Category Archives: meaning of life

Mental Health Education and Way of Life Education

Last week, I (Clive) talked about the connection between general way of life education and career education. I believe there is a similar link with mental health education, which Ontario teachers today are strongly encouraged to engage in. A recent Toronto Star article on mental health education noted that around twenty percent of Ontario school students have mental health problems. It then went on to claim that the life learning these students need would also greatly benefit the other eighty percent of students!

From the teachers’ point of view, this insight has significant implications. It means that instead of constantly singling out students with mental health needs – thus adding to teachers’ workload and also running the danger of labeling students, reducing their self-esteem, and undermining class community – teachers can implement way of life education in the normal course of teaching and classroom life and so help all their students.

Increasing the feasibility of mental health teaching in this way is sorely needed, given the growing demands on teachers, the continuing cut-backs in special education funding, and the increasing integration of “special needs” students into mainstream classes. As Kate Phillippo says in her excellent 2015 book Advisory in Urban High Schools, there is today considerable “under-the-table expansion of teachers’ responsibilities,” especially “to provide social-emotional support” to students (p. 148).

While there is a limit to how much assistance regular classroom teachers can give to students with mental health challenges, supporting all students in developing a sound approach to life can help everyone, including those with special needs. For example, students who lack motivation for school work need a better general sense of where academic achievement fits into their life, now and in the future; and students dealing with bullying would benefit from greater general understanding of when and how to stand up to other people. Along these lines, Phillippo (2015) envisages classroom teachers taking on a broad “advisory” role that includes fostering “life skills development” (p. 154) and working to promote “student wellness” in general (p. 164).

Stressed Spelled Backwards is Desserts

Hearing the word April at OISE is as unnerving as hearing the word Voldemort at Hogwarts. Let’s cut to the chase…everyone is currently a little less patient and a little more stressed. Graduate students are working hard to finish their final papers and projects while faculty members are equally busy marking everything to meet strict deadlines. Factor in the 100 other responsibilities folks have to simultaneously manage and before you know it, everyone is reaching their boiling point. So why am I stating the obvious? It is because I whole-heartedly believe that self-care is SO much more important than a beautifully formatted APA references list.

Though we are busy wrapping up the academic year, self-care should never be put on the back-burner. Even if you do not think you have the time, self-care does not have to be a time-consuming event. Here’s a list of small actions that can have a big impact:

Get proper rest and sleep. Eat well. Think positively. Sing in the shower. Be honest with yourself. Colour. Have a spontaneous dance party. Do yoga. Eat yogurt. Keep track of your “stress quotient”. Don’t try to be perfect. Don’t place blame. Recognize and acknowledge your stress level. Be yourself. Run. Walk. Sit. Lay down. Stay. Don’t stay. Choreograph an interpretive dance. Cook. Get dressed up. Take a deep breath. Make a to-do list. Practice living in the present. Be with friends. Be alone. Be. Learn to accept what you can’t change. Write someone a letter. Do something nice for someone. Admit to yourself how you feel. Think about unicorns. Make a nice dinner. Play your favorite sport. Take a nice long shower. Hug it out. Scream into a pillow, or at a picture. Get off campus. Vent. Be optimistic. Be realistic. Smile. Find something that makes you happy, and do it.

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Believe me, I know it’s easier said than done and everyone copes with their stress in different ways. But if there’s one thing I want you to keep in mind while you indent, paraphrase, cite, & proofread, it’s this: You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously.

Warrior Within

My friend Catherine Wachter is involved in this important project. Warrior Within (Twitter @warriorwithinpr) is a creative endeavour spearheaded by Catherine Wachter and Nicola Doyle.

The project centres around the creation of a student-driven fictional short film (shot in July, 2016) that uses metaphor and imagery to help engage students in their understanding of stress, anxiety and how to individually develop their own resilience.

This creative project also involved the student exploration of the film’s themes -stress, personal resilience and the power of social capital – through artwork, music composition, documentary film, creative writing, dance, blog writing and photography created alongside the shoot and under the guidance of mentors in the field.

This short film, and all its creative facets, will go on to inspire a student-driven curriculum (in the new year, a student group will be creating the lesson plans, student exercises, discussion points, etc.) aimed at filling the dearth of creative pedagogy regarding positive mental health for youth.

In May of 2017, Warrior Within will be celebrated at a gala to raise money for Jack.org, an important youth mental health initiative in Toronto. We will premiere the short film, the behind the scenes documentary and exhibit all other forms of artwork produced during the initiative. Our students will be there to share their work (process and completion) in person!

…and if you can helps us spread the word @warriorwithinpr, on Facebook, etc.,) that would be amazing!

Thank you!

http://www.warriorwithin.ca/index2.html

Teachers’ and Teacher Educators’ Roles beyond the curriculum

For decades academia, teacher education, and teachers have been talking about critical pedagogy. Like everything in education debates continue as to how much, when, it what ways it can and should be taught. My current post is not about whether we as teacher educators and teachers should or should not be critically conscious or the extent to which we should. This post is a consideration for how to teach for equity. I found this video about teaching inclusively our university’s website:

http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/oise/About_OISE/PrideVideo_Story.html

The video is a safe start. It is basic awareness and consciousness for more equitable practice. We, in North America, have been overwhelmed with what I feel are devastating events surrounding people: People of Colour, LGBTQ People, Police Officers, People of Muslim Faith and many other marginalized groups. Social media is exploding with perspectives and emotion surrounding the varying issues and people everywhere are left to understand what it what based on their own experiences and contexts. What responsibility do schools have in teaching for a more equitable society?

Critical pedagogy in education is not new. It is a pedagogy that has been studied and discussed and to some extent taught in schools and yet it continues to be a pedagogy that sits on the periphery of practice. It is pedagogy that is left to some to tackle in teacher education ~ usually those who themselves have a personal connection to inequity (as our research on literacy teacher educators has shown). Sometimes critical pedagogy is infused in some courses but mostly it is taught in an isolated course. We know that many teacher education programs continue to be dominated by White, middle class, women. Knowing this, I wonder how much impact one or two courses has on the consciousness and practices of a teacher who has not had many opportunity to even think, let alone experience, inequity.

What can be done? What should be done?  I think about my courses and the teacher candidates and feel that deep critical understandings within context, content and pedagogy is essential. In light of the movements and violence and confusion that is happening across the globe I see no option. If teaching is a relational act, then we must deepen our understandings of the varying relations that exist in communities and prepare teachers to not only teach for equity but have confidence in dealing with media literacy.

 

 

Abbey: RIP

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My (Clare) little poochie, Abbey, passed away on the weekend. I 07 03 Marchhad never had a pet before so this was a whole new experience for me. For 16 years Abbey was a joy – fun, playful, exuberant, and full of beans. Before having a pet I “never quite got it” – the attachment people felt to their pets. Now I do. Abbey was part of the family. Every day when I came home from work he would be waiting in the window and just seeing that little face made me smile. When I would lie 07 05 Mayon the sofa watching TV or reading, of course he needed to

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I am so sad about his passing but I am so glad that we had him in our lives 03 01 04 001afor many years. If you have never had a pet think about getting one. They may be a lot of work but they 07 02 Februarydefinitely enrich your life.

Authors and Amazing Tales: In Awe of Lawrence Hill

During the school year my night table fills with novels; one beautiful literary piece after the other, the books pile up. The vision is to retreat to my room early enough to read these marvellous texts at an enjoyable pace in order to get to the next… yet my  time during the academic term does not allow me the pleasure.  With the coming of summer and the end of an academic term I find some space where I can begin to read the books I attempted to read throughout the year.  This year, I begin with Lawrence Hill.  Most are familiar with Lawrence Hill, a Canadian writer whose most popular texts include: Blood: The Stuff of Life  and The Book of Negroes.

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Blood: The stuff of life was turned into a lecture series. You can listen to excerpts of the Massey Lecture series here:

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-2013-cbc-massey-lectures-blood-the-stuff-of-life-1.2913671

Two incredible literary works that move me to think about humanity… and inhumanity. The Book of Negroes was turned into a  television mini series. Based on historical fiction The Book of Negroes is the story of young African girl, her voice, her journey in the 1700s from Mali, Africa to South Carolina, New York, Cape Breton, and London. How impactful a process to explore the novel — to try to make sense of history and our present — to think about narratives and then consider the media and digital implications for developing such an intense story into a visual series.  I think of how high school teachers could use this novel to explore so many issues and then to look at the decisions one makes when transforming such a sensitive story into film.

As I read Hill’s novels I cannot help but consider how  the narratives in these literary texts can be used to improve my own practice in teacher education. I ask myself: Can they inspire the reader to more deeply understand the intensity of the relational acts involved in teaching in classrooms?  Why do certain groups of children have a greater likelihood of failing at school? How do our systems shut people out without some of us ever realizing it? What kinds (if any) of understandings should teachers have about the histories of our communities before ever stepping into classrooms? How in teacher education can we support a deep understanding of children’s learning?

There is just so much to know while in pre-service and so much to teach in teacher education. What is most important? Why? When I think about the construction of teacher education programs I am now thinking less in terms of required courses and more in terms of broad understandings and the connections across disciplines and understandings. For example, as we teach about child and adolescent development (psychology) we must thing about language and literacy development (content) inclusive of social context (equity and foundations).  After all, when we enter classrooms we know that our work as teachers is dynamic, complex, forever evolving and completely relational.

Defining happiness: A child’s take on life.

IMG_0968From the mouths of babes. Motivational speaker Jay Shetty has some wise words for you on how to make the world a better place. A teacher asked her students to write down what they want to be when they grow up. There were the usual responses – astronaut, singer …. And one boy wrote down happy. When the teacher talked to the child suggesting he misunderstood the assignment, he responded. “Miss, I think you misunderstand life.” WOW!!!!

According to Shetty, it starts by pressing pause on your own life and improving the way you IMG_2826communicate with others.  The video is short but it reminds us about what is important in life. Well worth the time. In the video below watch him explain why it’s time for you to take a moment to become more conscious and aware. https://www.facebook.com/HuffingtonPost/videos/10153725769876130/

Slowing Down to Learn: Mindful Pauses That Can Help Student Engagement

There has been so much attention to mindfulness in the last while. My (Clare) colleague, Chriss Bogert, VP at the Lab School, send me this great post about mindfulness in the class. Here is the link: http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/02/17/slowing-down-to-learn-mindful-pauses-that-can-help-student-engagement/

By MindShift  February 17, 2015

The excerpt below is from the book “Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom,” by Patricia A. Jennings. This section is from the chapter entitled “Orchestrating Classroom Dynamics.”

Mindful Wait Time

Image source: Mindshift.org
Image source: Mindshift.org

One way to promote engagement and learning is to consciously create pauses throughout the day. We can create a sense of spaciousness in our classroom by slowing down the pace of our speech and punctuating our lessons with silence. Introduced well, this practice can improve classroom discourse.

The speed at which we can process information varies from person to person (Droit-Volet, Meck, & Penney, 2007). Some people process auditory information very quickly, while others tend to have more visual or sensorimotor strengths. In any case, when we have more time to process information, the quality of our thinking and learning improves. Younger children require more time to process than do older children, and adults often forget this as they zoom through content as if they were speaking to other adults. No matter what their ages, when we give our students just a little more time to process information, they learn better.

When I introduce this idea to teachers, I often hear concerns that they will be wasting valuable time doing nothing. It’s important to recognize that during the pauses, you and your students are not “doing nothing.” Your students may be considering several alternatives; they may be mulling a picture over in their mind; they may be making associations, comparisons, and contrasts. They may be trying to drudge up the right word from their vocabulary. When we give them this time, their processing becomes richer, deeper, and more abstract. When you rush through a lesson, you may deliver content more quickly and efficiently, but your students may not absorb the content very well, if at all.

The added bonus of these pause punctuations is that they give us as teachers a few moments to practice mindfulness. When this becomes an intentional part of our lessons, we can take the time to notice our body in space, the whole classroom, each student, and the small details that surrounds us, in the present moment. We give ourselves a short break—a micro-vacation from the constant activity of a busy classroom.

We can use the time to tune in to ourselves and our students. We can ask ourselves, “How am I feeling right now? How are the students feeling? What’s happening right now? What do my students need? How can I explain this better?” By taking mindful pauses, we are modeling mindful behavior for our students and letting us all have some time to process the information we are exploring together.

Typically we pause after we ask a question and before we call on someone to answer. Most of the time, this pause is only about one second long. Students who process information quickly are at an advantage under these conditions. They tend to be the ones who always raise their hands immediately. While the speedy students are answering the question, the slower students are still trying to process the question, so they may not hear and comprehend the answer or be able to assimilate it into their existing knowledge. If the quick pace of the session continues, some students may feel left behind.

However, educational researchers have discovered that if the pause between the teacher’s question and the student’s answer lasts between three and five seconds, significant changes occur in student behavior (Rowe, 1987). Students are more likely to respond appropriately to the questions, answer the questions correctly, and offer longer and more complex answers. There are fewer “I don’t know” or non-answer responses. Over time, many more students show higher levels of engagement (Honea, 1982; Swift & Gooding, 1983) and achievement test scores and school retention levels increase (Tobin & Capie, 1982).

Wait time has a positive effect on teachers as well. With conscious use of wait time, teachers’ questioning strategies become more varied and flexible, and they ask follow-up questions that require more complex information processing and higher-order thinking (Casteel & Stahl, 1973; Rowe, 1972; Stahl, 1990; Tobin, 1987).

Robert Stahl (1990) identified eight categories of wait time. When we formally introduce wait time, these periods of silence are trans- formed from periods of awkwardness into valuable moments of silence. The first category is the type of wait time we’ve already discussed: the time between a teacher’s question and the student’s answer. The other seven are as follows:

Within-student’s-response pause time. This is a three-second or longer pause that occurs when a student pauses or hesitates during the process of delivering a response to a teacher’s question. Teachers tend to interrupt students when they are thinking through their answers and take time to pause. However, when given the time, students often follow these periods of silence by successfully completing their responses.

Post-student’s-response wait time. This is a pause after a student has finished a response and other students are considering adding comments or reactions. This gives the other students time to think about what was said and to decide if they have anything to add.

Student pause time. This is a pause after a student has initiated a question, statement, or comment but doesn’t complete the thought. It may seem strange to formalize this type of pause, but this situation arises more often than we might realize because the tendency is to ignore the question rather than allow for a pause. This happens to me a lot. I have a thought, idea, or question. I’m getting ready to tell someone, and my mind goes blank. I can’t remember what I was going to say. When this happens to one of our students, we can give ourselves and the student a little time to recover, rather than just letting it drop.

Teacher pause time. This is a pause that the teacher intentionally initiates to consider what is happening, appraise the situation, and consider the best course of action. A particularly beneficial time for a teacher to pause is when a student has asked a question and the answer requires a complex answer. Taking time to consider how to frame the answer can improve student learning.

Within-teacher-presentation pause time. This is a pause that the teacher intentionally initiates during lecture presentations or other extended periods of content output. The teacher intentionally stops the flow of information to give students three to five seconds of silence to absorb the information and to consolidate their thinking. This type of pause requires no response from the students; it’s simply processing time. Using silence this way, teachers can chunk their content into bite-sized pieces to help students absorb and process the information better.

Student task completion work time. This is pause time intended to allow students to complete an academic task that demands undivided attention. The length of the pause should be related to the time it takes to complete a task. The challenge involved in this type of pause is how to handle the variation in completion time among students. If students learn the value of pausing and some of them finish early, they can use the time to extend their thinking about the subject in some way.

Impact pause time. This is the use of pause time to create impact or drama. When we pause, we can create a mood of anticipation. A dramatic pause can generate feelings of suspense and expectation.

Wait time can be challenging. Many of us get so excited about sharing our own thoughts and ideas that we tend to interrupt students, leaving no space in the discussion for students to process information and respond thoughtfully. In the skill-building practices at the end of this chapter, you will learn more about how to apply wait time in your classroom.

Patricia A. Jennings is an associate professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.

Rethinking Positive Thinking, in Life and Education

I (Clive) know that self-help books are not everyone’s cup of tea, but given the interest in well-being these days (see Clare’s February 6 posting) they appear to have an important place. Recently I came across a rather impressive one called Rethinking Positive Thinking (Current/Penguin, 2014) by psychologist Gabriele Oettingen.

Oettingen agrees that learning to think positively is essential, but feels that writers on the selfiesubject have gone too far. Just focusing on the positive can result in frustration, failure, and un-happiness. As the saying goes, perfection is the enemy of the good. She recommends instead what she calls “mental contrasting,” which involves thinking about both the positive and the negative aspects of a situation, and of life in general.

As well as being helpful at a personal level, Oettingen’s approach seems to me to have application to teaching and teacher education. It supports being realistic about the challenges of teaching – and so not caught off guard by them, as many beginning teachers are – while also reminding ourselves of its many satisfactions and rewards. It calls into question over-the-top government and school district “targets” that promise to “transform” schooling, if only teachers would adopt the latest set of edicts. Mental contrasting can keep us aware of what we need to work on in teaching while taking comfort in the current successes of the profession.