#1150 The Hidden Power of Band-Aids

“17 yrs ago, I had little patience for a boy named Cedric. He was defiant and belligerent. He was what we called, “hard.” One day in my office, I asked him what his challenges in life were. He said, “I don’t have anyone to take care of me.” This is a moment I will never forget.” Danny Steele (@SteeleThoughts) 

Cedric needed a band-aid.

True power of a band-aid

Most teachers keep a pack of “band aids” close at hand. Little scrapes, scratches or boo-boos can send students in need of the healing power of a band-aid. The true healing goes beyond the scratch…

So often, I find students like Cedric need emotional support or caring. The application of a simple band-aid provides the initial caring and support sometimes missing in a student’s life.

I worked with a young student – “Peter” – who ‘trashed’ his class, twice, causing his main teacher to evacuate students.

What triggered his rage? With some digging we found the boy had a tough home life. His mom was gone. His life was unsettled and he craved attention, love and security – the lower layers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Peter’s homeroom teacher was worried he was falling behind academically. However, he could not progress academically without developing a stronger base layer from which to grow.

Many people take a hard line with students like Peter (and Cedric.) “Conform, or else.” Their behaviour, however inappropriate, is often a cry for help. A hard line of consequences can add to the hidden challenges and trauma that lead to greater problems we sometimes see as tragic headlines in the news.

What is often needed is a “band-aid.” Someone to listen, teach coping skills and build resilience so the student will start climbing towards success.

With Peter, the school support team came together. We helped him develop the social skills and resilience he needed. When I first met him he clung to me physically – craving attention. As he developed new skills he started ignoring me. That’s a good sign – it means he was finding the attention, love and security in a more appropriate way. As he develops Maslow’s base layers he will be ready to learn traditional academics.

Provide the band-aid. Find the behaviour triggers. Support.

#1149 Hidden Challenges

• “I’M GOING HOME…” and he stormed out of class.
It was the end of the day – unexpected behaviour for a young student in class.

• The young student was struggling with reading. He had support from home and school. Everything else seemed to be tracking well. Parents had had his eyes checked a year before.

• A young student was (often) found crying in the bathroom at recess. Anxiety, awkwardness were presented but no reasons could be found for the distress.

These three real scenarios perplexed parents, teachers and students themselves. What was causing the behaviour or performance? Often, there is no obvious explanation. It takes a team of people (teachers, support staff, parents, students) to find a solution to challenges.

Hidden Challenges
Hidden challenges are often at the root of unwanted behaviours or performance but cannot be detected easily on the surface.

Hidden challenges can obscure the cause of a predicament. Sometimes the student is an expert at hiding details that cause them distress. Why hide information? Embarrassment, fear or lack of understanding can cause people to obscure information.

Hidden challenges can include ailments that are not visible or obvious (physical, mental or emotional), societal pressures, personal or relationship distress, economic or cultural factors. All can consume the person and alter behaviour without any outward signs.

Solutions?
Listen
Listen to the student, parents, other teachers, support staff. There will be clues.
Observe
Observe routines. Changes can shed light on changes in behaviour or performance.
Document
Keep notes of anything unusual or out of the ordinary.
Seek help
Ask for support from others who may have connections.
A big part of a teacher’s job is to find solutions… part teacher, part detective.

What really happened?
Scenario number three above describes a 12 year old boy who slowly developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – he was tormented by his own thoughts and fears of what might happen if he did not act in a certain way.

At its worst he was crippled and unable to perform on tests or active play. From the outside there was no obvious trauma or cause. His parents and teachers were baffled.

That 12 year old boy was me, a long time ago. With proper detective work and support I was diagnosed and received help to overcome the OCD and related anxiety I developed when I was in Grade 7.

Under stress, I still feel the effects of OCD and anxiety. I (usually) have the tools to manage the symptoms reasonably but I’m also good at hiding the observable behaviours that used to grind my life to a halt.

The experience has also helped me recognize clues when I encounter puzzling behaviour from students with hidden challenges.

Listen.
Support.

#1146 Secret Learning

Shhh!
Don’t tell them they’re learning.
But keep up whatever keeps students excited.

A Finnish teacher describes her kinder class’ “secret” learning as they learn early math and literacy through very non traditional activities such as stomping puddles. I’ve seen children gleefully learning traditional material in puddles, mud and snow with full engagement. If they are enjoying their activities, they will be learning.

Before modern school, people supported their life through trades, skills or professions for which they had aptitudes. They learned what they liked to do or where they had skills. And the learning was not a chore. In essence they were experiencing secret learning – following their passions or skill sets…

And so secret learning can support many modern students – challenged or traditional. Allow the student to learn through their passions and the learning becomes easier…

learning

What learning expectations relate to frogs?
Photo courtesy https://pixabay.com

What early learning expectations relate to frogs?
• Math – Early numeracy: Count the digits (fingers/toes).
• Language – Vocabulary: Describe how the frog feels.
• Science – Habitats / Life.

For more advanced learners more complex passions can draw out their learning.

The biggest challenge of “secret” learning? Time and resources to connect with students…

#1145 Fall Down Seven Times

I was paralyzed on a rock wall, not by the difficulty of the climb, but by the fear of falling. What if I made a mistake? Would the ropes save me from pain or death? I could not go up because I could not face falling (and failing.)

The Downside of Success
Recently, I attended a STEM conference with a small group of students that regularly achieved exceptional successes. Their small team was pitted against similar teams of students. After the morning’s challenge I reacquainted with our team. One boy grumbled “We needed a chemist on our team…” Translation: “We didn’t do as well as I wanted. I am disappointed.”

He always did well. It was expected. He didn’t know how to cope with failing (or even not excelling)…

education

STEM conference – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

Learning to struggle
In 1984 I wrestled my way through Grade 10 Electronics. I regularly got stuck & frustrated. I pushed my way to a lack lustre average-ish mark. My teacher recognized my struggles.

One day he came up to me and pointed to the students that, today, are likely brilliant electrical engineers. He said “They’re really smart. This is easy for them. One day, though, they’ll get stumped and they’ll be in big trouble… You, Harry, are learning a valuable skill – to challenge yourself to get through tough work…”

Life has thrown me many first world challenges – small business challenges, technological disruptions, loss, grief, etc. That tough electronics class was an early lesson on how to get through tough times.

Learning to Face Challenges
Similar circumstances affect students in the classroom. I’ve seen students, young and old, who either expect to score at the top or choose not to participate. They’ve never learned to handle mediocrity (being average) or to fail.  Excel or abstain is their way. Why? Possibly fear of failing? Or being seen to not exceed?

A parent told me once their son’s Forest School experiences expanded his horizons enormously. He was the oldest in his traditional school class and an only child. Things came easily to him. But in adversity, he crumbled quickly… Tears flowed, tempers flared and he was quick to quit.

In our class that year he was in the middle of the class, age wise. Skill wise, he was also in the middle. At the beginning of the school year he was afraid to try, quick to quit and his wobbly chin announced the frequent arrival of tears. He wasn’t used to not being the best, easily.

Throughout his school year his defeats were supported, his emotions were coached and he learned how to pick himself up and try again. His smile (and confidence) grew two sizes by the end of the year.

success

Climbing and success

Paralysis
Back to my paralysis on the rock face – a guide gently came to investigate my disabled state. He realized my predicament. He told me to “Allow yourself to fall (fail)… See what happens.”

Trepidatiously, I climbed until gravity peeled me off the granite.
Petrified, I fell.
In that failure, I learned I could climb higher next time.

Nana korobi ya oki” – Japanese proverb.
Fall down seven times. Get up eight.

#1138 Public School and Forest School Symbiosis

I wandered past the school’s library recently and noticed a young boy happily consuming dinosaur knowledge (and practicing his literacy skills.)

It was an idyllic picture of traditional learning…  except that he had snuck out of class to do so.

Public School and Forest School
Many know I have been teaching something most of my life and that I currently work as a teacher in a public school board and a Forest School. My passions belong to the development of youth – kinders to Grade 6 – as they develop their foundational elements (see Maslow’s foundational levels) that support academic and/or technical skills… and life.

Which is how I have found myself with a foot in both public school and Forest School.

Public School Love
I love the resources available within public schools including experts, funds, policies, and large quantities of people and students percolating to support as many youth as possible.

Forest School Love
I love the pedagogical ideas behind Forest School – specifically the Emergent Education Theory, or, less grandiosely, learner-led learning (LLL.)

Learner led learning allows students to follow their interests and puts the onus on the teacher to build balanced curriculum around the students’ curiosity.

public school

Learner led learning at Chelsea Forest School.

Bring the two ideas (LLL and Public School) together and you have magic.

Remember the dinosaur-reading boy in the school library?
He exhibited idyllic student behaviours – quiet concentration, independent, engaged learning. His behaviour was vastly different when he was expected to engage in a lesson in which he had little interest! In the library, he chose the learner led approach within a school board.

Managing LLL for the masses is no easy task, though. Answering to the individual desires and needs of millions of youth while addressing the data driven expectations of ministries of education and government benchmarks is no small feat.

But, it is possible.

A first step is recognizing that all people are different, learn at different paces and want to learn different things.

A friend’s son struggled at school. He has dyslexia. His school squeezed him into set avenues of learning and support which went poorly. All that interested him were cars – Volvos, specifically.

His mom planted the seeds for his literacy and math development through car manuals, car magazines, Volvo books. He learned traditional academic skills through his passion for cars. What does he do now? He’s a leading Master Volvo mechanic with a happy, fulfilling life. That’s learner led learning in action.

Forest School

Learner Led Learning at Chelsea Forest School – these students were mesmerized by what they found beside the trail. They were captivated (and learning)!

Within the last couple of years I worked regularly with a tough class in a public school board – they pushed my skills. Every lesson was challenging. I dreaded gym class because there were volatile students who could make the learning environment challenging for all.

One day, I came to gym with the prescribed lesson – protests started. I took a deep breath and turned the tables. “What do you want to do!?”

Students shared their ideas. Quickly, the gym transformed into a hub of four activities that students chose to join as they wished. I took a step back and watched. It didn’t follow the plans and I had to work backwards to see how it fit the prescribed curriculum… but all were engaged, smiling… and learning. It was one of the best learning environments I witnessed with the students. They had helped shape their learning environment.

The learners in these scenarios led their own learning with positive results. Good news for all.

Forward steps!
Ottawa Forest and Nature school launched a program to bring Forest School to the Ottawa Carleton District School Board. Select elementary classrooms were selected to go to Forest School one day a week for six weeks.

The effect? Positive. I asked Karen, a Kindergarten teacher whose class were involved in the Forest School program. One of the benefits she noticed was increased creativity in her classroom.

Chelsea Forest School offers a School Day Program where students spend one day per week at Forest School to complement their traditional school. One observation – students who struggle at traditional school often blossom in the hands-on, learner led environment. Why? They learn in an active, kinesthetic way with a different mindset – students are encouraged to follow their passions.

I’d like to see the collaboration continue between the ideas of Forest School and public schools. The tide is slowly turning as people see the benefits, strengths and collaborative potential of public schools and alternative pedagogical principles like Forest School’s learner led learning.

#1133 Education Information through Daydreaming

My wife found me standing motionless on our back deck staring at the half built tree house in our back yard. “What’s going on?” she whispered. I was absorbed in the creative process of the design/development of the tree house.

While I have a loose plan in my brain, the design process consumes a lot of creative energy and time to develop the next stages of the project. The process is influenced by research, engineer friends and serendipitous time that allows ideas to percolate.

I’ve used meandering mind process throughout my life while creating:
• stock imagery for the photo stock market
building cameras and developing art projects
• developing lesson / unit plans for students
• exploring my passions and path in education.

treehouse design

Creative play = new ideas

Quiet time with freedom to wander in thought has allowed for many breakthroughs in history.

I often spend time roaming the forest on skis, bikes or on foot and magnificent ideas often present themselves. Sometimes internet meandering opens doors, too. Below are some recent web wanderings in education:

Democratic Learning
People learn well when they are interested in what they are learning. Often I see students in class acting out or staring at the ceiling because they aren’t remotely interested in the lesson on the board. Last week I taught a challenging class with many characters who did not want to be there. In gym I asked what they wanted to do: “Floor hockey, basketball, hula hoops…” So that’s what we did. It was the easiest class of the day – students were engaged (and learning) because they had input and interest.

The Power of Outdoor Learning
I teach, part time, for Chelsea Forest School. We’re outside almost all the time. Students are learning at their own pace in ideas that interest them. It’s magical. I’m sometimes surprised at the learning that takes place when the students lead the learning – my job is to build the curriculum around their interests… I recently asked a traditional kindergarten teacher if she saw any changes in her students after they visited Forest School once a week for six weeks – “Oh yes! Their creativity grows…”

Better Behaviour Management
I often see “undesireable” behavious in elementary students. Understanding and changing the behaviour effectively takes patience and big listening ears. A year or so ago a Grade 4 boy refused to go out for recess. With lots of listening and gentle questions the real reason for his misbehaviour became clear – he was feeling uncomfortable around an overbearing boy at recesses. Connecting with the school support team, parents and addressing the boys’ actions helped resolve the situation while helping everyone save face.

So much to learn!
Our tree house grows, slowly, as I daydream the design. My teaching practice (and photo projects) continue to flourish as my mind wanders…

#1131 Looks Like Learning

As I look back on the last 25 years I smile at some of my adventures: swimming with dolphins in the Pacific, planting a quarter million trees, teaching via skis, camera, classroom and the forest, and GoPro style commercial art years before GoPro existed…

With the adventures came many bumps in the road – both small pot holes and bigger sinkholes that took more extensive extrication.

But everywhere I’ve been (and continue to go) keeps bringing me to similar places – (reasonable) risk taking, progressive education and creativity.

Learning limitations

What Learning Looks Like – Risky Play

Some ideas and people that have always made me smile:

Alfie Kohn – “Kohn’s criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated, and he has been described in Time magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.”” (sited from Kohn’s site.)

Ken Robinson – Supporter of arts and progressive educational ideas. He has three relevant Ted Talks.

Learner Led Learning

What Learning Looks Like – Child Led Learning

Chelsea Forest SchoolChild Led Learning for National Capital area children.

Outward Bound – Exploring potential.

Learning takes many forms for many people – an idea that is often overlooked. I keep learning and realizing the potential in and beyond traditional classrooms. And so I’ll keep adventuring…

Multiple intelligences

What Learning Looks Like – Kinaesthetic Learning: learning by doing.