Superintendent’s Scoop – August 2021
Right now all Sevier School District employees are reading a book by Dr. Jody Carrington called “Kids These Days.” The book was written to help school systems understand the important role they play in helping students succeed in life. Jody provides information for developing a consistent internal wellness structure for schools that can be used across divisions to hold each other up in times of crisis and be a support system to their students. Sevier School District is excited to have Jody Carrington present to all District employees at Richfield High School on September 11th. Jody will be discussing strategies taught in her book about (re)connection.
Every generation, people observe old things and define them in a new way. For every century and generation childhood memories of things are always changing. Many refer to these memories as ‘the good old days.’ One thing that the past had over us today that we are losing at a rapid rate is proximity. Never before have we had so much distance between us-literally and figuratively. In this world of massive technological proficiency, we’ve become increasingly disconnected. That is definitely one thing that the ‘good old days’ had over us. Proximity. Some say back in the day, life was harder than it is now. But one thing I have learned is that we are wired to do hard things!
One of Jody’s main focuses in the book is on Emotional Regulation: The only thing we need to teach our kids. She explains that the only way to learn emotional regulation is through relationships. If you do not have a relationship with the kid or person you are trying to influence and support, everything you try will not work. You cannot teach a kid how to regulate emotion on a whiteboard or in a handout. That is why relationships are so important. You can teach them strategies, but you cannot teach them how to regulate emotion unless you show them, unless you guide them through that process. Kids can only learn how to regulate when they become dysregulated. They need relationship (connection) in order for them to want to learn. Kids will not learn from people who they think don’t like them.
A famous quote by Maya Angelou says, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Your connection to that person is where the power lies. The premise is about the importance of kindness and that when you make other people feel good about themselves, you get the BEST of them.
When trying to connect with someone, it is important to remember that the ones who need it the most will be the hardest to give to. In the book, Jody gives Five Keys to connect or reconnect with anyone in your life.
1. Show genuine interest in things they care about. First. When you’re in a place of giving your full attention to another, and you have very little invested, or very little to lose, you can go “all in.”
2. Get their eyes and say their names. One of the best ways to get started with someone you are struggling to connect with is greet them by name and look them in the eyes. When you look someone in the eyes and call them by name, their prefrontal cortex is on as they try and establish how they know you. People need more engagement of the prefrontal cortex. That is where our goodness lives and that is where we can find who we truly want to be.
3. Get down on their level. It is extremely powerful to see someone face-to-face. Being on the same level as someone allows for easier access to their eyes. It slows you down too, because you’re consciously thinking about creating an optimal environment. They say the best conversations are in the car because you’re on the same level.
4. Feed them and they will come. Food and drink can become a critical component of helping the people we love make sense of hard things. Food, however, loses its impact when we use it as a reward. Food should be used as a regulating strategy. Food can nourish the body but it can also nourish the soul.
5. Never leave them-proximity matters-especially when they tell you to go. We are wired for connection. We do remarkably better with another person by our side when we need to make sense of hard things. Sometimes we have no choice and have been abandoned. But without exception, how we soothe, calm, and regulate, is always best with the assistance of another trusted, regulated human. This is especially true in kids; they cannot make sense of hard things alone for long.
Dr. Susan Pinker summarized in her recent book The Village Effect, that nothing can replace in-person, face-to-face connection. In fact, specific physiological changes happen in your body in person that cannot be replicated via text or email: an increase in your oxytocin and dopamine (the feel-good hormones) and a decrease in your cortisol (stress hormone.) What we can learn from this is we are wired to do hard things. In order to do those hard things to the best of our capacity, we have to remember this: We are wired for connection. It is through physical connection with other people that we are much better able to handle hard things.
Emotional regulation becomes the most important factor when we talk attachment security, especially in teens. Generally, if an adolescent has a secure relationship with just one adult, we see some remarkable differences in their choices compared to kids who struggle to find one regulated person to lean on regularly.
It is extremely important to help students regulate emotions and be a support for them. It is also important to take care of ourselves as well. If our children are held by an empty increasingly disconnected system, they will create an empty system themselves. You repeat what you don’t repair. The time is critical now to do everything we can to stay (re)connected. Dr. Carrington gave some ways for school staff to stay connected. One thing that is extremely important and beneficial is to find joy in your life and slow down long enough to notice the little things. Next, having gratitude and intention. When you change your thoughts, it will change your feelings. Third, practice forgiveness. True forgiveness, the kind that sets you free, involves the step of offering something positive-empathy, compassion, understanding-toward the person who has hurt you. And last, collective effervescence is the importance of staying connected to your team.
It is important to remember that being involved in a school system, we have the capacity to change the trajectory of a life, every single day. That is why it is so important to take care of ourselves while taking care of others.
We are given opportunities every day to (re)connect with someone. Kids these days just need you; they need us. What a difference we can make by helping kids feel loved and important. I know that if we implement some of these strategies, we can give students the support they need and provide a great future for them.
They say it takes a village to raise a child and I am finding that statement to be accurate as I raise my own children. If you think back to your teenage years who were the grown-ups in your life who mattered most to you? And who most impacted you? It could be a coach, a teacher, or a family member. What do all those people have in common? Most likely they intentionally sacrificed for your benefit. They made it clear they were there for you. They were the ones pushing you to do things that you doubted you could.
Growing up can be tough. As children’s bodies and brains are changing rapidly, they’re also dealing with new ideas and influences that will shape who they become. Parents, teachers and other caring adults work hard to teach kids how to become knowledgeable and responsible citizens. As a parent or caring adult it is sometimes hard to know what it is that a child needs.
Josh Shipp is the author of The Grown-Up’s Guide to Teenage Humans: How to Decode Their Behavior, Develop Trust, and Raise a Respectable Adult. We have him scheduled to train our employees this fall. The main idea of the book is to help adults understand teens and teens understand themselves. He outlines seven things every teen needs to hear. According to a recent study published in Science magazine, adults say about 16,215 words per day. Here are seven phrases – each one less than five words– that every teen need to hear from you, regardless of their age or stage.
I love you. This is crucial. Always be strong enough to say this to your kids. Grown adults have said they have never heard this from their parents. If your teen doesn’t hear it from you, I don’t know whom he or she will hear it from.
I’m proud of you. As parents or caring adults, it’s important we applaud effort more than achievement because achievement is often subjective to the group we are competing against. So applaud and reward effort over achievement and let your child know you’re proud of him or her.
I’m sorry. Taking responsibility as an adult is important for our kids to see. We have to model what it looks like to be an adult and apologize when we make mistakes. And don’t cop out by saying, “I’m sorry, but…!” Remember that kids learn a little bit from what we say, a little more from what we do, but the most from who we are.
I forgive you. It’s crucial for young people to know that if you want to succeed, you must be willing to fail. They are going to mess up, it happens. The question is always this: What will you do when they inevitably mess up? When you say, “I forgive you,” kids know it’s okay to admit mistakes.
I’m listening. Once your child is a preteen or teen, the name of the game isn’t about control-it’s about influence. You can’t control a fifteen-year-old, but you can influence him or her by listening and asking questions. Lecturing doesn’t work as well as asking strategic questions and then listening; doing that will help teens come to their own mature decisions and beliefs about situations.
This is your responsibility. Don’t bail your kids out of problems they can solve. Instead, remain like a coach: prepare them before the game, cheer from the sidelines, and then review what went well and what went badly (also from the sidelines). If you fix it for them, they’ll interpret that to mean that they don’t have what it takes. Instead, be there for moral support and guidance, but let them take responsibility.
You’ve got what it takes. It’s important for them to hear from you that they have what it takes. If they know you believe in them, they’re better prepared to take baby steps to accomplishing their goals and dreams and facing those difficult situations.
Children are truly craving someone to be interested in them, to care for them, to be there for them, and to focus their time and attention on them. By using these phrases with our kids they will start to find meaning and purpose in their life and it will contribute to their overall happiness.
Josh Shipp’s motto is ‘Every Kid is One Caring Adult Away from being a Success Story!’ He says in his book, “being a parent is often a thankless job. Nobody hands out awards to good parents. You won’t be mentioned during the state of union address. There won’t be a lifetime achievement award given to you at the Academy Awards. But even when your teens confusing signals say otherwise, your voice is the single most important voice in their lives. And those moments when they’re honest with themselves, your teens instinctively know that they need your voice. Your voice is needed and crucial and matters more than you know.”
I do believe it does take a village to raise a child. As a parent, teacher, coach, or other caring adult we have the ability to be a child’s one caring adult. I also believe that having the right tools and knowledge is essential to helping our children find success in their lives.
As the superintendent of a school district, I am given many opportunities to meet and talk to people from all over. It seems like every time I talk to someone; the conversation eventually leads to how busy their lives are, they are stressed out from the everyday responsibilities, and they just can’t seem to find the time to catch up.
The definition of stress for most people tends to focus on the negative feelings and emotions it produces. Our children are feeling the pressure as well, and view stress as a major component of their lives. It is important for us as educators, parents, and community members to teach our children that even though some situations are hard, there are ways to work through and de-stress.
A 2014 study by the American Psychological Association found that U.S. teens are more stressed out than adults. 30% of teens reported feeling sad or depressed because of stress, and 31% felt overwhelmed. Another 36% said that stress made them tired and 23% said it made them skip meals.
Although these statistics are alarming, there is hope. I recently read an article from the December 2018, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Education Update that identified the Five D’s of DESTRESSING. These strategies are vital skills that everyone can implement in their lives.
The first strategy is to Distract from It. Stress can instantly trigger fight, flight, or freeze, our bodies naturally want to regulate our hormones and bring us “back to normal.” This is where a distraction can help. Taking a 10-minute walk, engaging in a fun activity, or listening to your favorite music are just a few examples. When we engage in something else, it can shift our thoughts away from the stressful rumination and allow our bodies and brains a chance to regulate.
Deal with It is the second strategy. Although we struggle facing the issue or problem we are dealing with, sometimes it is necessary in order to find peace and relieve the stress. Stress management is defined as taking charge of lifestyle, thoughts, emotions, and the way you deal with problems. By dealing with the stress we can face the problem head-on and find ways to apply conflict resolution and look for a solution.
The third strategy is to Dispute your Distortions. Sometimes a stressful situation is made worse by our thought patterns. All-or-nothing thinking: something is either great or terrible, with no in-between, or letting one bad thought lead to another. Psychologist William James said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” If you find yourself in this situation it is important to recognize and reduce biased or distorted thinking.
Discuss It is the fourth strategy. Although it sounds simple, it really is one of the best possible things you can do. Talking with a supportive individual may provide new perspectives and ideas. This year, Sevier School District has hired five mental health specialists to work in our schools. These specialists will be a great resource and avenue for students who are trying to work through stressful situations.
The last strategy is Develop Frontal Control. The human brain is amazing and is built with an emotional control sector. It creates action to help you survive. Your frontal lobe-the logical processing sector- acts as the break pedal. It helps you evaluate your situation and take more rational action. Even though we can’t stop stress responses from activating, we can strengthen our ability to slow them down through deep breathing, mindful meditation, and other calming focus strategies, like counting backward from ten. When we practice these strategies, we are able to activate our emotional “brake pedal.”
Stress is a multi-faceted problem and can’t be entirely eliminated. Everyone including students, educators, parents and community members must acknowledge their role and work together to reduce it. It is vital to develop healthy habits, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving skills so that our students are able to face stressful situations with strategies for stress management and optimism for a bright future.
To stay up to date with initiatives and strategies that we are working on concerning emotional health and support, check out our webpage www.seviersd.org or follow us on social media. My Twitter handle is @CadeDoug.