Thursday, January 28, 2010

Anxiety Can Be Catching, Especially if the Equation is 1 Anxious Teacher + 1 Susceptible Female Student + Math = "Yikes, Fractions!"

This article about math anxiety in young girls lines up with my "genetics loads the gun; environment pulls the trigger" hypothesis about disorders such as anxiety. I would be interested in finding out if the corollary holds true that teachers with low levels of math anxiety produce math-confident female students.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nature + Nurture = Healthy Relationships

I like what Bruce had to say on his blog about parenting orchids and dandelions:

The key to understanding orchids, dandelions and parents might be in conceptualizing the relationships between us all as the central point of focus, moving away from the notion of stand-alone gifted or troubled children toward an emphasis on trusting and nourishing vs. troubled and destructive relationships.

Amen, Bruce. We're all in this together.

MLK was Likely an Orchid

He did not accept the status quo. He was aware of the risks of speaking out for civil rights and against racism, and yet, he persisted. He had a charismatic personality that drew people in. And while public speaking isn't usually considered an art form, his vocal style was more of a cross between singing and speaking, arguably raising it to the level of art.

When orchids bloom, they bloom magnificently. And while Martin Luther King's life was cut short, his legacy proves long and profound.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Channeling Your Orchid's Yetser Hara

I am really not up on my Torah, but the concept of "yetser hara" as described in Wendy Mogel's "Blessing of a Skinned Knee" makes a lot of sense. The way I understand it, yetser hara is one's inclination toward rule-breaking and adventure. Its counterpart, yetser tov, is our inclination to hold these desires in check, to toe the line.

Using these concepts to better understand how parents must tailor their parenting style to a child's personality, it may be useful to think about how orchids may have a more generous dose of "yetser hara" than their dandelion peers. This inclination toward risk-taking, while useful in many settings, seems an obvious disadvantage when breaking a rule might lead to a lack of safety, such as in failing to look both ways to cross the street. With orchids, parents would be wise to choose which rule-following battles to fight. Perhaps a parent might be more lenient about their orchid daughter climbing to the top of the monkey bars unassisted, while sticking to their guns about having an adult present in the kitchen while operating the stove.

I was thinking about how yetser hara would also apply to discipline, namely, that old stand-by, the time out. Children with more yetser tov, might do fine to sit compliantly for three minutes in a time out chair, but orchids might need some help bringing their yetser hara in check. Perhaps parents might prefer to model how one brings oneself under control by sitting quietly for one minute next to their "timed out" youngster. A parent could practice yoga breathing techniques (see early posts for ideas), repeating a mantra, or simply sitting quietly in a meditative, seated position. Whatever one chooses to do to model controlling one's own yetser hara, it seems that getting into a battle of wills with an orchid over discipline is a losing propostion. And yet plenty of well-intentioned parenting books would have you believe otherwise.

I think that's the "art" part of parenting. While parenting books would have you believe there's one magic formula for parenting children, the reality is that our children's temperments run the gamut. Yes, they need to learn discipline, but they also need to challenge themselves to grow and become the unique adult they are meant to be. A skinned knee is indeed a blessing if it allows a child to test her limits safely.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Four Steps to Becoming Fully Bully-Proofed

It occurred to me after my last post why I felt so compelled to write about bullying after my recent string of posts about dandelions and orchids. While low self-esteem and poor school performance are serious consequences of bullying--ones in which dandelions and orchids face--it's self-harm and suicidal thoughts and behaviors that are likely to affect orchids who've been bullied. Bullying for an orchid, thus, is potentially a life and death issue. I think that's why I feel so strongly about it.

I had a fantastic experience co-creating an anti-bullying stance among Ms. Courtney Humphrey's class at Dearborn Park Elementary. I'll share their story as a way to illustrate the basic principles. I'm sure every group could adapt these steps to fit their group's dynamics. And so, here are the 4 steps any group can use to bully-proof their relationships:

1. Make explicit the group's anti-bullying stance
Ms. Humphrey's students were very astute in recognizing the negative effects of bullying in their class. Kids said bullying made them feel "sad" and "not like" being at school. No one said they wanted to bullying to continue.

2. Explore what a bully-proof zone would be like
Students said they thought they'd be "nicer", would "cooperate more" and "have more fun" if bullying were no longer a part of their classroom

3. Take time to recognize anti-bullying tactics displayed by others
During group circle time, students recognized each other's good deeds performed during the day. Students cited "helping" someone with their work, "not teasing" another's gaffe, and performing other acts of kindness as anti-bullying tactics.

4. Reward the group for reaching anti-bullying goals
This last one is optional, but who doesn't love a reward? Every student in the class was recognized by another for exhibiting anti-bullying behavior at some point during their classroom bully-proofing, and for this hard work, Ms. Humphrey took the class on a field trip to a nearby island.

I can't express enough how incredibly impressively Ms. Humphrey and her class worked to bully-proof their classroom. The change was dramatic! I saw fewer outbursts from students, more time devoted to academic work, and a marked increase in cooperation and civility between students. They were a joy to work with from the start and their anti-bullying efforts were truly inspiring!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bullies and Anti-Bullies

The other night I was watching "This Emotional Life" on PBS. I was particularly moved by the segment about bullying, in which the friends and family of a Florida boy named Jeffrey retold the story of how he was bullied relentlessly by a classmate. His mother reached out to the school for help, but the school staff was ineffective in addressing the culture of bullying. When Jeff could no longer handle the torment, he hung himself in his bedroom.

This got me thinking about children I've worked with and known who've been targets of bullies and have bullied themselves. Often, it's the same kids. The children I've known who bully often pre-emptively bully as a strategy (a maladaptive yet effective strategy) to avoid being bullied themselves. The kids I've known who've bullied/been bullied tended to be dandelions. They had low self-esteem, behavioral problems, but none were suicidal. When an orchid is bullied, are the effects of the bullying amplified? Is that the "environmental trigger" that could drive a kid to suicide?

While I was deeply saddened by Jeff's story, I was heartened to hear the outcome of Jeff's mother's saga to change the culture of bullying in schools. She was successful in pushing the Florida legislature to pass "Jeffrey's Law", which states that schools are responsible for providing safety from bullying while children are in school. Kudos to Jeff's family for taking a stand against bullying and ensuring that no family will have to go through what they did.

In my next post, I'll share an experience I had with an elementary class that took a stand against bullying and outline the steps any group can take to make their space an anti-bullying zone.