Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How do we train student leaders?

by Erik Ormberg

On Friday, March 17th I accompanied four junior captain-elects to the MIAA facility in Franklin for a conference titled: High School Captains Workshop. The motivation behind bringing four captain-elects to a leadership workshop stems from a common blindspot when it comes to youth leadership: How do we train student leaders?

The number of leaders walking around Medfield high school is staggering. We have class presidents, student government presidents, sport captains, musical section leaders, leads in the school play, club presidents and other appointed student leaders.

For many of us we may know WHY they were elected as leaders--but do we ask ourselves HOW should we train them? Most elected leaders take responsibility, they are reliable, they positively influence a wide scope of students. But then there are times students are elected to leadership positions due to popularity, an advanced skill set or other less-vital components. As the head coach of an athletic team I have an obligation when students are named captain. Their world changes and it’s up to us as faculty advisors to make sure we are preparing them for their new position.

Our day in Franklin started off with icebreakers. Among the 100 or students from all around the state most of the students there were junior elected leaders. There was a good energy in the room fueled by doughnuts, coffee and anticipation.

Dr. Dan Switchenko, an exercise physiologist at Eastern Connecticut State University, gave a rousing speech on leadership. He captivated a room full of influential young people and paced back and forth making eye contact with everyone in the room. He talked about three major goals most young people have while in high school:
1. Get into a college that is right for you.
2. Earn a college degree that allows you to earn money.
3. Pursue a field of work that excites you each day you get out of bed.
These goals were the thesis statement for the day. Dan returned to these items as he moved through his presentation.

Dr. Switchenko proceeded to tell kids the median income for a high school graduate is $50,000 per year and the median income of a college graduate is $90,000 per year. Over a 4o year working career that equates to a $1.6 million dollar difference. A pointed fact that sent a tangible ripple through the entire room.

Dr. Switchenko then ran through an acronym for D.R.E.A.M.S. offering an anecdote or statistic for each letter:

D: Dedication
R: Respect
E: Enthusiasm
A: Attitude
M: Mental Toughness
S: Sacrifice

Dr. Switchenko ended his speech with a quote that resonated--one that I think challenges every elected student leader to think about their commitment to whatever endeavor they have been chosen to lead.

“Discipline is a higher form of intelligence.
It is doing what has to be done,
when it has to be done,
the way it should be done,
and doing it that way all the time.”

There were a number of takeaways from the day’s event, but I think the biggest one was the power students have over their immediate “sphere of influence.” Leaders set the tone in our building. They are contagions--whether positive or negative. When section leaders from band are charged with influencing the younger players, I often hear about that influence years later when that underclassman becomes a leader.

As the faculty advisor of Community Teens years ago I remember how the best CT presidents could inspire and influence others in the steering committee to want to help more and manage the various side-projects that were presented by other clubs in town or in the school.

As a head coach coming off a year where I had two student leaders that were hands down the best leadership tandem I have ever worked with, I realize that we owe it to our underclassmen to train them in the nuances of leadership. We have to be the ones explaining how they will need to make unpopular decisions for the betterment of their team, club, crew or group. We need to encourage them to work on public speaking. We need to explain to kids that as a leader not only are they influencing their friends, but the awkward unassuming ninth grader as well. We need to show them how to bring a group closer and tighter and constantly fight against the cliques and sub-groups and social delineations that exist in every team, club, crew or group.

A great leader has to be willing to extend themselves to others. If they cannot discipline themselves first they will have an uphill battle disciplining those they are charged with leading. For all those student-leaders willing to learn, that are open to advice and are able to have their reach extend beyond their grasp they will--at the very least--be heading in the right direction.

The MIAA event was a helpful one to further the discussion and introduce the training that is imperative for us to generate positive leaders in our building. I want to share one final statistic. Less than 50% of COLLEGE elected captains are offered any formal training from their host institution. Given that four high school juniors were able to be trained today by the MIAA has me thinking that we are already a little ahead of the curve in developing the next generation of positive student leaders.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Elementary Parent/Guardian Book Discussion

by Lindsey Warner and Kathy Bockhorst

“The Price of Privilege”by Madeline Levine 

Early in March, parents and guardians met with us for two lively discussions of the book “The Price of Privilege”, by Madeline Levine. The book addressed the author’s findings that children from affluent families have increasing numbers of mental health concerns. Rather than affluence serving as a protective factor the research indicates instead it is connected with increased anxiety and depression in adolescents. Achievement Pressure and Parental Isolation were found to be two consistent risk factors while Parental Attunement and Connection were found to be among the protective factors.

The group discussions were varied and thought provoking. The challenges of parenting in relation to electronics and social media, the benefits and challenges posed by an intense engagement in athletics and possible ways to connect as a community of parents/guardians to support each other were all explored. Below is the link to the slide presentation that outlines key points in the book. We look forward to providing ongoing opportunities for parents/guardians to connect and engage on a variety of parenting topics.

Click here for the link to the presentation. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

When Is a Kid Like a Soda Can?

by Tracy Allen

Recently Amanda Padden and I attended a conference on helping students with anxiety. Having had a number of professional development opportunities around anxiety, I was unsure that I would get anything new. One can hope for that one or two gems that you didn't know or hadn't thought of in that same way that you can bring back to work. Jessica Minahan (Behavior Analyst and author) sent everyone away with very practical and proactive tips for educators to help our increasingly dense population of anxious students. Here are some of the strongest takeaways that can help reframe interactions between adults and those suffering from anxiety.

1) The Soda Can Metaphor
Imagine that I am walking into a meeting with you, the reader. You have two cans of soda and offer me one. I do not know that you have vigorously shaken one up prior to my arrival. I open one and it explodes. Both cans looked the same so it would be impossible to know that one had been shaken. This often happens when walking into our classrooms. Students may all look the same. We don't necessarily know what has happened in a child's life prior to entering the classroom or even the school building that day; nor do we know if a student's anxiety has been triggered. What may become clear after we start the lesson or conversation is that they are not in a place to learn. This could be expressed in defiance, in crying, in lack of participation, or in trying to leave the classroom several times. If we go into each interaction with a student understanding that there is a possibility things have not been "normal" for them prior to our meeting, we won't be caught off-guard if the class is disrupted.

2) Communication
Another great reminder for me was that anxious behaviors, as well as challenging behaviors, are a child's way of trying to tell us something. Not doing any written assignments is not necessarily a sign of a learning issue. It could be anxiety interfering with executive functioning skills like planning the work and organizing the thoughts. Another possible message from the student is that the student is having a hard time transitioning from what the he/she was doing before to a task that is not preferred - writing. We have to ask some more questions in order to address the real issue.

3) Random Acts of Intervention
Most educators want to fix problems, especially if those problems concern struggles our students are having. As fixers, we don't often fully listen or evaluate a situation before we offer a solution. Jessica Minahan reminded us that this system of drive-by interventions or as she called them Random Acts of Intervention don't work. We need to pause before responding. This is a difficult task but important in finding a solid sustainable solution.

Jessica Minahan shared many more interventions but what struck me about these these key points is how they tie into my study of mindfulness. If I am not present in the moment, I can not be ready for what each class or meeting or practice may bring. If I'm not present, I can not really hear what a student, parent, colleague or administer needs or is asking for and focus on the tone or manner of delivery. And if I don't pause and make sure I'm present, I am more likely to fix something with a band-aid solution and not what the situation really calls for. Her strategies are very much worth sharing with our colleagues and hopefully will help all our students, not just our anxious ones, more successful.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Make Sense of Grieving

by Jen Dondero

A friend recently shared the article, “This One Illustration Helped Me Make Sense of Grieving” by Haley Goldberg and it really hit a nerve for me. It was a realistic and tangible illustration of loss, which I felt everyone can understand and hopefully in some way relate to. The author saw a hand drawn image on Instagram with the caption, "It's different for everyone, but my personal experience is that grief doesn't ever go away, but it does change shape and it becomes something you can hold rather than something that overwhelms you—a part of you, rather than a burden." The old adage of “time heals all wounds” does not do justice to grief and each individual’s process of grieving. 

grief-main-image.jpgI appreciate the idea that grief transforms overtime and still exists as we never forget those we lost. Instead of being an overwhelming burden to carry, it becomes a part of who we are and is something that stays with us.

Goldberg goes on to write, “My grief still existed, but it didn't overcome me as much.” For those who are grieving, I hope this image gives you some comfort to know that one day the grief will transform shape and hopefully become less of unwielding burden.

In reading more about grief, I found this article really helpful in clarifying how adolescents grieve and the importance of understanding that each individual experiences grief in their own unique way.6 Ways that Adolescent Grief is Different. Some key takeaways for me were 
  • Adolescents may become isolated in their grief and withdraw from parents and adults. Keep offering support or to help them find a support group/network/therapist. 
  • They may also appear not be grieving as they crave normalcy as to not appear different from their peers. 
  • Adolescents are more likely to turn to the Internet and social media as they cope with loss. While support online can help, adolescents need to know that information can be inaccurate online and nothing can replace human connection and support.