My desk these days is filled with calendars, lists, agendas, new files and binders. Somehow attempting to give form to the enthusiasm and the anticipation of all a new school year will bring.Trying to contain it. Organize it.
On Fresh Air last night, Terry Gross interviewed neuroscientist David Eagleman about his book Incognito. "All of our lives — our cognition, our thoughts, our beliefs — all of these are underpinned by these massive lightning storms of [electrical] activity [in our brains,] and yet we don't have any awareness of it," Eagleman says. "What we find is that our brains have colossal things happening in them all the time."
One of the most interesting snippets had to do with the relationship between time and memory. He described research that has been done on thousands of subjects willing to encounter a free fall of 150 feet, backwards into a net. What goes on in their minds while they are falling? Time slows. The brain floods with memories, moments, and the participants consistently marveled over how a second-long fall could feel like minutes.
Waiting for the school year to begin is a free fall of sorts. Memories, experiences, hopes and dreams all causing colossal action in our brains, and how we move to start just the tip of the conscious iceberg.
But what happens for children? Children experience time like the numbers on a digital clock-- out of context with the winding hands of the analog. How do we support them with a sense of belonging to our adult world that can see the relationships of past to future? How do we develop enough wisdom ourselves to recognize the experience that has framed our cognition, our beliefs, our thoughts -- that the lightning storms firing in our brains are not the same that fire in our children's? How do we learn to value the wisdom in their experience while keeping them safe, keeping them engaged, keeping them on time?
This summer, my family worked with a wonderful specialist named Mary Dee Sklar, who has written a course called, Seeing What I Need To Do. She helped us learn to make abstract concepts of time visible and even tangible so that all of us can see and feel together what it means to move cooperatively through time.
Hours and minutes and days are the blocks we use to build our lives together. Tools such as analog clocks, wall calendars, visual schedules, and timers can become ways that we hold those blocks in our hands to play with our children so that they can learn to build with us and understand how to fit their needs and the needs of the lives of others together with beauty and mastery. In coming weeks, we'll share some of the strategies we are using. And we hope you will share as well the tools and routines you use.
When we pave this pathway of belonging for our children towards the world of adulthood, we alter the patterns of those lightning storms in their brains forever. And we leave a lasting trace on the hours and minutes and days that continue to build the lives of our loved ones long after we are gone.
Opal School Online is a new collection of articles and videos designed to promote collaboration and dialogue amongst parents and teachers around the world. Provocations, reflection protocols, links to additional resources and an online forum moderated by Opal School teacher researchers during the month of October 2012 (and again in April 2013!) will be offered to support connections and create new relationships between social constructivist teachers who so often find themselves working in isolation. The forum and content will also be of interest to home schooling parents and parents wishing to develop their understanding of educational approaches that support the extraordinary potentials they know their children possess.
Below, you'll find a sample article from the first week's collection which focuses on the social and emotional intelligences of children. To encourage participants to create reflection journals, downloadable PDF's will be available for every article. Other elements in the week one collection include articles about developing classroom communities, the use of language that supports dynamic learning frames (thanks to Peter Johnston for that term), emotion coaching, several videos that help us see what these ideas look like in practice, may photographs, a giveaway for the Opal Anthology, and access to our moderated forum. 4 more weeks of content will follow, and registration for Opal Online includes access to them all. Here's the sample:
Creating a Toolbox of Strategies for Conflict Resolution
Opal School Teacher-Researchers ask themselves: What is the difference between being in charge and being in control?
After Community Agreements are made, they inevitably, regularly, get broken. What sounds good and reasonable and fair in the negotiation of agreements by community members who are relaxed, focused and engaged, can be difficult to remember in a moment of passion. That’s where the strategies come in!
Specific conflict resolution strategies are introduced or reflected on regularly throughout the year and practiced daily – if not hourly! Our image of the child – in fact, our image of the human being – includes the belief that ALL behaviors are attempts at belonging and connection and making meaning. Sometimes we mis-fire. Our efforts at building relationships are full of “oopsie” moments. 4-year-old Stella explained this well after she broke the classroom agreement of being safe and kind to one another:
I punch-ded Ruby today. It was an accident - ly. But it was an oopsie moment. I had an oopsie moment. Acause in my classroom we don't punch. We had to solve the problem. So I had to sit on the bench and my brain did something magical. I just thought 'there can be two mommies!' It just popped right in my brain. And everything just snapped together.
Stella beamed with pride as she recounted this incident. Not shamed for having made a mistake, but confident in the magic capacities of her powerful brain. And important in the context of school: ready to get back to the business of the classroom. Stella had used the strategy of taking a break, and was able to re-enter the play with fresh ideas for a do-over. Ruby as well, had most likely been supported to use a strategy such as giving Stella a clear message: "I don't like it when you hit me!"
Neuroscience is clear: the social-emotional and the cognitive parts of our brains are intertwined. But often the focus on cognitive development (read: academic achievement) that our culture (parents! Administrators! Policy makers and testing companies!) so highly values causes adults to deliver quick, often punitive fixes that work in the short run but do not support long-term healthy social-emotional growth OR the academic achievement that is possible when that is in place.
What might happen if we began to act on the assumption that children want to belong, that they deserve to belong, and that they, like all of us, are imperfect but worthy? What if we practice at the same time working from an assumption that learning and wanting to learn is as natural and pleasurable as breathing and therefore no less desirable to constrict in any way?
Here is a sampling of strategies that our school community has developed over the years:
Give a clear message (ex. “I don’t like it when you say I can’t play. It hurts my feelings.”
Give a gentle reminder of our agreements (ex. “Remember to not have a side conversation during Gathering.”)
Ask a question (ex. “Why are you not listening to me?”)
Walk away/Take a break to calm down
Ask for help from a teacher, a friend, or another adult
Let it [the problem] go. Decide to not give it energy.
Make a new agreement together (ex. “How about next time…”)
Do over – getting the chance to re-do the situation with new information (ex. Adjusting tone of voice, asking a question, sharing an idea to avert the problem, etc.)
These are not the only strategies we might introduce, and they might be different from classroom to classroom and for different grade levels. Not all strategies may be introduced in a given year.
Teachers of young children create icons to offer visual cues for strategy selection.
New strategies are invented all the time. For example, this year in our classroom of 6 – 8 year olds, the teacher noticed that when some children were approached with a problem, they crossed their arms and sunk into a defensive physical stance. As she helped the children notice and reflect on this common stance, they wondered together whether a strategy of “being open” might be something to try. This new language became a deeply meaningful part of the conflict resolution strategy toolbox in that classroom. Because the teachers at Opal School all share a commitment to developing, using, and reflecting on these strategies with children, this strategy will be carried through the school culture in years to come.
Teachers use high quality children's literature to support the social and emotional curriculum.
Strategies are introduced over time, with lots of other support including dialogues, conferring with individual children, puppet theaters, practicing a strategy in absence of conflict and much, much more. Videos included in this section of Opal Online feature a variety of moments between teachers and children as they work to put these strategies into action.
It is vitally important to understand that these strategies do not stand alone or work in isolation. Teachers would not ask a child to “do a do-over” without considering first who the child is and what the situation is and whether or not they have a clear picture of why that particular strategy would be meaningful.
What strategies do you regularly use in your conflict resolutions and interventions? If you named these strategies, what might you call them?
When do you observe children to be most engaged in conflict resolution?
Consider a child whose behaviors challenge you the most. How can you frame these struggles as failed attempts at belonging and relationship? From this position of empathy, what strategies might support this child to be more successful?
Consider the conflicts presented in your favorite children’s literature. How might you use the conflicts in books to engage your students in creating the language of conflict resolution strategies for themselves? As the character’s conflicts resolve, what connections can children make to their own struggles and resolutions?
"So despite everything, it is permissible to think that creativity or rather learning and the wonder of learning... can serve as the strong point of our work. It is thus our continuing hope that creativity will become a normal traveling companion in our children's growth and development."
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