Making the Impossible Seem Possible

As a mom who raised two children I often thought about the many things I needed to be teaching them. Manners, kindness, empathy, volunteerism, hard work, resilience, teamwork, and of course, cleaning and hygiene. Hope was also high on my list of teachable items with my kids.

Hope is the feeling that what one desires WILL happen. Hope is a choice. It can be learned and shared. Best of all, it’s free and available to everyone. It doesn’t discriminate. If hope could speak, it would say, “The future will be better and I have the power to make it so!” With hope, we understand there are many paths to one goal, yet none of them are free of obstacles. Hope is the mindset that equips us to overcome those obstacles.

Hope, like oxygen, is essential to life. We simply can’t live without it. When we have it, it can carry us. When we don’t, it can suffocate us. It isn’t hard to see which kids are full of hope and which kids are grasping for it.

Hopeful kids are energetic and happier. They are more satisfied with life. They do better with things like academics and achievements in sports. Hopeful kids have better relationships. They can develop many strategies to reach goals and have backup plans should they face problems along the way. Obstacles are seen as challenges to overcome by seeking support and finding alternative strategies. They are more optimistic and they tell themselves, “I can do this. I won’t give up.” These students expect good outcomes and focus on success and because of it they experience greater positive affect. They are kids who don’t take failure personally. Instead, they use it to improve their performance next time.

In today’s world, hope isn’t just one of the things we need to impart to our kids. It is THE thing. Our kids are experiencing a mental health crisis today like nothing we’ve seen before. Living during a pandemic has created feelings of anxiety, stress, depression, isolation and hopelessness with an alarming number of kids.

The good news is that hope CAN BE cultivated even among students who are at risk for losing it. Developing hope is a process and kids who are currently hopeless can learn to be hopeful.

One of the first important steps in instilling hope with kids is to build a future focus with them. Encourage them to dream. Have them imagine their potential best selves. Let kids know that nothing is “off limits” for them to imagine for themselves in their future. Have them visualize a “big picture” for themselves and their future. Allow kids to draw pictures or write words that describe what they are visualizing. Have you ever heard that phrase, “If you can imagine it, then you can achieve it?” Let them imagine great BIG things for their future.

Imagination is powerful. Imagination creates your reality. What you imagine is what you believe to be true. What you believe to be true influences your actions. What you do creates your reality.

Corrina is a young woman who spent nights sleeping in a dumpster in a parking lot as a teenager and imagined life someday with a purpose beyond dumpster living. She imagined what she wanted her life to become. Take a moment to listen to Corrina’s story and how the power of imagination and hope created a life she describes today as being “glorious and triumphant!”

Encouraging your kids to imagine a life of “what could be” can make the impossible seem possible. Corrina’s story is an example of this.

I recently came across the “Imagine Journals” from The Imagine Project and have fallen in love with them. There is a journal for kindergartners, kids, teenagers and even adults! They can help to set the stage for imagining with your students. They are downloadable PDFs with fillable space for your students to type in which makes them a great resource for virtual sharing.

Imagine Journal – Kindergarten-Grades 2

Imagine Journal – Kids

Imagine Journal – Teens

Imagine Journal – Adults

Don’t let your kids’ story of “what was” or the current story of “what is” keep them from writing a new story of “what could be” in their future. Encouraging your kids to step outside themselves and imagine all the possibilities of “what could be” can have a powerful effect on “what becomes” in their future. Giving them the opportunity to imagine and write or re-write a new narrative to their story can move them from feeling anxious, stressed, lonely and sad to feeling hope and possibility!

There’s no downside to hope. With hope you believe tomorrow WILL be better. It makes your corner of the world seem better – especially during a pandemic. It makes the impossible seem possible.

Just Listen

The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Giving another person our attention is one of the most important things we can give another person. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything else but listen to them. Take them in. Listen to what they are saying and care about it. Caring about what they are saying is more important than understanding what they say.

Have you ever tried telling your story to another person only to be interrupted by them saying they once had something similar happen to them? Subtly, our story ends up being their story and our story ends with them.

We connect with others through listening. When we interrupt someone who is talking we move the focus of attention to ourselves. When we just listen, the focus stays on them and lets them know they and their story matters and that we care.

Listening isn’t easy. It’s something most of us need to learn. But, a loving silence has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.

Circles are the foundation of restorative practices. Restorative circles proactively build the trust students need to safely risk self-disclosure, confrontation, empathy and care with one another.

Circles are exactly what they are called. Students are arranged in a circle shape so that everyone can see every face while having a conversation with one another. Circles are where every student is equally important and has an equal voice. It’s where a student feels a sense of belonging, can speak from the heart and share personal experiences and stories and experience support from their peers. Circles also promote social skill building with the students, such as problem solving, communication, expression of feelings, thoughts and ideas and listening.

The benefit of Circles and the skills learned from them only happen with students when we, the teacher or facilitator, create the right environment for a Circle and model the skills needed for them to be effective. Most importantly, the skill of listening.

Here are 10 tips to help you become a better listener when facilitating a restorative practice Circle or simply having a one-on-one conversation with a student:

  • Stop Talking: “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” (Mark Twain) Don’t talk. Just listen. When a student is talking listen to what they are saying. Don’t interrupt them, talk over them or finish their sentences for them. Stop and just listen. When the student has finished talking you may need to clarify to ensure you have received their message accurately.
  • Prepare Yourself to Listen: Relax. Focus on the student. Put other things out of mind. The human mind is easily distracted by other thoughts. Concentrate on the messages that are being communicated.
  • Put the Student at Ease: Help the student feel free to speak. Remember their needs and concerns. Nod or use other gestures or words to encourage them to continue. Maintain eye contact, but don’t stare – show you are listening and understanding what is being said.
  • Remove Distractions: Focus on what is being said. Don’t doodle, shuffle papers, look out the window or pick your fingernails. These behaviors disrupt the listening process and send messages to the student that you are bored, distracted and not listening.
  • Empathize: Try to understand the student’s point of view. Look at issues from their perspective. Let go of preconceived ideas. By having an open mind we can more fully empathize with them. If the student says something that you disagree with wait and construct an argument to counter what is said, but keep an open mind to the views and opinions of others.
  • Be Patient: A pause, even a long pause, does not necessarily mean the student has finished. Be patient and let them continue in their own time. Sometimes it takes time to formulate what to say and how to say it. Never interrupt or finish a sentence for them.
  • Avoid Personal Prejudice: Try to be impartial. Don’t become irritated and let the student’s habits or mannerisms distract you from what is really being said. Everybody has a different way of speaking – some people are more nervous or shy than others, some make excessive arm movements, some people like to pace when talking and others like to sit still. Focus on what is being said and try to ignore styles of delivery.
  • Listen to the Tone: Volume and tone both add to what a student is saying. Let these help you to understand the emphasis of what is being said.
  • Listen for Ideas – Not Just Words: You need to get the whole picture, not just isolated bits and pieces. Maybe one of the most difficult aspects of listening is the ability to link together pieces of information to reveal the ideas of others. With proper concentration, letting go of distractions and focus this becomes easier.
  • Wait and Watch for Non-Verbal Communication: Gestures, facial expressions and eye-movements can all be important. We don’t just listen with our ears, but also with our eyes. Watch and pick up the additional information being transmitted via non-verbal communication.

In tomorrow’s webinar, “How To Successfully Bring Restorative Practices to Your Students”, you will have the opportunity to experience a Circle and practice your listening skills. You will also learn the steps you need to take to successfully integrate restorative practices, including Circles, into your school, community organization or agency. The webinar will also give you examples of how you can use restorative approaches and facilitate Circles virtually with students if meeting in-person isn’t an option.

and the value of tomorrow’s webinar increased even more with the addition of an additional guest presenter – Nicole Herrera! Nicole is a Social Emotional Learning Specialist for a middle school in Jefferson County Public Schools, located in the Denver area. She has four years of experience implementing restorative practices in a school setting. She is also a school district resource and hosts professional development training for restorative practices.

The combined experience and wisdom of Bill and Nicole makes this a webinar you don’t want to miss. Register today to ensure you have a seat reserved.

How you close a Circle is just as important as to how you open it. There are many ways to effectively close a Circle. One way is through silence. Everyone in the group holds a moment of silence and reflects silently on the process of the Circle or holds a moment of silence to hold each other in regard or to silently acknowledge each other. The students don’t talk. They just listen – to silence.

Registration is Now Open for “How To” Bring Restorative Practices to Your Students Webinar

A Denver third-grader named Luca sat down in a circle with his classmates and started a conversation like this: “If you were an animal for a day, based on your mood and feelings today, what animal would it be?”It was the best conversation, say classmates Ellie and Lina. “I said I’d be a monkey because I was feeling silly,” says Ellie. “And I said I’d be a panda!” says Lina. “Because I was feeling lazy and hungry, and pandas are lazy and they eat all the time!”

The point of the circle conversations, also known as “peace circles,” which take place every Monday morning in every classroom at the Denver elementary school of Luca, Ellie and Lina isn’t about giggles. The point is to build community and foster the kind of student-to-student and educator-to-student relationships that lead to supportive classrooms.“When you go to school here, you get to know each other,” says fifth-grader Trinity. “At my old school, we never got to know each other or to understand each other.”

Classroom circles are just one of the restorative practices the educators in this Denver elementary school have adopted over recent years. Many of their students also practice their conflict-resolution skills in “peace walks,” and get regular, positive feedback through daily one-on-one check-ins with dedicated, full-time restorative practices specialists on their campuses.

Often, this all takes place under the eyes of visiting educators who want to see and hear what happens in public schools where educators care more about creating a community built upon kindness and not consequences.

When visitors come to the elementary school the first thing they see is the “tone-setting” that takes place in all classrooms. In fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms, the teachers pull a chair to the front of their classrooms, sit down to face their students, and say, “Let’s get ready for the day,” with quiet huffs of deep, calm breathing and the faint strains of classical music.

The school’s restorative practices coordinator drew footprints and conversation prompts onto butcher paper that was eventually printed on dozens of vinyl tarps and distributed to classrooms, the playground and the cafeteria.

The way it works is both parties in conflict—either two students, typically K-3, or an adult and student—step onto the mat and engage in a guided conversation. It always begins with an “I feel” statement and ends with an agreed-upon plan to avoid future conflict.

Meanwhile, at a high school in the same school district, visitors observe students entering school, walking past a Black Music Matters poster through the front office, where staff smile and greet every student, asking about their weekends, or after-school activities or well-being. They do this intentionally so students see and feel the genuine level of care and love they have for their students.

The high school students also have hands-on involvement in school discipline, doing peer-mediation and low-level restorative conferencing. They even sit on employee interview committees and if they feel like a job candidate wouldn’t be a good fit on their campus, they say so.

Sound too idyllic to be real? Both the elementary and high school have been engaged in restorative practices for several years. The changes to their school’s culture have not come overnight and they require whole-school staff commitment—plus training, re-training and funding for dedicated restorative practice coordinators. But it can be done! If building real relationships with students is your top priority anything and everything is possible with restorative practices!

This is why I have invited restorative practices expert and national trainer, Bill Michener, back for the second in a series of webinars I am hosting on restorative practices. This free one-time only webinar will be Thursday, July 23, from Noon-1:15 pm EST.

In the first webinar of the series, Bill introduced us to the basics of restorative practices, along with the fundamental process and benefits of using them with students. In this Part 2 webinar, Bill will focus on “how to” effectively integrate restorative practices into your school, community organization or agency. He will also share stories and examples of how you can use restorative approaches virtually with students if meeting in-person isn’t an option for you right now. He will also facilitate restorative circles during the webinar – much like what the Denver elementary school models – so you can experience first-hand the power and influence they can have on students’ attitudes and behaviors.

Register TODAY to ensure you have a seat reserved. Space will be limited in this “how to” conversational webinar to give you ample opportunity to ask questions of Bill as he gives you step-by-step instructions on what you need to do to bring restorative practices to the students you serve. If you believe you need other colleagues and staff to hear this information with you and be part of the conversation, encourage them to join you in the webinar. I don’t want you to regret not having the support and help you need to put the steps you learn into action after the webinar!

I look forward to seeing you in Thursday’s webinar so you can take what sounds idyllic and turn it into a reality for your students!

IN CASE YOU MISSED THE FIRST WEBINAR ON RESTORATIVE PRACTICES…

“Bringing Restorative Practices to Your Students” Webinar – Part 1

Remembering the Profound Change that Occurred that Day

There were ten of us in a large room sitting in a ring of comfortable chairs encircling a large table. Late afternoon sunlight caught the red hair and freckles of a 15-year-old student (we’ll call her Sarah) as she tilted her head back slightly to keep tears from escaping.

This was my first Restorative Justice (RJ) Council and everyone at the table was sharing how they were affected by Sarah’s choice to drink on the student government weekend trip. Our principal had to call Sarah’s parents, drive her back to Seattle and miss a lot of the retreat. The 11th-grade student who facilitated this council meeting shared how alcoholism had affected his own family and the pain he felt seeing Sarah drunk. Sarah’s parents shared how scared they were to get a call from the principal in the middle of the night.

Sarah had her boyfriend there as a student ally. He wanted the group to know that she was a good person, that she has been depressed lately and that everyone makes mistakes when they are young.

When it came back around to Sarah, she said, “I never realized how many people I affected. I just thought I was hurting myself. I didn’t mean to mess up the trip. I was invited by student government as a guest and I disrespected everyone there. I shouldn’t have drank.”

Sarah was asked to further reflect on what she was thinking at the time of her decision, what she was feeling, as well as how she thought and felt about the event, now that some time had passed.

Then — and this was my favorite part of RJ — we were all asked to write down as many positive qualities about Sarah as we could think of and share them with her. These would serve as a reminder to her of her importance, her strengths, her contribution to our school community, as well as help us in creating three contract items for her to complete. These RJ contracts are a way for students to repair caused harm. In addition, they often help students avoid a suspension or other forms of traditional discipline.

During our circle time, we shared qualities that we saw in her – her creativity, leadership, abilities in math and science and her strength. She was no longer able to hold back her tears.

“I just thought you were all going to yell at me. Hearing how much you all see in me, I just feel like … I really let all of you down,” she said softly.

Sarah was presented with a way to repair some of the relationships that she had hurt. She and the rest of us brainstormed things she could do to eliminate the root causes of her harmful choices, heal relationships with fellow students and improve her chances of graduating on time…

The story about Sarah doesn’t end here. The story’s author, David Levine, who has been an educator in public high schools in Brooklyn and Seattle, as well as a restorative justice facilitator in the Bronx, has more of Sarah’s story to tell you.

But first, let’s talk more about what restorative justice is.

Restorative justice is about building community and strengthening relationships. It is based on the premise that when we feel part of a supportive community we respect others in that community and become accountable to it. Using a restorative approach means you care more about creating a community built upon kindness, mutual respect and compassion, rather than on consequences or punishment.

There is an increasing amount of literature speaking to the importance of using restorative justice approaches with students during this time of living with COVID-19. Because of how long this pandemic is likely to last, kids will experience negative effects from it. One way kids who are negatively impacted will self-identify themselves to you is through an array of “acting out” or negative behaviors. It is then that a restorative approach will be most needed by you.

In April I hosted the webinar, “Bringing Restorative Practices to Your Students”. The webinar’s expert presenter, Bill Michener, introduced several hundred webinar attendees to the basics of restorative practices, along with the fundamental process and benefits of using them with students. The webinar was well received! Since then I have heard from many attendees asking what they need to do to begin using restorative practices with their students.

I need to be honest. Making the transition to restorative approaches isn’t easy or quick. It takes time, skill and the commitment of all staff to embrace the approach. It requires a thoughtful, staged transition.

To help you thoughtfully think through this transition, I have invited Bill Michener to return for another FREE webinar next Thursday, July 23, from Noon-1:15 pm EST.

In this Part 2 webinar, Bill will focus on how to effectively integrate restorative practices in your school, community organization or agency. He will also share stories and examples of how you can use restorative approaches virtually with students if meeting in-person isn’t an option. Mark your calendar and reserve the time! Registration for this free webinar will open on Monday, July 20, with limited seating available. Look for the registration information in your Inbox on Monday.

Many who use restorative practices are struck by the power and influence they can have on everyone involved. David and Sarah would be the first to admit this.

When David asked Sarah to reflect on her experience with restorative justice, she wrote, “My experience was one of the most effective disciplinary approaches that I have ever been confronted with. It made me understand how my actions affected people not only directly, but how my actions set off a series of events. Seeing this reality and being given a second chance made me so thankful.”

“Ever since these events I have excelled in high school and have felt closer to my community and to the people I affected. To this day, when harm happens to me or my community I try to look at all sides of the story, express my emotions, listen to other people’s viewpoints and look for a positive outcome.”

David shares, “Restorative justice is messy, tough and personal. It is beautiful, rewarding and just. I have been part of this journey with many students since working with Sarah, yet I will always remember the profound change that occurred that day sitting in a circle as Sarah’s community, the afternoon sunlight cutting across the room, turning golden at dusk.”

P.S. You can still register for the online masterclass, “How to Have a Positive Influence on Your Students Years Later”, that I am teaching tomorrow from 2:00-5:00 pm EST. The class is hosted by Rainbow Days as part of their 2020 Virtual Summer Symposium. During the class I will reveal the five qualities a teacher or any adult needs if they want to have a positive influence on kids years later. I will be teaching specific proven methods you can use to help you develop these qualities and model them in your interaction with kids. Click here to register and be on your way to also earning three CEUs when you complete the class!

The Challenges of Crossing Things Off Your “To Do” List

If you read last week’s blog post, it probably wouldn’t surprise you if I said that I’m a sucker for a to-do-list. I make lists for everything. It’s really the only way I can get things done.

However, when my “to do” list is long and every task on it seems equally important, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. The stress of not being able to find a starting point can make me sometimes freeze in my tracks, resulting in me doing a whole lot of nothing.

During the past four months I’ve hosted webinars and written weekly blog posts about the important things you will want to consider doing as you welcome your students back after months of isolation and separation due to COVID-19. Last week’s blog challenged you to think about how you have used your time these past months to prepare for their return.

This past week, I compiled a list of what I and the webinar experts have recommended you do to prepare and this is what the “to do” list included:

  • Make all students feel welcomed.
  • Create a safe and caring environment for students to share their stories and voice their opinions and viewpoints with you and each other.
  • Give students hope and a vision of a positive future for themselves.
  • Give students a sense of belonging and establish positive relationships among them.
  • Have high expectations for all students.
  • Build a community of support, mutual respect, trust and compassion, rather than on consequences and punishment.
  • Ensure each student is in a positive relationship with at least one important adult in their life.
  • Build students’ resilience from engaging in risky behaviors.
  • Address the social, mental and emotional needs of your students.

After I made this “to do” list I sat back and read it. I could feel a sense of overwhelmingness get the better of me as I read each item. Even more overwhelming was knowing the list could be even longer!

I was also in a quandary of how to even begin prioritizing the list to find a starting point when every task seems just as important as the next one.

Personally, I have found that much of the satisfaction of having a “to do” list is being able to cross things off the list as I complete them. It became obvious to me that many of the above tasks won’t be accomplished quickly or easily. It could take months or longer before some of the tasks could be crossed off. Just knowing this felt somewhat debilitating.

I was also struck by the potential challenges and questions that come with carrying out each of the tasks. Perhaps you have asked yourself the same questions as I found myself asking:

  • What have I been doing that is helpful and I need to continue doing?
  • What do I need to do differently?
  • What new programs or approaches do I need to invest in and implement
  • Do I have the funding to do what I need to do?
  • Do I have the staffing capacity and proper training to effectively execute the tasks?
  • How can I get the buy in from everyone whose support will be needed?

As the saying goes, “It’s easy to give advice, but it’s harder to take it.” I realized this past week that it’s been easy to tell you what to do, but harder than I thought to actually do it. (Sorry!) It requires time, money, resources, training and a well-thought out plan. It also requires something of you (and me!) – commitment, patience, persistence, open-mindedness, effort and the right attitude.

We can talk about what we should do or want to do, but it doesn’t really matter if we never do it. I’m guilty of doing this myself. I’ve had tasks on my personal “to do” list that have been carried over for as many as three years! If they are important enough to stay on my “to do” list that long, then why haven’t I accomplished them yet? The reason usually comes down to 1) not knowing where to start, 2) overcoming the challenges of doing the tasks and/or 3) lacking the motivation and commitment to do the work that needs to be done.

In the coming weeks, I am going to pivot my coaching, consulting and training from “what you need to do” to “how you can do it.” My weekly blog, along with masterclasses and trainings I plan to host, will focus on how to overcome the challenges and answer the questions you have that are keeping you from getting started on the “to do” list. I am committed to helping you find a starting point that leads you to eventually crossing items off the list. My goal is to help you be as prepared as you can be for your students when they return to you!

One learning opportunity you can take advantage of right now is the online masterclass, “How to Have a Positive Influence on Your Students that Lasts for Years.”

I will be teaching this online course Thursday, July 16, from 2:00-5:00 pm EST. The class is hosted by Rainbow Days as part of their 2020 Virtual Summer Symposium. During the class I will reveal the five qualities a teacher or any adult needs if they want to have a positive influence on kids years later. I will be teaching specific proven methods you can use to help you develop these qualities and model them in your interaction with kids. Click here to register and be on your way to also earning three CEUs when you complete the class! There’s even better news…taking the methods you learn in this class and using them with your students could potentially cross off up to 7 of the nine tasks on the “to do” list!

So, take a deep breath and let’s dive in! Let’s do the work, together, and start crossing things off the “to do” list! WE can DO this!

P.S. I am looking for individuals,schools or organizations who have successfully integrated restorative practices into their work with kids. Might this be you? I would love to visit with you, hear your story and include it in a webinar I will be hosting on Thursday, July 23. Message me!

Are You “Winging It?”

One of the biggest challenges I have had to overcome as a blogger is knowing what to write about every week. I value my followers, like you, and I want to write about what is important to you and the work you do with kids and families.

In my early days of blogging I discovered the importance of having a well thought out plan. At the beginning of every new year, I strategically plan what my blog topics will be every week in the coming year. The process starts with brainstorming at least 52+ topic ideas, writing each one on a sticky note and plastering them on my office wall. Then, the hard part begins – choosing the final 52 topics and arranging each one by the week it will be featured.

Like all previous years, this is how 2020 started for me. I had my weekly blogging plan and was faithfully following it every week…until…the coronavirus hit in mid-March. I remember sitting at my computer on Monday, March 16, and staring at the screen for what seemed liked hours without typing one word.

For the previous six weeks I had written about the most effective strategies research recommended to delay the onset of risky behaviors with middle school students. I had already written about four of the five strategies – idealism, normative beliefs, personal commitment and parent/adult attention – and was scheduled to write about the final and fifth strategy – bonding. I ended up not writing anything on that Monday. I didn’t write anything on Tuesday, March 17, either. Then, on Wednesday, March 18, the day I was scheduled to post my blog, I forced myself to sit down at my computer and start typing. The post ended up being titled, Shake Up.”

In the blog post I somehow found a way to write about my scheduled topic of “bonding” while also linking it to what was going on in the world at the time. However, that was the last topic I wrote about that was in my original plan for 2020.

Recently, I went back to re-read the blog posts I have written since March 18. When I read the posts the three weeks following March 18 it brought back memories of the stress, anxiety and confusion I was experiencing at the time. I remember “winging it” when it came to writing my blog. I had no plan from one week to the next and found myself floundering and reacting to what was currently happening in the world. But, in hindsight, it’s of no surprise. We were all “winging it” at that time.

Fast forward to April 22 and things began to change. I began to get more clarity and focus. The future was by no means crystal clear, but it was becoming more obvious that COVID-19 was going to stick around long-term, closures were going to last for months, “going back to normal” was now history and physical isolation and sheltering at home would take its toll on kids and families.

I had a renewed vision for how I could respond and it required me to make changes, explore new options, learn new information and step outside of my comfort zone. I put the original blog plan for 2020 aside and committed to creating a new plan. Out came the sticky notes again and a new schedule was created on my office walls.

I was no longer “winging it” when it came to writing every week. I had a plan and I was writing again with an intention and a purpose. And, it all started with my blog post, Will You Respond or React, on April 22. Here is an excerpt from that post:“Anticipating and preparing for the issues and needs kids and parents will have when they walk through your doors again is one of the most important things you can be doing right now. Now is the time to get yourself, your staff and your organization ready to respond. If you don’t think or plan ahead now, you will find yourself in a state of reaction later. What you do in the days and weeks to come will determine whether you respond or react. Take time to learn all you can about the immediate and long-lasting effects living through this pandemic can have on kids. Stretch the limits of your abilities and engage in learning new methods and skills that will better serve your students and families. Push the boundaries of your creative capacities and “think outside the box” when it comes to new programs, curricula and services you may need to offer. Be ready to re-think, re-learn, re-evaluate, re-flect, re-invest and re-spond.”

Ten weeks have passed since this blog was written. During this time, I’ve written ten new blog posts and hosted three webinars with the intention of helping you anticipate the needs of your kids when they return to your school or organization and developing a plan on how you will respond to those needs.

As I wrote in my April 22 post, “What you do in the days and weeks to come will determine whether you respond or react.”

So, I must ask…What have you done these past ten weeks to prepare for your kids? The time is getting closer, or perhaps it’s come already, for the day when you will be reunited with your kids either in-person or virtual. Is your response plan ready?

If there’s one thing I have learned since March 18, it’s the importance of having a plan – even if it’s a revised plan. I’m reminded of this every day as I look at my wall of sticky notes and each week a new blog post is written. Today, I remove another sticky note after I publish this blog post, asking…

Giving you ALL my best,

Kathleen

P.S. If you’re wondering how you can address the multiple needs your kids will have because of COVID-19 in the most cost-efficient and effective way, tune in to next Thursday’s free webinar at Noon EST. Registration opens on Monday, July 6. Message me if you would like to receive the webinar invitation.

P.S.S. I will also be hosting Part 2 of the webinar, “How to Bring Restorative Practices to Your Students”, with national trainer, Bill Michener, on Thursday, July 23, at Noon EST. I’m currently looking for guest panelists for the webinar who have successfully integrated restorative practices into their work with kids. Might this be you? Message me!

The Best “Welcome Back” Gift You Can Give

Do kids experience trauma? Can the effects be long-lasting? Can trauma be treated? Can kids be happy again after experiencing trauma? The answer to all of these questions is, “Yes”!

Trauma is actually quite common among kids. In a groundbreaking research project called, The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied over 17,000 participants in the San Deigo, CA, area. Participants were given a questionnaire asking if they had experienced any difficult childhood events, such as a death in the family, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, parent imprisonment or similar events. Surprisingly, this study found that over 50% of all kids experience at least one traumatic event before the age of 17! It’s important to note that the study was conducted on primarily white, middle-class participants. In areas where there are high amounts of crime, poverty, or drugs, the incidence of trauma in kids can be as high as 100%!

I have to wonder then…If we surveyed ALL elementary, middle school and high school aged students today, what percentage of them would report having already experienced a traumatic event in their life?

I think the percentage would be much higher than 50%. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was close to 100%.

Why wouldn’t this surprise me? Because we are ALL experiencing life with COVID-19.

A traumatic event can be defined as exposure to actual or threatened injury or death. COVID-19 is all of that – for all of us – even kids. COVID-19 has threatened our sense of security, safety and life.

Any experience can be traumatic when it triggers a stress response and is difficult to understand, process or cope with. The COVID-19 pandemic exasperated stressors already present in families, as well as created new stressors where none existed previously. Families have been struggling with so many uncertainties. Will I keep my job? Where will the next meal come from? Will we have enough money for the next rent or mortgage payment? How can I access and afford healthcare if I need it?

Sometimes we tend to think of trauma as a single event. However, for some kids, trauma can be recurring, such as being bullied day after day, witnessing frequent intense arguments, experiencing abuse in the home or seeing repeated violence in their neighborhood, the media or online. With families sheltering at home 24/7 for months, it has been almost impossible for some kids to escape the recurring traumatic events happening within their home.

As you prepare to welcome kids back to your school or organization you should expect each of them to be in a different stage of recovery from the traumatic experience of living with COVID-19. All of us respond to trauma in different ways.

Many of us show resilience and won’t develop long-term emotional, mental or physical problems after experiencing a traumatic event. Some of your kids will not have succumbed to the traumatic experiences, risks or hardships of COVID-19.

There will be other kids whose traumatic experience with COVID-19 will diminish greatly the minute they walk through your doors and into an environment of familiarity, structure, safety and support. However, there will also be kids walking through the same doors who will bring traumatic experiences from COVID-19 with them.

Having a trauma-sensitive environment or community your kids walk into on the first day and every day thereafter is so important. A trauma-sensitive community helps kids overcome negative feelings of a traumatic experience and diminishes the severity of it long term.

Trauma can cause feelings of disconnection for kids and it can undermine their overall success. Creating a trauma-sensitive community in which all your kids feel safe, welcomed and supported is important and requires you to build it on the following principles:

  • Trustworthiness and transparency
  • Peer support and mutual self-help
  • Collaboration and mutuality
  • Empowerment, voice and choice
  • Consideration, recognition and provision for cultural, historical and gender issues

Creating this kind of a community doesn’t happen quickly or easily. It requires care, commitment, collaboration and consistency by everyone in your organization. It is critical that kids feel safe and connected in all parts of your organization and not just in one program or with one teacher or staff person.

What kind of a community will your kids walk into when they come through your doors again? Will they feel safe, welcomed and supported by everyone in your organization? Welcoming your kids back to a trauma-sensitive community is one of the best “welcome back” gifts you can give all of them. It’s also one of the best gifts your organization can invest in.

Giving you ALL my best,

Kathleen

P.S. How Trauma-Informed Schools Help Every Student Succeed is a great article about what being a trauma-sensitive and informed school/organization means and requires. I encourage you to give it a read. Note in the article how integral restorative practices are to any trauma-sensitive approach. If you didn’t attend the webinar, Bringing Restorative Practices to Your Students, I hosted in April you will want to watch the replay of it. I would also recommend you reach out to the webinar presenter, Bill Michener, the national independent licensed trainer of restorative practices, to discuss how you can incorporate restorative practices into your trauma-sensitive community.

How Well Would You Pass the Test

If you were asked to identify up to 14 different vaping devices hidden in plain sight among a classroom of students, how confident are you that you could identify all of them? Would you know what to look for?

When you read or hear that kids have new ways to hide their vaping habits anywhere they go, including in school, at home, in public places, it’s true. Kids are vaping in plain sight and most adults don’t even know it.

If you are a parent who has been sheltering at home with a middle or high schooler these past months, vaping could be happening right under your roof without you even realizing it. If you are a teacher, coach, youth worker or anyone who engages with adolescents, you could also be unaware of the vaping that is taking place right in front of you.

I’m hosting a free webinar tomorrow from Noon-1:15 pm EST, called, “Youth, Vaping & E-Cigarettes: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.

If you’re wondering if it would be worth your valuable time or you will learn anything new by registering for the webinar, I highly encourage you to take this test to help you make your decision…

The Today Show on NBC featured a story last October where they put parents and teachers to the test to see if they could find vaping devices that were in plain sight among a classroom of high school students. Take a moment to watch the featured story by clicking on the image below and see how many of the hidden devices you are able to identify.

So, how many of the hidden devices were you able to identify? Did you do “as well” as the parents and the teachers did in the story? If so, then maybe your decision as to whether you should register for tomorrow’s webinar on youth and vaping has been made.

I look forward to seeing you in the webinar.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Every January I turn to the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey results to see what the national trends were with adolescent substance use over the past year. Since 1975, the MTF study has been conducted annually by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

I’ve seen a lot of trends with different substances over the past 30+ years of reviewing MTF studies – trends that primarily showed a decrease in use while other trends raised some concerns.

This past January I read the summary of the 2019 MTF survey which involved about 42,500 students in 8th, 10th and 12th grades enrolled in 396 secondary schools nationwide. I was a bit more prepared for the 2019 results than when I read the 2018 report a year earlier. From 2017 to 2018, increases in adolescent vaping were the largest EVER recorded in the past 43 years for any adolescent substance use outcome in the United States! So, not surprisingly, from 2018 to 2019, the vaping continued its dramatic increase.

Vaping involves the inhalation of aerosols (sometimes including nicotine) using battery-powered devices such as e-cigarettes, “mods,” Juuls and e-pens. Starting in 2017, the MTF study asked about the vaping of three specific substances – nicotine, marijuana and just flavoring. Here’s a quick summary of the trends seen in vaping all three substances from 2017 to 2019:

  • Only vaping “just flavoring” showed significant decreases in 2019 in all three grades.
  • Over the two-year interval from 2017 to 2019, 30-day prevalence of vaping marijuana doubled or tripled in all three grades. For example, it rose from 4.9% in 2017 to 14.0% in 2019 among 12th graders.
  • Vaping nicotine also showed sharp increases over the same interval, with 30-day prevalence more than doubling in all three grades, rising from 11.9% in 2017 to 25.5% in 2019 among 12th graders. Given that nicotine is involved in most vaping this presents a serious threat to the hard-won progress we have tracked since the mid-1990s in reducing cigarette smoking among adolescents.

These survey results were concerning to me in January, but they became even more concerning when COVID-19 hit our country in March. In the beginning of the pandemic, it was believed young people were not at risk for the virus and if they did contract it, would likely experience few complications because of it. But, as time went on, an increasing number of serious coronavirus cases, involving young people, were being reported.

This is when it struck me that our adolescents ARE at serious risk for the coronavirus, especially those who vape or smoke. Numerous studies indicate that vaping, like smoking, inflames and damages the lungs. If teens have underlying lung damage from vaping, and get the coronavirus on top of that, the outcome is not going to be positive.

With the pandemic keeping many of us sheltering at home these past three months, it put teens who vape in a difficult predicament. How could they continue to secretly vape while at home 24/7? How could they access vaping products? Unfortunately, kids who were willing to work hard could still get vaping products, and for some, this meant leaving the house and potentially exposing themselves to COVID. Just being isolated during the past months has increased anxiety, stress and depression for many of us and for adolescents, its enough of a reason for some to start vaping or use more than they were before.

For other teens, COVID-19 has been the catalyst for them to quit vaping, whether they wanted to or not. However, the question remains to be answered, “Will they resume vaping when they leave their home and are among friends again who still vape?”

Even more concerning to me is whether parents know when their child is vaping. Parents and other adults kids are living with will continue to be on the front lines in the months to come and in the best position to recognize if their child is vaping. The question is, “Do they know how to identify vaping use?” Kids have become so savvy and secretive in their vaping practices that even I, a substance use prevention professional, might not even be able to identify when it’s happening.

As you prepare your response and readiness plan for the return of kids to your schools and programs, you need to address two things: 1) You and all your staff need to be prepared to recognize vaping among kids and 2) Help parents identify vaping use with their kids at home.

I feel so strongly about these two things that I want to be of help to you in addressing them. So, mark your calendar for a free webinar I am hosting next Thursday, June 18, from Noon-1:15 pm EST, called “Youth, Vaping and E-Cigarettes: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” I was an attendee of this webinar in January and I learned SO MUCH! I know you will, too. Registration for the webinar opens on Monday, June 15. If you would like to receive the registration email in your Inbox on Monday, please message me at kathleen@knslearningsolutions.com. Plan to register early as there is a cap on the number of participants for this webinar. And, be sure to share the invitation with your staff and the parents of your students!

COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon and vaping among adolescents isn’t likely going to decrease quickly either. So, if you want to reduce kids’ risk for the coronavirus one of the best things you can do is keep them from compromising their lungs by vaping. It starts by registering for next week’s webinar and learning the good, the bad and the ugly of vaping. I promise…it will pay off.

A Summer Like No Other Summer

I’m a day late with my blog. But, for good reason. I just returned from visiting my 88 and 89-year-old parents who still live on the family farm and who I haven’t seen or been with since COVID-19 hit in early March. I had to quarantine for 14 days before my visit due to my dad being a dialysis and cancer patient. After spending fourteen days alone in my home, followed by three days in the beautiful, quiet, peaceful countryside, I am more relaxed, focused and energized than I have been for a long time. It’s actually been a life-impacting experience for me.

The serenity of the family farm

Time was the gift I was given during my quarantine at home and visit to the farm. Being free of interruptions and distractions for 17 days, gave me the time to think about things that typically get pushed aside in my mind because I’m moving on to another task or I’m rushing off somewhere. I had numerous “a ha” moments these past several weeks. One of them came just a few days ago when I turned my calendar from May to June.

It struck me that moving from May to June is usually a time when we think of the end of a school year and the beginning of summer break for kids. There’s typically a feeling of excitement and anticipation making this transition. There might be plans for spending time in the pool or on the beach with friends, going to the ballpark for games, attending county fairs, visiting amusement parks, participating in summer camps, taking vacations and enjoying outdoor parties – just to name a few. Summertime means less structure, more time with friends and less adult supervision for kids. It’s a welcomed and fun time of the year for many kids and adults alike.

But, transitioning from May into June this year didn’t bring me that same kind of excitement and anticipation of summer like it normally does. After thinking more deeply about it I realized that summer break actually started 2 ½ months ago for kids and parents. It’s no wonder the normal feelings associated with moving into June weren’t there for me.

With the shutdown of schools, afterschool activities and extracurricular activities in early March, due to COVID-19, kids have been experiencing free and unstructured time since then. However, the time has been spent primarily in their home with family and not with friends. Adult supervision in the home has likely varied depending on whether parents were quarantined or working from home. Studies also indicate kids are already reporting an increase of boredom, anxiety and stress over the past several months.

Why is this so concerning, especially today, on June 4? Because summer hasn’t even officially started yet and the normal concerns of summertime with kids could very well have started months ago. Historically, summertime means an increased likelihood for kids to be exposed to substance use. Research has shown for many years that alcohol and drug use among adolescents significantly increases during the summer months. Studies show that during the months of June and July, teens are more likely to begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol. By the end of August, nearly one million teens will have tasted their first drink of alcohol. On an average summer day, approximately 4,500 youth will smoke cigarettes or marijuana for the first time.

While the risks of substance use and experimentation is possible any time of the year with kids, the drastic increase during the summer months can be contributed to several factors:

· More free and unstructured time

· Less adult supervision

· Accessibility to substances in the home

These factors have been present in most kids’ lives since mid-March and could continue for an additional 2 ½-3 months, inceasing the risk even more for substance use. With COVID-19 restrictions expected to continue and many typical summer activities being canceled, life isn’t going to change much for kids from what it is or has been. So, if kids are reporting being bored, anxious and stressed now, how will they be feeling in the months to come? And, it doesn’t help that some of the reasons kids give for using substances under normal circumstances is because they are bored, anxious and stressed.

Common sense and experience tell me we need to prepare for a spike in substance use with kids this summer unlike what we see during normal summertime. As you prepare a readiness response plan for the return of your kids to school and other activities in the coming months, it will be important to consider implementing proven substance use prevention and intervention approaches or at least re-evaluate the practices you were using before the pandemic. What worked prior to COVID-19 may not be what’s most effective now.

In some ways, it’s hard to believe it’s already June, and in other ways, it seems like the last few months have lasted forever. I’m sure it feels that way for many kids and parents, too. The extended “summer break” they are experiencing, coupled with all the current challenges and stressors of COVID-19, could make for a summer like no other summer. The challenge for you and I is…”How can we make it a summer free of substance use?”