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#SELChat: New Year, New Beginning?

With the onset of the coming holidays, the school year is nearly halfway over. We know the students, parents, and teachers who have made the fall semester a challenge. As we step into the new year, are we open to a fresh start?

Each and every one one of us has a story to tell. More than likely, our stories include events of trauma. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), trauma is defined as “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” Trauma may include job loss, divorce, death of a loved one…the list goes on.

Acknowledging that another person has a story of trauma doesn’t offer an excuse for inappropriate behavior. Teachers still need to teach; children still need to learn; parents still need to guide. However, when we know what is going on at a deeper level, we are then able to put supports in place to help everyone excel. Equity is giving people what they need to succeed. While one student may need breakfast and lunch at school because of a lack of food security at home, another may need additional instruction and intervention on how to deal with anger. Although we maintain the same high expectations for all, we understand that each child, each family, each educator may need different supports.

When we look back over the past semester, who has caused us the most difficulty? Do we know their stories? If we knew their stories, how might that change the way we interact with them?

I was talking with a principal a few days ago at a professional development session I was leading. She mentioned that she had recently suspended a particular student with whose story she was very familiar.  I asked if knowing the student’s story impacted her choice of discipline. In other words, was there any bias – negative expectations of the student that informed the decision to suspend rather than take a restorative approach to the situation? The principal paused to reflect then added, “When I disciplined her, I told her that she is capable, and I expect more from her. I spoke life to her. It’s her choice.”  

“What happens when she comes back to school after the suspension? Is she given a second chance, or is she on the watchlist because of the mistakes she made before?”, I continued.

The principal nodded her head in understanding, “I see what you mean.”

Here are some tips for giving students a fresh start in 2019:

  1. Examine your heart and admit bias. – Whether consciously or unconsciously, we can harbor anger that turns to prejudice against people based on their prior actions or on experiences with others like them. Dig deep and expose any bias to the light of truth.
  2. Forgive. – Forgiveness is letting go of anger over a wrong; putting another’s wrongs behind. Even in professional settings, we need to forgive others – students, parents, and co-workers. Sometimes being able to forgive requires a conversation; other times working through the steps on our own through journaling or reflection is enough. Whatever method you choose, acknowledging the hurt and letting go of the anger brings freedom to our hearts and relationships.
  3. Speak life. – Whether in public or private, use words that edify the person. Our words are evidence of our beliefs. If we truly believe that all children deserve to be loved and are capable of learning and achieving then we need to speak that both privately and publicly. If we believe parents are a child’s first and most important teacher, speak that. If we believe that teachers care, speak that. This does not mean pretending bad things don’t happen. However, it means a mindset shift – seeing every challenge as an opportunity for growth.

Children – all people – rise to our level of expectation. Let’s believe the best of each other as we move into 2019!

Hear more from Tamara Fyke of Love In A Big World at the 2019 Future of Education Technology Conference in Orlando, Florida, January 27-30. Tamara will be a featured panelist for the analyst session, Insights for Supporting SEL with EdTech, January 29 at 2 p.m.

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