Category: Education-Trauma-Sensitive

“Art-full-heart”

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.”-unknown.

When dealing with trauma, difficult stress, and many unknowns, we need to find ways to reduce these levels from harming our health. Many are providing ideas for self-help, but one of the universal ways to help all ages is through art.

Art is an expression of our emotions or a way to release the tensions we have. Everyone is an artist! It is connecting with something you love to do! Like baking, sewing, painting, drawing, construction, being a good friend, solving puzzles, playing an instrument, and my list could go on!

Experiencing art produced by someone else is an opportunity to experience life through their lens, explore their time, learn about their culture and history. Art provides unlimited access to learning if we open our hearts, minds, and imagination.

One of the first things eliminated during educational budget cuts is the art programs. It is encouraging to see more creativity, engagement, and opportunities for expression be included in the offerings for children. Children need hands-on learning with ways to be able to express themselves.

Take away thoughts

  • No matter what organization you are in, try this activity to create an “Art-full-heart” to support you, me, us!

Give each staff member or student a piece of paper. (Before you give out the papers decide where this big heart will be displayed. You will have an outline of the heart. Inside the heart will be what the individuals design. You will then place them inside the heart.) at the top of the display will be your title or message. You can use my suggestion above or one you prefer.

Shape your paper to fit inside your heart to equal the number of people making one. The instructions for making the design can be this:

As we begin to work together, we still have Covid-19 and the variant causing health issues. The paper you have provides you with an opportunity to send a message to others on how to__________during this time. Use any prompt you want to help share a message you want and to help others in need.

This becomes more than an art lesson. It is so much more. It is about the history of the pandemic, social and climate changes, power struggles, and dealing with mental health needs.

We have used art (painting, drawing, poems, and other forms) as ways students can open up about mental health suicide, drugs, alcohol, and more. It is therapeutic for all involved.

There are many ways to support others through the use of art! I hope you try out this and other ways to boost support, understanding, and encouragement. Helping to make mental health needs a priority and not something to hide helps everyone.

Do you have a Scary Words Box?

As a teacher, I had a word wall. It was always fun to add words to our wall. We enjoyed adding the words and randomly selecting a word to use for the day.

Entering into the administrative world, I did not want to leave the teaching fun behind. I added a word of the week in our main hallway. Kids could add sentences to include the word of the week, provide a definition of the word or use it in a joke. I would give prizes to those who participated.

While sitting in the doctor’s office, I heard for the second day in a row one of my scary words. That is when I thought everyone needs a scary words box.

Let’s think about all of the things we have all been through and how things can pop up by surprise, and boom, fear sets in. If we can allow individuals to pick a scary word or words and place it in a box, we can begin to help them deal with issues together. My first thoughts are of children. It is difficult to talk about scary stuff, but if we have a platform making it safe to do so, then the sharing can begin, along with solutions.

My name is Brenda, and my scary word is cancer. I can write this on a piece of paper. The teacher can give me a chance to share, place it in the box to share later, or put it in the box to be read out loud with no name. Then we can all talk about it together.

You can do this with adults as well. It provides a way to help others safely address issues. Sometimes the scary words need professionals to help, and we need to build up relationships to help everyone understand if the words shared could harm you or someone else, we need to ask for help.

Help your children and staff address issues they are facing. It begins with opportunities to share, trust, listen and find solutions together. Some of the issues we face will need professional help, but it is the comfort we find in being heard and supported.

Words have power. We should always be careful in how we use them. It is also a great reminder to remember; power is given. Give power to your belief in healing, positive thoughts, and in the support you have. As an educator, I worked to help children overcome and prevent bullying. If we pause to look honestly at things clearly, our children are facing bullying on a larger scale today.

Be the solution daily; we need you!

It’s Time for the Truth!

It is time for the truth! To achieve, find joy, and conquer your dreams, is up to…..you! The power has always been with you! We can chase all of the shiny things, try all of the new features out there and surround ourselves with the very best of everything, but it comes down to you.

Jordan is here to see you Mrs. Yoho. “Please send her in.”

“Jordan, how are you doing today?”

“Not very good. I am still not happy about moving; my friends are here, and I don’t know what I will be able to do.”

“You know Jordan, I have had to move a few times, and I know it can feel scary. However, I think you are missing out on the truth hidden in this adventure.”

“What adventure? Moving? What truth are you talking about?”

“Well, it took me a few times of moving and also a few hard lessons in life, but I would like to save you by sharing the truth hidden in plain sight. The truth is, you have the power to overcome any situation you encounter. All you need to do is believe in yourself.”

“Mrs. Yoho, you sound a little crazy right now.”

“I know it is hard to grasp, but stay with me on this as I explain. Understanding yourself is your advantage. No one knows you better than you! This gives you the benefit of knowing all of your likes, dislikes, things that make you smile or sad, and what you want to accomplish.”

“I can continue with so much more, but I think you understand the point I am making. You can run away or move away from things, but never yourself. You are with you forever! So you have the power to make it the best!”

“Mrs. Yoho, I do not see anything good about me.”

“Jordan, that is because you are not looking at the truth. I always talk about solutions. You are trying to look through the lenses of everyone else or what you think they see. If you look at everything with a focus on truth and solutions, you will continue to grow to become what you know you can.”

“Do not let the voices of others direct your path. Make sure to make the choices for yourself and always reflect to see if you are achieving what you believe. The truth is inside you! You will achieve so much!”

The path before you is amazing! Believe in yourself! The truth is within you! Sometimes we are hit hard, and our path forward pushes us back. In those times, it is the core of who we are that lifts us to overcome to continue and with determination to see ourselves in the truth of what we can do!

Checking in and Checking Out

“Good morning; it is great to see you, Trevor! Love your outfit today, Tiffany! Jozie, I saw you and your aunt this morning.”

Greeting individuals in the morning will help to start the day off right. You can easily see if they are doing okay by taking a quick check by welcoming them. Weekends can be great fun, relaxing but they can also have sadness, struggles in them as well. I use to use this phrase when trying to explain to staff about this topic, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” We’ll; we don’t.

This is a true story, and I apologize in advance for my content. Please do not finish reading if you have a weak stomach and a love for animals.

Teaching in my 5th-grade classroom, I had worked to build relationships with all of my students. They felt safe talking with me. A small group came to me and told me they did not know what to do, but a classmate smelled terrible. It was making them feel sick.

I pulled the student during student flex work time and yep, it was awful. I began to talk to him about how things were going with him. He said, “I am having a hard time. Our dog has been missing. It makes me sad.” I am so sorry to hear about your dog. Do you have water at your house? “No.” How do you get your clothes clean? “We have a pile we get them from every day.” Well, you go over to the computer to work and I will see what I can do to help with the water.

I reported to our social worker. She contacted some other individuals and did a home visit. After the kids had left, she came to my classroom to talk to me with the principal. “Did you help them with the water?” We have to tell you about the odor you said the kids smelled. The trailer they were living in was a disaster. The pile he was getting his clothes from found a dog underneath all of it, dead. It had been dead for a while.

I could not speak. I was trying to process what was just said to me. “Mrs. Yoho, DCFS removed the children, and he will not be returning to your classroom. We wanted to talk to you about it first.” Thank you; he told me his dog was missing. I am trying to understand what you have just said, but I am not processing it. My heart breaks for all of the children in the family.

As a new teacher, I learned a lesson from this experience. I needed to check in daily with each student. No, I would not have figured out the details unraveled in the home visit, but I may have discovered sooner about the water issue. My connections with my students needed to be more informed.

Also, I needed to check out with them before they went home. Students throughout the day can have experiences we may not be aware of and addressing them before allowing them to grow bigger.

As an administrator, I used check-in and check-out. I found it to be very effective. At the middle school level, the majority of our students came by bus. I had our administrative team greet the buses and welcome the students each day. We could identify if any of our students were having signs of an off day. We would take a proactive approach to help them.

There are many stories in your journey of life that help provide you with guidance to help others. I will never forget about the missing dog. It is one of those that people would look at you and think, you have made that up. How could you? Who would even think of a story like that?

Check on those around you. Are there people at work you don’t know? Why? Be the person to spread sunshine to everyone, but learn how they are doing. If we all help each other, what a better place it will be! Thank you for being part of the solution daily!

Note to self….

Walking down all of the hills to get to our destination was fabulous! Beautiful views of the river! Now going back up will be more of a challenge. Note to self…find smaller hills!

Do you leave yourself notes? Do you keep a journal? How about a daily calendar you put notes on? I have done all three. Do you ever have a thought pop into your head, and you write it down? I do it all the time! The problem is I collect small piles of these notes and try to understand them. It takes a little time, but I get them connected.

I did journal writing as a child, and I loved it. It helped me through many days. Writing is a great way to express and work through issues you may face. As I became a teacher and then an Administrator, I continued to share writing tools with students. I have many stories to share about utilizing writing in many areas. However, I have one that means so much to me.

As a new administrator, I felt very nervous. Everyone was looking, watching, and just waiting for me to make mistakes. I was the Assistant Principal at a 6-8 building, and discipline was all mine.

As an elementary teacher, I knew the majority of the children at the school. I was the teacher who did character education and a lot of positive behavior rewards. I still wanted this to be part of what I did. I enjoyed working with kids!

Things seemed to start on the right foot, and we were making improvements. But I had a young lady who looked sad, missed a great deal of school, and I did not see where she was making any connections with others.

I worked with our county truancy officer to address issues of students missing school. We had several students missing many days; Amanda was one of them. We called her to my office to talk with her, but she was so quiet. Her mother spoke with us and would describe Amanda in ways I did not see or could believe.

Amanda was seeing a doctor and taking medication. My heart was telling me something was just not right. I made a note to self…check on Amanda to see if she would like to Journal with me.

My days were always so full, and I knew I could not dedicate consistent, uninterrupted time with Amanda, but I could journal with her. She had built up a wall, and I understood how she wanted to have a safe place. Journal writing would allow her to write what she wanted to me. Ask questions, talk about things she was thinking and feel safe.

I bought some journals and pens so she could select what she wanted. We worked out a system with my secretary. She would come to pick up in the morning and drop of at the end of the day. We did this every day!

Amanda looked happier, would smile at me in the hallway, and was coming to school. There are many things revealed in journaling, so you have to have a conversation before you start. “If anything written makes me think you are not safe or someone else is not safe, we have to talk to someone who can help.”

Amanda and I both moved to different places. But when I last saw her, she was happier than when I first met her. She learned a skill to help her and hopefully learned others are there to help.

A few years ago, a handwritten letter arrived on my desk from our mail delivery. It was a letter from Amanda. She was finishing nursing school and wanted to let me know she had kept all of the journals we had written together. As the letter continued, she explained that when she was having difficulties, she would pull out one of the journals and read a passage.

“Mrs. Yoho, I want you to know, these journals saved my life. I have felt very low, but these kept me hopeful. Your words gave me the motivation to know I could because you believed in me.”

I have told teachers and administrators Amanda’s story. No, not every student is going to write you a four-page handwritten letter, but all of them are worth the power of believing they can do whatever they want to do!

Amanda is doing great! I just received a message response from her. I am very proud of her as she is now continuing to receive a Masters’s in Mental Health Counseling.

You do not know the level of impact you have on another life until they tell you. When this happens, it makes you pause and take a deep breath; I wish I could have done more. How many Amanda’s are in classrooms today? Try a journal to start to break down the walls they have built up. Most importantly, tell them you believe in them!

Amanda, in your life, has big hills to climb and needs support. They do not have a choice on which hills or mountains are in front of them. But we have a choice in helping them change their mindset, find resources, and believe. Thank you for being part of the solution daily!

SHARE it is a great way to begin!

Eric Jensen is one of my favorite authors in regard to the topic of addressing poverty. His approach made a great deal of sense to me. Brain based approach to the problem seemed to be the solution! It made sense to me and still does! There are many more layers to resolve and address, but from the educational lens brain-based is the best!

“Poverty is transforming the brains of children and adults at an alarming rate and with devastating results.” -Horacio Sanchez, The Poverty Problem I just began reading this book, and I will share more from it as we continue to work. Poverty is a problem that has been with us for decades. Our country went through the Great Depression, we have had recessions, and now a global pandemic. I believe solutions have been tried to “fix” the idea that this problem was temporary and was never to be a way of life. Instead we have some “fixed” mindsets we need to address.

Policymakers will have to make some changes as well as some others, but education is the one holding the biggest key to the door to solutions. “The solution to the problem will require creative new strategies firmly rooted in neuroscience research. Education has to have a sound strategy to address poverty that include modifying school climate, instruction, curriculums, social and emotional training and support services.” -Sanchez, The Poverty Problem

Let’s start with a school focus first and Jensen’s SHARE factors for school-based. I will remind you they are Support for the Whole Child, Hard Data, Accountability, Relationship Building and Enrichment Mind-Set. As a former principal of a high poverty middle school, we did this book as a staff book study. We did several things to prepare as we went along. I will provide you with all of those materials and updated ones as well. The first step before you begin is to allow your staff time to understand what poverty is, remember the why they became a teacher, how they see students, families and each other. I have activities we will do together and you can do with staff.

Support the whole child. What does that mean or look like? Children right now are experiencing trauma. The world for them has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. They could have stressors from different things; we are never sure. Why don’t we ask them? Students are almost always left out of these conversations! It is my biggest plea to everyone, please stop! Education is something we do with children not to them. Survey the children, interview them or whatever you feel is the best way to get the answers. Meet their needs! Let me tell you what I did with the help of my teams.

Our social worker, psychologist, teachers all did some questioning with kids they had relationships with. I spoke to kids and families as well. Then I began to make phone calls to organizations and friends I had within those places. We made space available in our school, created a working schedule and two outside agencies came in to help children. We had a drug and alcohol counselor and a mental health provider. We were beginning to do some solution meetings with the county truancy officer, along with agency help to work with families to get what was needed.

ACTION

Survey or interview students on what their needs are

Connect with outside agencies to see how they can support your school

Establish a family council if you do not have one to find their needs. Check my resource page on my website for materials to help. I will continue to add to the resources on the website.

Thank you for being the solution daily!

March into Monday with purpose!

March right into a month of opportunities as we kick off the first week in March with Read Across America! Tomorrow we will celebrate the birthday of Dr. Suess! To find out more ways to support reading in your schools, communities and homes go to https://www.nea.org/professional-excellence/student-engagement/read-across-america

Unlock the door to reading, the key to everywhere!

I love reading! My grandchildren will tell you it is my favorite thing to do and I enjoy reading with them. We have a space created in our home for play, but most importantly plenty of spots filled with books. They have a special carpeted spot on our landing with pillows, crates of books and a big window to look out to enjoy birds, rabbits, deer and any other wildlife that choose to visit.

I have my favorite books to share with them, and they enjoy my stories to go along with why they are special to me. One is The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. I share my friendship with my friend Tammy growing up and how she took such great care of me. It is my opportunity to talk to them about friendship, relationships and how to care for everyone.

As you look at each day, know they mean something in history, culture and to individuals. Maybe it is a celebration of a birth, wedding, graduation or accomplishment. However, it can also be an anniversary of a loss, a rejection, a reminder of something traumatic and sadness. It is up to each of us to learn about those untold stories as a way to support not by asking, reminding, but by showing up and listening.

Social-Emotional Learning, Mental Health, Self-Care are essential to all. Learn how to support, teach, practice and communicate ways to share helpful information to others.

Thank you for #Bethesolutiondaily

March 26th is Social-Emotional Learning Day; find out more information at https://selday.org

Wednesday Window Pain…Truth be told

It is now approaching more than an entire year of students, staff, families and communities facing Covid-19 with an interruption/disruption to life/school. Soon it will be spring break, then summer and fall. Will we fall back into the uncertainty of knowing how our children will learn in the next school year?

Doors provide shelter and safety from the world. When the door is closed, we are nestled in our comfort to be ourselves and not worry about others. No one can see us, judge or make us feel unsure, or can they? The thoughts from the day are still with us even though the door is closed.

We can look through the window to see the outside world and imagine our lives differently. Our struggle is real, but no one can see, even though the window can show a perfect picture. It is when you look deeper you can find the scars that are always there.

When others ask us, “How are you?” Do you say, I am fine, oh just fine. Never better. When asking others how they are? Do you want an answer other than fine? If you are answering the question, do you ever think of saying something different? The following is one of my favorite songs! I believe it is so true! Many of us say we are fine when we are not. Those of us ask questions like, how are you as a passing gesture but never want to know and support.

Behind every door, there is a story. Teachers have been able to get past the doors in many homes of students across the nation during this pandemic and this is terrifying for many. Inside the doors are the homes where families built a foundation of safety and trust. Now people are coming into this space and it is not feeling comfortable for anyone. Maybe there is more inside?

Depression is on the rise, and many side effects are happening due to the pandemic, with students staying at home. A great deal of stress and anxiety are in homes. They look at the window with pain and think others are doing better, but in reality, we all feel the pandemic’s effects, maybe at different levels, but it is there.

Suppose you are not looking at addressing social-emotional, mental health, and well-being with an equity lens. Then nothing will change and more children will be lost. We cannot focus on academics alone. It is time to make those plans to formulate ways to address these issues for staff, students, families, and the community.

I can speak professionally from experience and as a certified trainer and coach. Also, I can speak personally as a survivor of trauma, living with life-long injuries and dealing with loss due to trauma. There are many steps you can take to support your staff, students, families, community and self. Let’s face it, most of the time we forget about the care for ourselves.

However, if we keep the school doors closed, addressing all of these needs will continue to grow deeper. The science we are to follow seems to be transparent in it’s indication of face-to-face instruction. The vaccines are being distributed and protocols are being followed.

As an educator, I had many students cross my path with troubles they needed to share. Struggles often more significant than I could tackle alone, but with their permission, we invited in others who could help. I have seen things I wish I could unsee, heard sounds deafening and felt the pain. Hiding behind doors are secrets and stories needing to be told. They look through the windows and look for rays of sunshine to melt the pain they feel. Just as this song echoes the needs of connection as we recover from all of this pain.

Open the doors to opportunity, hope, learning, collaboration, support, and belonging. Differences are our strength. When we can recognize others as the answer to our weaknesses, we can build a strong partnership to accomplish great things.

I have made some very difficult decisions in my life. After my near-death accident, I ignored doctors and went back to work as a middle school Principal. As I began, I knew it was not the right decision. My Assistant Principal and secretary took great care of me in helping to keep up with my duties. My medical team and I knew it did help to push me through my recovery because of my sense of purpose. But not long into it, I realized I was being compliant and not working at the level of standards I expected. I told my leaders to keep it quiet but I would leave the Principal position at the end of the year. They decided a different plan and I ended up moving to a central office position. It would not be a day to day stress-packed situation.

It worked out fine for me as I continued to heal and even made some improvements with some programming. This seemed to be a good fit for me. Then changes began to happen as my leaders changed. My duties began to increase; communication was not consistent and clear. My injuries began to impact me daily with intensity.

My injuries were not visible. No one could see the pain, the frustration, or notice what was happening I was hiding behind office doors. Then one day, my health reached a point when I would have to tell my Superintendent. I had failed a stress test, and more testing was needed. All of my medications were going to have to be stopped until they could find out what was going on. I returned to my office and gave her a call. I told her I had just failed a stress test and more testing was needed. She told me to come over to her office to talk about it. It took me five minutes to get there. She was gone. The secretary said she had to leave to pick up her son she had forgotten about, but did not say anything about me coming. It was never talked about again or followed up with.

You have staff members afraid to talk, ask or seek help. Please open the door, but most importantly, invite them in to talk. Take time with each one and truly listen to them to find out what is going on. It is so important to keep connected with all of your staff, students and community.

I have more to my story I will share as it did not end with just that no show or concern for a staff member’s well-being. I am just finishing up a fantastic book called Love’em or Lose’em by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans. I think the rest of my story fits in well with this book.

I have one last song that fits with my theme of healing and overcoming. It is more than just overcoming traumatic events in life, hardships, stress or any challenges we face. It is in our power of belief, support systems we have in place and our strength in knowing we are enough with a purpose to achieve! No matter race, religion, gender or economic background, I believe in you!

Will you be my friend? Finding Friends on Friday

“Childhood lies at the very heart of who we are and who we become.” Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers was not afraid to talk about difficult social issues, tackle them head on and make it a priority to support children in the best way he knew how! He talked about divorce, assassination, death, racial issues and talked honestly and openly about subjects adults were often afraid to speak about, but which children often silently wondered and worried about. He utilized his platform to help children, and adults too, know that there are some things no one can understand. “Some things I don’t understand.” However, with honest, open and continued conversations in positive, optimism for solutions are found. We are one nation working together to make a great neighborhood for all.

We are all friends! I want to thank my best friend in kindergarten, Tammy! We enjoyed many years growing up in a confusing time, but never for us! She helped to button my coat when I couldn’t and I can still remember her being crowned queen in high school. Children only see differences when they are taught to see them. I was never taught to see anything but friends.

Although children’s “outsides” may have changed a lot, their inner needs have remained very much the same. Society seems to be pushing children to grow faster, but their developmental tasks have remained constant. ~Fred Rogers

Children could turn on the television and find security in the voice and words from Fred Rogers. He could influence how they felt about themselves and others by the words of encouragement he had. Each time the child tuned in, he consistently shared the message of self-worth, hope, security, stability, and confidence, as he ensured trying is okay even if you fail. You are perfect just being you!

I want to pose this question: What resources do children have to turn to daily for this kind of reinforcement?

Next question: What are ways we can help children have this kind of reinforcement daily?

Finally: Children and adults are spending countless hours online in Zoom meetings/virtual classrooms, no real face-to-face interactions with others, and facing hours of negative news. How can we help address fears, calm emotions, reduce the negative effects?

People need people! We need to have opportunities to talk, engage in fun activities in real-time, and enjoy the company. Isolation from others is difficult. Think about all of the children who went from being gone every day involved in multiple activities to now sitting staring at a computer screen.

Do you know anyone who retired and then was miserable? If you do, then you know it is because they did not plan out how it would be when all of their “work friends” would still be busy in their work-life and they found themselves with nothing to keep themselves focused on or a purpose in life.

Stages in life provide us with the lessons to form our foundation. I focus a great deal on words and actions. Even when we believe no one is listening or watching, they are. I have gained this from my own experience and from the children I have served.

My hope is if you have chosen to read this blog, you will be my friend and provide me with your thoughts on how to create better neighborhoods for all children. How can we stop all of the negatives and replace them with positives? I promise together we can gain solutions!

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