Explore Nueroscience in Education with Dr. Lori Desautels

Cheers to Parents and Educators as We Enter into a New School Year

A Tribute to Educators and Parents and to the Paradoxes They Meet Each Day  

The sun was beaming this afternoon as cumulus clouds scattered vicariously around the pristine blue backdrop. Suddenly,   large nickel sized raindrops fell from the blue with no gray or nebulous forewarning. A paradox in nature mimics the happenings in this time for students, parents, school leaders and especially teachers as a new school year brims with possibility. 

Teachers spend on the average 12,000 hours with students during their K-12 educational years. Next to a parent, a teacher is one of the most influential persons in a child and adolescents’ life. Many of my friends and colleagues are immersed in parenting and education year round.  As we begin another school year, it feels so important to honor and applaud the tumultuous, challenging, victorious, ever changing school years we have all encountered, in spite of the so-called frustrating and often times endless discussions, angst, power struggles, and intense pronouncements from political and educational reformers who are constantly asking, “What can we do to improve the well-being of every stakeholder inside our schools? “ 

I am sometimes asked from reporters or journalists for the “big stories” the monumental happenings, the life changing experiences that school leaders and teachers meet inside the reported ongoing revolution of educational reform. I cannot think of a bigger or more important story to share with our community than the raw, honest and heartfelt thoughts shared by teachers and parents who each day, are meeting the needs of the most diverse, populous and often times impoverished   student population in this time that are often times, trying only to just survive; getting little sleep, caring for siblings or relatives and trying to manage what feels to be a chaotic and stress-filled existence outside of school.

In the United States today, we have a national crisis and it is not about competing Math, English and Science scores!  Twenty percent of children and adolescents between the ages of 8-17 are experiencing chronic stress, the highest of any age group! This intimately and directly affects parents and educators and until we begin to feel a bit more hopeful, capable and successful, taking the steps to create and build on our emotional  and social deposits and revenues, our academic gap will not improve for the long term!  

How do these variables affect our educators and  parents  personally and professionally as they once again pack up their reflections, thoughts, feelings, disappointments, anxieties, victories, and intentions for their students and children who are re-entering  another school year with a plethora of cultures, free will, and belief systems and past school experiences? 

A veteran first grade teacher wrote to me today from a north side public school district and these were her thoughts: 

“My burning question is this, in order to have a valid and conclusive science experiment you must pare down and single out the variables that contribute to the results. This is the only way you can tell without a doubt which variable is the root cause. Where is this concept located in the state’s teacher evaluations? The “powers that be” selectively forgot that the variables of free will and cultural upbringing “ and within each student is a wild card that eliminates the possibility to realistically place blame for failing students on teachers alone!

My class this year is composed of 22 six and seven year olds. I have spoken and met with three quarters of these families about their child’s challenges, trying to understand and find ways to engage these young students. In our end of the year NWEA testing last week we had a third o of our first grade students not meet the reading goals that NWEA had set for them after their fall testing period. These students were all our highest performing students! These tests are completely multiple choice in nature. Do we really know if the initial test results were accurate, or did they contain a fair amount of lucky guessing?  

Lori, I am working from 7:30 AM to 6 PM everyday and constantly trying to create new lessons to grab students’ attention. I’ve tried every behavior modification strategy in the book and have overhauled my entire system of positive and negative rewards, but see very few changes.  Many of my children are on medication for ADD, oppositional behaviors, have very difficult home lives, and come to school exhausted, distracted and unable to sit still to even listen to a short story at such a young age.   I am exhausted.”

Parents are no different in their feelings of exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed. In this time, many parents are working several jobs, going back to school, beginning new careers, and competitively parenting with social media and global diversity dominate or culture, alongside schools that are closing and re-opening under new leadership with parents feeling confused and upset over the changes that feel out of their control! These are the realities as we delve into the education arena this school year, and I feel strongly that most if not all parents and educators deeply desire ways to meet the holistic needs of their most vulnerable children and students.

As the 2012-2013 school year begins, what can we pack up and bring to our classrooms and homes in this new school year?  

  1. A broadened and flexible perspective allowing us to see inside the world of our children and adolescents and our own strengths, challenges and those experiences or relationships that trigger negative emotion! Take deep breaths and try to spend a few minutes alone each day reflecting on a perspective that takes a new snapshot of “how” we can collaborate with one another inside our homes and schools this fall.  
  2. Pack up those teaching and parenting moments that didn’t go so well, and ask your children and students for input as you design and orchestrate new schedules, bedtimes, rules, guidelines, consequences, and find agreed upon times to discuss the day, the challenges, and the successes.  
  3. Teaching and parenting is never about saving a soul. When we fill ourselves up with positive emotion, experiences and relationships, we have so much more to give those around us when we need to. What activity, hobby, relationship or new way of looking at an old situation can you model for your children and students? Our children truly see and understand our non-verbal communication much more than what we say or tell them!   Take time for yourself and surround yourself with those people and experiences that bring you joy!
  4.  Plan a family meeting once a week. Plan a community classroom meeting once a week identifying and celebrating those aspects of the week that went well! Develop two or three goals for the following week and write down a family or classroom plan for how to reach those. Your children and students should be the initiators of these gatherings1 Follow their lead and affirm their solutions, ideas, and suggestions.  Talk to your colleagues, other children and adolescents and see what other perspectives have to share.
  5. Creative vision boards are great resources and visual reminders tacitly demonstrating our dreams, goals, and how we can reach these. This year my students and my own children will create vision boards by cutting out images, drawing words pictures, using materials, Pinterest, and technology that describe and depict their dreams and intentions for next year. 
  6.  Take an authentic look at what is in your control and what is not.  Spend time envisioning a great upcoming school year and writing down three or four affirmations daily or few times a week about how you envision this new school year.

 “Every encounter in our lives happens for a higher purpose, every meeting is a chance for evolution. We should always ask ourselves how we can grow from our associations, challenges and friendships. This makes our connections and partnerships far more meaningful and empowering.” 


James Wanless in Little Stone      




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