The 1998 movie Patch Adams is loosely based on the early struggles of Hunter Adams as he undertook training to become a physician in Virginia. Adams’ philosophical perspective regarding developing close relationships with his patients – particularly through the use of humor – was directly opposed to the distance that the clinical faculty demanded in the doctor-patient relationship. In one poignant scene from the film, Adams, portrayed by the late Robin Williams, is required to stand in front of the faculty for a hearing related to his fitness to continue studies and to provide care to the indigent people of rural Virginia. Adams passionately challenges the faculty to think about the importance of patient-first relationships in the healing process, and states, “That’s why, when you treat a disease, you win or you lose; but when you treat a person, I guarantee, you win no matter what the outcome.”
In the movie, and in real life, as well, Adams was able to gain re-entry into medical school and continue his work providing free medical service to the underserved in rural Appalachia. He later expanded his efforts into the global community, impacting the lives of the underserved from Africa to South America. His Gesundheit! Institute continues to thrive and grow under his watchful eye. Patch still employs humor as a medium to connect with others for their overall well-being.
As we jump headlong into a new year, we will also jump headlong into curriculum, instructional methodologies, behavioral expectations, intervention systems, data, and a host of other items that trend toward the clinical aspects of education. These things are important, and yes, we want you to use them to their fullest extent to inform and improve your practices and increase student achievement results. But please don’t let these clinical elements ever overshadow that fact that we are teaching people. I encourage you to smile, laugh, play, and have fun with your students. I encourage you to connect with them, their families, and your colleagues in meaningful ways, knowing that the relationships you develop will yield tremendous and lasting results. I guarantee, you win no matter what the outcome.
Why do we need a summer break? We need a summer break, because it gives us all a chance to recharge. Many people travel over break and find a multitude of benefits from their excursions from the norm. According to Larry Alton, there are five scientifically proven health benefits from traveling (https://www.nbcnews.com/better/wellness/5-scientifically-proven-health-benefits-traveling-abroad-n759631):
- Increased overall health.
- Decreased stress.
- Enhanced creativity.
- Increased happiness and overall satisfaction.
- Decreased risk of depression.
Take advantage of your summer breaks. See and do things that you would not ordinarily do during the school year. You will be glad you did!
Teachers are known to be caring professionals. They give so much time and energy to caring for the needs of students, colleagues, family members, and friends at the expense of their own needs. Often times, they give so much to others that they are completely spent and burn out.
The best way to fight the burn is with a regular routine of revitalizing self-care. In their book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, authors Kristin Souers and Pete Hall identify the top four components of a self-care plan (pp. 196-197):
- Health. It makes good sense that we must meet our health needs to avoid burnout. Regular periods of exercise, proper nutrition, and regular times of rest help to keep our minds and bodies in optimum condition for managing the stresses of life.
- Love. Regularly spend time with family members and friend. Reward yourself with something special in order to rejuvenate your mind and spirit.
- Competence. Challenging yourself to learn something new will take you out of your comfort zone, but it will help you to grow. As you grow, you will feel a sense of pride in your accomplishments, and you can share your new experiences.
- Gratitude. Every day we all can find something for which to be grateful. Take a moment to write it down. Finding those silver linings can improve our moods and carry us through the day.
As you plan for next week, be intentional regarding your own self-care. Build into your schedule time to exercise, time to spend time with family members, and time to learn something new. Set aside a few moments daily to write down the things for which you are thankful. You will find it to be tremendously beneficial!
People who can self-acknowledge have the ability to value themselves, their feelings, and efforts. Students who have experienced trauma often have difficulty in this area and often rely on environmental feedback to determine value. As such, they need to be in environments that are positive and filled with encouragement.
In their book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, authors Kristin Souers and Pete Hall note the positive developments children experience when they receive praise from caring adults. Students increase their attachment, relationships, self-esteem, and positive social manners in praise-rich environments (p. 184).
In order for praise to be the most powerful and effective in contributing to the overall well being of children, it must be authentic. In her book Mindset, author and psychologist Carol Dweck recommends complimenting students on the things they can control. Dweck recommends the following guidelines for praise:
- Praise effort.
- Encourage resilience.
- Champion growth.
Creating a positive classroom culture of praise and encouragement requires tremendous forethought. As you plan for the week, think of ways you can incorporate authentic praise in your classroom. All of your students will benefit greatly, and so will you!
I was very fortunate to have Todd Whitaker as a professor in my principal licensure program and as my university supervisor during my principal intern year. Dr. Whitaker frequently reminded us that great principals and great teachers knew what to ignore or overlook. He explained that great teachers and principals have the ability to ignore trivial disturbances and have the ability to address issues of importance without escalating the situation.
In their book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, authors Kristin Souers and Pete Hall discuss these issues in a similar manner, but they encapsulate them in a single word: grace. Grace isn’t a natural response, but it is sometimes the best response. How can we apply grace in a classroom? Souers and Hall provide the following list (p.178):
- Give students a second (or third or fourth) chance
- Engage in some dialogue to determine what the students need
- Offer compassion when students are hurting
- Refuse to be offended
- Listen – truly listen
- Identify student strengths and compliment them
- Thank them for the helpful things they have done
- Spend a few extra minutes asking how they are and offering help
- Model grace so others may follow your lead
Grace doesn’t mean that students are not held accountable for their behaviors. Students are to be held accountable. Grace is the wisdom to know when. Think about your own experience and about the times when you were shown grace. Let those thoughts guide you as you prepare for next week.
In the hit musical Bye Bye Birdie, written in 1963, the adult members of the cast express their exasperation with the teenagers by singing, “Kids! I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today.” The opening lyrics portray the youngsters as being inarticulate, disobedient, disorganized, and lazy. As the lyrics develop, the annoyed adults begin to question their thinking, and the final stanza declares, “There’s nothing wrong with kids today.” Does this sound familiar?
In their book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, authors Kristin Souers and Pete Hall examine the “kids today” philosophy that can sometimes be present within schools. Souers and Hall (p. 158) ask the following questions: Have children really changed? Are our kids actually less respectful or more troublesome than we were? What metrics are we using to measure those characteristics?
After much reflection, Souers and Hall (pp.158-159) conclude that students are generally as they have always been, but the world in which they live has changed. Students now frequently face challenges at home that negatively impact their ability to function, and they bring those challenges into the classroom in ways that disrupt the educational environment. We cannot control the environments in which students live and the challenges they represent; however, we can strive diligently to create schools and classrooms that are safe and stable places children need. Let that be your goal as you plan for next week. Your students will benefit greatly!
All students need your classroom to be a very safe place, but it is especially important for students who have experienced trauma. In their book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, authors Kristin Souers and Pete Hall identify several things teachers can do in their classrooms to enhance the feeling of safety (pp. 103-104):
- Assigned seating. Assigned seating tells students they have someplace they are supposed to be. This leads to feelings of belonging.
- Check-in and Check-out procedures. Having students check-in/check-out daily helps gives them the opportunity to interact with a teacher, and it gives the teacher the opportunity to see how the student is doing at the beginning and end of the day or classroom period.
- Posting pictures. Think of your own home. You display pictures and artifacts from your family members and create a sense of belonging. Why not do that with your classroom “family”?
- Notes or calls home. Be sure to share school successes and concerns with the parents/guardians of your students. When you care enough to share, your students will know that you are genuinely concerned with their wellbeing.
- While human beings tend to be creatures of habit, we find comfort in those routines and rituals. Incorporate routines and rituals into your classrooms to help make your students comfortable on a daily basis.
As you prepare for next week, plan for ways to improve the sense of safety and belonging in your classroom. You and your students will benefit greatly from your efforts!