Adventures in Wellness!

“The roots of education are bitter but the fruits are sweet.”

– Aristotle

My fellow teachers and counselors, I know I am not the only teacher chronically near burn-out by the end of each year. All summer I’ve reflected on the rocky year I just had – being yelled at by teenagers, seeing loss or violence in their lives, gaining or losing ground with my most challenging students… I felt like I might not be ready for another year. This is why I think it’s so important to tell this story now, right before school begins again. I needed more than just resting by the pool before going back into the classroom (although who can afford that?). I was so exhausted, I knew I needed therapy on a whole new level. So, I started a new adventure in teaching and learning, and it’s not in science. This Adventure in Wellness helped me respond to a significant call for action in bringing social and emotional skills to my science students. Be the change, right?

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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This Adventure is not about science or STEM; it’s about Wellness! Granted, there is a science to wellness and there are amazing advancements in understanding brain chemistry. Just one example is the burgeoning evidence of increased learning when physical movement starts the day, just like Dr. Ratey expressed in SPARK, the Revolutionary New science of Exercise and the Brain. Regardless of the physiological benefits of exercise which promote health and wellness, and hence academics, I found a hard truth this year. I know there are students who are hungry, abused, truant, bullied (and bullying), assaulted, traumatized, and worse, violent. That’s not even counting the extreme psychological toll school and mass shootings are sweeping our nation. Things seem like they are going out of control, and stress and anxiety is DEFINITELY affecting people of all ages. Sometimes, the last thing on these kids’ minds is science, especially if they’re not sure where their next meal is coming from.

I can’t teach science if my students aren’t available.

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This hard truth, and a concern for my own wellbeing in such a demanding profession, caused me to take a big step back and look at the how violence in schools may be trending in the USA. Even if we aren’t worried about violence and seek to promote student achievement, it’s hard to know where to start.

Is teaching wellness even worth it? According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotion Learning, or CASEL, there is a tangible return of investment to bringing teachers to teach social and emotional skills in schools, $11 per student actually. In a recent scientific report from the Aspen Institute, we need to be a Nation at Hope and “accelerate and strengthen efforts to support the whole learner in local communities through recommendations for researchers, educators, and policymakers.” So, when I heard our county was ushering in a new Be Well 365 program, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved. I see the value of 12,000 teachers approaching instruction with a common language using the 6 Essentials for wellness, particularly through the lens of equity. I teach in the most international town of the USA, representing 150 languages with 33% on Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS). Perhaps if we, as a county, were more synchronized in our approach to content AND social/emotional instruction, students would achieve more. Just the effort alone helps increase awareness for mindfulness in our schools, no?

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Let’s talk about engineering the synchronized approach by the development of Learning Experiences and Global Experiencers. These are two documents aligned to each of the wellness Essentials, which we’ll get to in a bit. The problem is teachers and counselors can’t ADD anything new to the already heaping tray of responsibilities they carry every day. What is a way teachers and counselors can strengthen an already existing lesson which embeds one or more of the 6 Essentials?

The solution is building Learning Experiences and Global Experiences teachers and counselors can access while working in existing curricula, respectively. Teaching physics and debating climate change? Why not use a Learning Experience and strengthen the lesson by modeling the debate using Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices, an Essential aligned to helping students see the merits of discourse among peers. Teaching middle school social studies and reviewing the merits of services provided for war veterans? Imagine all social studies teachers using an exit ticket aligned to Mental and Emotional Health. Elementary art? How about the Learning Experience called “Diversity of Life, Diversity of Us” which ties into their science lessons on ecosystems in 2nd grade and promotes Culturally Responsive Relationship Building?

Available preK-12, individual teaching Learning Experiences for art, science, health and PE, reading, and even math are in production. Global Experiences are for school-wide use with themes to approach all 6 Essentials:

  • Positive Character Development and Empathy
  • Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices
  • Physical Health and Wellness
  • Trauma-Informed Practices
  • Culturally Responsive Relationship Building
  • Mental and Emotional Health

My favorite example of a Learning Experience is from 4rd grade art, but I’m stealing it for my 6th graders. “Zentangle Hands & Therapeutic Art” is an extension aligned to Trauma-Informed Practices where students make Zentangle shapes of their hands. Not only are students learning about positive and negative space (or in my science adaptation, scale and proportionality), but it promotes calmness. I’ll make more examples with animals.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PMThis summer, our classroom was full of teachers as we provided Professional Development for hundreds of teachers. Even though Be Well 365 is still being developed, I got to help teachers and counselors brainstorm ways they can use the Learning/Global Experiences in everyday instruction. It’s been about a year since I got to spread my Professional Development provider wings with fellow teachers, and it felt GREAT to co-present with such an awesome team!

I thoroughly enjoyed getting caught up with teachers and finding where our practices and challenges are similar. Our work is overwhelming, but we are all in this together!

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The beauty of this program is no one is being asked to do more during instruction, just do the same great stuff the same way other peers are doing it. Asking a teacher to engage in a best practice has a very different ring than asking a teacher to do something more (or even different). The program also houses a lot of existing best practices, like suicide prevention and personal body safety, through these “nuggets,” (my nickname for Learning Experiences). So far, we have a couple hundred of these nuggets, each being prepared and edited for implementation and improvements. Who is behind that job? Yours truly.

As a result of reviewing and revising hundreds of Learning Experiences, I got a glimpse into other curricula from subjects I don’t teach nor have a background in. I’ve worked with K-12 science curriculum before, but not art, social studies, health, reading, etc. SO INTERESTING, and my extensive curriculum background came in handy. The most important thing I found during this compilation process was to assure inclusive language for all learners and teachers alike. Using a Learning Experience should empower the teacher to build in transparency of their own wellness and instruction; in a way it’s another type of modeling. This project has made me proud of how hard teachers and counselors work to build the whole child.

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What will this look like when I bring it back to my own classroom and campus? I’m happy to report this project has helped rejuvenate my planning and you can expect to see major updates to my management plans, both for behavioral and academic success.

Sure, part of this recharging is from the simple science of having summer to (barely) regroup. However, the bulk of this inspiration comes from working with so many people to pull the Be Well 365 vision together. Now, it’s go time. I’ll post some results after I see how the county involves professional staff through the process, as well as from my own classroom once we get rolling.

In the meantime, I’m picking up some strategies I got from Trauma-Informed Practices training and upgrading my lesson sequencing with a set schedule for transitions. Using my easy FOCUS acrostic to help students keep time, we will be excited (for 10 minutes), calm (for 10 minutes), and then concentrate (for 20 minutes) every day regardless of the type of lesson. Here’s the mechanism for class segments that leverage student energy!

Seeing as I’m switching to 6th grade this year, I think the shorter, timed, and predictable segments will be even more helpful. Especially as I complete my positive behavioral management plan!

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Based on some community input this year, I think it’s true that over 10,000 other teachers need more training, especially in Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices. This is an area I intend to strengthen this year, as well as more effective approaches using Trauma-Informed Practices. I can’t Undo the past, there is no Undo. I do, however, recognize and applaud my own resilience. Maybe last I year I struggled with thriving, not just surviving… it’s hard to know for sure, especially since secondary trauma IS REAL. I can improve my craft, in both content and pedagogy, ever year. Oh, and I can use Calm.com, which is free for educators 🙂 

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.43.53 PMCommonSense.org is a great resource for digital citizenship. Don’t have the same kinds of resources available? Perhaps try this organization to bring webs of support into your school. My favorite video from training this year is from Jacob Hamm on the “Learning Brain vs. Survival Brain,” included here to remind me us that we are all mama elephants working together.

This Adventure is not about how using Wellness changed my instruction (yet), since school hasn’t begun. It’s about how changing my approach to instruction, as well as updating my own healthy habits, saved my summer. I happened to be in the right spot at the right time to find this program at its start, and everyone has to begin somewhere. No matter how challenging our professions are, we have a real opportunity to bring wellness into our everyday lives.

Be well, y’all.

Download & Thanks

In the spirit of preparation, I’m building some signs for science and STEM identity, included here as a download. Good luck out there and enjoy teaching!

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This Adventure is dedicated to my most challenging students. You know who you are. Thank you for making me stronger and smarter. Here’s to another great year of teaching and learning!

The mission of http://www.SPECTRUMclassrooms.com is to engage teachers cultivating student-centered classrooms, one Adventure at a time. Site content and SPECTRUM acrostic copyright © 2019 Jess Rowell. All Rights Reserved. Not responsible for any third-party content.

Follow my adventures with #thisiswhatstemlookslike and #bewell365

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