Courtship vs. Dating: The Breakdown

Great points from an awesome blogger! He covers it ALL.

A Thomas Point of View

I believe that we have confused courtship with dating…

Dating is what most people in the American culture do. Courtship is what most people in the American culture aspire to do, but conform to dating because either they don’t know how to court, they realize dating is easier, or they have been socialized and conditioned to find their mate one way, not the other.

Please stop using the word, “courtship” when you are actually speaking about dating.

What is Courtship?

Courtship is a mutual partnership, a journey together with the intended purpose of marriage (from the beginning). Courtship is intentional and purposeful.

Courtship is focus on marriage (or lifelong companionship). This happens from the door, not months down the road.

Men get antsy when the “M” word is mentioned. Why? A man that is intentional with a woman won’t get nervous at the sound of the word, “marriage.” In courtship…

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* N is for noises

music-148238_640Blogging A-Z: N is for noises.  I’ve worked with a number of kids who make atypical noises and movements.  Some of these kids are labeled with Autism Spectrum Disorder, others Tourette syndrome, and still others have no clear diagnosis.  Just quirky.  Whatever the cause, those unusual vocalizations and tics are a social challenge for kids and their families.  Sometimes medication has been effective, while other kids have had therapy for anxiety.

I have found that establishing a community of acceptance is one of the best responses to the noises, gurgles, repeated words, twitching, etc.  It may not be as easy to accomplish that in a large classroom, but the small group setting (such as pull- out support) is ideal for creating a safe place for these kids. These noises and movements are not something to “eliminate,” even as we hope they will fade away (and perhaps respond to medication).  For whatever neurological reason, noises are with us.  They should not be the focus of our relationships.  Neither are they an “elephant” in the room.  We can compare them to the wide range of habits we all might share, which range from repeatedly straightening hair or glasses, licking our lips, or even giggling when we’re nervous.  After we banish the “elephant,” a matter-of-fact response from the teacher establishes an important message of acceptance, as does a swift and firm response to any giggling or comments from peers.  Kids will quickly ignore random noises once an appropriate response has been modeled and reinforced.

Besides the importance of teaching kids to value one another, a safe classroom reduces the anxiety level of kids who make atypical utterances.  In fact, I can guarantee that noise levels will increase if a student has been teased, bullied, or reprimanded.  Some of my “noisy” kids have been the best liked, once they were seen for who they are, not for how they might occasionally sound.

* Crucial Conversations #6: speaking persuasively, not abrasively

solderingHow to speak persuasively, not abrasively.  This is another challenging chapter, partly because I am so passionate about various issues but haven’t learned how to engage in safe dialog with others.  The authors encourage passion but within certain boundaries.  My takeaway message from chapter six is to encourage others to share their opinions; the more vigorously I share mine, the more vigorously I should ask others to share.   This is pretty much the opposite of my typical approach to many collegial conversations about kids.  I assume I know it all.  I assume my opinions will not change.  I assume no one has a better grasp of the situation.  I think I have “gotten away” with this unproductive stance because I usually have allies with the same position.  And of course, I am not crusading 24/7.  But I remember many meetings where I have been convinced that my opinion was TRUTH and wasn’t open to other viewpoints.

The strategies outlined in this chapter are simple yet profound.  The authors suggest that I spend time preparing my thoughts before engaging in a crucial conversation.  They use a Goldilocks analogy: my views shouldn’t be too hard or too soft.  I especially appreciate the section entitled “How Do We Change?”  Their answer?  Back off.  Tone down.  That makes sense because I don’t like being clobbered by others, either.  Their advice has cycled back to an earlier point: look out for those crucial conversations when people (including myself) aren’t safe.

I will need to practice these skills, but at least I am looking in the right direction.

What about you?  Are you persuasive or abrasive?

* Crucial Conversations #4: Make it safe

under constructionMake it safe.  This chapter in Crucial Conversations was not a quick read.  I found myself rereading much of it and although I can summarize the chapter, making a conversation “safe” is not for wimps.  The authors’ basic premise is that conversations are derailed when the participants don’t feel safe.  If I feel disrespected or ignored, I am not likely to persist in an effective conversation.  Instead, I will resort to “silence or violence.”  OK, I can see that.  So I am advised to step out of the conversation (looking at motives, reactions, emotions) and follow some helpful tips for re-establishing a safe conversation.

I found one point especially interesting and appealing: being authentic.  It’s possible to talk about sensitive issues and still remain honest.  I have floundered in this area.  As a supervisor, I have wanted to withdraw my statement or evaluation, even if it was true.  In Crucial Conversations, you learn to express yourself honestly but keep the dialog going by making it safe for all concerned.  That means being aware of how my initial (honest) comment felt to the person hearing it.  If they felt threatened, I must tell them what I DO NOT want (“I don’t want you to think that I’m dissatisfied with your effectiveness in administering a student’s behavior contract.”) and what I DO want (“I do want you to arrive at school on time.”)

Another aspect of being authentic relates to mutual purpose and respect.  The authors state that mutual respect is a condition of entering an effective dialog with others and mutual purpose enables the conversation to move forward.  They suggest that you find/invent a mutual purpose if one is not readily apparent.  In the case of my obvious disconnect with an administrator, I could have agreed that we both wanted the students in school to succeed.  Our strategies on achieving that success differed significantly, but had we taken time to talk about sensitive issues, I think we could have found some mutually acceptable solutions.  In hindsight, I can see that neither of us felt safe, so those conversations did not occur.  I haven’t read past chapter five, but it also seems that some conversations simply won’t take place when the person in charge makes unilateral decisions.  And I do respect a supervisor’s right to do that.

I admire the authors’ emphasis upon honesty.  Apologies must be genuine.  Strategies for safe conversations are not a means to an end.  Mutual respect and purpose must be genuine, not manipulative.  I’m still encouraged by what I’ve read and given the way life is, I should have plenty of opportunities to practice!

* Crucial Conversations #2: Social first aid

crucial conversations“Social first aid.”  That sounds like something I could use.  In Chapter Four of Crucial Conversations, the authors deal with three conversation killers: being unaware that a crucial conversation is occurring, misreading or being oblivious to how others feel, and being similarly oblivious to your own responses to stress.  They describe unhealthy responses to crucial conversations in two categories: “silence” and “violence.”  Silence is avoidance and withdrawal, while violence is verbally attacking, controlling, or belittling.  I wish they could have selected a less violent word for the latter category, but I guess they were going for rhyme.

I took a brief online assessment to determine how I respond under the harshest conditions I’ve faced at work with supervisors.  Uh-oh.stress style

The book has a lengthier assessment which better explains the choices I make in crucial conversations.  Basically, I choose one of three defaults: avoidance (I delay answering emails which might entangle me in difficult issues), masking my true feelings (“softening” my remarks in an apologetic or falsely flattering manner), and attempting to control others (what I think is right and I will exaggerate to prove my point).  Based upon their assessment, the authors suggest which chapters are most helpful for improving my ability to talk to others when the stakes are high.  I think I need to read and study all of it (duh), because I certainly want to become more effective in this realm.

The good news is that I am more effective in listening and participating in student-related issues than personal ones.  I guess that’s good news.  I have blown crucial conversations in all areas, though, so I am ready to learn these new skills.  It’s never too late!

If you want to take the assessment yourself, click on this link and scroll down: Style Under Stress.

Want to share your results?  

* Crucial Conversations #1: overview

crucial conversationsI have finally started reading Crucial Conversations!  Here’s what I have learned after three chapters:

1.  There’s hope for all of us.  Those of us who had disastrous role models for communication (me) can still learn to talk effectively with anyone.  I am already encouraged as I read through the illustrations and research studies.  As I have noted in reference to classroom environments, establishing a positive, encouraging emotional climate is truly important.

2.  My reading of brain-based teaching conforms to the authors’ contention that our brains “fail us” when we are engaged in conflict.  As our special needs students too frequently discover, when we are stressed, the fight-or-flight response has already kicked adrenaline into our systems, giving our muscles extra energy while reducing our ability to reason.  I laughed out loud when the authors describe the consequences of emotional distress, leaving us “with the same intellectual equipment available to a rhesus monkey.”  Yes, that’s an apt description of some of my crucial conversations.

3.  It IS important to speak up honestly and respectfully.  The second chapter is illustrated by a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.  I have often found myself championing unpopular causes.  And I have not always done that with grace and humility.

4.  The authors describe three key issues we must address in order to navigate the world of conflict without crushing anyone or simply shutting down.  The first one is something I actually learned years ago but never connected to crucial conversations:  I can only control myself.  That understanding has helped me become a more successful teacher, for it removes potential conflict, frustration, and determination to control kids’ behavior.  I can create an environment that makes better behavior more likely, but I cannot force students to make the right choice.  Second, I must focus on what I really want.  If I find myself angry, I need to ask what that behavior means and whether it is congruent with my goals.  Third, I must avoid what the authors call a Fool’s Choice, a belief that we must choose between two poor alternatives.

Here’s an example of a crucial conversation I missed, but which certainly revealed my heart.  I was a resource teacher at a school where the administration was strongly opposed to pull-out services for special needs kids.  I was told to work with these kids directly in their classroom, but they were so far behind their peers (and so easily distracted) that our small group work was not effective.  I ended up teaching in a small, filthy closet adjacent to the classroom, since the administration felt that students should not waste time walking to a resource room.  You can perhaps imagine my emotional reaction to this situation.  There were a number of legitimate reasons for my preference to work in my well-equipped classroom, including the fact that kids were walking to rooms all over the school for “regular” small group instruction.  But ultimately I saw that I was most upset about the way I was being treated, not the way students could potentially lose out.  I worked diligently to make sure the students did not lose out, and in the process discovered some cool strategies to make that unpleasant closet an effective teaching space.  I also saw that I was no longer in an environment I could support, so in conjunction with other issues, I retired from full-time teaching.  I wish I had read Crucial Conversations back then; perhaps I could have participated in an effective crucial conversation about the conflict between my philosophy of special education and that of the administration.

* Do-overs

This is an awesome post. Just wait until you get to the last paragraphs! Well worth reading.

Square Peg in a Round Hole

I’m sure we’ve all thought about this at one time or another, but have you ever wanted a “do-over?” Meaning, if you could do it all over again, would you? Or would you keep things exactly the same? Sometimes I think about an alternate universe where “what if’s” could actually be seen, so it would cut our decision making process in half.

It reminds me of the Gwyneth Paltrow movie “Sliding Doors.” Her life literally hangs in the balance on wether she makes her train on time or not. It shows you both universes. It shows you her “what if’s.” It’s an incredible movie, because either way, her life will take a drastic turn, and it makes you wonder… was it a good thing that she missed her train, or bad? I highly suggest seeing it.

I sometimes think about wanting a do-over, for the sheer brilliance that it is…

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* 2e case study #1: a wild ride

I met Kimmie when she joined my self-contained class as a kindergartner.  She came with quite a dossier.  Most of her young life had been spent in the foster care system; she was kicked out of a long list of day care centers because of her severe behavior problems; and her IQ was assessed in the 40’s.  She had a twin brother out there somewhere in the world of group homes.

My first impression of Kimmie: she seemed to be a feral child.  A cute feral child.  A feral child equipped with an engine set in 6th gear.  She didn’t talk much but made up for that in mileage around the room.  She exploded into my class with no apparent socialization or understanding of group life at all.  Had I not reviewed her history, I would have thought she’d been raised by tigers.  Other kids?  She viewed them as the enemy, for the most part.  They were in her way, everyone in the space she wanted to occupy for a moment or holding the materials she demanded.  She would bite if grabbing didn’t work.

My class was organized around predictable routines, consistent rewards and consequences with frequent praise; clear and high expectations; and FUN.  I figured that we should enjoy our time together,  so relationships were at the top of my list. I approached Kimmie with all of the above, but firm consistency and silliness were my best allies in her socialization process.  I found ways to slow her engine into 3rd gear, often with playfulness.

Patience, gentleness, and humor made the first chinks in her armor.  Kimmie smiled during her first week and then she laughed.  That laugh!  It rang through the classroom!  It echoed in the hallway.  I’m surprised the entire school didn’t hear it.  I knew we were going to be fine.  Kimmie and I played our way through through social skills, reading, and math.  Every activity was kept short and sweet, leaving her with a desire for more.  In that dismal dossier of hers, someone had described her as having “street smarts,” but as I watched her lightning quick responses, I could see more than a (remarkable) ability to survive.  In fact, I could see a really sharp mind at work.

With glee and that raucous laugh, Kimmie quickly learned the “system” in my class.  She was handsomely rewarded for her efforts.  She discovered that it was much more fun to play school than to run like a wild child.  She learned to read very quickly.  I had to keep reminding myself that she was only 5.  Kimmie became the proverbial sponge, albeit a sharp-tongued sponge, soaking up every nuance, displaying a facility for learning that was miles beyond her IQ scores.  Kimmie wanted me ALL to herself, so social skills remained more challenging.  But what a gutsy learner she was.  She had her hands in every science experiment, never gave up on areas of interest, loved all our field trips, and laughed her way through it all.

I discovered that she did NOT have literal street smarts as we ventured into the community on walking field trips to restaurants.  She approached each street corner as a challenge: how quickly could she dash across a road?  So we held hands and she developed restraint.  I will never forget a trip to a posh seafood restaurant.  The owner gave free rein to my squad (bless his heart!) and Kimmie was soon sampling every sort of sea creature.  She never met a food she wouldn’t try, never met a button or knob she wouldn’t push, never met a rule she wouldn’t stretch to its limits.  In short, she was a delightful dynamo.  I loved her.

To speed ahead, I paired her with a buddy from a regular classroom, she started spending time in that class (still laughing but anxious about this process), and in fourth grade, was out of my room and in the mainstream of education.  Her IQ was retested, she scored in the superior range, and was placed in a program for gifted kids.  She did well for the rest of her school career, with a few glitches here  and there.

To this day, I love my unconventional, laughing, and adorable Kimmie.  She’s a mom with her own girl who runs wildly through stores and drives HER teachers a little crazy.  Kimmie is a twice exceptional person, a survivor of abuse and poverty, a brilliant woman with a laugh that will make your day.

* Start the day off right

Right now there’s a a lot of advice out there about how to start off the school year.  In fact, I have offered some.  But it’s important to remember that each day is a new start.  It’s worth learning how to do that.

The best way to start the day off right is to end the previous day right.  If it was a generally terrific day, spend time talking about what went well.  If it was a generally stinky day, spend time talking about what went well.  And then pull out your handy one-page-a-day calendar and rip that stinky day into little shreds.  I’ve seen relief and joy in kids’ eyes as their terrible, horrible day is torn to bits and tossed in the trash.  It’s gone.  No hard feelings.  No record of wrongs.  No punishment waiting in the wings.  Note that I said “their terrible, horrible day.”  Sure, it may have been mine as well, but it’s mostly theirs.  They came to school, as I did, with the best of intentions.  No kid walks into school saying, “I’m going to destroy the classroom today!”  No teacher walks in and says, “I’m going to make this day miserable for every child!”  So, reward good intentions and scrap the day.  Literally.  A caveat:  My primary response to a hard day is to analyze what I did and how I reacted to the kids.  I cannot control how they reacted, but I can control my own reactions.

So you are starting a new day.  You know that your kids may have endured a yucky bus ride or a fight at home or simply feel out of sorts.  They may come in the room crying.  Or perhaps they are ready to explode like a volcano, hot magma at the top.  How do you greet these kids?  It’s certainly easier once you know them, because you can read their cues more effectively.  Regardless, I try to remember that this class is about their needs, not mine.  I may want to look like a perfect teacher (read: have a perfect day), but teaching is messy.  Kids (and teachers) are messy.  The classroom should be a haven, a place where kids get what they need.  There’s no one right way to handle a kid starting off in distress.  Here are some options: Give them space.  Follow the classroom routine. Let them chill in their cooling-off space.  Hand them a favorite book.  Start them on a favorite activity.  Ask if they want to talk.  Let them draw or use other materials to express themselves.  I didn’t include “smile” because you are hurting for them and with them.  This wasn’t what either of you wanted.  A gentle and caring expression works well.

For kids who typically have a bumpy start to their day, you must get at the root of the problem to improve their first moments at school.  Is it some interaction with others?  Anxiety about school or transitions?  Testing to see how you will respond?  Hard-wiring?  Hating school?  Each of these possibilities will need to be handled differently.  Bottom line: It’s worth making the effort to start off each day right.

* The Top 10 Special Needs Blog Posts of 2013

The Top 10 Special Needs Blog Posts of 2013 as posted by The Special Needs Resources Blog.  I especially enjoy reading Karen Wang’s postings, a candid look at life in the special lane.  I am searching for special ed blogs out there; if you have any recommendations, please let me know.