Posted by: darcymullin | April 22, 2015

Stressed Out?

I recently finished Eric Jensen’s book Teaching With Poverty in Mind.   It changed my thinking in a number of ways, but one thing that stuck me as I read his book was the impact of chronic stress on student development.  According to Jensen:

Chronic stress exerts a devastating insidious influence on children’s physical, psychological, emotional and cognitive functioning – areas that affect brain development, academic success and social competence.  Students subjected to such stress may lack crucial coping skills and experience significant behavioral and academic problems in school.


We all have stress in our lives.  In fact, our body’s reaction to stress (run from that bear!) is a safety mechanism and essential to survival.  Ongoing stress is the issue.  He cites research that indicates that our bodies must be in homeostasis for cells to develop at a normal rate.  When we are in an agitated or stressful state for too long the cells “hunker down” for protection.  When in this “hunkered” state for too long, development is impacted. He argues that stress can become “hardwired” into children’s developing brains and the cumulative impact can be devastating.  When discussing neurons (pathways of the brain) Jensen points out:

A stressed neuron generates a weaker signal, handles less blood flow, processes less oxygen and extends fewer connections to nearby cells.  The prefrontal cortex and hippocampus , which are crucial for learning, cognition and working memory are the areas of the brain most affected by the hormones produced by stress.

Stress doesn’t just impact early learners.  Chronic stress in adolescence (another crucial time in brain development) is connected to risky behaviors (drug/alcohol use for example).

Stress surrounds us, so complete avoidance is not an option.  Society is moving at a pace once thought unimaginable.  Most families work two jobs and feel the stress of work just to make ends meet.  Many parents are also underemployed or not working which creates a whole different kind of pressure on families.  Couple those stresses with a society where gratification is often immediate and success is often measured by comparison to our peers and families are under a significant amount of pressure to keep up.

As educators we have a limited ability to control the world outside our buildings, but according to Jensen, schools can be supportive of students and help them manage stress.

First, and perhaps most importantly, we need to recognize stress.  Some common signs are:

  1. Chronic Absences
  2. Impaired attention and concentration
  3. Reduced cognition, creativity and memory
  4. Lack of social skills and social judgement
  5. Reduction in motivation, determination and effort
  6. Signs of depression/withdrawal

Students often feel they have no control, so their sense of helplessness often comes out in ways not acceptable in school (see list above).  Rather than being punitive, schools should problem solve and develop trusting relationships with our most vulnerable kids.  Perhaps enact processes that recognize strengths in students.  My good buddy Chris Wejr writes extensively on this topic.

Second, where possible schools should look at altering the environment.  We need to develop strong relationships and dialogue with students to figure out how to support them with a mutually beneficial (aka Collaborative Problem Solving) structure of support.  Many students need to move or show their learning in a variety of ways.  By focusing on strengths we are better able to understand what those strengths may be and we are more likely to tailor the environment to meet their needs.

Third, empower the students.  Often students under chronic stress feel they have no control, so allowing them to feel like they have some “say” in their learning makes a big difference.  Pinpoint a students lagging skills and create a plan to teach them.  Give responsibility and embrace restitution in a meaningful (collaborative) way.  Role model. Listen.  Use Mindfulness.

Ultimately, chronic stress is impacting our students…usually our most vulnerable.  As educators we are going to spend time with our most challenging students, so if we are investing time it makes sense to be proactive and try different things.  We know that punitive responses lead to a breakdown of relationships and ultimately disengage students.  Once disengaged, the likelihood of getting back on track becomes harder and likelihood of completing school decreases.  Those are pretty high stakes.

Posted by: darcymullin | April 12, 2015

Difficult Conversations – the key to growth?

On Friday I was lucky enough to attend a Pro D session run by Woody Bradford (@ebradford14).  The focus of the day was difficult conversations – specifically conversations that will push the learning in our schools.  It was a great day, with lots of conversations and time to reflect and apply our learning to our own context. Here are some of my take aways:heart mind

  1. Difficult conversations require safety.  Safety comes from trusting relationships. Both parties must feel comfortable with each other and feel that there is no judgement being rendered.  When we are judgemental open and honest sharing stops.
  2. Be prepared.  Don’t have a conversation that will push somebody’s thinking and potentially make them uncomfortable without putting a lot of thought into it. Difficult conversations require preparation so we don’t send the wrong message.  It is wise to think about potential questions and be ready with responses.
  3. Value strengths.  When having conversations that will push people’s thinking it is important to let them know that their opinions matter.  They have to know you recognize their strengths as an educator and a person.
  4. Acknowledge the elephant in the room.  If we are going to have a difficult conversation, don’t beat around the bush.  Have the integrity to acknowledge the conversation is going to be hard, but it is not personal.  Keep learning and growth at its heart.
  5. Read the situation.  Sometimes in spite of the best intentions and preparation, difficult conversations go awry.  Be mindful of the other person.  Read body language, listen with your eyes and be prepared if the person becomes defensive.  Don’t take it personally and try a new approach.

which way to goOne of my biggest takewaways was conflict is a good thing and not something to be avoided.  Conflict that follows the parameters set out above is productive and conducive to learning.  It is conflict that offers different perspectives, pushes our thinking and challenges our assumptions.  When our thinking changes we learn and grow. We should push ourselves to be a learning community has a mindset focused on growth.  We need to seek conversations that take us to the core of our work – student learning.  Open dissucsions where we talk about our biggest struggles and push us to utilize our resources in the most effective way possible should be the norm. It was great to have my thinking pushed.

Posted by: darcymullin | November 15, 2014

Supervising my Own Learning

Last weekend I (along with 40 or so colleagues) started the Supervision for Learning Program through our BC Principals and Vice Principals Association.

The title “Supervision” for Learning is a bit of a misnomer.  The purpose is not to BCPVPAsupervise or evaluate the learning in our school, but rather encourage our own professional learning.  We spent the first day talking about learning and creating our own meaning based on our individual contexts. We spent a lot of time in dialogue talking about how we can make learning purposeful and ongoing while balancing that with the management of the schools we work in.

Balancing both parts of the job can be tricky.  Ultimately we show value where we spend our time.  If we spend all of our time managing, then we don’t model the importance of learning.  Our school has a culture of professional learning and being a part of this program is going to hold me accountable for becoming more immersed in it, not just supporting it.

On the second day we were introduced to and worked with our “triad”.  The triad is a learning support as we move through this process.  We spent the day talking about the type of learning we wanted to do, we evaluated our current circumstances and created initial plans.  Moving forward we are expected to check in with our triads weekly to talk, support each other, and to hold each other accountable.

My learning plan evolved through the two days.  I have spent most of my career (12 of 17 years) at Middle School, so I still have a lot of learning to do when it comes to the development of elementary aged students. Last year, I taught in the primary grades for the first time (Grade 3).  Thanks to a very patient and supportive partner I learned a lot, but I also realized that I have a long way to go.  When I look around my school and I see far better teachers than me.  In fact it is humbling to see the skill and expertise I am surrounded by, so it was quite natural for me to make that my area of growth.

I am hoping to spend time learning from my colleagues.  I will make it a priority to spend time in their classes, watching what they are doing, talking to kids, asking questions and hopefully increasing my knowledge base and growing my teaching practice.

I’m excited about the goal for a couple of reasons.  First, it is going to help me do a better job with the kids I teach, but I will also get a better sense of how to support teachers.  Being in their classes I will get a better sense of their daily successes and struggles.  Success can be celebrated and shared, and the struggles supported.  Ultimately, I will gain a better understanding of the school and how to support the ongoing learning of both staff and students.

I know there will be challenges along the way.  Learning is never smooth – in fact learning by its nature takes us outside of our comfort zones.  I am excited by the process and  I will share my successes and struggles along the way.

Posted by: darcymullin | November 11, 2014

Do You Trust My Intentions?

Conflict.  It’s kind of scary word.

Like it or not, it’s something we all deal with on a daily basis.  On one hand conflict can handcuff us and put us on the defensive and lead to a divisiveness that is counterproductive to progress.  On the other hand conflict can challenge us, make us reevaluate our stance and perhaps look at the world a different way.  It really depends.

Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not you trust the intentions of the other person or not.

I’m on the playground a lot. I do it by choice because I find I can head off a lot of problems before they get big. A large part of my time outside is helping kids negotiate conflict. In almost every instance conflict arises from miscommunication.   Too often kids don’t trust, take the time, or even have the ability to take the other person’s perspective.  When I work with kids to understand each other’s intentions and share what each person was thinking we almost always can solve the problem.

“Why would ‘soandso’ do that?”

“I don’t know.  Did you ASK them?”trust


“Hmmm…let’s start with that.”

When I am dealing with adults the scenario is almost the same. When people are upset it almost always due to lack of communication, or lack of trust.  In my experience we are all on the same team.  We all want what is best for the students that we work with.  Sometimes, the needs are different.  A parent is concerned with their child, and a teacher with all the students.  A teacher is concerned about their classroom, but I am concerned with all the classrooms.  But at their root they are the same – we all want a high functioning school where all kids can be successful.  When in a situation of conflict, I trust the intention of the person I am with…even if they are upset. It doesn’t matter if it is a parent or teacher, I know they have the best interest of the children at the heart of the matter.  When I trust first, it allows me to listen and see what the issue is.  When I listen and understand the issue we can move forward.

If we reframe conflict as a challenge or a problem to be solved we change the paradigm.  Conflict often arises because of a difference of opinion, so when we trust the intention of the people we differ with we can get new insight and see the world through a different lens and perhaps stumble upon some new learning.  When we take the time to listen and really hear someone else’s perspective before offering our own is how we build trust and integrity.

If we start with trust, then spend time listening there is no limit to the learning that can happen.


Posted by: darcymullin | October 28, 2014

Releasing Responsibility

Recently I have been reading a number of posts and and tweets about the invasive nature of technology.  The debate has been very interesting.  I particularly like this post by George Couros.

I love these discussions because it gets me thinking about my own context.  As the father of two 11 year olds and an elementary prinicpal, social media is becoming a reality in my world.  I am a believer in social media and believe that it is changing not only how we communicate, but also how we learn.  Here are my initial musings around exposing kids to social media.

Ultimately, it’s the rules that my kids have to live by…they are far from perfect and ever evolving.I Like

My basic premise is this.  My kids will be exposed and will use Social Media with or without me, so I should get involved, model its proper use and learn about what’s happening.

My kids use Apple products, so I make sure everything goes through my Apple ID and my email.  While it does tend to fill up my inbox I know what my kids are doing.  If they want to download an app, they have to come to me since I haven’t given them my password.  It also allows me to track the messaging that is happening because all the texts that they send and receive come to me.  I certainly don’t read every  one of them, but I do check from time to time and see what they are talking about.  My kids and their extended circle of friends are very responsible – I estimate about 94.7% of their texts are “hi”, “hi”, ‘hi” ad nauseum.

That said, there has been inappropriate use, where we had to intervene.   My kids received a consequence, but more importantly it allowed us to have a real conversation about the importance of your image online.  Since that initial incident, we have not had any other big ones, but we’ve had many opportunities to talk.  It’s been good because I get to let them know where I stand and I still have a window into their middle school world.

They really like Instagram.  I am lukewarm to it, but I follow them and they follow me.  Again, this allows me to monitor what they are doing, but more importantly I get to model appropriate use.  We post and comment on each others photos and enjoy creating our own #mullinhashtags.  As the kids demonstrate responsibility, I give them more and let them experiment more.  Recently I let them have Snapchat, but limit to who they “add” to close family friends.  I have stayed away from Vine and even Twitter to this point, but my daughter is really angling to start her own YouTube channel.  Interestingly, neither one of my kids has shown any interest in getting involved with Facebook – perhaps there are just too many other options that suit kids better.

When it comes down to it, our children (mine for sure) are going to grow up with Social Media, so as parents and educators we can either be proactive and teach them to use it appropriately or let them to figure it out on their own.  I’m always going to err on the side of learning…even if most of it is alongside or just behind them.

Posted by: darcymullin | October 18, 2014

Struggling (a little less) In Math

Two years ago we changed the changed the way we remediate students in Math. In our intermediate grades kids were getting frustrated. Some were significantly below grade level and missing key concepts necessary to move to the next level. We were trying to drag kids through a curriculum they were not ready for. Small group pull out wasn’t effective in closing the gap and students were getting more and more frustrated, so we decided to try something different.

Math is different, so we had to think differently. When giving a lesson in reading, all students can get the same lesson as long as the have appropriate text. It’s the same with writing.  We can offer the same lesson, but have different expectations for student output.  In those contexts direct instruction to the entire class works because kids work at their own level.

Math doesn’t work that way, a lesson on long division will be beyond those students who still don’t have 200438089-001the concept of place value, or still struggle with the concept of basic division. In Math class it’s almost impossible to give students work at their level and deliver a synchronous lesson. Students need work at their level and individual instruction.

A conundrum to be sure.

Thanks to the willingness and innovation of our student support team (Nancy Lomax and Kim Robb) we implemented a non-traditional model. We leveraged technology, specifically a program called Mathletics. Mathletics is computer based Math program where kids work at their level and then work through the curriculum at their own pace.  Because it was new, but we had to answer questions.  Both parents and district partners were a little concerned about screen time, and a Khan Academy type approach to Math. Things we needed to consider for sure.  However, we feel really confident about what we are doing.

Here is why we are excited about our Mathletics group:

1) Because students are doing Math at their level, they have independence when practicing.  That means that the teacher in the classroom is able to give direct instruction to those that need it, when they need it.  The computer lab is alive with activity.  In fact the teacher (and brains behind the whole operation) Kim Robb has cleared a section in the front of the lab where kids direct instruction away from their work stations.  The lab is also full of manipulatives and individual whiteboards so kids can figure things out in different ways.  They are not always in front of their computers.

2) Kim is constant contact with the people at Mathletics ensuring that their program aligns with the BC curriculum.  If we are going all in, we need to ensure our students are meeting BC outcomes.  When students complete a unit tests are usually done paper and pencil. You could walk into the class at any time and see kids working with manipulatives, writing tests, practicing or writing tests as they are learning at their own pace.

3) Since students are working at their level, for the first time many are feeling successful in Math.  I don’t need to go into detail about the importance of a positive mindset and confidence on learning.  All kids want to be successful, because success feels good.  In fact, we have a number of kids start a test and then realize that they are not prepared.  They will ask Kim if they can go back and relearn the section they are struggling with.  To me this epitomizes the growth mindset – kids are no longer frustrated, they are empowered.

4) This year we have also included students who are working above grade level.  We have a few kids who are not challenged in their regular classes, so we are able to keep them engaged by meeting them where they are too.

5) It works.  The results have been fantastic.  Almost all the kids are progressing at a rate greater than one grade level per year.  What that means is they are closing the gap with their grade level peers.  Do all of them leave our school working at Grade Level?  No, but they are much much closer.  Some of our students leave the program because they are caught up.

Is Mathletics for every school?

Probably not.

Our program is not so much about the technology, but rather the people using the technology.  I would argue that the technology offers some advantages (meeting kids where they are, allows for timely instruction), but it is driven by the teacher.  If Kim wasn’t dedicated to honing her practice and finding the best way to deliver instruction the program wouldn’t work – context matters.

We are far from a finished product and we are continually tweaking the process, but the results speak for themselves and in the end it’s all about learning.

Posted by: darcymullin | October 7, 2014

Relationships matter…a lot.

I remember attending a conference when I was a new teacher.  I think it was in my second year and I was teaching Grade 7. The closing keynote asked the crowd why they got into education. He asked how many got into the profession because they loved working with kids. Almost everyone in the crowd put up their hands. Almost everyone in the gym indicated it was one of the main reasons they entered the field. I remember feeling really good, empowered even being surrounded by so many like-minded people.

Then, he knocked the wind out of me.

The presenter said simply, that to love working with kids wasn’t good enough. Teachers needed to have more than an affinity for children. They needed to be strong practitioners and deliver content in an effective manner and that not being effective was paramount to malpractice. It’s been many years, so I may not do the presenter or the presentation justice, but I remember walking away feeling like I was doing a disservice to my students.

I walked away a little

I often think about that presentation. I remember being put off.   Looking back, my pedagogy was not very polished, but I was still a new teacher and my learning curve was steep. What I had was a passion for kids – I loved working with them and developing relationships with them. Over the years I did become a better practitioner as I honed the “craft” of teaching.

I have been thinking more and more about the presentation of late. While I agree that teachers need to be strong in the classroom and need to develop their pedagogy, none of it matters if students don’t think you care about them. More than anything, it’s relationships that matters most in schools. If we as educators build strong trusting relationships with students, they will take risks. They will try because they know they have support if they make a mistake. Taking risks and feeling supported through them are paramount to learning.

When I see young teachers entering the field, I look first for the passion. Those who put kids first tend to become the best teachers. Because they care they tend to be more reflective and willing to try different things to allow kids and uncover their strengths.  People who care about kids also tend to develop strong relationships with their colleagues. Trusting relationships among colleagues are fundamental to a collaborative culture in schools. People who care make schools better places for us all to learn.  When schools create cultures built on care and a passion for kids, you have a culture that supports kids and builds them up, rather than deconstructing them and breaking them down.

I’m sorry, but all those years ago, the presenter had it wrong. Education must start with the relationship first and it should be central to all the things we do. Without it, the other stuff just doesn’t matter.

Posted by: darcymullin | May 6, 2014

Professional Learning @ Giant’s Head

Five years ago our school district moved away from the traditional growth plans and asked schools to pursue inquiry based learning at each site.  Our work gets posted on the web and is shared with our parents at our PAC and SPC meetings, but I decided to also share our learning through this medium to increase access and hopefully stimulate some discussion around the learning at our school.

Our Inquiry Question:

What impact will collaborative time within the school day have on teacher professional development?

RATIONALE: Why this question? 

In the Spring of 2013 two teachers (Carol Barton and Anita Berekoff) attended the BCTF Inquiry Leader training in Kelowna. Between their training and travelling back and forth to Kelowna they realized there was some ways to embed the process of inquiry into our school day. They came to me with a plan of adding time to our day and using the extra instructional minutes to release teachers for 6 afternoons of inquiry.

After discussing their proposal as a staff I presented to parents and the Board and we were approved for a pilot project for 2013-2014. Seeing as it was a pilot and our first experience in school wide inquiry, I wanted the focus of the teachers to be on the process itself. I wanted them to choose topics that were of interest to them and were pertinent in the context of their classrooms. I wanted teachers to have choice and feel empowered in their own learning.

Action Plan

 Our 6 Inquiry days were set in the Spring of 2013. Each with a different focus, but would follow the process of inquiry. Our “investigation” or professional learning would change each time, but the structure of our meetings times would remain consistent. Our sessions were facilitated by Anita and Carol. cycle of inquiry

Session #1 – August 30th. We reviewed the process of inquiry (see diagram) and people began to think about the type of question(s) they would be asking. We also brainstormed a list of “Group Norms” that we all agreed to. People were tasked with bringing a draft question to the next session.

Session #2 – September 18th. We discussed and shared successes and frustrations to date. We also shared the first draft of our questions and looked for common areas of interest within the group. People were encouraged to find similarities in others work and partners to collaborate with. People were tasked at collecting some data around their question for the next session.

Session #3 – October 30th. Once again people shared and successes and struggles. We were tasked at analyzing our data and making plans for further inquiry.   We began to focus on the “construct – express – reflect” aspects of the process.

Session #4 and #5 – December 4th & January 29th. We started as we always do with some reflection time where we shared some of our successes and struggles. People were introduced to the “tuning protocol”. The protocol is a very structured and collaborative way to discuss progress to date. Group members were tasked with asking probing questions and challenge the thinking of people in their group. People looked at their data with a critical eye and planned the next steps in their learning.

5. Session #6 – April 9th. Share successes and struggles. We spent a bulk of the time preparing presentations for the May 14th celebration.

6. Session #7 – May 14 – Celebration. At our celebration people were asked to share their learning and their thoughts on the process.

STRUCTURES AND STRATEGIES: What did it look like?

Within our inquiry people pursued a number of different types of questions. Half of the teachers pursued questions specifically around implementing the MindUp curriculum. This curriculum is focused on learning about our brains, how they work and teaching them how to be metacognitive. Students are encouraged to use this to help them ready their brain to learn. Learning to self-regulate is important for all students, not just those who struggle.

We also had teachers who focused on our vulnerable learners. Our Learning Support team looked at different models of delivery. Knowing that resources are becoming more and more scarce, they looked at more efficient and effective ways of supporting kids who are struggling with their learning. One teacher changed her question part way through the year when she realized she had some kids who were not connecting with their classmates and the school. She was willing to look at the structures in her class in an attempt to make it a more welcoming and accepting environment.

All in all the focus on professional learning and implementing it in context was a big step forward for our staff. Traditionally Professional Development occurred before the school year, so any learning was out of context. This year with our inquiry structure teachers were able to reflect about their students and classroom and apply their learning.


 Anita and Carol prepared a questionnaire for our staff and collated all the data…all I had to do was share it :-).  The questionnaire and a sampling of responses are as follows:

  1. What did you learn or discover on your journey?
    • It is an ever-changing process and challenges/failures are an important part of the learning.
    • Collaborating and the rich conversations with colleagues have been very valuable and enriching.
    • There are many connections between MindUp and SMART Learning
    • As students learn more about their brains, they are better able to self-regulate, however there are a number of students who have more severe challenges and therefore require more support
    • It’s okay to change or modify our questions based on our learning
    • The process of inquiry makes us more aware and accountable to fine tune our practice
  2. What changes have you made in your thinking and practice?
    • I useMindUp for:
      • Part of our regular routine
      • Readying the students for transitions
      • Slowing down and being more aware of what students need
      • Using core breathing before taxing academic tasks
    • I realized how impactful the physical setting of my class can assist in helping students self-regulate
    • I conferenced more with students and was more mindful about the types of questions I asked
    • I realized the benefit of challenging myself to try new things and the importance of persevering when I struggle.
  3. What frustrations did you face?
    • TIME (the overwhelming frustration) to:
      • Meet with colleagues
      • Work on strategies
      • Implement curriculum
      • Longer working sessions
      • Read and stay current with research
      • To work on the “meat” of the project
      • Schedule and fit it all in
    • A multitude of variables made data collection difficult
    • Conferencing with students who struggled to articulate their learning
    • My question kept changing and was hard to narrow down
  4. Would this kind of Professional Development be of interest to you again? Why?
    • Yes (unanimous) because:
      • The learning was more in-depth and stretched my thinking
      • The collaboration with colleagues was invaluable
      • Learning in this way was engaging
      • I liked the ongoing reflection throughout the year
      • I loved how others challenged my thinking and pushed me in different directions
      • I would like to explore my topic further

 REFLECTIONS: What did we learn? How did it make a difference? 

Reflecting on the results of the questionnaire it is obvious that we learned a lot and it made a big difference.

Based on the responses from teachers, they appreciated the support and collaboration time with their colleagues. The structure of the process kept them on topic throughout the year, and teachers appreciated the depth of learning that Inquiry provided. Learning in context cannot be understated, when teachers are working through problems, they are doing so with their classroom and students in mind. Ultimately, it is their classroom and students that benefit.

The fact that our staff was unanimously in favour of pursuing inquiry again speaks to the power of the process. Finding a sustainable, cost-effective and engaging mode of professional development may have been the best outcome of the process.

 FUTURE PLANNING: Where do we go from here?

 Next year I would like to continue with school wide inquiry with a few differences. The professional development calendar is changing, so I would like to offer an inquiry on the 5 full days we have. Based on the fact that the number one frustration with the process was time, I am excited by this prospect as it allows us more time to focus on the “construct” portion of inquiry. It also allows more time for groups to collaborate and work together.

I would also like to narrow the focus of our inquiry. Instead of focusing on the process, I will ask people to focus on structures and strategies that promote self-regulation in our students. My hope is that many teacher will see value in that question and choose to pursue it as well.  Self-regulation is an area that a number of students struggle with and there is a significant amount of research that indicates that students who struggle in this realm are at risk for developing mental health issues and not completing school.

I would love to hear people’s thoughts on our process and learning.

Posted by: darcymullin | April 13, 2014

One Size Fits All? Hmm…

Do you know Tom?

Tom is fictional, but like many kids in our school (or any school)…he struggles.  He is different from many of his peers, while some of them struggle, Tom, well he struggles more than most.  When Tom struggles he gets frustrated, when he gets really frustrated he gets angry.  When Tom gets angry he says and does things that upsets others.

At our school (and at all schools) we spend a lot of time with kids like Tom working with them and trying to help learn the skills he needs to manage his behaviour so that he can engage in learning.

Kids like Tom struggle in three main areas: social, academic and behavioural.  If you have been following my series of posts on self-regulation or work with kids that struggle, you are probably aware that these domains are often interconnected and struggles in one area often bleed into another.

Working with struggling learners is one of the more difficult and rewarding parts of our jobs as educators.  We invest significant resources (financial, time big shoes

We want answers.

There are many of us looking and we want quick results – Tom’s behaviour is intense and he is hard to deal with.  As a result there are number of different “programs” for students who struggle.  These programs take many forms – digital, printed text, face to face etc. There is no shortage of interventions at our disposal that offer Tom the chance to “close the gap” and overcome his struggles.

Here’s the thing…none of them work.

At least not in isolation.

You see Tom is like you and I – he’s different.  He has different needs, different views, understands things differently and responds to things differently.  Merely applying a program or intervention without considering context and the uniqueness of the individual is ultimately doomed to fail.  What worked for one student, won’t work for another because they are different.

In my experience the only intervention that does work is one based on care.

If we are going to help the Toms of the world, first we need to know the Tom’s of the world.  We need to KNOW Tom…not just his needs.  What does Tom care about?  What are Tom’s interests?  What does he worry about? etc.  In order to help Tom, we have to let Tom know we care about him as a person.  More importantly Tom needs to believe we care about him.

In my experience the best intervention is not a program, but a relationship.

Once there is a foundation of trust, we can implement interventions that helps but without trust chances are Tom will not acquire the skills he needs to change.

Posted by: darcymullin | February 22, 2014

Self-Regulation – The Social Domain

This post is number 5 in  a of these things

School is the ultimate training ground for Social Intelligence.  It is an ongoing social game where students are forced to make repeated decisions that impact their ability to navigate the dynamics in class, on the playground, the bus etc.  The ability to flourish in this game arms students with important skills for success throughout all stages of life.  People who can work within and thrive in the social domain have a leg up when they inevitably move into the “real world”

According to Stuart Shanker one’s ability to succeed in the social domain depends on an individual’s social intelligence.  Social intelligence has 3 components:

  1. Emotional Skills – the ability to understand your emotions.  More importantly, the ability to use and apply the emotions proportionately depending on the situation.
  2. Mind Reading – this involves reading situations and body language.  It is essential in being able to take the perspective of others and not be ego-centric.
  3. Communication Skills – the ability to participate in the give and take of communication.  It is about understanding context and understanding how we communicate has implications.

Students who struggle in the social domain often struggle in one (or more) of these areas.  Their behaviour can manifest itself as either hyperactive and overwhelm social situations or hypoactive and withdraw into the background.  I have seen time and time again, children who struggle in the social world struggle with anxiety and self-esteem.  They want to get along with others and participate, but simply do not have the skills.

Collaborative learning is an effective classroom strategy for those who struggle in the Social Domain.  When it is properly structured and scaffolded the locus of control moves from the teachers to students.  When students are given opportunities to problem solve (with structure and support), they learn to work together and begin to develop the three skills listed above.  As they develop we can pair students with the idea that they will co-regulate.  When students co-regulate they naturally help each other meet the requirements for the social context they are dealing with.

Too often in schools we attempt this through “canned” programs.  These programs seem great on the surface, however, they focus on children being regulated rather than teaching them how to regulate.  They don’t appreciate the context and uniqueness of any situation and are often rooted in reward and punishment.  This means those who can regulate get rewarded and those that can’t get punished, but neither really learns anything.  We must look at the social domain like any other, through the lens of problem solving.  We need to change the focus from one of behaviour management to one where we teach specific lagging skills that are getting in the way of the ability to self-regulate.

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