THRIVE Excerpt from Book “Unwritten, The Story of a Living System”

H- Hope
I-Imagine/ Innovate
E- Empathy
Brain is Wired to Thrive
Emotional Fitness (Based on the Seven Elements of Connection)
Trust, Attention, Availability, Affirmation, Respect, Virtue, and Empathy
Dr. Nick Long

We see students survive every day. We often times survive every day. We survive a class, a test, a conflict, a relationship and a challenge; and yet, surviving is very different then thriving! Many of the students that we see every day bring a degree of stress with them into our classrooms. Thankfully many of them also have supports in their lives that allow them to manage this stress in a productive manner. Our most difficult students however are not as lucky. They live in a state of chronic toxic stress. Chronic toxic stress changes the brain. This level of stress literally places their brains in a survival mode. If the brain is in a survival response; its creative, resourceful and imaginative higher level thought processes are compromised because of emotions and thoughts that feel unsafe and threatening. When we feel guilt, shame, anger, sadness and any negative emotion over an extended period of time our brains begin to create neural pathways that ignite habits of feelings in response to the thoughts that call forth these emotions. Neural traits become brain states. We settle. We create a victim stance. We react rather than respond and although our biology is also predisposed to survival instincts, paradoxically we have the capacity and ability to be mindfully present with one another. In the environments that nurture, our species is neuro-biologically wired to thrive. When human beings have their developmental needs met, we unfold naturally and that unfolding guides us in discovering our natural gifts and to thrive.

“If kids come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job more important.” – Barbara Colorose

When we are living in environments of toxic stress we only experience ongoing sensations of “survival”. Under these conditions, left without supports, we learn to survive rather than thrive. These are the children and youth that enter our schools and need more from us. Often they are our most difficult students. How do we begin to work successfully with these children and youth?

1. “T” for Trust
“Trust between a child and adult is essential, the foundation on which all other principles rest, the glue that holds teaching and learning together…” (Nicholas Hobbs )

Trust is the foundation of how we relate to people in this world. If the process of trust is not established as so many researchers have reported and validated, then we have challenging times with students ( and adults) who feel and often times act disconnected and detached in ways that grow opposition aggression, shame, hurt and hopelessness.
Trust begins with a child or adolescent “knowing” a teacher is present. Students who have experienced trauma, neglect, and circumstances that have abandoned trust and connections throughout their lives are literally swimming in pain. The majority of your most difficult students have a developmental history filled with negative experiences. If we simply look at their school history it is filled with discipline referrals, unsuccessful punitive interventions and sustained failure. If we examine their life experiences outside of school we will find a pattern of prolonged adult rejection, neglect and often abuse. It is critical for educators working with these young people to know that their history has conditioned them to see any new staff relationship as toxic and potentially hostile. Creating positive connections with students swimming in pain and building trust with these young people is an endurance event! They will initially and sometimes literally “bite the hand that attempts to feed them.” Trust must be built slowly over time. How can we begin to successfully “reclaim” these young people?

First they will need to know that “we are not going away.” We are present for them no matter their behaviors or life’s changes. The resiliency research is clear and very hopeful to anyone working with troubled children and youth. One person can make a positive impact and turn lives around. Bonnie Benard, a leader in the field of resiliency, calls these educators; “Turnaround Teachers.”

Research reports that the single most central factor in building relationships and trust is an act of caring compassion. For many children and adolescents who have spent a lifetime in adverse environments, their stress response systems are in a chronic level of allostasis, meaning they are hyper vigilant and reactive in all areas of their life. They are so accustomed to fighting, freezing or fleeing, their abilities to think through a learning problem, to emotionally soothe and redirect are shut down and off. At these times often untrained and well-meaning educators can easily get caught up in escalating conflict cycles that end up damaging the connections we need to forge with these students. We too get caught up in fight/flight/or freeze because emotions are highly contagious.

To connect with your most difficult youth we must learn the skills necessary to react differently. Recently researchers have been studying another less common reaction to stress called “tend and befriend”. They are finding that often there is a gender influence to our stress response and although not exclusively, they propose that females often respond to stress in a different manner. Tending involves nurturing activities designed to protect the young while befriending is the creation of social networks that reduce stress and provide supports for all people in the environment. During times of escalating stress with young people the concept of tending and befriending rather than our fight/flight/freeze response can be learned. We can literally choose not to fight with young people.

During these times of high stress it becomes critical for staff to provide “emotional first aide” for these students. If we can demonstrate that we can be with students at their “worst” and assist them in calming down and problem solving we begin to build trust. Rather than becoming caught up in an escalating conflict that damages the relationship, we can begin to learn the skills that will allow us to drain off their hostility and frustration, affirm their feelings, separate those feelings from their behaviors and begin to teach them to problem solve. These all fall into the category of “tending behaviors.” We must recognize that punishment is toxic to young people who have suffered from neglect, rejection and abuse. The central problem for educators working with children and youth that demonstrate “pain based behaviors” is our ability to handle their primary pain without inflicting secondary pain experiences in an attempt to teach them how to behave. We can begin to do this by shifting how we handle problem behaviors and begin to see these behaviors as opportunities to teach young people how to solve conflicts and problem solve and teach rather than punish. We can literally tend to their needs and build their skills rather than cause more pain.
We find the following a helpful reminder of how we can begin to make this critical shift;

If a child does not know how to read, we teach.
If a child does not know how to swim, we teach.
If a child does not know how to multiply, we teach.
If a child does not know how to drive, we teach.
If a child does not know how to behave, we………………..
– John Herner

We also know that affirmation, attention and availability help to foster healthy relationships with ourselves and therefore build trust with others. These are the most powerful relationships we can embrace as move through life and experiences. When we begin to occasionally listen to our own minds and hearts; we begin to create a stream of well-being no matter the view on the outside. How do we do this with our students when peers become the most significant players in the early adolescent years? How can we begin to develop an emotional fitness in the minds of our students when their life experiences have been filled and are filled with significant adversity?

We begin to be present. We notice everything and learn as much as we can about our students! We comment on their new shoes, hairstyles, their smiles, and just simply notice who they are and that we are glad to see them. We learn that we must pick and choose our battles and that not all behaviors we dislike or disagree with will go away. We learn to affirm those behaviors and conversations that serve them well, building on their capacities to learn, to relate, and to connect with someone who understands and shares their challenges.

To be attentive and affirmative is to begin teaching the student rather than the curriculum.
Yes it is important to teach our content, however, it is critical that we always recognize that our students are more important than our subjects and standards.

We must demonstrate that we care. At the core of helping and healing is the act of caring. It is rarely spoken about in teacher preparation programs yet it is a critical component of effective teaching. Students that feel known and cared about will be much more motivated to learn and as Nel Nodding has said:

“At a time when the traditional structures of caring have deteriorated, schools must become places where teachers and students live together, talk with each other, take delight in each other’s company. . .it is obvious that children will work harder and do things —even odd things like adding fractions — for people they love and trust.”

It is important to add that caring is not enough. Teachers must also develop the skill of creating structure and order with-out the use of coercion. Chaos is viewed by students as unsafe and also uncaring. We structure our environments to provide our students with a sense of safety and predictability, and we structure our instruction to provide all students with a felt sense of success.

We know many of our students are shutting off academically because they are not feelings successful! Every single child or adolescent will always choose to be perceived as “bad” rather than dumb! When we understand this unspoken truth, we begin to build and create short mini-lessons where we know students will be successful. This is a process and a starting place. As my friend and educator Michael McKnight explains, “We can force success. We often times teach way beyond a student’s skill set. Relearning Lev Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development” is a great place for us to start. We must literally create islands of competency for young people who have experienced nothing but failure since they entered school. To begin developing layers of trust, we must meet the student where he or she is, and develop a plan of action that is saturated with a sense of belonging and capability.
We can also begin to teach and model how building upon our own passions, strengths and challenges draw the people, experiences, and life events that support and cultivate our minds and hearts. How do we begin to support students in trusting himself/ herself and others? We can begin with our ability to model want we want to see more of from our students. Authentic emotions, thoughts, action steps and ideas shared begin this process. We are wired to mimic as the mirror neurons are just being studied and supported in neuroscience research. Modeling the behaviors we would like to see as we replace the ones that are depleting a student’s self-efficacy and self-esteem.

A simple place to start our modeling is with a commitment to ourselves that we will treat all students with a high degree of dignity and respect regardless of how they are currently treating us. This will require us to model “self-discipline” and our ability to regulate our own emotions, a skill many of our most troubled children and youth desperately need to learn.
Learning Logs are another wonderful resources for implementing mutual trust in our classrooms. When we record our own observations, ideas, what we have learned from our students, we are indirectly encouraging them to assess, self-reflect and discover a novel idea, connection or behavior. In this Learning Log, we will record noticed behaviors as well as academic ideas. Time will be designated a few minutes a day, to record and consolidate the academic learning and dispositions observed inside of classrooms. We will also share our perspectives, creating an atmosphere that feels trusting and non-threatening.

I am learning that all I ask from my students I must be ready to attempt myself. If I have given students an assignment, a directive, or a consequence; it is my responsibility to share the “whys,” my story, and the effort I will put forth to meet the students in the middle. Trust is built through attention, availability and affirmation. If we aspire to build trusting relationships with our students, desiring a growing self-trust, then we model our actions, behaviors and responses.

We begin to share our mistakes. We apologize when we have become angry in a way that is non-productive. We talk aloud about the choices we see in a particular situation, weighing our options as we move closer to solutions or decisions. We listen hard to learn. When a rule is broken, we share our concern and of course the consequence, but we are clear that behaviors are actions and they do not define us as persons. More importantly we take the time to not just deliver consequencefrom a pre-existing list of “do’s and don’ts” but begin to problem solve with students and to gain a commitment to do things differently the next time.
We need to be aware of the timing of a consequence, knowing that conflict cycles can escalate or diminish based on our delivery, tone and authenticity.

It is my honor and responsibility to teach a skill or behavior that I do not experience or see in the classroom, replacing one that is not conducive to learning or enhanced well-being.

Building trust requires robust conversations at a neutral time, when the brain states of both teacher and student are primed for listening and learning. When we have those discussions, we make sure to share similar experiences and the choices we made that did or did not serve us well. If we cannot come up with a poor choice we’ve made in the past, then we listen deeply… knowing we will come away from this conversation with knowledge that we didn’t have before an incident occurred. We share a presence so that he or she knows we’re 100% available. In building trust, we also let go of the problem and return to a place where we both begin again. To actually let go of a student’s poor choice, is to model with our verbal and nonverbal communication, “I can see potential. I see what you are unable to see in this time! We will give this another go…”
A very easy way to send this message is to post what Grace Pilon calls truth signs. Truth signs are not typical signs you see in a classroom. They simply remind the class of important truths about living and learning. Here are a few examples, but do feel free to create your own:
• It’s OK to make mistakes. That’s the way we learn.
• If it happened it happened. Let’s learn, problem solve and move on.
• Life is not always easy. It can call us to stretch and grow.
• Know what your best effort is and strive to do it every day.
What might be some of the truth signs you would highlight in your classroom?

Rarely do we discuss hope as part of our role as educators but educators can be inspirers of hope. Hope is defined as a feeling or expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
2. “H” Hope
Hope can have an activating effect on both our students and us. We must provide students with a reason to come to school every day!
When we model hope for our students, we share the heartaches, celebrations and every emotion that has occurred inside the steps we have taken for a goal we desired to reach. Hope begins with questions. When we question our goals, plans and intentions, we help develop a sense of active hope. Activating Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for. This is the antidote to despair and to hopelessness that lies underneath much of the behavior we see from our most troubled children.
What do you hope for today? What do you hope for this week? How do you get there? What will it take to make this desire a reality? Is the hope you have for this relationship, experience, or event something you can work towards? Is your “hope” something you can control? If the hope lies outside our control, then we must model for our students what is within our power and control. We must help one another to understand that hope is the roadmap in a destination of perspective. If I perceive something as good or bad or right or wrong, then it is! My thoughts have labeled an experience based on only my views and outlook. If I hope my parents get back together, then the hope I hold is outside of my control. If I hope I pass my test on Thursday, then I have the tools, time and mindset to fulfill my desires. If I hope that my boyfriend does not break up with me, then once again, I am relying on other people, thoughts and experiences that are out of my control. I can perceive or treat a break-up as a positive or negative happening based on my outlook.
As a teacher, I cannot only model how hope plays out in my own life, but I can give my students hope by noticing all that is going right and well. I can choose to focus on the most mundane and obvious task or action, knowing, it is an improvement and movement from an hour, the morning or the day or week before.

Each day we can create a dialogue of “hindsight moments.” When we share our choices and disappointments based on a past experience, highlighting the reasons, lessons learned, and experiences we would have never encountered; we are sharing the gift of hope.
For younger students, hope begins when we assist our children in self-assessing their work, actions and behaviors. Questions such as: What do you think? How do you feel this turned out? Let’s make a plan! What are the two most important things we can do to make this happen? How is your plan working out? What could you do differently? Where could we go for help?
When we begin to sit beside our students encouraging them to self-assess behaviors and school work, we are empowering them with their own aptitudes and voices. When mistakes are seen as tools for learning, we begin to feel safe and trust the process of our thoughts and work, rather than always looking at the end results and for others’ evaluations.

Leave a Reply

Verified by MonsterInsights