why i love my job

 

Despite the many roles I play in life, I spend most of my days at a school.   With that comes moments of “are you sure you’re cut out for this line of work” only to be balanced  with “I am one of the fortunate ones to love the work I do“.  This often surprises me because I didn’t much like adolescence the first time so never would have guessed that I’d be working with this sub-species of humans.

Adolescence is a time of remarkable growth and change. As you may know, neuro-scientists, with the help of the MRI, have discovered that the teenage brain is still actively growing in complexity and efficiency. The most profound changes occur in the area that monitors judgement, decision-making, organization, impulse-control and, wait for it, emotion.  As if I needed to tell you that!

This is a terribly confusing but also incredible time for students, parents and teachers. The potential for unparalleled learning and deep connection is right there in that amazing mess called the adolescent mind.

But how do you reach students who, by their very wiring, struggle with self-regulation, question the value of learning how to learn, can’t quite seem to connect well with others or easily loses their way in the fog of anxious uncertainty?

The answer is with resilient support.

Resilience is the art of the elegant rebound. It means getting up at least one more time than you have fallen down. And this is precisely what the administration, faculty and staff do here at my school every day here. We reach out, share, coach, advise, explain, instruct, listen, inform, engage, encourage and, occasionally, we badger. But what we do not do, is give up.  Even against the odds.

No child is unreachable. No student is unteachable.

New neural connections in the teenage brain are being made all the time so we stay the course.  We witness the acts of bravado and fragility but trust that we will prevail if we compassionately continue to communicate the power:

• of developing the practical skills of ‘learning how to learn’ and organization

• of thinking deeply and reflectively about issues facing our community and world

• of cultivating self-awareness & self-care as a crucial springboard for compassionate relating

• of growing in radical self-responsibility

 

Resilience begins with these mighty basics. This level of resilient support is modeled and offered by our  whole community through:

 

the daily greeting of students at the front door by our principal each morning
teachers who know their students by name and most know siblings’ names, out-of-school extra-curricular activities and potentially even who the student is dating!
teachers who set high academic expectations but who also negotiate assignment extensions from a place of grace and understanding
• staff who tirelessly keep the wheels of this place moving day after day, creating a space conducive to community, learning and engaging with each other
guidance counsellors who sit with, walk alongside and dig deeper with students on key personal, academic and post-secondary issues
• a Resource Centre with a vision for grounding students in the life-long strategies of learning, helping students grow in academic self-confidence and provide academic accommodations to help all learners start the race of learning at the starting line

 

We don’t give up and we don’t go away.

Resilient support for students with brains and emotions in flux.  That is what we do here. All of us together.  And because we do this even when we face personal or corporate setbacks, this is why I love my job.

 

 

 

 

exercise science lesson plan

 

 

The Kinesiology class is also known as Grade 12 Exercise Science and my visit there was in the midst of their unit on the impact of stress and anxiety on athletic performance.

I began by dividing the students into two groups. Each group elected one member to participate in a small performance task on behalf of the group.

The task was to race against the other team’s elected student to the other end of the gym, step over a bench, grab a ball, step back over the bench and race back to the starting line. It was a simple task.

The students were ramped up by the ease of the task and ready to ace the race when I interrupted their early celebration with an additional last-minute requirement.

Each team was given five pieces of paper each having a “thought” written on it that might come into any mind in preparation for any performance. Before the race was allowed to begin, a team member had to read out each thought and the whole team had to determine whether or not it was a heavy thought or a light thought.

If the thought was heavy, their racer had to carry or put on a piece of equipment to represent the weight of the thought. The equipment included goalie pads, a medicine ball, glasses that obscured vision and a chest pad that restricted movement.

 

The heavy thoughts were:

Absolutely everything is on the line here!

 Messing up right now, especially in front of all these people, will be the worst thing
  that will ever happen to me!

I won’t be the least bit surprised if I fail at this. Things like this always happen to me!

I just need to be so much better than anyone else here or I will look like a total loser!

Nothing ever changes. I always mess up eventually!

 

One team intentionally got all the heavy thoughts and the other, the light.  This meant that one racer was eventually decked out in all the weighty equipment while the other had encouraging notes randomly taped to his body. It was clear by the facial reactions to the notes being read out that these were all-too recognizable thought patterns in this age group.

 

The light thoughts were:

What a great chance to play and participate! How cool is it that I can grow my skill set      and also learn from failure?

 How can I mess up too badly if the result I want is to make a real difference in the world by participating whole-heartedly in whatever I do?

 I’m incredibly grateful for some of the amazing things I’ve been able to accomplish so far.

Comparing myself to others is a losing proposition. As soon as I compare myself to someone else, I eliminate the joy of whatever I’m doing.

When I take the idea of “messing up” out of the equation, the only way to fail is to continue to choose to focus on how others see me instead of being true to myself.
Oddly, there was less recognition and even some eye-rolling when the light notes were read out.  Patterns run deep.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out how this experiment turned out. The racer who was weighted down and had movements restricted struggled to perform even a simple task while the racer easily completed the task with his notes blowing lightly in the breeze he created as he ran.

 

The demonstration led into a discussion about how our thoughts impact our ability to perform even if that performance is not an athletic task.

It came down to:

1. Your body does not know that your mind is having distorted thoughts.
2. So your body assumes your mind is right on the mark and reacts with anxiety.
3. Distorted thoughts need to be noticed then addressed.
4. This is a skill.
5. A skill that needs to be developed with practice.

 

Athletes practice for performances all the time. They have body conditioning programs, run drills and work hard to develop important key skills related to their sport through repeated repetition.

But are the physical practices enough because when we are made up of more than just the physical? What about mind training? What about developing that mastery over thoughts that wreak havoc on self-confidence and undermine the developed physical skills during performance. Mind training is crucial for challenging distorted thinking patterns and can be helpful for any type of performance.

I then instructed the students to remove their shoes and socks and led them through a walking meditation in the gym. To introduce the idea of practicing meditation to notice their mind’s compulsion to run off on some distorted tangent was the goal of the exercise.  And even if this was only a seed planted for most of the students, it was an incredible thing to see a whole class of senior students walking silently, paying attention to their feet touching the ground and beginning the process of recognizing distorted thoughts, one step at a time.