The Joy of Boys

Joy of Boys

     Boys bring a certain level of verve to any setting. Day or night, they are ready for action and movement. Boys have a natural curiosity that fuel their hunger for learning about our wonderful world. They instinctively want to experience their environments in a kinesthetic fashion and are never truly satisfied with a “because I said so” answer to their questions. In short, they are explorers and doers of the best kinds. Relentless in their search for adventure and always ready for a good ole’ ruckus. I know this is true not because I was a boy, but because I am the mother of two young boys, 8 and 4 years old. Maurice Sendak was never more honest and true when he penned the sentences “Let the wild rumpus start” and “Inside all of is a Wild Thing”. Sendak had such a knack for channeling the essence of our boy explorers!

     Knowing that these are the hallmarks of healthy, growing boys why is it so many schools struggle to educate boys in a fashion that engage their full selves and optimize their many innate talents and characteristics? Below are my ideas for answering this question based on my own learning and experience as a mother and educator and a recent interview I participated in with Ruth Morhard and Richard Hawley, both experts and gifted authors on this topic of educating boys.

When teaching boys please remember…

Play is Their Work                                                                                                                      What may look like a simple act of play is a boy’s way of working out the intricacies of their ever expanding world. They need space to explore and opportunities to make messes, pretend, be loud, crash things, interact with peers, and imagine. Their job is to wonder, our job as the adults in their lives is to nurture their wonder and help provide outlets for their wonderings to expand. How and where can we offer increased opportunities for play in our schools, not just for boys, but all students?

Build, Destroy, Rebuild, & Repeat                                                                                                    I recently learned a new word: Thinkering! This concept is based on the book by Michael Michalko Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. Thinkering experiences are the kind of learning experiences boys crave at school! Boys are often on a quest to know how things work. They figure this out by employing the tried-and-true Build, Destroy, Rebuild cycle. Their visual-spatially bent minds crave experiences where they can put together and take apart. In a school setting, this can look like providing open ended time for building with blocks, creating in a pretend and play station, putting together and taking apart puzzles, construction and deconstruction opportunities with mixed materials, and maker-space experiences.

Relationships are Their X-Factor                                                                                             Show me you care and I’ll care about what you know! This is true for any person, be it a child or an adult, but it is essential for growing and developing boys in educational settings. Think of it this way, educators must build a relationship with a boy to open their avenues for learning. On a practical level, this looks like getting on their level (literally getting down, on the floor with them), engaging them in activities that are preferred for them, and really listening and responding to their ideas, questions, and needs. Nurture a respectful relationship with a boy and he will let you mold and teach him for a lifetime!

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What tips, ideas, and strategies do you employ to capture the hearts and minds of the boys in your world?

Learning & Leading, Heidi

*This blog post was inspired by a recent pod-cast conversation “Getting Boys to Love School” I had with Rae Pica, founder and host of BAM! Radio Network’s Studentcentricity,  Ruth Morhard, author of Wired to Move, and Richard Hawley, co-author of Reaching Boys/Teaching Boys. The topic of our pod-cast is “Ensuring Success for Boys”. 

 

 

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Engaging Parents as Partners

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It could be said, “We do what we do because of them” for if there were no parents there would be no students to nurture and teach in our collective schools. Yet why is engaging parents often posed an afterthought or a good idea to be explored or tried when other strategies are exhausted. I would like to assert that building parental partnerships is one of the most critical things we do as schools.

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Admittedly, there are barriers to parental engagement, but the benefits outweigh the barriers every time! I would like to explore the benefits to engaging parents as partners.

  • Parents are a child’s first teacher and are critical to supporting their child’s social and academic growth. When parents and schools interact as partners, both parties have the green light to enhance what the other is teaching. Student success is catapulted as parents are empowered fulfil their role as their child’s first teacher.
  • Without parental partnerships, the school’s influence with students is automatically lessened, but with it student learning and growth has the opportunity to multiply exponentially. It is the school’s responsibility to empower parents to take a front seat role in their child’s education. Schools are obligated to create front door opportunities to provide parent learning experiences throughout the school year. My school puts on quarterly afterschool IMPACT (Importance of Parents and Children Together) events where parents and children experience a fun, carnival like atmosphere while participating in carefully designed activities that align to our state Pre-K guidelines. These IMPACT events empower parents because they go home with free educational materials and ideas of how to continue fostering joyful learning in their homes in natural ways. (Learn more about my school’s IMPACT events.)
  • When parents engage as partners, the community at large is brought together and connections are strengthened. Think about what happens in the brain when neural paths are created and strengthened. The more use the path gets, the stronger the bond, and the more automatic the neural response or skill becomes. The same principle is true for a community. All entities benefit when the bonds between families, communities, and schools are strengthened. Unfortunately, many families are increasingly disconnected from traditional extended family and community bonds. The school should and can be the heart of its community. I propose that a supportive school culture is a critical variable for supporting students, strengthening families, and bringing communities together.
  • Engaged parental partners are positive advocates for their child’s education. They lovingly embrace their child’s school and advocate for better; better schools, better learning for their children, and better communities at large. As engaged advocates, this parental stance is one of collaboration and shared partnership as opposed to an adversarial stance that can poison progress and relationships.

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How does your school engage parents and partners? What are the persistent and creative ways your school does this? The benefits of engaging parents outweigh succumbing to the barriers any day! When parents are engaged as partners, there is a rightness of the world that is not found in our school communities in any other more profound way.

Serving together, Heidi

*For more on the topic of “Engaging Parents as Partners” check out Participate Learning’s archives of resources compiled from the 12/19/15 #LeadUpChat that my good friend Nancy Alvarez and I co-hosted/moderated.

Love Them, Reach Them, Teach Them

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      The social-emotional growth of early childhood students should be a top priority for every early childhood educator. On my campus, we believe that social-emotional learning trumps academic learning any day of the week for our early childhood students. And this goes double for a child facing adversity! Self regulation skills are not something that a child naturally develops without intentional shaping and guidance from the influential adults in their lives, and gone are the days when schools are responsible for only teaching academic subjects. Early childhood educators have a unique responsibility to teach the vital skills associated with self regulation.

      In the specific context of children facing adversity, social emotional learning is their lifeline of hope for a healthy emotional future. A child coming from an at-risk setting cannot only be seen as at-risk for academic failure. They are at-risk for difficulties far beyond not “passing the test”. These are students who can display erratic and unsafe behavior, tantrum for seemingly no reason, display extreme self regulation deficits, hurt the very people trying to help them, lack empathy, and withdraw from the world. Any or all of these behaviors are possible for a child facing adversity. I’m reminded of the truth that a hurting child, and in need of love, will often ask for it in the most unloving of ways.

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      What are teachers of our youngest and most vulnerable students to do when working with students facing adversity? I would like to suggest a few critical ideas for building the educator’s tool box.

      The educator must first and foremost cultivate a relationship with a child facing adversity.  The teacher has to learn the student’s likes and dislikes, their triggers, their needs, and their nuances. The teacher does this by spending time with the child, giving them one-on-one attention, and noticing changes in their lives.

      Next, the educator should directly teach a wide variety of social-emotional skills. I strongly believe one of the most powerful things a teacher can do is to equip an at-risk child with social-emotional skills in the face of the stresses and struggles of their lives. This could look like role playing, using social stories, group lessons, playing purposeful games, using puppets, sharing songs, and other social-emotional learning experiences. Consider implementing a curriculum such as Second Steps because it serves as a comprehensive, solid Tier 1 resource for social-emotional learning in a classroom setting.

      Thirdly, I suggest tapping into the team of responsive adults that surrounds the at-risk student. Bring together those who can collaborate to find solutions to the unique problems that a child facing adversity can face. Together, the team has access to resources, pulls on experiences, and can support the both the child, the family, and the classroom teacher.

      Last of all, as educators, we must cultivate a growth mindset. This looks like continuing to learn about the needs of traumatized or at-risk students. Read articles, attend conferences, participate in (free) webinars via edWeb.net or Early Childhood Investigations Webinars (ECE Webinars has a free webinar coming up on December 16, 2015 specifically about SEL and facilitating resilience and inclusive culture), connect with experts, listen to podcasts (check out the podcast that inspired this post: Teaching Students Who Face Adversity Beyond Your Experience), and learn from any opportunity that comes your way.  A book I would highly suggest reading is The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz. This insightful book chronicles real stories of children raised in the most traumatizing situations imaginable and how they transformed despite their dire circumstances. Bridging the Relationship Gap:Connecting with Children Facing Adversity by Dr. Sara E. Langworthy “provides caregivers tools and encouragement to be the strong, positive, and nurturing adult these children need in order to thrive” (Amazon summary). Dr. Ruby Payne’s renowned book A Framework for Understanding Poverty is, in my opinion, an essential read for any educator working with student’s specifically dealing with the adverse effects of poverty in their lives.  

A child's current reality may be dire, but their future is not yet determined. @vealheidijhveal.com (3)

      The truth is, children facing adversity come to us having experienced things no grown adult should have to endure, and our obligation is to love them, reach them, and tech them. We bridge relationships by responding to their needs instead of reacting, teaching them replacement behaviors and skills instead of punishing, and meeting their needs from a heart of compassion instead of making assumptions. Their current reality may be dire, but their future is not yet determined. Who will join me in my commitment to love, reach, and teach?

Serving together, Heidi Veal