Meet Paula and Chris!
Chris is camera shy, so you know she thought saying “Hello” in person was extremely important if she actually posted this video. Paula wouldn’t miss saying “Hello” to you all for anything in the world.
Yes, we had a reason behind all of our questions. Your answers are neither right nor wrong, but they will give you insight into your self and your teaching. Just as students always want to know, “Why do we have to know History?” and we give the answer, “Because history will help you make better decisions in the future,” so too will the questions in the previous post help you to better facilitate your YSS experience. We break down the method behind our madness below:
Question #1: Almost everyone we know has a special teacher memory, someone who either inspired them or made a difference in their lives. At heart, those teachers made a connection with your self. They made you feel good about being you. That’s what inspiring teachers do, especially when working with teens. Think about the last time you went to a lecture and nearly drooled on your shirt from boredom – the lecturer may have had fantastic content but the delivery did nothing to inspire or connect with your self. Most people do not remember the content of their early teen classes (the what) but they remember the person who shared content with them (the who). When leading YSS, connection with your students is of paramount importance. As such, we ask that you think about how your special teacher inspired you and how you can bring that inspiration into your own teaching with each of your students.
Question #2: Do you remember what it was like to be a young teen? Do you remember feeling secure? Or feeling shy? Timid? Happy? Confused? You probably remember a range of different emotions but we can tell you that whenever we ask people if they would like to go back to their middle school years, no one says, “Yes! Totally! i was so secure back then.” Adolescence is by definition a time when teens are searching for them selves and that search can make them feel very vulnerable.
What would have made you feel more successful back then? A smile every once in a while? Eye contact? Praise? Clear rules? Defined expectations? You can’t go back in time and change your experience but you can use that knowledge of how you felt to support your students during this challenging time. We can so easily get caught up in the day to day frustrations of the student that disrupts class, or the student that always forgets his homework, or the student who twirls her hair while sitting in the back corner desk. But we find remembering our own struggles as a teen often helps us to soften our approach with the teens in front of us, and moreover, to catch ourselves from using the same techniques on them that some of our teachers used on us… and only pushed us away further.
Question #3: We all have strengths and weaknesses – you do, and so do your students. The YSS journey that your teens are about to take will highlight both their strengths and their weaknesses. Your job, as their facilitator, is to help them recognize and embrace them both. Yes, embrace. Because only by embracing the things that we don’t do so well, by taking responsibility for them, can we begin to change them, or manage them, and not feel ashamed of them. Likewise, rare is the teen that fully embraces and celebrates her strengths. Many teens wear “blinders” placed there through their unique histories that tell them they are not good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough, or fast enough. The YSS approach aims to recognize that whatever they have is “enough” and to celebrate all aspects of themselves.
Question #4: We all have goals in our teaching and sometimes reflecting on them and re-evaluating them is important. When you teach, are you hoping to simply give your students information or are you hoping to give them information they will be inspired to use? Are you hoping to give them new ideas as well as the confidence to allow their own creativity to unfold? Are you hoping to help them pass the next test as well as hoping to teach them well enough so that they can pass whatever test life throws at them? No matter what your goals are (and they may not be the same as ours!), your students are well served when a clear vision and purpose in teaching is provided. When you have that in mind, you are in position to ask yourself, “Is what I am doing, and how I am connecting with my students, helping me achieve that goal?” Our goal at Your Self Series is to help each and every teen BE who he/she wishes to be – confidently. When you facilitate YSS in your setting, we ask that from time to time you reflect upon that goal. Is your approach helping them gain confidence? Vision? Purpose? A true sense of their own self? These are the goals set forth in the YSS program. It is our vision that your goals are in alignment.
Question #5: Connection is fundamental to human existence – from birth, we define ourselves through connections with others. Indeed, babies who do not have connections – who are not held, spoken to and cared for – will fail to thrive. So too will your students. The more connected students feel to friends, family and school the more likely they will succeed not only academically but in life. Strong connections allow the self to feel safe to express itself and explore the world. As such, we ask that as you facilitate the YSS process, you continually reflect upon the various connections in your setting. Are the students feeling connected to each other (if not maybe another icebreaker is in store)? Does one student seem to be dis-connected from the group (if so, how can you subtly re-connect that student)? With whom have you not connected lately? (If you can name someone, make a plan to connect with that person for the next class.) Connection is such a big issue for us, we are going to keep this short and hit you with it again in the next section.
Feeling fabulously informed and freakishly self-aware? Good. Then you’re ready to move on to the next step!
Step # 3 covers a few important topics by video.
In this first video, hear Chris talk about what the self is and why it is so important for your teens (and for you!).
Hear Chris give a small talk (2 minutes!) on how developing a sense of self helps your students to reach their potentials and find happiness.
YSS will challenge your students to share themselves with each other, and with you, in the classroom. This can be a frightening experience for some students, leaving them feeling vulnerable, while it can make some teachers uncomfortable. This video by Brene Brown discusses the power of vulnerability and why it is the cornerstone of growth for your students (and, thus, for the success of YSS). Her 20 minute speech is at the heart of the YSS philosophy. We’d like to say we could have said it better, but we couldn’t: she just nails it. Why mess with perfection?
Hear Paula give a brief briefing on classroom set up for YSS. (It may be brief but it’s important!)
The following posts cover tips and troubleshooting ideas so that you are well prepared for any bumps in the road.
We will cover:
Group and Individual Disruptions, and
Emotionally Charged Topics.
Always keep checking back to this section however, as we will add posts/topics as requested!
One issue we’d like to put on the table from the beginning is the general difference you will find between girls and boys in their ability and, indeed, willingness to delve into the more personal and emotional side of life. We are putting political correctness aside here and just telling it like it is: most boys (at this stage in their lives) lag behind girls in emotional development. Gasp! Yes, we said it, “Boys are different than girls.”
This difference is both neurologically and culturally linked. First, the brain science: research indicates that boys and girls’ brains mature at different rates (http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Boys_Girls/). and in different sequence. Essentially, this means that at age 11, girls’ brains on average are about half way to maturity, whereas boys do not reach this halfway point, on average, until just before age 15. Many teachers will relate that elementary age girls can sit still for quite some time, while the boys are less adept at this and yet, by the time they reach age 25, the sexes have become equal on this skill. This is the result of the different timing of brain maturation in males and females: they will eventually end up at the same place, but in the school years, boys lag behind on many skills. One of them will likely be the ability to talk about emotions.
This is culturally linked as well. As Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson point out in Raising Cain, “Men, in particular, are rarely celebrated for moral or emotional courage. Men in the news are almost always there because they represent power, skill, or wealth…” (pg. 250) Boys are constantly being told to stifle their emotions in many subtle ways. One small example: a boy and girl fall down on the soccer field. Likely the girl will be given a hug, comfort, and the words, “It’s OK, you’ll be alright” in response to her tears. The tears of a boy, however, are more likely to be met with, “Don’t cry. You’re fine.” The message to boys is clear: don’t show your emotions. Keep them inside and move on. You will bare the results of 100’s of such interactions, year after year, with many of the boys in your room: the boys will be less skilled and less willing to show emotions. (And yes, we are generalizing!!! Many boys will be on par with girls and some girls may have difficulty.)
The solution? Change will take time… scientifically, boys will need time for their brains to mature and culturally, well, society may never shift practices. But that is part of what you are doing with YSS. Indeed, know that we specifically developed YSS for both girls and boys – we noted that resources were abundantly available on the market for girls in this area, but none existed for boys. We were advised by some that this project would never make it because boys would just not be interested. We didn’t listen to them. Instead we focused on the research pointing toward self skills development as the necessary missing link to so many anti-anything campaigns.
The solution for you, in your classroom, when running YSS is patience and understanding. Don’t expect boys to jump up and down, raising their hands at every opportunity. Don’t expect them to find emotional language easy. Don’t be put off when they tell you “This is dumb” or “I just don’t get it.” Likely, they very truly don’t get it. They have had less practice at emotional expression and their brains are just a little further behind. Ultimately, try not to take their lack of interest or short answers as a reflection of how well you are reaching them. Just be patient. Simple exposure to this material is beneficial, especially when you allow them to take it at their own pace. Thus, if you accept shorter answers and praise them for whatever participation they have, you will make them feel safe. When they feel safe, they will be more likely to eventually engage in the material at a deeper level.
We also suggest that you use the “Your Emotions” chapter or “Your Body” chapter to discuss some of the differences between males and females. In many ways, our society has seen a great push to “equalize” the genders – to show that females are equal to males. Truly important, but sometimes the message can go too far and we lose the beautiful uniqueness inherent to the genders. When possible, open up discussions about the differences between boys and girls and their experiences. Not only will this open up dialogue between the boys and girls, it will promote empathy, one of the central goals of YSS (empathy does wonders in combating bullying) and it will give some boys the confidence to engage. (Being a boy! Finally something they can talk about!)
We will close this section with one idea to open such a discussion. Have your students discuss Mark Twain’s description of courage, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” Help students to explore Kindlon and Michael’s words, “Boys need to learn that it is part and parcel of true emotional courage in a man to accept fear and other feelings of vulnerability in himself and others.” (p.250) Discussion of emotions can make many boys feel vulnerable – both because they are not practiced in it (and thus feel uncertain) and they may think it is “more for girls.” Please be patient with them and encourage them.
Do you like punishment? Do you know of anyone who enjoys it? (Wait, don’t tell us, we don’t want to know!) Our point in asking is this: punishment is the least effective means of behavior modification. According to Skinner (the father of behavior modification in psychology research), positive reinforcement (giving a reward) is superior to punishment in altering behavior. It produces lasting behavioral changes whereas punishment produces only temporary change often accompanied by some negative side effects ( like shame and embarrassment). Why are we sharing this with you?
Your students will be asked to set up the rules of their classroom. They will be expected to outline how they will treat each other and thus, ultimately, what the consequences will be when rules are broken. Consequences almost always lead to some form of punishment. Indeed, this is the pattern that many adults have shown students to be the natural progression when rules are repeatedly broken. But, as noted above, research shows that punishments are the least effective means of behavior modification. Moreover, and this is very important to keep in mind, many punishments that students implement for those fellow teens who fail to engage or be respectful, will actually serve as a reward to those disruptive teens. Be mindful of allowing for punishments that actually feel like a reward.
Take, for example, the disruptive teen who is not interested in the material and does not want to participate in the class. As a result, he’s disruptive and disrespectful to the other students. Under the rules that the class constructed, such behavior is not allowed, and as a result the disruptive teen is not allowed to participate in the discussion that day… reward! The disruptive teen didn’t want to be a part of the class, and now, through his unruly behavior, he is not.
How can you avoid such a scenario? It’s not easy. You are giving teens the controls to set up their own rules and being respectful of the rules they create is paramount. However, your guidance and input is encouraged (totally necessary as they navigate this tricky process!). Share with them the example given above. Ask them what they think of it and what alternatives they can imagine. Alternatives are not easy to find and ultimately, disruptive behavior may need to be punished/addressed. But try to encourage a few steps in between disruption and subsequent consequences.
For instance, eye to eye contact can be quite powerful for students. When we look someone in the eye, we are making a connection at a deeper level than when we simply write an apology on paper. See if you can suggest pulling the disruptive person in by making her connect with someone eye to eye. When Brenda keeps whispering during Jack’s presentation perhaps the “rules” of the classroom could have her apologize eye to eye with Jack using his name, “Jack, I am sorry I was whispering during your presentation. I would not want you to do that during mine.” (Of note here: eye contact stimulates neural networks for empathy. You may also have the class engage in a staring contest with no blinking or laughing. Simply seeing each other in a different way fosters a connection.)
Your teens may surprise you with their ability to be creative and proactive with the rules they devise. No matter what rules they implement, your role as facilitator is to see that they are honored. If you notice that rules are being disregarded, revisit them. Our guess is that your students will not have carved them into stone and thus, they are always open to review and change (a great lesson in learning and revising to make improvements).
All about the YSS program
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