Wednesday, February 21, 2018

When Bad Things Happen: Tips for Parents and Educators


When Bad Things Happen

Tips for parents and educators on talking to kids about the unthinkable and inevitable events in life

April 16, 2015
A small girl holds onto a teddy bear
How might you convince your 8-year-old that it’s safe to return to school the day after a bomb scare? Or persuade a slightly older child that their risk of contracting Ebola is slim to none, despite what they’ve heard from peers at school?
Worse yet, how do you assuage a child’s fears in the wake of a horrific event like the Boston Marathon bombing — the kind of story that dominates local news and traumatizes not just children but entire communities? 
“These can be complicated, tough conversations to have, but they’re essential,” says psychologist Richard Weissbourd, a senior lecturer at HGSE and HKS and co-director of the Making Caring Commonproject.
Our 24/7 news culture — in conjunction with easily accessible iPads, cell phones, and televisions — provides a window to events that both children and adults grapple to understand. And when bad things happen on the world’s stage, such as the attacks of September 11 or the Marathon bombing, Weissbourd says it is very natural and healthy for children to bring up questions at home or in the classroom.
“I think when events happen like the Marathon bombing, children, like the rest of us, need to wrap their minds around it,” says Weissbourd. “They’re seeing images and hearing stories that are hard to absorb.”
Decisions about what to say, and what not to say, should be guided by a child’s developmental age, says Weissbourd. Among his tips for parents and educators:
  1. It’s important to listen to children to begin to understand how they understand the trauma. “What you’re scared about, as an adult, may not be what they’re scared about … and this is likely to be different for children at different developmental ages.” In a classroom setting, Weissbourd says having a school therapist present can also prove helpful.
  2. Prepare to answer the “why” questions that will inevitably come. Weissbourd says children are inclined to ask, for example, “Why did these Marathon bombers do this?” They’re owed an explanation, he says, but the answer should be tailored to a child’s age. “It’s hard for a 4- or 7-year-old to understand terrorism, but an adolescent can have that conversation. For a 7-year-old, you might say, ‘There are bad people in the world, but there are lots of people who are protecting us from bad people.’” Weissbourd's message is further reinforced within parenting resources available on the Mr. Rogers website, including a quote from the late Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of  ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” 
  3. Protect your child from seeing traumatic visual images over and over again. “You don’t want your child to get re-triggered,” says Weissbourd, mentioning the extensive, recurrent footage after 9/11 of the airplanes hitting the World Trade Center in New York City. This goes for adults, too, who should also “protect themselves from being re-traumatized.”
  4. Develop a safety plan with your child, or for your classroom. Weissbourd uses the example of the Boston Marathon bombing and its potential impacts. “If a child is scared about being in crowds or being in downtown Boston, try to think about how a child might do these things and still be safe.” Among his suggestions: talk to the child about safety in groups, or provide a phone number to call should they need encouragement when facing a situation that may trigger fears.
  5. Self-soothing techniques can pay off in dividends. “If kids are feeling really stressed and worked up, deep breathing, getting exercise, listening to music and other strategies for calming down and managing anxiety can really help,” says Weissbourd.
  6. Modeling how you manage through tough times also helps to build resilience in children. “Your kids or your students will watch how you respond to scary events, and they take cues from you,” says Weissbourd, “So often events that are scary for kids are scary for adults, too. As parents and educators, we also have to take care of ourselves.”
What should you not say? Weissbourd says the guiding principle is to talk to kids in ways they understand, while being careful to not provide too much detail to a younger child.
“When children can understand why, when they can make a scary event coherent, they are better able to trust again,” says Weissbourd. “Spend some time thinking — and talk to other adults you trust — about how to talk to your child in a way that will help them understand and make sense of events that may otherwise feel unpredictable and overwhelming.”

Additional Resources

Additional Reading by Richard Weissbourd

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Becoming a School Leader by Lesley Alum, Sarah Reeves Young, '05


Becoming a School Leader

By Sarah Reeves Young, 


Find ideas for expanding your professional development and career from a Lesley alum who is now a state-level education coordinator.

How to Have an Impact Beyond Your Classroom

You’re doing great work in your classroom, and that can often be enough. But expanding your reach can give you an opportunity to have a greater impact, both on your classroom and your career.
Here are some ideas on how to become a school or educational leader, based on the work of Lesley alum Sarah Reeves Young ’05, current Digital Teaching and Learning Coordinator for the Utah State Office of Education.
  • Take pride in your classroom. Become a confident teacher by doing self-assessments on your lessons, finding good teachers at your school, and asking for help when you need it. This allows you to hone your skills and, therefore, your confidence.
  • Become a coach, or perform community service. Coaching (both sports and academics) and community services allows you to get to know students, other teacher and coaches, and community members.
  • Volunteer for committees. Let your lead teacher, principal, or department chairs know you are interested in helping. Getting to know how a school operates can be valuable knowledge.
  • Professional development. In your professional life, model the learning and risks that you ask of your students. Don’t let your development stop with required events—search for events and opportunities that interest you.

    Some good sources of PD are teacher association groups (e.g., National Council of Teacher of Mathematics, National Council of Teachers of English, or National Science Teachers Association); listservs for specific content areas (e.g., American Institute of Physics, Folger Shakespeare Library); libraries, zoos, and art institutes; and research institutions. Sign up for their Facebook or other social media sites, so you get news of new opportunities.
  • Communicate what you've learned. When you've completed professional development activities, educate others in your school. Make a short presentation at a faculty meeting or professional development day. See if you can present at the district or state level.

    If you’re nervous as a first-time presenter, present with someone else, use handouts, and ask those in the audience to share their ideas and feedback. You'll become more comfortable as you do more.
  • Share with a wider audience. Write for national journals and trade magazines; publish curriculum on a personal website or on social media; offer your classroom for observation by new student teachers; connect with your state’s curriculum development office.
  • Apply for opportunities. Put yourself out there for experiences, even those you might think are beyond your reach: scholarships and grants, conferences, awards, employment.

What Kinds of Leadership Positions Exist for Teachers?

Young suggests exploring some of the following:
  • Within your or another school system: Positions such as department chair, curriculum chair, lead or mentor teacher, academic coach, dean of students, or principal
  • At the district or state level: Positions within your district's or state’s department of education
  • In higher education: Methods professor
  • For the information education and industry: Educational policy input and educational programming

Final Thoughts

Sit down and make a professional development plan with goals for your classroom, your own learning and professional development, and ways to move into leadership positions. Create a professional learning network with colleagues and other people in your profession, both in person and through online sites such as LinkedIn. Get business cards made. Create opportunities!
Alumna Sarah Reeves Young, standing outside by school building
Sarah Reeves Young ’05
Prior to working for the Utah State Office of Education in her current role, Sarah Reeves Young was the state’s K-12 STEM Liaison and science coordinator. She was selected to be the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow the National Science Foundation 2011-2012. She is also the author of Gourmet Lab: The Scientific Principles Behind Your Favorite Foods. She graduated from the Master of Education in Middle School Education at Lesley.

When Students are Traumatized, Teachers are, too

From the great folks at Link to Edutopia

When Students Are Traumatized, Teachers Are Too

Trauma in students’ lives takes an emotional and physical toll on teachers as well. Experts weigh in on the best ways to cope.
Alysia Ferguson Garcia remembers the day two years ago that ended in her making a call to Child Protective Services. One of her students walked into drama class with what Garcia thought of as a “bad attitude” and refused to participate in a script reading.
“I don’t care if you’ve had a bad day,” Garcia remembers saying in frustration. “You still have to do some work.”
In the middle of class, the student offered an explanation for her behavior: Her mom’s boyfriend had been sexually abusing her. After the shock passed, the incident provided an opportunity for the class—and Garcia—to provide the student with comfort, and to cry.

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When Garcia first started teaching, she wasn’t expecting the stories her students would share of physical and sexual abuse, hunger, violence, and suicide. The stories seemed to haunt her all the way home, she says, recalling nightmares and sleepless nights spent worrying about her students. They also dredged up deep-seated memories of her own experiences with abuse.
“When you’re learning to be a teacher, you think it’s just about lesson plans, curriculum, and seating charts,” said Garcia. “I was blindsided by the emotional aspect of teaching—I didn’t know how to handle it. I was hurt by my students’ pain, and it was hard for me to leave that behind when I went home.”


35% of children have experienced more than one adverse childhood experience.
Data shows that more than half of all U.S. children have experienced some kind of trauma in the form of abuse, neglect, violence, or challenging household circumstances—and 35 percent of children have experienced more than one type of traumatic event, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have impacts that extend far beyond childhood, including higher risks for alcoholism, liver disease, suicide, and other health problems later in life.
Trauma in children often manifests outwardly, affecting kids’ relationships and interactions. In schools, the signs of trauma may be seen in a student acting out in class, or they could be more subtle—like failure to make eye contact or repeatedly tapping a foot. (To learn more about how trauma impacts students, read “Brains in Pain Cannot Learn!”)
For teachers, who are directly exposed to a large number of young people with trauma in their work, a secondary type of trauma, known as vicarious trauma, is a big risk. Sometimes called the “cost of caring,” vicarious trauma can result from “hearing [people’s] trauma stories and becom[ing] witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured,” according to the American Counseling Association.
“Being a teacher is a stressful enough job, but teachers are now responsible for a lot more things than just providing education,” says LeAnn Keck, a manager at Trauma Smart, an organization that partners with schools and early childhood programs to help children and the adults in their lives navigate trauma. “It seems like teachers have in some ways become case workers. They get to know about their students’ lives and the needs of their families, and with that can come secondary trauma.”
When you’re learning to be a teacher, you think it’s just about lesson plans, curriculum, and seating charts. I was blindsided by the emotional aspect of teaching—I didn’t know how to handle it.
Vicarious trauma affects teachers’ brains in much the same way that it affects their students’: The brain emits a fear response, releasing excessive cortisol and adrenaline that can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, and release a flood of emotions. This biological response can manifest in mental and physical symptoms such as anger and headaches, or workplace behaviors like missing meetings, lateness, or avoiding certain students, say experts.
Yet many teachers are never explicitly taught how to help students who have experienced trauma, let alone address the toll it takes on their own health and personal lives. We reached out to trauma-informed experts and educators around the country to get their recommendations for in-the-moment coping strategies and preventative measures to help teachers process vicarious trauma. We share their tips below.


Garcia, now a teacher of eight years, says she’s found that confiding in others—either a therapist, her boyfriend, or colleagues—helps her process students’ trauma and her own emotions. 
Connecting with colleagues to talk through and process experiences can be invaluable for teachers coping with secondary trauma, according to Micere Keels, an associate professor at the University of Chicago and founder of the TREP Project, a trauma-informed curriculum for urban teachers.
“Reducing professional isolation is critical,” said Keels. “It allows educators to see that others are struggling with the same issues, prevents the feeling that one’s struggles are due to incompetence, and makes one aware of alternative strategies for working with students exhibiting challenging behavior.”
It doesn’t serve anybody to pretend that we’re teacher-bots with no emotions, which I think sometimes teachers feel like they have to be.
Finding a wellness-accountability buddy—a peer who agrees to support and keep you accountable to your wellness goals—or using a professional learning community as a space to check in with other teachers are also ways to get that support, offers Alex Shevrin, a former school leader and teacher at Centerpoint School, a trauma-informed high school in Vermont that institutes school-wide practices aimed at addressing students’ underlying emotional needs.
At Centerpoint, time for a monthly wellness group—where teachers, administrators, and social workers support each other on their personal wellness goals like exercising and creating work-life balance—is built into the professional development schedule. Staff also use in-service time to focus on taking care of their health together, by hiking, biking, going to the gym, or even learning to knit.
“If I had one wish for every school in the country, it would be that they made time for teachers to really sit down and talk about how they’re feeling in the work,” said Shevrin. “It doesn’t serve anybody to pretend that we’re teacher-bots with no emotions, which I think sometimes teachers feel like they have to be.”


Students affected by trauma can have combative personalities and learn which buttons to press to upset you in class, says Garcia. When a student acts out in class, Garcia takes a few deep breaths, drinks coffee, or goes to a different part of the classroom to help another student.
“If I get upset, it never goes anywhere,” Garcia said. “When you try to have a battle in class, you automatically lose as the teacher.”
That’s a good approach, says Keck, who suggests developing proactive coping strategies to address stressful situations in advance. A strategy may be counting to five, visualizing a calming place, or responding with an opposite action—like talking to a student quietly when you want to yell. Waiting until you’re actually in a stressful situation means you’re likely to overreact or to say or do something unhelpful.
Keck also recommends mapping out your school day and taking note of the times of day you feel most stressed, and then integrating scheduled coping strategies into your daily routine. If you feel stressed when students start to lose focus midday, for example, guide your students in a quick group stretch and some deep breathing to shift energy before getting back to work.
“Look at your schedule. If you see a stressful pattern, don’t wait for it to happen. Don’t wait to feel overwhelmed and stressed,” urges Keck.
The important part is customizing the strategy to meet your needs.
Garcia applies this strategy when she’s at home. She knows that after she puts her daughter to sleep, the worry for her students creeps in—so she makes sure to take time for  things she enjoys, like watching movies and playing video games.
While many teachers say they don’t have time for self-care, experts insist that it’s necessary to develop long-term self-care practices—and stick to them—to build up your overall well-being and resilience. These self-care activities could be going for a walk, reading, watching a movie, practicing mindfulness, or talking with a friend—whatever invigorates you.
© Mikhail
Some teachers incorporate walking into their self-care routine.


It can be hard to leave work at work, but to address vicarious trauma, teachers need to create clear boundaries between work and home life. Part of that can be developing a ritual or routine that signifies the end of a work day, either before you head home, on the way home, or at home.
“For me, sometimes it’s just as simple as turning off my work phone before I go into my house,” Shevrin says. “I hear the sound of my phone turning off and then I know that I’m home."
After an emotionally difficult day, many teachers will write about their experiences before they leave, or sit down with a colleague to help process it, Keck told us.
Others organize their desk or create a to-do list for the next workday so they can let go of worry before heading home. While driving home, teachers listen to audiobooks, call a friend, or sit in silence to decompress. A ritual could even be as simple as changing clothes or taking a bath once you get home.
For Garcia, it’s about putting her daughter’s needs first and making the most of the time she has with her.
“It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and let the job consume you. But teaching is about balance,” she said. “When I come home, I try to just focus on my kid so she gets as much of me as she can. It’s not always easy, but I’ve learned to put my life and my daughter’s life first.”

Friday, February 16, 2018

Wisdom From Mr. Rogers: Tragic Events in the News


Fred Rogers talks about
Tragic Events in the News

In times of community or world-wide crisis, it's easy to assume that young children don't know what's going on. But one thing's for sure -- children are very sensitive to how their parents feel. They're keenly aware of the expressions on their parents' faces and the tone of their voices. Children can sense when their parents are really worried, whether they're watching the news or talking about it with others. No matter what children know about a “crisis,” it’s especially scary for children to realize that their parents are scared.

Some Scary, Confusing Images
The way that news is presented on television can be quite confusing for a young child. The same video segment may be shown over and over again through the day, as if each showing was a different event. Someone who has died turns up alive and then dies again and again. Children often become very anxious since they don’t understand much about videotape replays, closeups, and camera angles.   Any televised danger seems close to home to them because the tragic scenes are taking place on the TV set in their own livingroom. Children can't tell the difference between what's close and what's far away, what's real and what's pretend, or what's new and what's re-run.
The younger the children are, the more likely they are to be interested in scenes of close-up faces, particularly if the people are expressing some strong feelings. When there's tragic news, the images on TV are most often much too graphic and disturbing for young children.

“Who will take care of me?”

In times of crisis, children want to know, "Who will take care of me?" They're dependent on adults for their survival and security.  They're naturally self-centered. They need to hear very clearly that their parents are doing all they can to take care of them and to keep them safe.  They also need to hear that people in the government and other grownups they don’t eveen know are working hard to keep them safe, too.

Helping Children Feel More Secure
Play is one of the important ways young children have of dealing with their concerns.  Of course, playing about violent news can be scary and sometimes unsafe, so adults need to be nearby to help redirect that kind of play into nurturing themes, such as a hospital for the wounded or a pretend meal for emergency workers.
When children are scared and anxious, they might become more dependent, clingy, and afraid to go to bed at night. Whining, aggressive behavior, or toilet "accidents" may be their way of asking for more comfort from the important adults in their lives. Little by little, as the adults around them become more confident, hopeful and secure, our children probably will, too.

Turn Off the TV

When there's something tragic in the news, many parents get concerned about what and how to tell their children. It's even harder than usual if we're struggling with our own powerful feelings about what has happened. Adults are sometimes surprised that their own reactions to a televised crisis are so strong, but great loss and devastation in the news often reawaken our own earlier losses and fears – even some we think we might have "forgotten"
It's easy to allow ourselves to get drawn into watching televised news of a crisis for hours and hours; however, exposing ourselves to so many tragedies can make us feel hopeless, insecure, and even depressed. We help our children and ourselves if we’re able to limit our own television viewing.  Our children need us to spend time with them – away from the frightening images on the screen.

Talking and Listening

Even if we wanted to, it would be impossible to give our children all the reasons for such things as war, terrorists, abuse, murders, major fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. If they ask questions, our best answer may be to ask them, "What do you think happened?" If the answer is "I don't know," then the simplest reply might be something like, "I'm sad about the news, and I'm worried. But I love you, and I'm here to care for you."

If we don't let children know it's okay to feel sad and scared, they may think something is wrong with them when they do feel that way. They certainly don't need to hear all the details of what's making us sad or scared, but if we can help them accept their own feelings as natural and normal, their feelings will be much more manageable for them.

Angry feelings are part of being human, especially when we feel powerless. One of the most important messages we can give our children is, "It's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to hurt ourselves or others."  Besides giving children the right to their anger, we can help them find constructive things to do with their feelings. This way, we'll be giving them useful tools that will serve them all their life, and help them to become the worlds' future peacemakers -- the world's future "helpers."

Helpful Hints

  • Do your best to keep the television off, or at least limit how much your child sees of any news event.
  • Try to keep yourself calm. Your presence can help your child feel more secure.
  • Give your child extra comfort and physical affection, like hugs or snuggling up together with a favorite book. Physical comfort goes a long way towards providing inner security. That closeness can nourish you, too.
  • Try to keep regular routines as normal as possible. Children and adults count on their familiar pattern of everyday life.
  • Plan something that you and your child enjoy doing together, like taking a walk, going on a picnic, having some quiet time, or doing something silly. It can help to know there are simple things in life that can help us feel better, in good times and in bad.

  • Even if children don't mention what they've seen or heard in the news, it can help to ask what they think has happened. If parents don't bring up the subject, children can be left with their misinterpretations. You may be really surprised at how much your child has heard from others.
  • Focus attention on the helpers, like the police, firemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and volunteers. It's reassuring to know there are many caring people who are doing all they can to help others in this world.
  • Let your child know if you're making a donation, going to a town meeting, writing a letter or e-mail of support, or taking some other action. It can help children to know that adults take many different active roles and that we don't give in to helplessness in times of worldwide crisis.
This article is excerpted from “The Mister Rogers Parenting Book” the last book Fred Rogers worked on before his death in 2003. In this book he wanted to support parents in their most important work of parenting and to help them better understand their young children. As he wrote in the introduction to the book:
“.. if we can bring our children understanding, comfort, and hopefulness when they need this kind of support, then they are more likely to grow into adults who can find these resources within themselves later on.”