Midweek Reading: Trauma, Kids, and Schools

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-10-12-15-am

We are hard at work on the next installment of our series, Small Stones Interviews. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not still treating ourselves to some reading worth sharing. (With iced coffee. Hiding in the coolest part of the house. If you aren’t doing the same, thank your lucky stars for either air conditioning or geography, and send cooling thoughts to the western half of the country.)

Our next interview will feature a violence-preventionist who works in social-emotional learning–SEL, for those in the know. We’re doing our homework, and we recommend this recent piece from NPR Ed, “When Schools Meet Trauma With Understanding, Not Discipline:”

“Generally there just was really not an understanding of how trauma impacts a child,” says Paulette Carter, president and CEO of the Children’s Bureau of New Orleans, a mental health agency for kids and families.

“Teachers and school staff really look at children through the lens of, ‘What’s wrong with that child?’ Versus, ‘What happened to that child?’ ”

“If I’m walking down the hallway and somebody bumps into me, and I don’t have a significant trauma history, I’m gonna say ‘Oh, sorry, excuse me,’ ” she explains. “Whereas a kid who’s been exposed to trauma on an ongoing basis, if somebody bumps into them that might be a threat.” From there, she says, the survival brain kicks in and reasoning and logic shut down.

Crocker has developed ways to help students who are dealing with those experiences. Two full-time social workers hold one-on-one sessions with students who need someone to talk to. Teachers send disruptive students to a room called the wellness center for a meditative time-out that’s not supposed to be punishment.

If students fight, they first work it out through group discussion. Kids who act up or shut down get extra support, not detention or suspension like they used to. The idea is to tend to life troubles at school, instead of sending kids home.

Go check out the whole thing and report back next week for more on SEL.

 

 

Small Stones Interviews: The Rev. Kat Banakis

Kat Banakis is the Theologian-in-Residence at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois.

banakis-214x300

The Rev. Kat Banakis is the Theologian-in-Residence at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois. Her writing, preaching, and teaching explore how to be people of faith in this time and place. She is host and producer of The Holy Holy Podcast, an interfaith program on life’s large questions bringing together secular leaders with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian voices. She is the author of Bubble Girl: An Irreverent Journey of Faith (Chalice, 2013), which puts Christian systematic theology into an accessible, narrative form for personal and group reflection on how our stories are wrapped up in God’s story. Outside of St. Luke’s, Kat works in fundraising consulting for large non-profit organizations. She and her husband live in Chicago. Full disclosure: Kat and the Small Stones editors were college classmates.

Small Stones: We are picking people to talk to who are engaged in education at all sorts of different levels and worlds, and part of why you came up is because of the podcast work you were doing in the second half of last year, and because so much of what that podcast is, at least from my perspective, is very educational. And not in a way that’s didactic or anything like that, but it seems like it was educational for the participants, and it was educational for the people listening. It was a really great interfaith, intergeneration dialogue… and that feels very last-administration.

I’m curious, given that you recently had that role, how do you look at what we have happening now, in the civic world, that’s really invoking a lot of notes of conservative religious positions, too?

Kat Banakis: So Karl Barth is a mid-20th century theologian, and he talked about how when you preach, you always do so with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. And when I was putting together the first season of the podcast, I was really looking at, and to use a religious term, exegeting, my congregation, seeing that so many of the young families coming in had grown up in multi religious or non-religious households, and really for me to be a good pastor to my congregation, I needed to expand my aperture and purview of interfaith work. This was to be able to gain fluency, to be able to pastor to them, and also because I think that it is important in the public square to have interreligious dialogue.

But you also make a really good point that it was, to a certain extent, a situation of the time, in that there was this burgeoning—there’s always been interfaith work in the US, but particularly since 9/11, thinking about intra-Abrahamic initiatives has been very live. And so it was intentionally the sort of topics that bring people back to religion, broad topics, and then doing interfaith education around life issues, which as you point out, felt appropriate to the time, and creating a space for interfaith education around life topics.

Fast forward to the present, and—

Continue reading “Small Stones Interviews: The Rev. Kat Banakis”

Refugees, Sesame Street, and Friday Music

Courtesy of NPR, an excellent article on the newest visitors to refugee children: the Sesame Street Muppets.

sesamestreet-coping-still_slide-719457ba0a4e80f33beb753a04847078db967264-s800-c85
image via NPR

We are fascinated by the research process that Sesame Workshop is up to here.

In partnership with the International Rescue Committee, Sesame producers and early-childhood experts are soliciting guidance and feedback from relief organizations, trauma experts, academics and others who have worked with refugees. They’ll also be making research visits to refugee camps in Jordan.

According to the IRC, of the 65 million people displaced from their homes worldwide, more than half are children.

As American readers, steeped in multiculturalism (not to mention as Bay Area readers, used to a high level of diversity), what stood out the most to us, though, was what children might not be taught.

Cairo Arafat, who oversees production of the Arabic language Sesame Street from Abu Dhabi, urged her colleagues not to make assumptions that refugees will share their values such as inclusivity.

“In many of these populations,” she said, “children are still taught, ‘No. Be wary of the people who don’t talk like you, don’t look like you or come from a different sect.’ ” With the special conditions facing refugees — including security issues — Arafat advised careful thinking about what they would like to teach.

Continue reading “Refugees, Sesame Street, and Friday Music”

ICYMI: Taking Care of Students

IMG_1884

So as we’ve been mentioning, we are gearing up for the next phase in our blog-life. As we’re doing that behind-the-scenes work, we thought we’d take today to feature some of our favorite Small Stones posts to date, with an emphasis on supporting your students emotionally during turbulent times.

First, our tips on ways to discuss violence with students, with resources from Colorín Colorado, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and UNICEF.

It’s been quite the half-week in news. US strikes in Syria, terrorist attacks in Stockholm and then Cairo, and now a shooting at a school in San Bernadino, California.

Chances are your students may be feeling a bit on edge.

Here are some resources that we’ve found to help process violence with students, whether that violence takes place in schools, in the community, or in the world at large.

Next, student stress: what it is, what it can do, and how we can help students mitigate it in their lives, whether in the classroom or out in the world.

How do we deal with this? There are certainly times when taking direct action is the way to go, as Eva can attest. But what can we do when the burnout creeps in, life throws a few more stressors your way, and your entire family gets sick all at once (see: Emily)?

We’ve collected some resources that may be helpful in those burnout moments–some that can be done with students, and others that might be helpful to take on yourself.

Finally, talking politics and how educators can support students in both strong, analytical discussions while also helping them strengthen their empathy.

From the CS Monitor, here’s an article about teachers addressing politics in the classroom. Entitled, Teachers’ new Catch-22: Students want to talk politics, but their parents don’t, it offers anecdotes from teachers about what they’re encountering right now, and profiles two resources for building empathy in students.

 

 

Oral History Resources: StoryCorps

the-microphone

Maybe you’ve heard their snippets that pop up from time to time on NPR shows. Maybe you’ve seen the booth somewhere and wondered. Maybe you’ve even spent some time in there, in conversation with a loved one.

If none of these hypotheticals are true for you, you’ve got a major treat in store.

StoryCorps mission is, in their own words:

StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.

For educators, the site is a treasure trove of materials. From a community college perspective, when Emily was helping students conduct oral history projects, a few resources in particular were invaluable.

  1. Great Questions. There are pages upon pages of questions here, organized by general subject area, that you might want to ask as you conduct an interview. Categories include “Growing Up,” “School,” “Family Heritage,” “War,” and “Great Questions for Anyone.” Not doing an oral history project with your own students? These may very well be useful in the classroom in a lot of different contexts, whether in ice breaker games or as a way to “interview” a fictional character.
  2. The Stories tab is an excellent place to begin if you’re introducing students to the whole concept of oral history or interviewing. Here you’ll find a curated sample of oral histories recorded in the StoryCorps booths. At the time of posting, there are stories up about garbage men, Japanese internment camps, adoption, and trans children. One that caught our eye this time around is titled “I Never Planned on Being a Leprechaun.” In Emily’s experience, nothing else helped students begin to understand the value of taking oral histories–and the responsibilities that go with it–better than hearing others doing just that.
  3. The StoryCorps app. Maybe one of the best ways for non-professionals to interview others, you can use the StoryCorps app to plan, record, and archive your interview to the Library of Congress. Yes, archive–they are collecting stories, and yours can be one of them. Find the app here.

And there’s no need to have an immediate classroom use for any of this. We can testify that it’s completely possible to spend hours just listening to the material that’s here, free for all to access.

 

Discussing Violence, in School and out

med

It’s been quite the half-week in news. US strikes in Syria, terrorist attacks in Stockholm and then Cairo, and now a shooting at a school in San Bernadino, California.

Chances are your students may be feeling a bit on edge.

Here are some resources that we’ve found to help process violence with students, whether that violence takes place in schools, in the community, or in the world at large.

Colorín colorado has a good 15-item list for talking with children about violence in schools, but we think the tips could work for discussing violence that takes place in many  different settings. Bonus: at the bottom of the post are links to resources in eleven different languages: English, Spanish, Korean, French, Vietnamese, Amharic, Chinese, Portuguese, Somali, Arabic, and Kurdish-Bahdini. We also appreciate the citation of the  National Association of School Psychologists’ age-specific tips:

Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.

Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.

Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a PDF with information about talking with children about war. They note in particular that certain groups of students may need more care and attention when dealing with these subjects:

  • Some children might be particularly vulnerable to anxiety and distress during a time of war. This includes children of refugee or immigrant families; children with depression, anxiety, or other mental health needs; and children who have experienced prior trauma or loss. For children who have experienced prior losses, anxiety about war could result in increased worries about separation. Children with histories of trauma could experience a resurgence of symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Therefore, it is important for parents and school personnel to keep in mind children’s vulnerabilities in understanding their response to concern about war and to consider any extra needs they may have.

We highly recommend this resource from UNICEF, Talking with Children about War and Violence in the World. It’s got great information and suggestions, and it provides these through a Q/A format, highlighting questions that a teacher or other adult might have.

12. How can I talk with children if I feel that my own grasp of the facts and issues is inadequate?

Fortunately, we don’t need to be experts or know all the facts about something in order to listen to children. The questions of very young children seldom require complicated technical answers. When older children ask for information we don’t have, it is fine to say something like, “That’ s an interesting question, and I don’t know the answer. How can we find that out together?” The process of figuring out where to get the information, and going through the steps to obtain it, can be a powerfully reassuring experience for children, especially when a trusted adult participates with them…

(Fair to say that this particular question is frequently our response to a lot of what’s going on in the world today, and it’s always helpful to us to have concrete tips for what to do when you have no idea where to begin.)

 

 

Dealing with Student Stress

IMG_1092
Chasing those ephemeral moments of peace

Student stressors are always present. These days, especially if your students or their families are members of a vulnerable population, stress is skyrocketing.

And as far as we adults and educators go? The numbers are in on that, too, from the American Psychological Association:

To better understand political stressors and assess any potential for long- term e ects, APA commissioned an additional survey in early January
2017, asking Americans again to rate the sources of their stress, including the political climate, the future of our nation and the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. This new survey found that between August 2016 and January 2017, Americans’ overall average reported stress level rose from 4.8 to 5.1 on a 10-point scale.

In addition, in the January 2017 survey, more than half of Americans
(57 percent) report that the current political climate is a very or somewhat signi cant source of stress. Two-thirds (66 percent) say the same about the future of our nation, and nearly half (49 percent) report that the outcome of the election is a very or somewhat signi cant source of stress.

How do we deal with this? There are certainly times when taking direct action is the way to go, as Eva can attest. But what can we do when the burnout creeps in, life throws a few more stressors your way, and your entire family gets sick all at once (see: Emily)?

We’ve collected some resources that may be helpful in those burnout moments–some that can be done with students, and others that might be helpful to take on yourself.

From Edutopia, courtesy of Glenview Elementary School in Oakland, California, is a fantastic PDF resource chock-full of stress reduction exercises aimed at an elementary school aged population. (Though don’t let that limit you–can’t promise that we haven’t already tried out the Animal Charades.) This resource is beautifully laid out and easily accessible.

From the introduction:

…young people, like adults, can benefit from learning and practicing stress management skills. Students who develop stress reduction skills learn how to feel and cope better without hurting themselves or others. Identifying and acknowledging the causes of stress and expressing feelings about them are usually the most effective tools students have to reduce stress, in addition to learning practical stress reduction skills.

The attached classroom activities are designed to teach students a variety of practical and fun stress reduction techniques. These activities may be used to address a stressful situation in the moment (such as: during a lockdown, before and/or after a morning full of testing, or following difficult transitions). It is important to practice these skills prior to the onset of a stressful event (for example: incorporate as part of health lessons, use as an activity for morning circle/carpet time).

Love to Know has a list of ten stress reduction techniques for children, and we especially appreciated the instructions for Progressive Muscle Relaxation:

  • Face – Ask your child to scrunch up her nose and forehead like she smells something stinky, and then have her relax her face. Repeat three times.
  • Jaws – Ask your child to clench her jaws together tightly like she’s a dog hanging on to a bone, and then have her release that imaginary bone and let her jaw go completely loose. Repeat three times.
  • Arms and shoulders – Ask your child to stretch her arms out in front of her, and then raise them above her head and stretch as high as she can. Have her drop her arms and let them hang loose. Repeat three times.

Don’t let the Comic Sans get in the way of reading this next activity. Creative Counseling provides a great balloon game that can be played with people of all ages to help physically vanquish some stress. The best part? They guarantee laughter.

For educators, Everyday Feminism has an article on identifying and dealing with activism burnout. If you’re new to political engagement of this sort, or if you’re just extra-burnt-out from everything that’s been going on, this is a calming read.

Burnout isn’t something that you either have or you don’t. Rather, think of it like a thermometer.

In order to gauge where you are on this scale, ask yourself some simple reflective questions: What are you feeling? How intense is it? How well are you able to manage those feelings?

From Activist Trauma Support, a quick handout on Sustainable Activism and Avoiding Burnout is well worth your time. This one is easy to print and distribute as well.

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 12.47.47 PM

And from Truth Out, an article on dealing with burnout when also dealing with anxiety and depression. The article is from 2013, but the introductory paragraphs describe life for a lot of us today:

As a committed feminist and social justice activist, I am constantly in touch, in communication, online, on alert, engaged. There is rarely a moment where I am away from my computer or iPhone for longer than 30 minutes – what if something is happening right now that needs my attention? – and my social media accounts serve not only as a lifeline to other activists, but as a central part of my own activism. To say that constant connection gets exhausting is an epic understatement.

If you are involved in social justice activism in any way, you likely know of “activist burnout,” the feeling of sheer mental (and often physical) exhaustion that catches up with you after spouts of perpetual tuned-in-ness. But for activists like me, this burnout is magnified by an ever present undercurrent of chemical forces beyond our control: my burnout is coupled with my depression and anxiety.

It’s fair to say that the work people are doing in opposition to this administration is having an impact, and that now is not the time to call it quits. It’s also fair to say that we all deserve a day off once in awhile, inasmuch as it’s possible. Wishing everyone at least a moment of peace–and if it’s easy for you to come by, here’s to helping someone else in your community find it, too.