Category Archives: News & Articles

Nelson Mandela International Day: The greatest lessons.

Friday 18th July- the day that Nelson Mandela was born- marks Nelson Mandela International Day. In 2009, the UN General Assembly declared this day in honour of Mandela’s dedication to resolving conflict, promoting equality and striving for peace. His incredible courage, resilience and positivity is a lesson that continues to be taught throughout the world; he is a model for compassion and optimism and has taught us some of the greatest lessons for a happier healthier life.

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Stay positive, stay alive.

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

–              Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandella.

Mandela’s optimism and positive mindset was what kept him moving forward rather than basking in his despair and misfortune. By looking up and keeping his head toward the sun, he ensured that he was always heading towards the light and moving away from the dark moments which often tested his resolve. His courage and conviction is inspiring and encourages us to always focus on the light in our lives and not dwell on the dark.

Model and teach positive emotions.

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.”

–              Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela.

Educators, counsellors and communities all play a valuable role in educating and empowering young people through the modelling of positive behavior and emotions. Just as Mandela boldly states, we often teach our young people how to deal with emotions by example. But how can we effectively teach people to be positive and self aware if we are unable to identify and model it ourselves? In order to cultivate a culture that promotes self-awareness and confidence, we must become aware of our own ‘triggers’ that can ignite a negative emotion and learn to diffuse the feeling before it evolves into something corrosive that permeates the emotions of young people in our care.

In his publication ‘Why adults strike back: Learned behavior or genetic code? (1995)’, Nicholas Long reveals that ‘the number one reason for the increase in student violence in schools is staff counteraggression. While staff do not initiate student aggression, they react in ways that perpetuate it’. Take a pair of tuning forks for example; if one tuning fork is struck then the other fork will begin to vibrate, modelling the reaction of the first fork. People are no different: we mimic and absorb the negative emotions of others and often create more conflict as a result. Thus, in order to influence behavior, we must learn how to self-regulate our own counteraggressive actions. By training ourselves to be more self-aware and insightful about our own feelings, we can create more rewarding and purposeful relationships.

For further information concerning a student’s conflict cycle, see the full article at http://www.cyc-net.org.

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NSW Report Reveals Teens Want More Mental Health Support and Skills

With the alarming knowledge that one in four young Australians aged 16-24 experience at least one mental disorder (AIHW 2011) and that they are more likely to die by their own hands than be killed in a road accident, it is no surprise that Australian youth are crying out for support and information about mental health. A recent report has recommended that the New South Wales government ensure that more resources are put in place to raise awareness of how young people can access mental health services and for schools in NSW to dewhats up westvelop and implement a mental health policy.

The What’s Up West? 2013 Project was devised to get young people across Western Sydney talking to each other to discuss what they can do to make their communities better and ultimately empower young people with the skills and knowledge to make real and lasting changes. The project was run and funded by the Western Sydney Project and Youth Action with the objective of giving young people a chance to have their say about the positive changes they want to see in their community. Their findings from the project are a result of the contributions from more than 170 young people from across 14 local areas in Western Sydney and have been published in their What’s Up West? DIY Reality report. The report highlights 21 recommendations for government and other public agencies on seven different topics, including culture, sexuality and mental health.

The report further outlines what individuals can do to change the stigma attached to mental health, including speaking openly about mental health and being aware of the mental health of people around you. What seems most encouraging is that young people are aware of the necessity to look after personal mental health and to utilise a range of strategies to relieve stress, including exercise and meditation.

Encouraging young people in our care to be more mindful of their emotions and to talk openly about mental health issues that they have encountered is by no means an easy task due to the stigma that it attached to the issue, not to mention the fact that many people feel unqualified to discuss such sensitive subjects. However, What’s Up West? has illuminated the fact that maybe it’s time for individuals, communities and governments to start opening their own discussions about mental health and to start finding ways to help those who need and want it most: our youth.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Visit http://www.youthaction.org.au to download the latest What’s Up West DIY Reality report.

Communication is Key to Improving Relationships with Culturally Diverse Students and Families.

Since 1983, the Harvard Family Research Project has helped to develop and evaluate strategies to promote the wellbeing of children, youth, families and their communities. One component of their complementary learning research focusses on family and community involvement in education in the form of FINE: Family Involvement Network of Educators; a network of people interested in promoting strong partnerships between schools, families and communities. An important question that the network have discussed as part of their ongoing research is how to better prepare teachers to work with culturally diverse students and their families and the skills that educators need to develop to do this successfully.

teaching is communicating with parents

 POSITIVE CORRESPONDENCE

Sherick Hughes, Assistant Professor in the College of Education at the University of Toledo, states that ‘teachers must come to understand the real life experiences of the families and children they teach…to set up plausible situations to give families a legitimate voice in their curriculum and unit planning… [to] encourage teachers to take the spiritual lives of families seriously as a key point of connection.’ Hughes further acknowledges that it is difficult for teachers to build rapport with families as they are not always able to go out into these diverse communities and make the necessary connections. She therefore advocates three family-specific alternatives for teachers to utilise at least once during the school year to build better relationships with parents and carers:

1. Call each child’s family with positive information regarding their progress;

2. Email each student’s family during the school year with positive information;

3. Through email, mail, or student delivery, send a positive message via audio or audio/visual medium regarding each student.

INVOLVE PARENTS

Eileen Kugler, a speaker and trainer on building community support for diverse schools, further reinforces Hughes’ advice to teachers to build relationships with families using positive information and states that they also ‘need to identify nonthreatening opportunities to welcome parents with diverse backgrounds to the school. At the end of a unit of study, teachers can invite parents into the classroom so the students can share their achievements with them. As opposed to the stereotype of not caring, parents frequently feel left out, just waiting to be asked to be involved.’ Communication is therefore essential for teachers, including planning and using opportunities to engage positively with families.

RAPPORT NOT RITUALS

Although teachers are deemed as being exceptional communicators when it comes to delivering information to their students, it can be a different story when it comes to delivering information to parents and carers. According to Bonnie Rockafellow, the Education Consultant for the Michigan Department of Education, teacher education needs to include more interpersonal communication skill building to ensure that teachers are able to effectively build rapport and share meaning with families. This is most evident in parent-teacher conferences, an opportunity for teachers to communicate and engage face to face with families. Rockafellow videotaped several parent-teacher conferences and through her analysis of the interactions she concluded that in each conference a ‘ritual played out. Most often the teacher presented the information she had prepared and at the end of the timeframe the teacher would ask if the parents had any questions, and then close the conference. The result of the conference was most often a reporting of the school’s information rather than an opportunity for teachers to meaningfully engage with families and listen to their suggestions and comments.’ She ultimately identifies a key opportunity for teachers to engage with families with meaning.

The FINE research and evaluation of strategies for improving the preparation of teachers to work with culturally diverse students and their families is vast and resourceful; identifying opportunities for teachers to examine their own attitudes and connect with those who ‘think and look differently’ than they do.

If you would like to read more about FINE, visit the Harvard Family Research Project at http://www.hfrp.org

Making a Difference – Part 2

Making a Difference as a Parent

As a parent building a close, loving relationship with our children is one of the most important things we can do.  When children feel loved, understood, accepted and safe they are able to thrive as it helps build their confidence, resilience and self-esteem, and it encourages them to try to do and be their best at all time.  As we all know feeling wanted and loved helps us navigate life’s challenges as we feel supported. The best way we can make a difference to our children is to spend time with them, talk with them and to do activities together.  In our house we have a rule that we always eat our meals at the dining room table, this way it allows us to talk about what we are up to, share ideas and laugh as a family.  In turn this helps to teach our child how to have caring relationships and open communication with other people like family members, friends, neighbours and teachers.  Importantly it makes it easier for them to reach out to others when they need help. Remember it is important to;

  • Comfort your child when they need support.
  • Be present with them and listen to what they are saying and show them you care about what they are saying and their opinion is valuable.
  • Acknowledge them and help them to identify how they are feeling.
  • Play with them, read with them and above all laugh with them.

Making a Difference as a Teacher

If we take time to reflect for most of us there was one teacher we remember who made a big difference in our lives.  For me, there are a few that I can still remember ……Mr Haydock in Grade 6, Mrs King (a stern, but inspiring English teacher) and Miss Matheson (the slightly heavy gym and physical education teacher) in high school.  Why, do I remember them, what made them special? Before I answer that, you need to understand who I was as a child……..when I was in 6th Grade I was 5’9” tall and a big girl, I was clumsy to say the least, not good a sport and the kids used to call me ‘Gronky’ after a caveman character in a TV series, but I cared about others and tried by very best in everything I did.  When I went to high school, I was just an average student, Mrs King the English teacher helped me see the world through very different eyes and encouraged my love of poetry and reading, she had such passion.  Being clumsy, I was always picked last at sport, was hopeless at gym, I could not jump the horse, I was scared of heights so no good at the beam or high and low bars and could manage a forward roll on the mat some days, but I tried, to my surprise Miss Matheson passed me, in fact, I got 70%, more than some of the kids that could do everything. So, getting back to what made these teachers special, simply they cared about me and bothered to establish a relationship with me.  They did not judge me for what I could or could not do, or who I was, they found my island of competence and encouraged me to try my best.  Due to that they helped shape my life that enabled me to become who I am today. As a teacher if you want to make a difference in the lives of your students, take time to develop a relationship with then, allow them to see you care, be present with them and really listen to them, help them identify how they are feeling, find their island of competence and build on it.

Students Making a Difference in the Classroom

Children need goals; they want to know what is expected of them.  They enjoy achieving, trying their best, doing a good job, having their efforts acknowledge and working together with others to get a job done.  They don’t understand their impact on others, nor how they can make a difference at home and in the classroom. Sometimes I don’t think we articulate to our children or to the students in our class what we expect of them, we just assume they know and have somehow absorbed the class expectations by osmosis.  I think the start of the school year offers a unique opportunity to have a discussion with your children and students as to what ‘doing their best means’.  Give the children an opportunity to set the standards that they want to live by.  Perhaps they could all prepare a ‘doing my best poster’ and present it to their peers.  I know it is not uncommon to set class rules, but rules and expectations, even the ones we place on ourselves can be very different. This year why not introduce the notion of ‘Make a Difference Monday’.  As a class review the previous week  and then decide how as a whole they are going to make a difference this week, either to themselves, each other, to you as a teacher and in the school community.  Remember, this can also be tied to projects or activities you are doing in the curriculum.  This is a great activity to work on as a team; it is setting a team goal and then learning to communicate to achieve this together.  There are endless ideas for this activity. Ultimately, we can all make a difference to each other, ourselves our community and our lives.  We just have to take the time to communicate with each other and to care!

Rafe Esquith: Talking About Real Teaching

Rafe Esquith and his students

What is the difference between ordinary and extraordinary students? Rafe Esquith specifically chose to work with disadvantaged kids because he believes that what makes students extraordinary are the people who help them develop, and of course this includes their teachers.

Rafe often puts in 12 hour days in the classroom, arriving at 6 in the morning and leaving at 6 in the evening. As a result many students also choose to arrive and leave at those times as well. It also means that he has the opportunity to teach students topics outside of the defined curriculum.

90% of his students are below the poverty level and none have English as their first language yet they achieve in top 5 to 10% in the United States on standardised tests; which says that he must be doing something right.

He has written 4 books and was the subject of a documentary film “The Hobart Shakespearians” about his fifth grade Hobart Elementary school students putting on their annual Shakespeare play.

His books are highly personal, describing his perspectives, experiences and the techniques he uses as a teacher rather than a prescription for teachers and parents. He doesn’t expect all teachers to be able to put in similarly long hours as he does but he hopes to inspire others by the success his students have achieved.

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There Are No Shortcuts is his first book and is now required reading at Purdue University for the subject Exploring Teaching as a Career.

Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire contains many practical how to directions for most of his most effective classroom activities.

Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World is a slim book that looks at building student’s character and while teachers will find it interesting it is also the best book for parents to read.

Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: “No Retreat, No Surrender!” is his latest book. Well received by new teachers it also contains lots of useful advice for experienced teachers as well.

Do You Hear Me? Building Listening Skills in the Classroom

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Do you really listen? Many people lack really great listening skills, and so why should we be surprised if kids also are unable to listen. Listening skills are important in classrooms as they allow us to make sense of information communicated. Children with poor listening skills are disadvantaged immediately as they do not understand what is being taught, and have difficulty with social situations.

There is an exercise I like to do when teaching adults to communicate (though you can also use this exercise with all ages) It goes like this: people work in pairs, one person talks about a topic and the other person just listens. They are not even allowed to ask questions, only use non-verbal cues to keep the other person talking.

Believe or not, most people can’t get through this exercise without asking questions or worse yet, just talking about themselves instead of listening. However a good listener can keep the other person talking without a single word.

Listening skills are rarely part of any curriculum and so mostly we hope our students will be able to listen and are surprised when they don’t. Most teachers learn skills so they can communicate their message. However shouldn’t we also be helping kids learn skills to improve their own listening. Here are some practical ways to teach kids listening skills.

1.     Show Leadership and model listening behaviour

One way that children learn social and communication skills is by copying what others do, especially adults. If you want children to listen then you have to also listen to them.

There are lots of activities where teachers can listen to kids. One of my favourites is where you brain storm ideas as you might do with creative writing. You are showing how to listen, you are modelling non-verbal language to encourage the speaker, asking questions for more information and writing down the information. All skills that we would like kids to have as well.

2.     Play listening games in the classroom

There are plenty games and activities that encourage and build listening skills. They are useful as break out activities and also build useful skills.

  • Simon Says is the classic game with a range of different variations.
  • Drawing games, where one group describes a picture that the other group can’t see. They have to try and draw the picture from the description. It also teaches kids to put themselves in the other person’s position and clearly communicate.
  • Follow instruction games. There are many of these. Maybe they have to follow a set of instructions to go to a location. Walk 3 steps forward, turn left, walk 2 steps, turn right etc, or maybe build something or solve a problem.

3.     Get kids to explain information to others

Some people might call this turn and talk, and it works really well when you have self-paced activity time. When one child has finished a task that you taught them how to do, they then have to teach another student how to do that task.

4.     Repeat it back

This is one of the tricks they use in the military. When an order is given to you personally, you can’t just say “Yes sir”, you have to repeat the instruction back to show that you were listening and understood the instruction.

Want to know if kids understand the instructions that you have given, ask them to repeat it back to you. If you have explained something to the whole class then ask students to tell you what you have told them. It is also a great way to find out if what you have said made sense to them.

The core skill here is called reflection. This is where we repeat what was said back to someone in our own words to clarify that we understood what was said. This can also be a great skill to model with students when we listen to them.

5.     Getting kids to ask the right questions (active listening)

While paying attention, listening and understanding first time are important skills, learning how to ask the right questions when you don’t understand is another useful skill. A lot of the time when we think kids don’t listen in reality we have given them instructions that were wrong, incomplete or they failed to follow our meaning. A skill that they need to build up is asking intelligent questions when they don’t understand.

20 questions is the classic question asking game but you can incorporate question asking into any class. Great teachers often start by simply saying something like “We are going to play a game.” and then wait for the kids to ask “What game?”, “How many teams?”, “What is the size of the team?”, “How do we play?”

 6.     Story time

A great way to get kids, especially the younger ones, to actively listen is through stories. Great story readers are always asking the listener what they think is going to happen next, how different characters might be feeling and so on. This encourages thoughtful listening. Having stories read to them is also one of the best ways for young children to develop listening skills and increase concentration span.

Conclusion

The first thing any teacher or parent should do after reading this is to go out and practice their own listening skills. In fact writing this has reminded me that I should do some things to practice my own listening. It is not that we are bad listeners but really good listening is a difficult skill worth pursuing.

If we want kids to be great listeners we have to help them learn the skills be great listeners. Do you have any activities you use to build up listening skills in your students, then please share them in the comments section.

Bonus – Taboo

Here is a bonus game I use to help students learn to listen to multiple sources of information and filter out wrong, contradictory, unhelpful and extraneous information. This game comes under different names, such as Taboo, Hot Seat or I prefer to call it, Don’t Say That Word.

The class is divided up in the middle into two teams, with one team on the left of the classroom and one on the right of the class room. Volunteers from each team are brought to the front of the classroom. Usually I take two from each team so no one feels too shy. The players at the front face the other students so they can’t see the secret word that I will write on the board. Their classmates will give them clues until one of the players at the front calls out the correct word.

Now here is the trick. Players from the left side of the classroom stand on the right side of the room and the players from the right side of the classroom stand on the left side of the room. The other players will call out clues and the students at the front must guess the words. Students always complain, with everyone calling out clues it is hard to listen; which is exactly the point. The students at the front are being bombarded with sentences, clues, sounds, various signals, actions and so on. A lot of the clues are unhelpful and some are often wrong. For example, if you write the word money and someone thinks the word was actually monkey and starts talking about eating bananas and living in trees the students at the front have to filter out this information to work out the correct word.

Mindfulness and Self-Regulation

 seagulls

How aware are you of what is going on around you? How aware are you of yourself at this moment? How aware are you of the things you have done today? We are so distracted by our constant access to technology and sources of instant entertainment and communication that many people rarely have any time to be truly aware of themselves or the world around them.

Let me give you a little challenge. Try and remember exactly what your favourite food tastes like. What about the smell or the texture? Chances are that you can’t.

To expand your awareness try this lovely little exercise you can do by yourself or in groups. Get various foods and eat them slowly, savouring everything about them. It is best to choose a range of foods to include foods you like, feel ambivalent about and also don’t really like. This can really change your perception of these foods. Some people we have done this with, who had eaten chocolate all their life decided they didn’t like chocolate anymore. Other people learnt to appreciate foods they have always avoided.

The term mindfulness has been borrowed from Buddhism. It refers in general to the “attentive awareness of reality, both external and internal.” When we are being mindful we have a “Clear comprehension of what is taking place.”

Since the 1970s the term has been adopted within psychology to describe techniques and methodologies that encourage awareness and self-regulation as means to deal with stress, depression and other psychological issues. Numerous studies have shown these techniques to be successful with adults and recently attention has been paid to applying these techniques to children and adolescents where they have also been found to reduce anxiety and increase academic performance.

There is a strong relationship between mindfulness and self-regulation. When you relax and focus not only does this reduce anxiety and stress but allows better responses to your own feelings and self management of behaviour. Researchers believe it is this self-regulation that leads to improved academic performance.

If you are thinking that mindfulness involves sitting around meditating and so it is not for kids, especially the young ones, Pathways to Resilience Trust staff have many techniques and exercises that work with all ages.

Mind in a Bottle/Mind in a Jar

mindinajar

We have previously blogged about this method. Have a bottle filled with water and

glitter, shake the bottle and it becomes cloudy. Put the bottle down the glitter will settle. Kids will watch the glitter while relaxing and gathering their thoughts. It is also a fun craft project for kids to do as well. Read more about this in our blog https://pathwaystrust.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/helping-kids-also-helps-families/

Concentration beads

beadsIf you ask younger the kids to lie down and relax they will quickly start to wriggle, fidget or worse . However if you give them something to concentrate on it is much easier for them to sit or lie still. Give them a glass bead, the bigger the better. Have them hold it in their hand or even put it on their forehead. Simply ask them to concentrate and focus their attention on their bead.

Observe objects

eyes

Have students observe an object, either something you bring into the classroom or an item that is already there. Take them through different aspects of the object. What is the objects shape, what is the subject’s colour, is it heavy or light, what is special about this item, how does it feel when you touch, how do you feel about it and so on?

Observe yourself

How do you feel when you listen to this poem, song or sound? Not only do students learn to become aware of their feelings, but also learn to label and talk about them.

Left hand (non-dominant hand)

We do so many things without really thinking about how we do them. If you ask students to do something they often do but with their non-dominant hand you will firstly provoke lots of giggles. You can then ask students to concentrate and be aware of all the little steps it takes to do something like write the word cat or draw a dog. You can also tie this into step plans which will we look at in a future blog.

Favourite Personal Mindfulness Exercises

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At Pathways to Resilience Trust we believe that teachers are also leaders. To lead others to be more mindful and self aware we also must find ways to practice our own self awareness. Here are some of ours.

Anne (Executive Officer):  Likes to take time out from work at her desk. She focuses her attention on what is happening out of the office window, watching the wind sway the trees or the sun reflect on various objects (she is the boss so she can get away with staring out the window).

Kate: Takes a timeout for herself to relax, she particularly likes to sit and watch the ocean waves.

James: Simply concentrates on breathing to anchor himself into the present moment.

Roy (Blog Editor): Can’t beat long walks for reflection and self awareness.