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April 5, 2019 / JaymeJ

Empathy

While not nearly as entertaining as Mark Ruffalo and Murray, I had the opportunity to speak to the Crusader Club, our St. John’s Dads group, about how we teach empathy at St. John’s. My brief remarks were preceded by fourth graders sharing highlights from their Number the Stars PBL. Here are two quick snippets from their performance this morning:

As showcased through that performance, one of the most obvious ways to teach empathy is through experiences – PBLs such as the fourth grade Number the Stars, second grade Spanish Café, and eighth grade political party formation, allow students the opportunity to step into roles and experience the work, effort, and perspective of others.

Service learning, particularly the student experiences in middle school, provide similar opportunities to understand how others think and live and to reflect upon how we can contribute to making the experiences of others better or more positive.

Classroom teachers weave empathy into their regular discussions, be that through literature or daily conflict mediation. Reading and talking about the experiences of characters or asking students to imagine how they would feel or react in these fictitious situations allows students to pre-think about their responses. And in more “real life” moments, the daily conflict mediation and resolution of issues, both large and small, that naturally occur when you put a large number of similarly aged children together, in one space, on a daily basis.

Additionally, our Chaplain and our school Counselor support much of our curriculum around empathy. Our December chapel applied theme is empathy and Fr. Thorpe and Dr. Bloom provide a number of grade specific lessons from which teachers can choose, or oftentimes teachers develop their own lessons around the theme to specifically address topics specific to their classroom and the needs of the students. In 1st-4th grades, Dr. Bloom regularly goes into classrooms to lead lessons on listening, kindness, problem solving, and communication…all of which include empathy as part of the discussion.

Middle school students receive lessons during advisory on personal stills, communication, and decision making. NAMI comes and presents to the 7th grade about understanding those with mental health issues. This, coupled with 7th grade mindfulness lessons, provide self-awareness for students. The more aware of self you are, the better you are able to understand others. We also often host screenings – such as Screenagers, Finding Kind, and Anxiety – and provide field trips to see plays such as Screenplay and the Secret Life of Girls, followed by age-appropriate discussions with a panel of experts about the experiences and scenarios presented in the films or plays.

Finally, through our cross-age buddy program, Buddy Day themes often focus on topics surrounding empathy, such as living the St. John’s code. When we discuss respect and responsibility, empathy is a naturally occurring presence in those conversations.

Now, here comes your part. Because we are continually looking at how to foster the connection between home and school, here are some ways to promote conversations about empathy at home.

Instead of asking “How was your day?” or “How was school today?” ask:

  • Who did you help today
  • What things did you do to make your day go more smoothly? Or your friend’s day go more smoothly?

If there are problems at school, talk about them the next day, when their thinking has moved from the “fight or flight” section of their brain to their pre-frontal cortex and your child is able to think more rationally and with less emotion. (Learn more: LaVonna Roth explaining how to help students move from a survival state to a thinking state.)

Give children opportunities to make decisions. This will allow them to feel that their voice counts while also providing them the chance to step into your shoes – parents make decisions each day. How does it feel to have to make a tough choice?

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March 26, 2019 / JaymeJ

Listen more. Talk less. Calm down.


image courtesy of Fresh Start Church

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.


James 1:19

This morning, I was invited to give our Lower School chapel talk. Here was my message, inspired by our reading from the Gospel of James, and targeted towards our first through fourth grade students.

Quick to listen. Slow to speak. Slow to get angry.

When preparing for today’s chapel talk, I started thinking about the advice given in James. Listening. Well…I’m a teacher, I have lots to say about listening. Speaking. I talk fast, so, literally, being slow to speak is difficult for me. Anger. A school administrator could say so many things about anger.

As I was brainstorming, I realized I had a lot of ideas, but no connections. How do these three things relate? Then I started thinking about what I do every day. Part of my job is visiting with students who come into my office. So why do students come in? Basically, students visit my office for three reasons:

  • To celebrate and share great things – to read the story they wrote, to get a sticker for following through and reaching a goal, or to show me something cool they coded on their iPad. I love being able to share in these happy moments!
  • When they need a quiet space – sometimes friends just need a quiet place to work without the distraction of the classroom; often students need a place to sit for a moment and reset; these students are not in trouble, but just need a space to go. I welcome these visits so they see my office as a welcoming place, a place of refuge in their time of need.
  • And, finally, when they are not following the advice James gives – they were not …quick to listen, slow to speak, or slow to get angry.

Quick to listen. Slow to speak. Slow to get angry.

While these words appear simple, actually doing them is hard. Really hard! So, I’m taking the opportunity today to share some advice, some tips if you will, on how we all can do these things a little better.

Quick to listen.

Think of the game of Telephone. We have all played this, right? Where the first person says a sentence, then one person at a time passes it down a long line of people, and finally the last person says aloud what they heard. Now, as we all know, the sentence at end is not usually what we started with. Why? We weren’t listening. Or we wanted to use our own idea instead. Or we were trying to be funny. All true. But one of the main reasons the game goes awry is because we were listening to what was being said while also thinking about how we had to say this to the next person. We were quick to listen, but also thinking about what we are going to say next.

To be a good listener, we must listen carefully the first time, then remember what was said. We should not always be thinking what we want to say next.

Do you ever tune out your teacher or parents? Have you ever sat in class and heard your teacher talking then, when he or she stopped you thought, “Now, what am I supposed to do? I missed the directions!” Instead, be attentive. Tune in. Open your ears. Be a focused and eager listener. Don’t just hear the words being said, but really think about what is being said.

Listening is a very important skill and a very important part of being a good friend and a good student.

Slow to speak and slow to get angry.

I think of these two as a pair. But, I can’t think of any great examples of how someone looks when they are “slow to anger.” Why? Because if they are slow to anger, they don’t look angry! But looking angry, that makes me picture the Incredible Hulk. You laugh, but do you ever feel like the Hulk? Now, I am pretty sure that none of you, when you get mad, turn into a giant, green dude. But I know you sometimes feel like the Hulk inside. Do you ever feel like your anger controls you, fills you with rage, makes you act like a monster, makes you want to explode?

That term, “makes you want to explode” or “blow up” makes anger sound like a volcano, like something we cannot control. But that is not true. Anger is an emotion, and we can control our emotions.

For example, I’m a mom. I have children. You are all children, and have parents, so I’m sure you have experienced something like this before:

Picture a family running late. The kid’s room is a total mess, a disaster. Mom is standing at the door yelling for everyone to hurry up. Voice is getting louder. Face is getting redder. Kid can’t find their shoes because their room is a mess. Mom is yelling, “If you would have just cleaned your room!”

Cut to the phone ringing.

Mom [in a frantic, angry screaming voice] yells one more time, “Hurry up! We are going to be late!” then picks up the phone [in a pleasant, calm voice], “Hello? Oh, hi! How are you? I’m so glad you called…”

Now what just happened there? If anger like an exploding volcano, Mom would have picked up the phone and started yelling at the person how they were in a hurry and couldn’t talk. But, no. Anger is an emotion we can control. We can stop the explosion.  

Another example is the movie Inside Out – Anger is just one character, one emotion, one feeling inside of us. Yes, Anger sometimes wants to explode, to rage, to blow up. But we have all those other emotions inside of us that help us calm down and think before we act.

We can control our feelings by taking deep breaths, walking away, counting to 10. Taking a moment to slow our reaction down.

Quick speaking leads to quick anger – the angrier we get, the faster we react or speak, and the less we hear what others are trying to say.

Words are powerful things. They can heal or they can hurt.

We should use our words in constructive ways.

We should follow the advice from the Gospel of James…

Listen more. Talk less. Calm down.

September 16, 2018 / JaymeJ

What are you going to do about it?

1024px-Campfire_and_sparks_in_Anttoora_4

By kallerna [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Each Sunday, I send an email to my faculty with the calendar for the upcoming week, links to professional development offerings (articles, webinars, interesting sites, etc.), and a quick note containing whatever musings are on my mind. Sometimes these notes are brief, quick snippets of my family life. Other times they are more thoughtful, and rattle around my head for a while after I press “send.” Today’s note was one of the latter. I’m sharing it here because these are the types of questions that inspire me and, I hope, will light a spark of inspiration for you.


Happy Sunday,

Friday, I fed my inner mathematician and attended a workshop presented by YouCubed based on the work of Dr. Jo Boaler. It was inspiring to hear research that promoted all students’ ability to develop a mathematical mindset by encouraging/developing a growth mindset and through regular exposure to number sense activities. If you are looking for a PD activity, I encourage you to explore this website, read some of the articles, and use the information to examine how you make learning visible in your classroom. The research extends beyond mathematics and can be applied to how we present any subject matter.

Yesterday, I read Little Fires Everywhere. In one scene, a teenager named Izzy becomes upset with the treatment of another student by a teacher, reacts inappropriately, and ends up suspended from school. An adult, instead of criticizing Izzy’s behavior or expressing disappointment, simply asks, “What are you going to do about it?” The scene continues:

It was not a question Izzy had been asked before. Until now her life had been one of mute, futile fury…What was she going to do about it? The very idea that she could do something stunned her.

The novel presented a number of character studies examining how one’s past influences the present; how small decisions shape lives; and how the influence of others can shift tides and ignite sparks, setting “little fires” that encourage questioning, action, or retreat.

Both the mathematical mindsets workshop and the novel made me think about how we, as teachers, shape the lives of our students. How do we motivate them, encourage independent thinking, promote a growth mindset, shape their futures? How do we teach them that they have the ability to learn anything and the power to spark change?

Some lofty questions for a Sunday afternoon,
Jayme

August 29, 2018 / JaymeJ

Summer Reading

I binge read books like most folks binge watch Netflix. Once I crack open a book, I find it difficult to put down. Case and point, I read 22 books from June through mid-August. What follows is my somewhat meandering reflection of my school’s summer reading book Dignity by Dr. Donna Hicks. All pages referenced are from this book.


This summer, in my continued quest to read a book a week in 2018, I powered through a number of titles. Most were “fluff,” some were serious, and all were enjoyed. Three books I read in immediate succession were The House We Grew Up In, Dignity, and Tending Roses. While diverse in genre and theme, I found one informing the next; connections bubbling up where least expected. Had I not happened to read the titles in this order, I would have missed recognizing some of the common threads that tied the stories together and which made my takeaways that much more meaningful.

Typically, it is difficult for me to connect with non-fiction reading, but book-ending Dignity with fiction pieces provided emotional stories that helped me make meaning of the practical, real-life lessons presented in Dignity.

The key message in Dignity was that every person is “worthy of care and attention” (p. 4), but that there should be a clear distinction between a person and their actions. People always deserve respect, as they are “beings with inherent value and worth” (p. 4). Their actions, though, may or may not be deserving of respect. An individual should always be valued and honored, but respect is earned through actions and behavior. This can be hard to put into practice. Sometimes people are hard to like, but distinguishing between the person and their action allows us to honor the dignity of others even if we don’t agree with their words, deeds, beliefs, or behavior.

In Dignity, Dr. Hicks shares that “emotional wounds don’t automatically go away with the passage of time” (p. 188). This was exemplified in The House We Grew Up In, as family members buried the pain of a tragic loss for decades, their relationships crumbled. For one character, the pain manifested itself through hoarding, where she distanced herself from others and built walls around the emotional wounds, both literally and figuratively.

The lessons presented in Dignity also parallel the generational lessons in Tending Roses, a story in which a grandmother passes wisdom to her granddaughter through quiet interactions, subtle conversations, and covertly placed journal entries that appear and disappear without warning.

Lisa Wingate writes in Tending Roses:

We are born somewhere small and quiet and we move toward a place we cannot see, but only imagine. Along our journey, people and events flow into us, and we are created of everywhere and everyone we have passed. Each event, each person, changes us in some way. Even in times of drought we are still moving and growing, but it is during seasons of rain that we expand the most-when water flows from all directions, sweeping at terrifying speed, chasing against rocks, spilling over boundaries. These are painful times, but they enable us to carry burdens we could never have thought possible.

Everything counts: every day, every event, every person, every interaction. Our experiences make us who we are. They make us valuable. They make us strong. And because of that, because of who we are as unique individuals, we are valuable. We deserve dignity.

As a school administrator, I strive to listen to and value the thoughts of each person with whom I speak, be they parents, students, or colleagues. People may make requests I cannot grant, but I always want to them to leave our conversation feeling heard. I never want to “miss an opportunity to exert the power [I] have to remind others of who they are: invaluable, priceless, and irreplaceable” (p.3). “When we care, we learn…Once we are aware, we are responsible” for “holding ourselves accountable for our actions, especially those that are hurtful to others” (p. 112-113).

“Truth exists only in the plural” (p. 186). This quote by Günter Grass, as shared in Dignity, reminded me of Bolman and Deal’s leadership frameworks and their book Reframing Organizations.  It is important to examine people and situations from multiple perspectives. Understanding each other’s reality is the first step to valuing and preserving the dignity of one another. We each hold our own version of truth. When in conversation with others, I must step back, look at a situation through their set of lenses, and appreciate their unique perspective. The act of honoring others requires that we value individual experiences, avoid personalizing events, and reframe conflict using a variety of lenses or perspectives.

Circling back to the heart of this post — Meaning and context are created through the experiences and perspectives individuals bring to the table. Oftentimes, the timing of content informs our interpretation. Meaning is important. Timing is influential. Dignity is imperative.

August 28, 2018 / JaymeJ

Recommitting to reflection

Reflection

Reflection by Andrea Hernandez via flickr

I believe that reflection is one of the most important parts of the learning process. As a teacher, student reflection was a key piece to any long-term project I assigned. Unfortunately, though, reflection is a process that is often overlooked or skipped due to lack of time.

As a school administrator, leading by example is key. To say I value reflection is not enough. My actions must demonstrate the importance of reflection, of taking the time to consider, digest, ponder, and assimilate information, the practice of making learning meaningful.

During our first all-school meeting this August, our head of school asked each of us to reflect upon our personal action plan for the year. We were tasked with making goals, but also developing action steps for each. One of my three goals was to make my own learning a priority — to commit to learning something each week. I may watch a TED talk, attend a webinar, participate in a Twitter chat, read a book, or peruse a blog post or two. It doesn’t have to be grand, it just needs to be a priority. As part of that, I am also recommitting to reflection. Not only should I make learning a priority, but I should reflect upon that learning.

So here I am. Returning to my blog to share my goal publicly. Holding myself accountable. Sharing my journey with you. Recommitting to reflection.

January 17, 2017 / JaymeJ

Technology Tips for Parents

child-1073638_1280Technology keeps advancing, ever encroaching on family time and creating parenting headaches our parents never imagined. The beauty of having elementary age students in this age of technology is twofold – first, we as parents still control their access to technology and, second, we are still their primary source of factual information. While managing our children’s digital lives might seem daunting, here are five tips to make parenting in the digital age seem a bit less overwhelming.

Model positive media use. Put the device down. Don’t check your phone at every stoplight. Be transparent about your own technology use. As adults, we use technology to access information, to keep ourselves organized, to stay connected with others, and to decompress. When using a device, disclose what you are doing. Communicate with children about how you are using technology so that they see you aren’t always “playing” but are using it as a productivity tool. I often say, “Mommy is going to spend 15 minutes responding to work email, then we can read together.” Or “Candy Crush time!” Also, consider how you communicate about and model your own use of social media. If you are constantly checking and liking things on Facebook, documenting every moment with photographs, or over-sharing about your children’s accomplishments on Instagram, what message is that sending?

Establish a device parking lot. Set up a central place to charge devices. All devices, including Mom’s and Dad’s phones, should be parked here during family time and overnight. Keeping devices out of the bedroom will preserve quality of sleep for all family members, both children and adults.

Make #DeviceFreeDinner a priority. Ban digital devices from the dinner table. Use this time as an opportunity to connect with your children about their day and to share the ups and downs of your own day. Not only will this encourage engaging conversation, but it will also allow everyone to enjoy their food and be mindful of their eating habits.

Be prepared – have answers to questions you know are coming. You know the inevitable questions are right around the corner — “When can I have a phone?” or “Can I have an Instagram account?” Talk with your partner and have answers to these questions long before you think they will be asked. Your family values should dictate how and when your children will have access to technology. Resources, such as those provided by Common Sense, can help inform your decisions and answer some of your questions around parenting, media, and technology use. If you are prepared ahead of time with not only a “yes” or “no” but also with rationale as to why you made the decision, it will make parenting in the digital age a little more manageable.

Ask questions and keep the conversation going. Allow your children to be the teacher. Ask them to show you their latest favorite app or, for older children, what videos are trending on YouTube. Have informal conversations about how their friends are using technology. Watch shows together and discuss how the characters are using technology – both positively and negatively. And clearly communicate how your family values inform how both adults and children use technology in your household. These conversations should be regular and ongoing. Keeping the lines of communication open is the best way to promote positive, healthy media use for everyone.

Photo by alphalight1 

December 14, 2015 / JaymeJ

Guest Post: Girl Scout PSA

My daughter created this Check, Call, Care PSA as part of a requirement for her First Aid badge. She is my guest-blogger today. Enjoy these safety tips!