Teaching through Emotions

where emotions and relationships are central to teaching and learning

Category: Uncategorized

Teacher-bots

“It doesn’t serve anybody to pretend that we’re teacher-bots with no emotions, which I think sometimes teachers feel like they have to be.”

So says Alex Shevrin, a teacher and community facilitator for Edutopia who used to work at a therapeutic high school.

Here’s something else Alex Shevrin said: “If I had one wish for every school in the country, it would be that they made time for teachers to really sit down and talk about how they’re feeling in the work.”

Why? Why should teachers sit down and talk about how they’re feeling in the work?

Oh, baby! Let me count the reasons:

  1. Shevrin’s quotes appear in an Edutopia article about vicarious traumatization, or secondary traumatization, or compassion fatigue, or “the cost of caring.” The point of the article is that teachers who encounter traumatized students (and statistics cited in the article suggest that the chances of such an encounter are quite high, as “more than half of all U.S. children have experienced some kind of trauma”) are in danger of experiencing trauma themselves. What is a tried and true way to avoid secondary traumatization? “Talking it out” (as the article suggests). Talking to a peer, a therapist, a spouse, a peer group. So one reason educators should sit down and talk about how they’re feeling in the work is to prevent their own traumatization.
  2. Talking out feelings helps metabolize them. Not talking out feelings helps compound them. It’s better to digest feelings (and figuratively poop them out) than it is to allow them to build up into a thick constipated knot that erupts when you least expect it. And I think we’ve had enough of that useful metaphor.
  3. Just talking out feelings can be helpful. But talking about feelings in a particular way can be miraculous. That is, when teachers view their emotions as data, not just as inconvenient obstacles, they can learn a WHOLE HELLUVA LOT about their students and their classroom. They can learn
    1. how they themselves are contributing to bad behavior
    2. how their students might actually be feeling and why
    3. what kind of treatment their students expect from adults and others
    4. what they can do to correct misbehavior and attune classroom relationships
  4. Talking about feelings with a small group of peers (such as a Teacher Support Group) not only helps metabolize emotions and foster miraculous behavioral changes in the classroom but forges strong, reliable bonds among colleagues. As Micere Keels, an expert who is quoted in the Edutopia article on vicarious traumatization puts it, “Reducing professional isolation is critical. It allows educators to see that others are struggling with the same issues, prevents the feeling that one’s struggles are due to incompetence, and makes one aware of alternative strategies for working with students exhibiting challenging behavior.” It also fosters deep connections that teachers can draw on whenever they need them — and most teachers need them.
  5. Talking about feelings makes people feel better. Plain and simple. Overcoming our fear of emotions and just letting them live is a very good way to let them go.

I share Alex Shevrin’s wish. I really really wish teachers would “really sit down and talk about how they’re feeling in the work.” I wish it because it would make teachers feel better; it would help them stay in the field; it would help them feel safe and healthy; and it would help their students learn.

Down with teacher-bots.

 

 

 

Tend to the Tender

“If you want a child to be functioning well, tend to the person who’s tending the child.”

I recently read this quote by Suniya Luthar, PhD, in the September 2017 issue of Monitor on Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association. I think it’s a great quote to start off the academic year with.

I have written about this before. But it bears repeating: Caring for people is exhausting, demanding work. It requires a whole list of skills.

  • self-control
  • empathy
  • patience
  • selflessness
  • presence
  • awareness
  • intelligence
  • discipline
  • understanding
  • curiosity
  • grit

Utilizing these “soft skills” day after day can take a hard toll on caregivers. Because “soft skills” tend to be taken for granted, especially in caregivers, especially in female caregivers, there often is very little recognition of this hard toll. But it’s there, and neglect of it can easily lead to burnout.

Teachers are caregivers. They are tenders (and many of them are also tender). They are crucial developmental partners to precious growing human beings. Their job as developmental partner demands the above soft skills (and more), and the above soft skills demand support. I wish all of you teachers reading this the wherewithal to get that support for yourself. Get tended to!

If you need ideas about how, look here.

 

 

 

Addiction

A guest blog from Constance Ray of Recovery Well, a site where people can safely share their stories of addiction.

NOTE: Addiction is relevant to teachers because substance use and abuse exist in their lives and in their students’. Stories of recovery can be as inspiring as stories of teaching successes!

*****

Mindfulness is a key element of addiction recovery — one day at a time, as they say. When substance abuse has been clouding your vision for so long, it can be overwhelming to look ahead to a sober life. You have to make a conscious effort to change your view of the world, and that’s often easier said than done.

Fortunately, it’s not impossible; just ask the addiction survivors we interviewed. Whether you’re in recovery yourself or are just struggling with hard times, the wisdom they shared is relevant to anyone in need of a life change. Here are a few of the things they shared with us about the importance of mindfulness in recovery.

*****

Josh knew on some level that his pill addiction had gotten out of control, but wasn’t ready to accept or address it. The truth was, he enjoyed the numbness he felt.

“I liked the freedom, I liked the feeling of not feeling anything,” he confessed.

To reinforce his denial, he started spending less and less time with his loved ones.

“My family experience was really negative during active addiction because I didn’t want to hear the truth, you know? And I kind of avoided that.”

But when Josh decided to enter inpatient drug rehab at Serenity Recovery, he knew he had to face his addiction demons head-on. The task become a lot less daunting when he realized he didn’t have to fix everything all at once.

“[Addiction treatment] taught me how to step back and just live in the moment and take care of one thing at a time,” he said.

Looking at it as a day-by-day, moment-by-moment journey made his sobriety goals more tangible and opened his eyes to the true beauty of life. His biggest takeaway was simple, but wise:

“Calm down and enjoy it — enjoy life for what it is.”

*****

Kenny found a similar comfort in mindfulness, noting that it takes a conscious effort to shift your way of thinking.

“Right now, I’m taking things day by day and just trying to get my life back in order,” he explained. “I often feel that when detoxing off any substance, you’re going through an emotional roller coaster. The main thing to do is to find certain things that take your mind off of the outside world, and off the facility and off of stress and tension — for me, that’s working out.”

Like Josh, Kenny said that finding happiness is an important part of recovery. It’s isn’t just about accepting the present moment, but truly embracing it.

“I feel like sobriety without happiness is kind of useless. I am working on finding my own personal happiness and lighting that flame inside of me, and I feel like once I find that happiness and it’s secure, then sobriety will be the least of what I’m worried about,” he said.

We’ve all made mistakes and have regrets — both big and small — but to dwell on the past is to miss out on joy in the present, Kenny said. You can’t risk losing even more time than you already have.

“I just feel like what a lot of people have a problem with when it comes to recovery is not being able to accept the faults and the flaws they have experienced in their lifetime. But I feel like if you have a second opportunity, you should take it and uplift it to the fullest because you don’t know when the opportunity might run short,” he said.

We all have a strength within us to overcome, though you must know how to channel it. Mindfulness can guide the way not only to lasting sobriety, but to a happier life overall.

By Degrees

Mark-Erelli-photo-2013-2

“You can learn to live with anything [no matter how horrible it is] when it happens by degrees.”

Thank you, Mark Erelli, for allowing me to post your moving letter that, for me, captures the heart and soul of educating: supporting and celebrating students who care, take risks, make mistakes, show courage, and come out stronger. And thank you for your moving song, “By Degrees.”

AN OPEN LETTER TO A YOUNG ARTIST:

Last night [3/16/16], students at the Burr & Burton school in Manchester VT performed a 90 minute-long medley of highlighting musical works of social change. I am deeply honored that my song “By Degrees” was featured alongside works by Bob Dylan, John Lennon and many other influential artists and composers. I can’t imagine how hard the student orchestra and singers rehearsed for the performance, which was an intricate feat of endurance. It was streamed live, but I was on the road and missed the show (you can see my song here at 01:21:00: http://livestream.com/burrburton/events/4977399)  After the fact, I learned that the student who sang my song had made a few mistakes during his performance, and was working through some tough emotions about his performance. I don’t know the student’s name, but I wanted to reach out to him with this open letter:

Dear G______,

I want you to know that I saw a recording of the show and that as a writer there is no higher compliment than having others give voice to your songs. It doesn’t matter who sings it, it could be an artist of some renown in a big hall or a weekend warrior belting it for disinterested patrons at a barroom open mic. It’s an act of tribute for which I am grateful.

I heard through the grapevine that you might be working through some tough emotions in the wake of your performance. I know—some verses of the song were repeated, others not sung at all—but I want you to know that none of that really matters. I’ve done this professionally for 17 years and I still forget words to my own songs. I make mistakes. All. The. Time. Mistakes are funny: they emphasize what we all have in common, embodying all that makes us human, but they also have a strange way of emphasizing what makes us unique. Music biographies are littered with stories of musicians’ limitations that evolved into their personal style, oft-copied by future generations. This won’t be the last mistake you make—and not your biggest by a long-shot—but I hope you can learn to embrace the fact that such things are a normal part of how we grow, what makes us “us,” and most importantly, what makes you “you.”

It takes an incredible amount of courage to perform, particularly at this point in your life. When you step onstage, you ostensibly hope to blow the audience away with your brilliance and charisma. What you are actually doing is making a public declaration that you care about something, something you love so much that you are compelled to share it with others. As a younger person, and sometimes even as adult, it’s often not cool to care, to love so publicly. A performer’s vulnerability often makes others uncomfortable. I hope your friends and colleagues applaud your efforts, but if anyone ever gives you grief about your mistakes, it’s only because your bravery reminds them of what they might not be courageous enough to do.

You stood up there, surrounded by so many other talented peers, in front of an audience of friends, relatives and witnesses, and for 90 minutes you showed them you cared—about art, social change and so much more.  That kind of courage is just one of the many ways you may someday change the world. I’m not talking of some widespread revolution. Maybe you only change the heart of a few people who witness your art, but never underestimate the power of that. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m not ashamed to admit that your performance brought me to tears, and I can’t thank you enough for caring.

With respect,
Mark Erelli

Welcome to MultiPurpose

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Hello world!

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