Sleep With One Eye Open, Gripping Your Pillow Tight
This is a phrase we have all heard before, or at least I assume we have. It is usually uttered when we have reached that pivotal point where we have had enough. As I think about it, I am sure I have thought, if not uttered, those very words to or about a classroom of students. This. Is. The. Last. Straw. But it isn’t and never will be. Not for me. If I reach that point, I take a deep breath and ponder, not my life’s choices up to that moment, but all of the choices I made leading up to and during the class that brought me to those words. That phrase. Did I, at any point, consider The Last Straw my students may be facing? Maybe sometimes, but generally, not in that moment. No, when we reach that point, typically, we are all about ourselves. It’s so hard sometimes not to take things personally, and not to make them personal. So take a deep breath. Here we go.
Exit Light, Enter Night
My district had a PD (professional development) day recently, and after a great morning of PLC (Professional Learning Communities) training, we had a couple hours of TI (trauma informed) schools training. We discussed and learned all about ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and what they mean and can do to students based on years of research. Our presenter, Melissa A. Maras, Ph.D. from the University of Missouri, gave a very simple but powerful analogy once she explained the ACEs that affect our students.
Abuse-physical, emotional, and/or sexual
Neglect: Physical and/or emotional
Household Dysfunction: Mental Illness, Relative Incarcerated, Substance Abuse, Mother Treated Violently, Divorce
When Melissa talked to us about the need to help students with emotional self-regulation, she shared with us Dan Seigel’s hand model of the human brain. Very briefly it looks like this:
Take My Hand, We’re Off to Never Never-Land
So when the brain looks like the closed fist with the thumb tucked in, students can learn. When their hand has fingers up instead of curled over the thumb, then they are not physically able to learn. Their brain is not going to be able to receive and retain information. It is our job to help them find ways to get all fingers folded, thumb tucked in, for at least the amount of time they spend with us in the classroom. One major problem that occurs is when the teacher and student reach The Last Straw at the same time, then both hands are wide open and slapping each other (figuratively I hope). Not good. As the adult, we are to self regulate our own emotions and model that for our students. Adults and students alike are often stalked or surrounded by a thick cloud of darkness. That darkness is all of the adverse situations that we face in our lives. Sometimes our clouds may be tiny or non existent, and other times they seem to take over, envelop us completely, until we can’t see anything else but that dark cloud. It is a desperate place to be when the darkness surrounds us.
Grain of Sand, We’re Off to Never Never-Land
Louie Giglio likened it as being in a state of desperate hope. And here’s where it all comes together in my mind. Our students come to us daily with darkness in their lives. It may not be chronic darkness, and the shapes and sizes of the darkness vary, but it creates in them that state of desperate hope at some point during the school day, month, semester, or year. As educators and parents, we can’t eliminate the all of the darkness faced by kids, and we can’t always see it or know it’s there every time either. We can, however, equip them with strategies to push past the darkness. Self regulation is huge here. There will be stress. There will be anxiety. Teach them how to move though those two dark clouds. How despite the size of the dark cloud all around them, they can break free for 50 minutes. We need to be the hope. That light shining off in the distance that lets them know the way out; that crack in the wall of their self doubt, fear, and loathing that streams fresh air into their cell. I have around 50 minutes daily with students. I need to self regulate my own emotions so that my saltiness (as my high school students call it), does not strike out at them. Keeping myself in check, with a fully charged battery, will allow my light to shine brighter for students sitting amidst a dark cloud that I cannot see. Don’t cave to The Last Straw syndrome. Assume the positive. Do stand in the way of your students’ Last Straw. Impede their progress downhill when you see them start to slip. Smile, encourage, listen, and support. Start your week off right. Grab your cape. It’s time we push back the darkness that our students face daily using whatever method we’re comfortable with modeling. Think things like What has happened to you? instead of things like What in the world did you just do or say? Be firm. Be fair. But always envision that darkness around them. See it. Direct your light toward it, and shine on.
Partial lyrics from Metallica’s Enter Sandman (a personal fave of mine).