Social-Emotional Ed, Culture & Discipline

In the last week I have read five fascinating articles at the intersection of culture, social-emtional learning and discipline in schools. The first two articles appeared in The Seattle Times in their on-going “Education Lab” series funded by the Gates Foundation. One article reviewed the research and on-going programs in Washington state that are trying to understand and overcome how childhood trauma can affect learning and behavior in schools. The other highlighted schools in the area that are using the Yale RULER social-emotional education program.

The first article, entitled “‘You are more than your mistakes’: Teachers get at roots of bad behavior’”, discussed how researchers and teachers are coming together to address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which not only affect the education and behavior of a child in school, but can also affect their adult health. I made many notes about ACEs in my blog post review of Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed.

One of the Seattle area schools mentioned in The Times article is West Seattle Elementary. I worked with their staff and principal, Vicki Sacco, in the lead up to my former Seattle school’s application for a ‘Turnaround Schools’ elementary levy grant from the city in 2013. I was also pleased to once again read about the work of Washington State University Professor Chris Blodgett because I had the pleasure of hearing him speak about ACEs and the social-emotional training he leads at schools like Bemiss Elementary in Spokane, Washington.

Next came an AEON Ideas prompt on their beta forum discussing ‘how educators can help end the schools to prison pipeline’ started by Daniel Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies (CCRR) at The Civil Rights Project at UCLA. He laments the continued disparities in discipline along racial lines in schools across America and urges schools to begin to do the basics to avoid suspending students.

Discipline Disproportionality

Losen does not directly reference the research about the root causes for discipline issues in schools, such as ACEs, but he instead speaks to the imperative of alternative, inclusive and even restorative methods of addressing undesirable or disruptive school behaviors. He says that “well publicized research by Skiba at Indiana University has demonstrated that after controlling for poverty, school principals that embrace zero tolerance discipline philosophy have higher suspension rates and lower test scores than those that fold school discipline into their overall educational mission and strive to keep students in school.” In other words, strict discipline being exacted on kids acting out because of adverse emotional trauma they’ve experienced at home or elsewhere is truly counterproductive. Therefore, Losen suggests that schools start closing the “discipline gap” by not “suspending youth who are truant or tardy” and by limiting “the use of out of school suspension for minor offenses such as disruption or defiance.” Combined with teacher training on ACEs and an integrated social-emotional education program like the Yale RULER, schools could respond to adverse student behaviors proactively and productively.

You can participate in the AEON Ideas discussion forum on the schools to prison pipeline here.

Yale RULER Tool

The last two ed articles are related to one USC Rossier School of Education longitudinal study on the adolescent brain and how culture affects its social development. The study was designed by USC Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and over it’s five year period it will eventually include over 100 participants from Latino, East-Asian and bi-cultural backgrounds.

Half way through the research period, Immordino-Yang claims there are already two big takeaways about learning; first, Immordino-Yang says, “Traditional educational approaches think about emotion the way Descartes did; emotion is interfering with your ability to do well in school, to think rationally. Neuroscience is showing us that that is absolutely not the case—when you take emotion out of thought you have no basis for thought anymore. So we’re trying to understand how socially constructed emotion shapes learning, academic development and identity.” Second, Immordino-Yang says about the difference of our neurological processing of emotions and our outward manifestations of those emotions that, “There were no differences at all in how much these young adults’ brains were activating when they responded to our emotional stories—and no differences in the strengths of emotions that participants in the different cultural groups reported…But there was a strong cultural difference in how patterns of neural activity corresponded in real-time with participants’ experience—in how people became aware of their emotion.”

In other words, emotions play a big role in how we all learn, regardless of cultural or linguistic backgrounds, and yet those backgrounds do have a differing effect on our awareness and outward expression of those same emotions we all feel.

In one of the study’s tests, participants are asked to run up and down a flight of stairs until they can physically feel their heartbeat. The participants are then hooked up to a heart rate monitor and also simultaneously asked to monitor their heartbeats themselves, marking down every beat they feel. Somewhat astonishingly, the ability to accurately feel your heartbeat can predict the participant’s cultural identity.

“What we find is that among the East-Asian American kids, it’s the kids who are not particularly sensitive to their heartbeats who are saying they strongly hold Asian values, whereas among the Latino kids, it’s those who have a better ability to feel their heartbeat who are saying they strongly hold Latino cultural values,” says Immordino-Yang. “What that tells us is that kids’ natural awareness of visceral sensations may predispose them toward constructing a particular identity. It’s showing us how a very basic biological tendency, which we know is anatomically based, which is mainly kind of innate, is predisposing kids to adopting a particular kind of psychological self, with implications for how they act, what they believe in and who they strive to become.”

Immordino-Yang spells out the implications those results may have for educators and students. “We need to understand that the way kids feel matters. Their embodied experience in the classroom powerfully influences what children take away and how they grow both academically and personally. What science is teaching us, in short, is the need to understand the holistic emotional experience of a person, and the need to account for subjective experience when we design and evaluate educational environments.”

So think about the implications of this study in the context of a child who is growing up in poverty, who is African-American and who has a few Adverse Childhood Experiences. The holistic emotional experience becomes not just part of the learning equation for this child, it becomes the key. Educators have to try and understand how this individual child will emotionally react to different social experiences and different educational experiences because tapping a well of safe and positive emotions will help the child learn. In addition, their future cultural identity is being informed by their physical and neurological reactions to these experiences in schools. A lot is at stake and ignoring social-emotional learning, cultural backgrounds and the importance of positive discipline policies is inexcusable.

Look for more from me on the Immordino-Yang study in the coming weeks, as I will expand on my impressions of the implications of this study based on my experiences working in elementary schools in Latin America and East Asia. Unshocking spoiler; the study reinforces much of what I already assumed about how culture shapes how we learn. But, I will try not to generalize too much and I will try to give some specific examples of experiences that I have teaching abroad that will hopefully add to the discussion on this research.

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Ed Buzzword: Failure

Seems like everywhere you look these days there is an article, a book, a motivational speaker or educator who is slinging a slogan for the power of failure. From Tavis Smiley’s “Fail Up” to Silicon Valley’s “iteration”, the buzzwords and slogans for the power of failure are myriad these days.

Interestingly, Peter Thiel made a comment going against the grain of the conventional wisdom on the power of failure in an interview with Vox.com recently. He said, “One of the ideas I’m very skeptical of is that people learn from failure. I think, in practice, failure’s really demotivating. Hopefully, you have the character to persevere and keep going, but I think the default is that failure is powerfully demotivating. But success is very motivating.” Mr. Thiel is obviously talking about adults and specifically called out the need for “character to persevere” through failure and “keep going”. Thus, I’m going to assume that Mr. Thiel would agree that it is very important to explicitly and transparently teach character through both failure and success in schools and from a young age.

On that note, I am going to share two more readings on failure!

The first is a wonderful piece written by the eminent educator, Rick Wormeli, entitled, “Failure Preferred, Actually”. In it, Wormeli identifies thirteen ways for teachers to “make failure a valued route to learning” in their classroom. Here are some highlights:

    • “Failure can teach us in ways that consistent success cannot.” In other words, the only way we know how to instill grit and perseverance in a child or adult is through overcoming obstacles. If a child never struggles through something, never experiences failure, there is a world of empathy and coping skills that may remain under developed.
    • “Students should feel safe and invited to experiment and fail in the middle of class or at home as they learn new material…One of the most vivid ways to do this is modeling our own struggles to learn something new.” This is a huge leap for many teachers to take, especially considering the accountability education reform movement. Do most teachers really have the latitude to try and fail, iterate a lesson or unit, or even create a culture of experimentation in their classroom? And Wormeli does acknowledge this by writing, “One of the worst perpetuators of an unhealthy avoidance of failure is the pressure we feel from state or provincial testing.”
  • “Frequently relate the stories of famous figures in history, science, sports, politics, entertainment, and other professions who failed in some way but learned from the experience and grew as a result. Students are consummate story-receivers; they’ll remember the lessons learned.”
  • “Create a ‘Wall of Failure Success’ in which you identify students (with their permission) who failed at something initially, but learned from the experience and eventually became successful with that skill or topic. Be specific in telling their stories.”
  • “…acknowledging that we do not know everything is a good model for students. It builds empathy for what they are feeling as we ask them to take risks.”
  • “Make it possible for students to ask more questions in class than you do. If they’re asking the questions, they’re doing the learning.” I really like this because it is a clear whole group indicator of the learning, the curiosity and the engagement of your students. And this is easy to assess, you can tell when you are leading the students to the water and when they are leading themselves.
  • “The consequence for not doing the learning is the doing the learning, not escape from the learning.” That is a classroom slogan that I will be using soon! As Wormeli says, if we allow a student to skip an assignment or not re-do bad work or we refuse to reassess a student on an improved task, we are signaling to them that specifics of that piece of knowledge or skill is not important, that it’s okay for that student not to learn this thing.

 

Second, the TeachThought website had a great article on a design framework to help students fail successfully.


Framework for Failure

The framework is most concerned with definitions; redefining the meaning of failure based more on the tech world’s notion of iteration and “progress over ‘finishing’”. For example, Terry Heick writes, “If understanding is about making meaning, then failure is always only temporary. Making meaning is a present participle that indicates an ongoing process. It’s indefinite, if for no other reason than we can never fully and completely understand anything.” This is philosophical in nature, while Wormeli’s piece on failure is much more practical. The two compliment each other in ways that are unintended but are extraordinarily inspiring and useful to me as a teacher!

The Mindfulness Triangle

It seems like nearly everything education-related that I read or listen to as of late mentions either Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mindfulness, Stoicism or all three. First, let’s provide some definitions for these ideas and then I will talk about a couple examples.

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a structured, short-term, present-oriented psychotherapy for depression, directed toward solving current problems and modifying dysfunctional (inaccurate and/or unhelpful) thinking and behavior.
  2. Mindfulness is the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment
  3. Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC. The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of “moral and intellectual perfection”, would not suffer such emotions.

In his book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough writes that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in the context of character building and education, is “using the conscious mind to recognize negative or self-destructive thoughts or interpretations and to talk yourself into a better perspective.” For example, many of the KIPP teachers profiled in the book ask students to think about their thinking, identify either negative or positive thoughts, their behavioral triggers, the resultant actions, and then plot a repeatable course that nets better outcomes for the student.

In Invisibilia, the newest podcast from NPR, the first episode entitled, The Secret History of Thoughts, explores the three phases of psychological theory. At first thoughts had meaning and a connection to the material world, ie Freudian psychoanalysis. Then it became common theory and practice to assume that thoughts had limited meaning, automatic negative thoughts should not be simply accepted and internalized, and by challenging or contradicting your thinking you could change it, i.e. Dr. Aaron Beck’s CBT. And the podcast hosts mention that, according to the research, the latter has proven more effective than the former in facilitating mental health.

Finally, the third and newest psychological theory posits that many or most thoughts have no meaning at all, and that through mindfulness therapy a person can learn to ignore those negative, meaningless thoughts altogether, and deny them the power to affect mental health. Under this theory, meditation has become a regular part of therapy. And, in fact, there is a growing movement of educators who are using yoga, meditation and other mindfulness strategies to help their students learn and take care of the whole child. Here is a great review on the Cult of Pedagogy website about a great practical new guide to mindfulness in the classroom, Teach, Breathe, Learn: Mindfulness In and Out of the Classroom.

My frequent encounters with this vein of psychology did not stop there. Lary Wallace has written a great piece in Aeon Magazine online about “why Stoicism is one of the best mind-hacks ever”, using the parlance of our times. Wallace argues that Stoicism has been largely ignored in the West because it does not offer the “exotic mystique” of the great Eastern philosophies even though it is more accessible and therefore more practical for the average person. He writes, “Stoicism is, as much as anything, a philosophy of gratitude – a gratitude, moreover, rugged enough to endure anything.”

As a real-life example of just what Stoics can endure, Wallace references the 1993 King’s College London speech of US Navy Admiral James Stockdale. In the speech Admiral Stockdale recounts his five years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam. He used this time as a ‘laboratory of human behavior’ in which he ignored or denied himself any concern outside of his very small ‘sphere of choice’.

Wallace’s emphasis on Stoic gratitude and Stockdale’s reliance on concerning himself only with his own actions in order to endure horrible war-time conditions both have significant ties with the character education being taught at KIPP Academies. Self-regulation, grit, and gratitude are of paramount importance for children of poverty to succeed academically and achieve social-emotional health. And any ‘mind-hack’, as Wallace labels Stoicism, must also require mindfulness to identify thoughts and actions that are within the sphere of choice. Therefore, these three ideas about our thinking, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mindfulness and Stoicism, all have significant overlaps which can be leveraged in the classroom through intentional practice. I am energized by this possibility and will have to follow up in the future with specific teaching practices that integrate these ideas and promote positive student behaviors.

My 2015 Professional Development Plan

I have finished up my student-teaching clinical with Teach-Now and am in the process of applying for my K-6 teaching certificate from the Washington D.C. OSSE. In the mean time, while I am here in Korea teaching English I am going to have pursue my own professional development as an elementary classroom teacher via my Personal Learning Network, MOOC’s, and keeping up with the latest education research. I have tried to make each of my PD goals a SMART goal, therefore many have a specific deadline for implementation at some point in 2015.

Here is the link to my full PD Plan for 2015:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1t-_parfMDI6mP-GR_idkJUYEo_6t1Pf8maKfvZFl3W0/edit?usp=sharing

I will list just a few of my top PD goals for the coming year below, along with some commentary on my progress where relevant.

Objective: Create and execute more student-centered lessons.

Action Step:

  • I am gathering student-centered materials and methods, experimenting with implementation, and will be giving a formal PD session at a teacher orientation of new foreign English teachers here in Korea.

Implementation:

  • As I research student-centered methods in more depth while I am teaching here in Korea, I will identify appropriate methods that I feel confident in implementing one-at-a-time, and integrate them into my lesson plans, routines and activities. My goal will be to implement two new student-centered activities in each grade level that I teach per month.

Objective: Deepen my understanding of math instruction pedagogy for elementary school students.

Action Steps:

  • I will have regular correspondence with my math mentor, University of Washington professor, Elham Kazemi.
  • I will complete the readings that have been assigned to me by my math mentor, Elham Kazemi.
  • I will take notes, ask questions, reach out to my PLN for further clarification and advice, and create a blog post about each math reading and my personal study in general.

Implementation:

  • I will have at least two blog posts about my math pedagogy investigation by July of 2015.
  • I will have more than 5 blog posts about math pedagogy and instructional methods a year from now.
  • I will observe at least 5 recorded math lessons and take copious notes in the next year.
  • I will note my preferences and pedagogical beliefs around math instruction, and make sure to create goals for my first year math instruction based on that research and understanding.

Objective: Investigate methods of teaching character in my classroom.

Action steps:

  • Take the Coursera MOOC “Teaching Character” with the instructor, David Levin, a KIPP schools co-founder. (I am currently in the middle of this six week MOOC. I am taking notes on the videos and getting a little behind on the assignments, but learning a lot, collecting many resources and strategies on character education.)
  • Read and blog my notes of Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed. (This is done, see the link.)
  • Identify further readings and professional development opportunities in this area. (From the David Levin MOOC I have discovered and saved to my reading list a number of good research articles on teaching character and its importance.)

Implementation:

  • I will create a student character self-assessment Google Form to be filled out at the beginning and end of the school by both students and their parents.
  • I will design community-building activities or a project that will emphasize the development of character strengths.
  • I will intentionally observe and note character strengths and weaknesses in my students and create a routine that facilitates regular one-on-one conferences or interactions with students in need of character support.

Objective: Develop my leadership capacity as a teacher, including in specific areas of education interest like Design In Schools, teaching character, student data management, global education, meetings and PD facilitation and collaboration.

Action Steps:

  • Watch, take notes and blog about the 2014 Global Education Conference sessions with education leaders that I admire.
  • Take IDEO “Design In Schools” MOOC in March of 2015.
  • Lead a professional development session for the new ESL teacher orientation here in Korea in April.
  • Execute a Skype in the Classroom lesson in Korea by August of 2015.

Implementation:

  • Be available to the principal in areas where you can advise and provide a level of expertise.
  • Participate and grow in my presence as an educator online, expand my Personal Learning Network, keep blogging, tweeting, and collaborating via the web.
  • Identify and cultivate a good, collaborative working relationship with a mentor teacher when I arrive at my first American school.

Growth Mindset: GoBrain and Making a Splash

Great, resource-rich blog on the growth mindset research and applications for teachers. This blog will be another piece in my study of non-cognitive skills or character strengths such as grit, self-control and curiosity. You can see my notes on Paul Tough’s “How Children Succeed” here:
https://kennygrassroots.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/paul-tough-stuff/

User Generated Education

A recent interest of mine has been the Growth Mindset.  I have blogged and presented on this topic:

Due to my interests, Carol Reiley contacted me about her initiatives about growth mindsets.  First, from her and her team’s website, GoBrain, is the following:

644a24_b860294e2dcb488385908bb95d8f2234.jpg_srz_p_788_575_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzhttp://www.gobrain.com/#!the-science/cu1w

Second, she wrote a children’s book, Making a Splash, and decided to crowdfund its publication through Kickstarter – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/181490972/go-brain-a-childrens-story-to-inspire-life-long-le.

What follows is an interview with Carol about writing and disseminating Making a Splash.

How did you first get interested in the growth mindset?

I’m a PhD student in Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University. My research is studying how medical students learn to become great surgeons. After I read Carol Dweck’s mindset book, a lot…

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