In the Fray

In the Fray

As a country, community, as parents, and as educators, when we experience and read about the adolescent suicides, the anger and violence, and the hopelessness so many of our children and adolescents are currently experiencing; we often times are left void of answers. We have questions, sadness, disillusionment and fear. We simply feel helpless. We feel great empathy for one another, because we understand how connected we all are in moments such as these. We understand at a deep and often unspoken level, that any of us could be in the shoes of an individual or family member who has struggled with such pain and shame, experiencing a momentary or lasting feeling of a disconnect to life.

Day to day matters, drama and conflicts that we earlier identified as significant, fall away just as the larger educational academic and behavioral policies and reform movements that felt to keep us in a fray of dissension disappear because the human heart, mind and spirit collectively reign supreme in moments of raw sorrow.

Educators and schools are always on the frontlines of the social and emotional well-being of all our students and the adolescent years are fragile; as the brain is developing at a rapid pace with an increased drive for an immediate reward. The reward may be a lasting circumstance that we cannot change! The impulsiveness and the gravitation to exhilarating sensations or risk taking behaviors and choices is prevalent in all adolescent behaviors, because brain development is highly active in the dopamine reward system and we often are hyper-rational to our circumstances. We see and feel the moment, as the bigger pictures elude us. To deeply understand even a small facet of what is happening in the development of our youth assists all of us in paying close attention to behaviors that feel filled with significant pain. More often than not, it is the school, peers and educators that are initially exposed to the pain through the words, actions and behaviors of our complex beautiful youth who have an exceptional emotional spark that we may not have perceived or posited as a strength.
With our culture and reform movements placing such an emphasis on performance, competition and success in fixing an academic system, we have unintentionally left out the most powerful and significant areas of teaching and learning- and our educators feel and know this. We cannot afford to neglect the social and emotional challenges and strengths our adolescents and children bring into our classrooms and lives. We need to be prepared and mentored in ways that address the emotional and developmental stages of our youth; our troubled youth who are gifting us with wake-up calls to ask the questions.

What do you need right now to be okay for the rest of the day?”
Where would you like to go from here?”
What might be a good solution to this look like?”
What might be the first step to resolving this?”
What could you do or say to work this out?”
How can I help you?”
What can I do? How can I help?

When we ask to learn, rather than respond, we begin to walk a path that leads our youth through the doors of self-reflection and self-efficacy. We cannot fix another human being and we would be dis-respectful of another’s journey in trying to do so, but we can begin to understand the intricacies of development and the critical components of a social and emotional culture that addresses the hearts and minds of our students. We are relational in our neuro-biology and when we model and give to our students the tools and resources fostering self-awareness and ways to calm their own stress response systems, we begin to create cultures of hope and resiliency. Our teachers know and understand this, but the emphasis and imbalance of performance and competition must shift if we are to treat education as a living system.

Lori Desautels, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
School of Education
Marian University

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