Resilience is a much-admired and much-researched topic. For students with disabilities, resilience is also much-needed. Why do some kiddos and adults have it and others don’t? It has traditionally been viewed as an innate characteristic, but resilience is now regarded as something we can learn. And if it’s something we can learn, then we need to teach it.
I believe that some teachers already support and model resilience for their students. These are teachers who empathize with students, notice challenges, and encourage them to overcome obstacles. Supporting regulation of emotions is one key to developing resilience. Making sure that tasks are carefully sequenced and of value to students births confidence. Being a teacher who openly asks, “What can I learn from this debacle?” models a healthy approach to making mistakes and managing strong, unhappy feelings.
My advice is to read up on resilience this summer. Learn more brain-friendly strategies for supporting struggling students. Become a more resilient person and pass it along!
I’ve posted a four-part series on overcoming phobias through Reid Wilson’s program, which uses current brain research to change the way you respond to fear. As a Christ-follower, I had prayed in desperation for 12 years that God would heal me. I tried to worship my way through panic attacks. I tried biofeedback and meditation on God’s word.
I felt in my heart that God was going to heal me, but how long would it take? And what if I “lost” the healing when I was on the freeway? At its worst, I immediately fainted when I tried to drive on any road with more than two lanes. All my fears seemed valid. After all, I would crash and kill someone if I fainted. How could possibly God help me? When would he help me?
Several years ago, God began my healing by showing me how much fear runs through my brain all the time, not just on the road. If you watch the video below, you’ll understand why. Desperately, I contacted a psychiatrist, who referred me to a weekend workshop offered by Reid Wilson(offered that very weekend and I was able to get in!). I hoped for a miracle but nearly ran out of the building as I realized that this was something I had to do. But thankfully, I was not alone in this. God was with me. His Spirit encouraged me that I was made for freedom.
The wonderful aspect of this freedom to drive is that I don’t have to be phobia- or fear-free to be FREE! I recognize that my brain is simply doing what it was made for, that my amygdala is trying to protect me. I love the intricacies of God’s creation in my brain. He has made a new way for me to enjoy his splendor. He has given me a new way to glorify his hand on my life.
Am I weak in faith if I am afraid? I am like the man who cried out to Jesus, “I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” I don’t have to “keep” my faith; my Savior does it all for me. From beginning to end, I am safe in His arms.
Part of my story is shared below. Of course, my name is misspelled. There may be 24 different ways to spell Katharine but Jesus knows who I am!
Step four of overcoming anxieties and phobias, as taught by Reid Wilson, is to transform fear into something more helpful. This makes powerful use of current brain research that changed my life forever. In this step, you are activating the fear neural circuitry so that you can generate a new fear-free circuitry! (Click here for previous posts.)
In my case, a driving phobia was crippling me. Sure, I needed a chauffeur (usually my dearest teaching widower) but it was much worse than that. It was torture, no matter who was driving. My clever amaydala translated the fear of jumping out of the car while driving to a fear of jumping out of a car no matter what.
What happens in step four? You practice kicking butt. I told my amygdala that NOTHING was more important than freedom. Freedom from fear and freedom to drive with joy. Freedom to drive to work. Freedom to pick up my widower from the airport. Freedom to drive any time, in any vehicle, on any road. Even the highest bridges or most lanes. Freedom is more important than the feelings of fear that still pop up. Scary feelings? Beh. I like the feeling of freedom!
Be sure to check out Reid’s online course when it becomes available this fall! You can do this!
Okay, this third step in Reid Wilson’s program to shed worries and phobias was not what I wanted to hear.
I had attended his small group workshop with a few other folks, desperate to overcome my fear of driving. Over 12 years, my world had shrunk to two-lane roads and occasionally, the driveway. I knew I was losing this battle, so I went to the workshop praying there was something AMAZING that he could do to change my life.
Step three involves what you or I can do. It’s a determination to listen to a different voice in your head. The other scary noise will be there, but the voice you listen to is different. My amygdala did not like it at all. It still doesn’t. I was uncertain that I could tell my brain the truth about driving, that I could practice making that truth the strongest voice. But I did and it was the most AMAZING experience!
See, I was imagining this workshop and wondering how Reid was going to get in the car with me and make this work. What if the other folks had driving phobias, too? How would he help all of us? The great news is that I didn’t need him with me. I headed right out for the freeway, in a downpour of rain, and shouted in a new voice. I’m kinda glad no one else was in the car.
Was I still scared? Yes. But was I training my brain in a new and exciting way? Yes!
Previously, I wrote about a wonderful cognitive behavioral therapy approach to anxiety and phobias developed by Reid Wilson. The first step is understanding how our brain works to protect us and in that process, may not be helpful at all.
The second step in dealing with these issues is to step away from the noise and false signals. In my case, my brain was very eager to tell me all the “dangers” associated with driving. I might kill my family. I might crash into other cars and kill those folks. I might drive myself off the road. I might even throw myself out of the car. My brain had gotten so good at “protecting” me that I would faint if I drove on anything but a two-lane road. How’s that for safety? This second step also focuses on your motivation to stop the noise, the crazy thoughts that pass for reality. In truth, when Reid told me to simply tighten my chest instead of relaxing, the fear of fainting (vasovagal syncope) had no way to hold me back from freedom.
This fall, check out Reid WIlson’s online course (not yet available). Learn how to be free of noise in your head!
If you are looking for a perfect summary of how to teach all year, but also want to fire up your jets for the start of things, TeacherVision’s Ultimate Back-to-School Guide is for you. It lists nine areas to consider, including self-awareness, persistence, and real world effectiveness. But this guide is much more than a list. It’s inspirational and has multiple links to apps, books, and online resources for each area that will support your teaching experience- and make you more effective.
The first area reviewed is one of the most important to me: self-awareness. Did you know there’s an app for that? Well, actually, much more than that. One inspirational quote in this section comes from Daniel Goleman, who has been at the center of the emotional intelligence field for years. “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
As a teacher, our job is to not only improve our self-awareness but also that of our students. As I noted in an earlier blog, Marianne Hardiman says that “setting the emotional climate for learning may be the most important task a teacher embarks on each day.”
Why am I so convinced that this course will be life changing? Two reasons: Because it is founded on the latest brain research and Reid Wilson is an expert in this field. The video below explains what happens in your brain when you come across something scary, like a snake. Watch it and be amazed at how fabulous your brain is- and how that amazing brain can make a mess of fear.
In a previous post, I shared a recess rubric for students on the autism spectrum. Here is one that may be helpful for students with a learning disability, especially twice exceptional (2e) kiddos. These kids are often desperate to get out of the classroom, away from tremendous stress (and boredom, in the case of 2e kids). Why would LD kids benefit from a recess rubric? Again, stress. They often feel stupid and invalidated in a classroom, no matter how smart they may be, no matter how supportive their teachers are. When they hit the playground, these students are often over-eager to show off athletic skills. They may vent their frustration on peers or withdraw from the group altogether. Social skills intervention is helpful when LD students find themselves in constant conflict at recess. Remember that you cannot toss a rubric at a student and expect it to “work.” Kids need to rehearse needed skills and rubrics should be modified to match individual needs. A rubric can be used to measure progress over time, which is very important for kids who face an uphill battle with academics.
Is your student surrounded with school drama: gossip,and bullying? Middle school and high school students often find themselves in the middle of drama as they spend their time learning about who they are and asserting their independence. There are three keys that teens should be reminded of for making healthy decisions and avoiding drama.
First, teach your student to always be true to him or herself. When things don’t go well, let your teen know that it is okay. I always encourage self-forgiveness over peer pressure with both my students and my children. Empower your student to say, “No, that is not right for me.” Empower your student to find new interests and new friends. Second, teach your student to respect him or herself by making decisions that reflect his/her morals and values as well as your families. Always share that before your student makes a decision to ask, “If what I am about to do is filmed for the nightly news, will…
Should teachers focus on natural weather-related disasters or try to steer clear of those topics? What about kids who already obsess about thunderstorms or tornadoes? Since weather and climate are taught from elementary school on, there’s no avoiding some discussion of extreme weather. In fact, many fears can be allayed by effective units on this topic. Tornado and earthquake drills are also a routine part of the school year. What school library doesn’t include some of the popular “I Survived” series by Lauren Tarshish or other nonfiction accounts of disasters? As hurricane Hermine rakes along the southeastern US right now, with schools canceling classes, I think it would be scarier for kids if adults avoided the topic altogether.
Having taught students who suffered from weather-related fears, here are some strategies I’ve found effective in helping kids manage both extreme weather and safety drills:
Work with parents to coordinate a consistent approach for dealing with fears about storms, etc. Enlist the help of your school counselor.
Occasionally, students with serious weather phobias might need to work out of the class during weather-related discussions. Again, this is something to be determined with the parents and mental health professionals.
Set limits on how much time can be devoted to weather discussions, especially during unstructured periods such as recess and lunch.
Use social stories for kids with strategies for managing scary thoughts, especially those on the autism spectrum.
Provide information and guide discussions using a matter-of-fact tone and limiting exposure to videos of disasters.
Emphasize effective precautions and scientific analysis of severe weather.
Provide distractions (books, stuffed animal, social story) during lengthy weather-related drills or warnings.
Many kids (and adults) are fascinated with extreme weather and natural disasters. Take advantage of those interests by allowing students to engage in projects and writing on those topics. There are many online STEM resources available to support classroom teachers.
Bottom line: Know your students. If you have a group of potential storm chasers, expect questions and interest in wild weather. If you have just one student who is terrified of severe weather, you might need to save those extreme weather discussions for times when the anxious student is out of the classroom.