness all on the same day, once a week every week for 6 weeks. Teenagers could even do my #fiveacts challenge on Tik Tok!

Social Detective: You can teach students active listening and observation of others by playing ‘social detective.’ Ask students to think of a situation coming up in which they will be interacting with others. At this time, it will most likely be other family members in their household. Have students draw the anticipated scene and place each family member in it. Then ask students to give each person a thought bubble, and to write in one thing that person might be thinking – something the person might be feeling strong emotions about or hoping for.

Another way to play social detective is to use picture books. Stop at an interesting scene and ask students to notice everything they can about the scene and the people in it. This can also be done with movies. Here is a sample worksheet from the Michelle Garcia Winner Social Thinking series.

Cry Baby: This is a simple ‘social detective’ type activity as well. Show students a picture of a crying baby, and ask them to think of all the reasons a baby might cry. This is particularly effective as young babies can not yet talk to communicate their needs, and so students must work hard to be observant and practice empathy skills.

Turtle Time: Ask students to sit and observe people by acting like a turtle. They should move their head around in a slow, exaggerated fashion. Ask them to write (or draw) everything they notice. Then ask them to think of a behavior that would be appropriate for them when entering that scene…and one that would be inappropriate. For example, if their brother is having a school video chat, it would not be appropriate to be loud as they enter that scene.

(They do not have to be turtles. They could be spies with binoculars, or anything else they can come up with!)

The Main Point: Host small group virtual chats, ideally with 2-4 students per session. Ask students to take turns sharing a short story about their day, and ask other students to listen carefully. Then have each student practice showing they were listening by identifying what they felt was a ‘main point’ in the story, along with an appropriate emotion word. An example might be, “It sounds like you felt really scared when your sister got sick.”

Same But Different: Tell your students a statement in a neutral tone, and then practice saying it in different tones of voice. Ask students to differentiate the possible emotions and thoughts of the speaker.

Feelings Cards: There are countless online resources for creating a stack of ‘feelings cards.’ These are simply a collection of photos of people expressing different emotions. Ask students to identify what they notice in the photo, helping them make careful observations. Then ask them students what they think the person is feeling. I enjoy doing this activity with gifs, as they show a bit more of the natural movements of a person’s body and face.

Whichever images you choose, please don’t use emojis for your feelings cards. They teach very little, as they are not realistic expressions and have no body language.

Connection: Students are in need of connection to their peers, and as teachers we can serve as facilitators for this. Schedule video chats with students in small groups of 2-4, and send out a sign up sheet ahead of time. This allows students to sign up for slots with friends they are missing. If that does not work well for your schedule, you can also create ‘break out rooms’ in Zoom chats to allow a few students to be together during a full class video chat.

Some ideas for games students can play together virtually are Simon Says, Guess Who, I Spy, and Twenty Questions.

Vulnerability and Belonging Discussion: For older students, just a great TED Talk that can be spun off into a discussion about connection: Brene Brown and the Power of Vulnerability.

Simple Self Care Practice: One very simple activity is to ask students to print out this handout, or something similar, and ask them to check off each item across the week.

Piloting Your Plane: This activity is a complex metaphor, but tends to resonate very well with young students. For a fun example of how to explain this analogy to students, watch my own videos here: Piloting Your Plane. (I made these today quickly to give you an example – the sound quality is not stellar. If anyone wants a better quality version to actually use in class, let me know and I can remake it.)

You’ll need to give kids some way to keep track of checking in with their bodies all day. Here is a sample worksheet you could ask them to use for this activity. Some other ideas: you could ask them to check in on a spreadsheet or document in Google Classroom, or use Padlets.

The script goes something like this:

“Imagine your body is a plane, and your mind is the pilot. Your mind is in charge of keeping the plane flying smoothly, without crashing. When you have tantrums, overreactions and large emotional outbursts, that is like your plane crashing. If you pay attention to piloting your plane, you can fly it smoothly all day.

Just like a real pilot, there are important gauges you can check to make sure you are flying smoothly all day. It is important to stop and check on your gauges all throughout the day. These gauges are:

Temperature: When you are feeling calm, you are in the green. If you check your gauge and it is green, you can go back to your normal activities. If you are in the red, that means you are very angry, frustrated, or upset for some reason. It is important to stop what you are doing and calm your body back down to green. Blue means you are feeling sad, or lonely, or disappointed, and perhaps could use a hug or something that makes you feel happier.

Fuel: Your fuel gauge measures if you are hungry or thirsty. Take a minute to check in with your body, and if you are running low on fuel, fill it up! Being hungry or thirsty can actually make our emotions overreact to situations.

Energy: Your energy gauge tells you if you are too full of energy, or perhaps too low on energy. If you are too full of energy, do some exercise and movement to help release it. If you are not getting enough exercise and movement in your day, then your energy gauge is going to get too full and could cause a crash. If you are low on energy, allow your body some rest – if not a nap, then perhaps reading a book or just relaxing on the sofa for a bit.

Weather: Your weather gauge tells you if your plane is going to run into some turbulence ahead! Think a little forward in your day – is anything coming up that might cause your emotions or body to not fly smoothly? Something exciting, or difficult, or a change of routine? Preparing for bad weather ahead can help you to handle it better.”

This analogy can extend further than teaching kids to check their gauges. Here are some additional pieces you can add on to this activity.

The Watchtower: The Watchtower is essential to flying a real plane, because there are events or conditions that a pilot cannot detect by themselves, even if they are very good about checking all of their gauges. Let’s take a moment to think who acts as our watchtowers? Often, this can be your parents or teachers, and perhaps even siblings. It is important to listen to our watchtowers about our emotional well being, because they often see things we don’t see ourselves.

The Rocket Ship: When something really big or exciting is going on, sometimes our everyday plane turns into a rocketship!! When this happens, it usually means our emotions are turbo charged!! This means we have to be even more careful about checking our gauges often, and taking care of our bodies all day. When we blast off for a big event, we have to look out for not only bad weather turbulence, but also asteroid fields and meteors!! When in our rocket ship, we fly fast, and that also means we can crash fast! It can be really helpful to take extra good care of your body when you are flying in a rocket ship.

Habit Tracking for Older Kids: Older students may not need the full ‘piloting your plane’ analogy, but they do need to learn about taking care of their bodies. For teens, a helpful activity is to ask them to track for themselves:

1. Sleep

2. Exercise/Movement

3. Screen Time (non academic)

4. Socializing Time

5. Outdoors Time

6. Water

7. Food

8. Mood

Ask them to draw connections between their activities and their feelings/energy levels. What is one habit they want to keep in their daily life to feel better? Have them set a personal habit goal and check in on it weekly.

Mindfulness – Nature Walk: One mindful activity that is often satisfying for young children is going on a nature hunt. Ask them to take a magnifying lens if possible, and to walk slowly around their yard or neighborhood looking for nature. They can analyze leaves, look for insects, find snails, notice spiderwebs…there is so much to discover. Ask them to remember the things they are seeing and to come back and journal them.

GoNoodle – not just for movement!: GoNoodle has a number of video series that are helpful for self care, beyond their movement and exercise videos. One that is good for self care is: Take on the Day,

Movement and Exercise: Since movement and exercise are so critical to emotional regulation and sleep quality, it would be beneficial to offer students ideas for how to stay active at home. To get you started:

GoNoodle

Backyard Play

Biking

Walks

Station Rotations (sit ups, jumping jacks, push ups, plank)

Games (tag, Simon Says, hide and seek, freeze dance, animal workout)

Dancing – zumba videos, Kidz Boop, Just Dance

Cosmic Kids Yoga or simple yoga on own

Mental Enrichment: Students may need mental stimulation beyond school work. It could be fun to brainstorm a list together of things students can do to stay busy beyond school, ideally without devices. To get you started:

Reading

Video Chats

Obstacle Courses

Escape Room

Imagination Play

Art

Board Games and Cards

Puzzles

Brain Teasers

Cleaning/organizing/tidying

Helping parents with tasks or chores

Clue Hunts

Learn a new skill

DIY projects

Experiments

Writing stories, poems, comic strips, etc.

Building (Legos, scrap materials)

Acts of Kindness

Origami

Audibooks

Journaling

Problem Solving Wheel: Teach students to stop, calm down, and then think. Use this wheel to help them make a good choice for what to do next.

Bending the Rules: Try playing games but changing the rules of the game. This might be met with resistance, but if you can come up with rules that make the game slightly more fun, eventually it may be met with joy and curiosity.

Three Solutions: Students often come up with one answer, and then dig in their heels defending that answer or way of doing things. Ask students to come up with three possible answers to various questions or riddles. This is a very important skill to hone for group work.

Breathing with Cookie Monster: For very young kids, they might enjoy watching Cookie Monster use breathing to calm down and increase his patience while waiting for his cookies to be ready.

Yoga/Stretching: There are many printables available online of ‘animal yoga.’ These stretches are relaxing to the body. You can also find great story-telling style yoga at Cosmic Kids Yoga.

Calm Down Spots: I mentioned these earlier, but having a spot that students are used to using as a ‘calm’ area will also help them when agitated. Students can be asked to go to their calm down spots until they are back in the green, or at least the yellow. It should be explained to students ahead of time that this is not a punishment, being ‘sent’ to their calm down spot. It is merely a strategy that is very helpful for avoiding poor behavior when agitated. In this article, I give lots of advice for how we made a calm down spot at our home for my son. This includes building a ‘calm down kit‘ to keep nearby.

Breathing Shapes and Props: A unique way to practice breathing is to ask students to choose their favorite breathing shape. I have included one example here, but there are many different ways to practice deep breathing – often one style will suit a particular student better than another. Ask students to practice this daily, so that they build their muscle memory. Students who attempt to do deep breathing when agitated, without practice, often end up breathing far too rapidly and feeling more frustrated. This site also includes props, such as breathing with bubbles.

Exercise and Movement: As discussed in the unit on Self Care, exercise is great for emotional regulation. While a child who is very upset won’t likely be in the right state to go for a bike ride, taking a little walk or doing some movement in place, such as jumping jacks, might help them to work out some of their energy. Whatever movement they choose should not be one that requires much coordination. My favorite is to keep a balloon around, and to ask them to bop the balloon in the air and keep it up for at last 10 iterations. This helps their mind focus and clear, while also giving them an opportunity for safe movement. If something more aggressive is needed, students could try ripping up a pile of junk mail paper.

5-4-3-2-1 Grounding: For children who struggle with anxiety, it can be helpful to teach them grounding activities. 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding is a method in which you use all your senses to ground yourself in the moment. Ask students to list:

5 things they can see

4 things they can touch

3 things they can hear

2 things they can smell

and 1 thing they can taste

Here is a graphic you could use while practicing.

Accomplishments Box: Celebrating accomplishments can help build confidence, self esteem and optimism, all of which are helpful to staying regulated. Here is a fun activity for building an accomplishments box, which will help keep students motivated as well.

Finding Humor: Humor is often the secret key to help students return to a state of calm. Keep some joke books, comics, or even comedic audiobooks handy for when a child needs a pick-me-up.

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Guest post: Teachers have earned the benefit of the doubt

Be patient during the COVID-19 pandemic

As schools throughout the nation close for the remainder of the year, take a minute to consider what this will mean for thousands of teachers who are doing their best to educate our children. School leaders and local officials are scrambling to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is our top priority, and as we retrofit our education system on the fly to meet the needs of millions of students, we ask for your patience and understanding.

Schools are not designed to adapt quickly

Be kind to teachers who are on the front lines navigating school closures in an education system that is, like so many institutions, incapable of meeting the demands placed upon it by the outbreak. At best, the expectations for most teachers right now are loosely defined by school leaders. Many teachers are trying to patch together inadequate distance learning programs without guidance. This is not the time for parents to use social media platforms to compare teachers or to publicly complain about a teacher who is slow to adapt. Our nation’s teachers have earned the benefit of the doubt, so please show some grace if you are irritated.
During normal times, school districts take several months, even years, to institute changes in curriculum and instructional methods. Expecting teachers to do this at a high level, with no time to prepare, during a national emergency is ridiculous. If you feel the need to share feedback with an educator, consider what would be helpful before you hit send. Negativity toward a teacher at this time will bruise deeply and could limit the creativity of teachers trying their best to meet student needs. A measured tone is imperative if you feel discouraged as a parent and wish to share your frustration. Trust me, teachers wish they could meet the needs of every student and family they serve.

More than the internet

Connecting and teaching students in a distance-learning environment is not akin to a teacher simply jumping online and presenting academic material to students. Conducting meaningful virtual instruction requires dedicated professional coaching for staff, and it also requires significant training and practice for students and families. Most teachers have never been expected to integrate remote learning into their curriculum. The instinctive knowledge teachers have spent their respective careers amassing has a vastly different application online, and most educators have never been trained to deliver robust instruction in that format. In addition, the inequity of student access to technology and broadband internet service is woven into the challenge of teaching students remotely.

Teachers are pros at building relationships

Teachers are well versed in building relationships with students so be grateful for the teachers who are trying to maintain their connection to students. This connection — virtual or in-person — is critical for academic and social-emotional growth. Our best educators specialize in making those human connections and they are experts at molding positive relationships, devoting their talent to create a culture of learning, and contributing to the school culture. Those indelible skills for expressing care and demonstrating a commanding presence may translate online for some teachers, but it is unfair to expect it to happen naturally.

Teachers are stuck waiting

Many of our teachers can’t share with you that they are at the whim of school leaders and state mandates that are not always communicated to them effectively. While teachers are on the front lines of most communication with parents and students, they are not always armed with the information parents seek. Your child’s teacher understands your concerns about assessments and grades, your child falling behind and your desire to have access to more resources. Teachers are trying to be flexible and they do not want to throw their school leaders under the bus by voicing their misgivings to you and fueling the anxiety parents are feeling.

Uncertainty and sadness

Educators lament the loss of the celebrations, getting that last high five, hug or final word of encouragement to students. Teachers have been working hard to get your child to the finish line, and in a career that has always included clear beginnings and ends each school year, this new reality is bewildering. Many educators are helping their own children cope with the loss of a traditional school year while they also cope with the same reality as a professional. Not being able to grieve the loss of the school year together is tough on the children and the adults who serve them. Teachers wonder if their current efforts are making much of an impact on students. In some cases, only a handful of students are still connected to school and that is disheartening. Teachers are used to receiving regular feedback from students and adjusting their teaching strategies accordingly.

Moving forward

The best thing you can do to help teachers is to unite with them and let them know you appreciate them. If you feel the need to share your concerns about school district policies and local programs, reach out to school leaders. Our educators are committed to serving all children and we know that we’re in this together. Teachers and school leaders throughout the country care deeply about the health, safety, and engagement of their students. Right now our teachers need your support.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

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