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Building Community Through Better Relationships

Flexibility Involves More Than Monkey Bars

A third-grade schoolboy sees two classmates sitting next to each other on a nearby bench. The two classmates casually talk to each other during outdoor recess. The first boy quickly walks to the two sitting boys. He suddenly pushes the boy on the left off the bench. The aggressor then looks at the second boy and tells him, “That is how you get respect!” The second boy looks the aggressor straight in the eye and says, “That’s dumb! You pushed my friend. What’s wrong with you? Do you even know what respect is?” The suddenly ashamed outsider quietly says “No”; but quickly adds, “My big brother said that if I don’t push other people down, then the other kids will punk me!” The two unharmed and unfazed boys resume their seats, turn their back to the bully and continue their conversation.

Copycat

Unfortunately, such behavior regularly occurs on grade school playgrounds with assorted outcomes. While kids are often clueless to the consequences of their actions, they figure out basic concepts fairly quick. Respect is important because it represents a sense of acceptance. Ultimately, respect provides clues for ascending social pecking orders. The challenge is that pecking orders remain constantly in flux. Grade school kids cannot even comprehend flux, let alone adhere to it. A reasonable proxy is copying the behavior of the largest personality. Unfortunately, copying that behavior only rewards loudness, not goodness. For youth to evolve into functioning, contributing human beings, they must figure out how to navigate social pecking orders and demonstrate positive traits that are properly rewarded.

Fortunately, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) leaves clues to help with that process. Whether the focus is on coping skills, or anti-bullying, Social Emotional Learning equips youth with tools so that micro-communities learn to accept boundaries and embrace individual wellness for the group. Coping skills start with acknowledging that society has boundaries. Too often, disadvantaged communities believe that they must accept behaviorally inferior environments and corrupt safety authorities. In fact, individual misbehavior tends to be consistent across most societies’ boundaries. What is inconsistent are the consequences. What is the difference between petty theft and robbery? Often it is the interpretation of law enforcement and the subjugation that authorities wish to impose on a specific community. It may not be right; it certainly is not fair. Yet, this pattern reveals how authority figures in specific communities are empowered to perpetuate inferior status at their whim.

Violence

Unfortunately, official data often reports that targeted demographics and social strata are more prone to violence and crime. However, sufficient evidence points to the reality where interpreted information falls into the following categories: lies, damn lies, and statistics! Frankly, data is routinely provided to reinforce pre-selected, negative biases regarding youth of certain ages and pre-determined environments. Specifically, behaviors and biases continue systems where reporting bad conduct along stereotypes intentionally reinforce prejudiced conclusions. The outcomes too often reveal that the present power structure directly facilitates results leading to self-fulfilling reporting. Unfortunately, reported violence remains a byproduct of pre-determined targets and pre-determined interpretations. Unfortunately, the reporting continues to have wide discretion regarding the perception of individual threats according to cultures and demographics.

Violence rarely improves the quality of life in any environment. Fortunately, introducing social skills that emphasizes community and empathy have shown behavioral improvement in certain cases. Giving school-aged children time to share their frustrations and also, understand the perspectives of classmates, has resulted in better listening skills and less tension. Learning better behavioral processes does take time as teachers pivot their communication biases, as well as convincing children to trust their emotional sharing process. While that investment in time does detract from reading, writing and arithmetic, the time is returned because of fewer incidents involving verbal abuse, violence, and corrective actions. More importantly, the long-term benefits of empowering young students to articulate their feelings pays off in more time adapting to cooperative environments and fewer disruptive behaviors.

Conclusion

Allocating additional time to discuss emotions and group dynamics in a lesser judgmental environment contradicts many current practices. However, labeling children based on spontaneous behaviors and cultural biases has not worked well either. Currently, with so many socio-cultural forces at work presently in a simple community, how do insensitive, homogenous residents ever escape the evolving reality of prejudice and homogeneity? Sophisticated residents struggle as well upon bringing their own trauma along with embedded, self-righteous biases. Well, none of this is easy. Neither is visiting a child in a hospital at the hands of another child. Nevertheless, the solution for equitable outcomes and positive behaviors resides squarely in the interactions of school-aged youth. Realize that schools are places of learning and developing new skills by design. What needs to be included in the newly acquired education skill sets is the ability for children to safely confide in teachers and other school authority figures. This step suggests that adults demonstrate the ability to grow unbiasedly in new directions of fairness. This progress is essential so future generations have better examples of cultural cohesion.

The ability to play and interact across perceived barriers must be established, enforced, and sustained. Whether barriers are racial, linguistic, or economic, teachers, as well as administrators, need meaningful training to identify hot signals indicating socially biased conflict. Teachers also need an easier process to communicate potential problems to school leaders and parents. Realize that officials are under a lot of pressure regarding discipline, behavior, poor decisions by staff, and fiscal responsibility. Schools have stretched budgets like everyone else. The task is hard. Yet, children falling further behind academically and behaving uncivilly because they continue learning in environments of fear and bias has its own problems. School leaders must structure lessons the emphasize coping skills, emotional health, as well as academic fundamentals. Then, educators can intentionally and more successfully focus on demonstrating proper behaviors, instead of reactively deferring to stereotypical judgments.

By Glenn W Hunter

Board Chair, Touchstone Youth Resource Services

Author of “Storytelling Wins The Best Engagements

Please Donate: www.TYRS.org

May 17, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Safety Is More Than Looking Both Ways

As young, school-aged children figure out their environment and relationships in order to grow as people, safety is a major challenge. While bullying remains an issue in many learning environments and at most grade levels, challenges involving security start early in school careers. In a quickly evolving environment, students endure bullying psychologically, technologically, and by old-fashioned physical conflict. In fact, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is no longer part of the elementary school yard vocabulary. Words, images, videos, memes, all hurt! Unfortunately, adults are too slowly becoming equipped with tools to protect their impressionable “pride and joy”. So, how does a child manage this onslaught of modern bullying?

Physical Safety

Even with social distancing being part of every current grade school child’s vocabulary, the physical safety of pandemics and personal contact among peers across numerous cultures still result in assorted trauma. One child with a different diet, or ethnic background, can lead to lines of separation that disrupt the schoolyard dynamic. Different eating habits may change the way youths’ senses respond to sensory stimuli. Nevertheless, a different aroma or accent does not justify physical altercations, regardless of the biased messaging of parents, or their favorite news channel.

Specifically, bullying comes from an individual, or group, projecting a sense of fear among others. When someone cannot grasp how properly to engage another person’s individuality, then shame, threats, and belittlement are avenues to force them to back down and cower. The problem with our school aged youth is that social habits are so well ingrained, that common practices are dictated by authorities that may or may not reflect the immediate majority. Yet, enforcement occurs. Lesser voices are silenced or minimized. Trauma escalates in a community as a direct result of authorities exhibiting inconsistent behaviors. The consequence are often anger and conflict. From the disempowered students’ point of view, the rules are just stupid!

Emotional Safety

The outcome of this confusion is a perceived threatening environment for the disenfranchised segments of the school community. Cognitive dissonance is a fancy term that means that things just do not make sense. The critical part of experiencing cognitive dissonance is understanding how the targeted individual chooses to behave. Without a logical basis regarding their emotional foundation, the resulting behaviors becomes even more unpredictable. Then authority figures default to enforcing rigid discipline to establish order. Unfortunately, the confused, defensive party typically becomes victimized resulting in all parties retreating to their center of power. Likewise, the disjointed individual receives the brunt of the justice because his behavior is perceived as outside the norm. Also, that punishment is the path of least resistance because of the lack of advocacy for the disempowered youth. The institution maintains order. The defaulted guilty power remains disenfranchised. Too often, the problem is compounded because that option is now the only available path.

Without a sense of safety in the learning environment, the opportunities for excellence are minimized. Furthermore, by minimizing emotional safety among disenfranchised students, they seek identity in misbehavior. From a social emotional sense this happens enough that disenfranchised students learn to expect it. From other students’ viewpoint, the dysfunctional behavior is the expected alternative for “those people”. In the absence of emotional safety, the default behavior is to attract whatever attention is available. Being recognized for poor behavior seemingly is better than not being recognized at all. Furthermore, the brighter the child’s intellect is, the more clever and effective that the attention-grabbing disruptions become!

Conclusion

The challenge following the attention-grabbing behavior is the fact that the authority figures too often neglect to channel high-energy behavior into a positive posture. The over-zealous, clever youth should be encouraged to embrace their gift to communicate and engage. Too often authorities choose to squash his energy, minimize her personality, or discourage the individual from sharing their gift. Ironically, the student then becomes an intelligent, disruptive student, as well as a potential leader whose charisma has spawned from intellectual curiosity. Yet, this does not guarantee positive outcomes. To create nourishing environments, students need outlets for their wit and intellect. They also need teachers who are both equipped and willing to go beyond stereotypes in engaging students’ intellects. Empowering students to use their talents passionately, enriches giftedness. A fine line exists between a clever student and a disruptive student. Cleverness and inquisitiveness have common characteristics. They both willingly question. Enhance that trait. Safety results from following leaders who can embrace both opportunities and calculated risks. Disqualifying those leaders for superficial reasons at an early age ultimately leads to stale communities that marginalize differences. Then, the rigid leaders act surprise when the trauma that they buried, sprouts into trees that foster environments that disrupt the status quo.

By Glenn W Hunter

Board Chair, Touchstone Youth Resource Services

Author of “Storytelling Wins the Best Engagements

Please Donate: www.tyrs.org

March 5, 2022 Posted by | Better Communication, Better Community, Better Person, Better World, Social Emotional Learning | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Social Emotional Learning When Socialization Fails

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has been coddled like a lovely flower in an orchard, with regards to its environmental impact upon education by encouraging the purity of balanced early development. The format’s beauty has been well-received as it seems to bring educational vibrance to diverse environments, still the image begins to lose its luster when sensationalized success claims extend too far. Specifically, SEL programming has successfully helped students manage their emotions in finite environments. Furthermore, instances have been documented where adults are behaving with more empathy and compassion toward leaders, peers and students within their school communities. Nevertheless, ongoing behavioral improvements and examples of emotional growth too often get challenged by continued adult tension and bullying in the exact same communities. Frankly, why would an educator cede influence that they believe they deserve? Even when progressive skills are introduced and enforced, consistency still seems to be derailed by fear, violence, and too often stubborn leaders. How can enlightened young people bloom social-emotionally when the mature weeds routinely choke their growth in the name of consistency and the good old days?

Social Connectivity

Two key tactics stand out in introducing and reinforcing Social Emotional Learning skills in progressive environments. The ability to breathe and encouragement to engage civilly enhances the foundation for better communication. Asking better questions regarding peer’s well-being is a great start. Simply, taking the time to allow students, teachers, administrators, and community workers to exercise their ability to encourage and direct people involved with personal development creates a more deliberate path toward growth and learning. Even in restricted, or virtual environments, articulating and applying emotionally enriching skills have demonstrated improvements for better listening skills and peer socialization. The fact that teachers and students are encouraged to embrace and acknowledge individual concerns and feelings, has made positive differences in many classrooms.

Additionally, new social and communication tools that allow students to articulate their academic, social and emotional frustrations have often led to individual behavioral improvements. Part of that development features front line leaders who have intentionally exercised the ability to connect to students with full knowledge that unprecedented trauma is evident in their home and public lives. Obviously, not enough trained care workers exist to meet each student at their point of need. Yet, evidence of environments across geography and cultures have demonstrated that intentional breathing exercises and articulating frustrations have helped in diffusing personal stress where school environments may not have previously paid attention. The diverse and extreme behaviors that promote tension and negatively affect learning environments have attracted attention. No good outcomes result when loud, antiquated opinions express anger about imposing outdated rules that no longer apply to current social-emotional care. No one wins if present school leadership embraces nostalgic tools and mandates for navigating the most modern, escalated youth conflicts.

Age-Appropriate Behaviors

Other weaknesses regarding poorly executed Social Emotional Learning techniques involve equipping young people with coping skills that falsely align age and maturity. Once upon a time, ten-year-olds were fourth graders, at least at some point during the school year. However, parents now routinely start children’s school careers late to get an athletic advantage or launch children early to highlight their burgeoning genius. In reality, a grade-school class can easily have an age difference as large as three years because narcissistic parents erroneously believe that they are creating an advantage one way or another. What Social Emotional Learning has clearly taught educators who are informed is that children respond at different rates in accordance with different academic and social stimuli. Gaming the system for ill-conceived quantitative advantage is ultimately a fool’s errand. Kids grow intellectually and socially due to several influences beyond physical superiority or intellectual head starts.

To achieve better academic foundations in school-age development, the idea of falsely creating accelerated proteges overlook that the child’s self-esteem is vulnerable regarding their development in social interactions. An overachieving, brilliant loner is still a loner! The intentionality of Social Emotional Learning tactics emphasizes more wholistic development that emphasizes strengthening the child in the context of community. Friends are just as important as athletic prowess when children are eight years old! Age-appropriate behaviors rely on academic growth, as well as internal confidence in dealing with peers. Anti-bullying initiatives are more effective when the entire student body is being taught to embrace each other’s individuality. On the other hand, developing students to exceed arbitrary metrics that are based on data whose foundation may not statistically represent the explicit environment where the children live is a recipe for disaster. Social emotionally, youth respond better when their individuality is developed, nurtured and valued according to life experiences. Encouraging individual development over arbitrary metrics is a step in the right direction.

Conclusion

Progressive school districts can no longer afford to pretend they provide artificial advantages despite outdated mindsets. Particularly considering that several school districts and their schools are becoming less homogenized, developing children with cross-cultural tolerance has the potential to expand academic, as well as social- emotional growth. Unfortunately, this mindset requires experienced, incumbent teachers to broaden their views beyond antiquated, pre-meditated stereotypes. In a world of increasing racial diversity, as well as broader cultural experiences, flexibility and adaptability is essential for developing students that value confidence and inclusion. Clearly, none of this is easy. However, from a learning perspective, children have recently encountered emotional trauma from pandemics, cultural changes, and demographic shifts while seeking successful learning environments. The next step is to address inconsistent learning habits resulting from digressions in local benchmarks and academic rigor. Then, educators can normalize virtual learning standards to address inconsistent exposure to technological blended learning across diverse communities. Ultimately normalizing learning gaps, where two years of inconsistent attendance and learning has academic performance data scattered across the learning landscape, will provide legitimate targets for academic recovery. By focusing on newly normalized successful academic development and rewarding environments that value social uniqueness, achieving targeted benchmarks will be more aligned with students’ academic and social emotional capabilities.

By Glenn W Hunter

Author of “Storytelling Wins The Best Engagements”

Board Chair, Touchstone Youth Resource Services

To Donate Please Click: http://www.tyrs.org

https://www.amazon.com/Storytelling-Wins-Engagement

January 31, 2022 Posted by | Better Communication, Better Community, Better Person, Better World, Social Emotional Learning | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

May I Choose My Best Friend? 

Making friends and keeping friends are essential pieces to developing functional youth. Considering that the developing youth in American culture spends significant amounts of time in school and social activities, a reasonable conclusion is that both school and community environments, are incubators for healthy, functional, mature development. Long-term friendships emerge from local, school communities. Social adaptability and environmental building blocks unite to develop young relationships in any community. To be clear, successful communities are built on foundations of individuals who successfully co-exist. Successful communities establish common characteristics and agreeable social norms. Before race, religion, social status, and other divisive elements take root, the fundamentals to co-exist safely must first take root. Character commonalities that youth identify in their peers are the first step in selecting best friends. Supportive, enlightened families are the second step. 

SELF 

Children make friends for the oddest reasons. Alphabetical placement is one potential way for early friendships to connect, then emerge. Imagine a youngster standing in line or sitting next to a peer who has been assigned that spot alphabetically. A whispered conversation starts after the teacher demands quiet. Next, these two mischievous rule-breakers are “best friends forever” simply because they figured out how to whisper without getting caught! Obviously, relationships develop because of several factors over time. Nevertheless, the root of connecting with another child can easily occur as a direct result of assigned proximity.  

The ability to communicate and establish personal interaction creates a foundation for Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills. Beyond anti-bullying campaigns and stop-the-violence initiatives, SEL represents a commonly accepted set of behaviors that emphasize self-awareness, as well as mutual respect among people. Additionally, as more individuals connect under proper behaviors (or mischievous behaviors), the more respectfully school environments can nurture our youth to be functional individuals. “The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) identifies five competencies of SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.” Without individually breaking down these competencies, in summary they reflect how youth can balance their communal self-needs with learning needs, in conjunction with social foundations that exist to facilitate functional environments. Basically, individual youths develop and function better behaviorally when operating under consistently taught best practices of social behaviors. 

COMMUNITY 

These common practices are particularly important to youth development for two particularly important reasons. The first reason reflects identifying required building blocks to build stable interpersonal relationships. Even physically nearby communities do not necessarily have common traits and values. Ethnicity, property values, and social status do not necessarily respect fixed, physical landmarks for the purpose of distinguishing cultural differences. Adjacent neighbors may have differences in ethnicities and values. However, communicating SEL values to families within the context of children’s learning environments provide great opportunities to bridge social gaps. Connecting school and cultural activities across economic and ethnic boundaries provide opportunities to embrace differences leading to more functional community members. Furthermore, empowering children to bring multi-cultural ideas home is a great tool to start the broader conversation. 

Fundamentally, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) refers to wide ranges of skills, attitudes, and behaviors that can affect student success in school and life. Consider skills not necessarily measured by academic testing: critical thinking, emotional management, conflict resolution, decision making, teamwork. While traditionally quantifying these skills presents challenges, consistently emphasizing these tactics can contribute to student education and impact academic success, employability, self-esteem, relationships, in addition to civic and community engagement. Social Emotional Learning tools benefit communities because they emphasize common social foundations, while incorporating routine behaviors that result in better inter-personal environments. Friendships start with common experiences and interests. Academic environments must become more intentional in encouraging such interactions. 

CONCLUSION 

While friendship is an integral part of human development from a very early age, the importance of developing broader relationships influences the strengthening of entire communities. Enforcing skill development that emphasizes proper character, as well as generally acceptable common, social values, is essential to individual and communal foundations. Many education leaders are quick to paint SEL with an anti-bullying brush. This perspective only reflects one facet. SEL requires reinforcing consistent values that celebrate the individual within the context of the community. Introducing key tenets of mutual respect requires celebrating differences as well as reinforcing positive, expected behaviors. Strong communities build strong personal connections among members where respect is essential to learning environments and surrounding communities. A great starting place is by instructing young students to select friends based on demonstrated character, then have school leaders celebrate individual uniqueness at every turn. More importantly, such civil behavior needs to be reinforced and celebrated among school and community leaders. Encouraging friendships based on common, life-affirming characteristics, and mutual respect create more effective citizens into the future. 

By Glenn W Hunter 

Author of “Storytelling Wins The Best Engagements” 

Board Chair, Touchstone Youth Resource Services 

Please donate: www.tyrs.org 

November 30, 2021 Posted by | Better Communication, Better Community, Better Person, Social Emotional Learning | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Social Emotional Dysfunction Goes To School

Remember when schools wanted to stop bullying? Instead, anti-bullying evolved into Social Emotional Learning and consequently the fancy name generated more attention across numerous communities. Now, harassing kids without playmates has erupted into a virtual cottage industry that combines emotional torturing, racial insensitivity, psychological tyranny, and too often physical harm. As a result of school systems finally acknowledging and quantifying social and performance disparities across cultures, administrators now strive to empower the disenfranchised, while maintaining the status quo. That oxymoron’s results resemble the classic schoolyard division of cool kids and outcasts. Essentially, school leaders seem to want an honest competition for development where losers believe the competition ended with a tie, as winners enjoy a head start leading to crossing the finish line first. And everyone is supposed to be OK with this?

Approach The Problem

This problem did not birth overnight; nor will it be solved by the next morning. Improvement is hard work! To educate youth consistently and comfortably across assorted cultural and economic boundaries, an important step requires social inclusion. This step literally demands engaging youth as valued contributors regardless of background and demographics. Marginalize no one! Still, affluence appears across social and racial lines. Every child, family and culture have different capabilities and backstories regarding expected levels of learning and accomplishment. Each teacher has the choice of communicating inclusivity or separation, according to their individual values. Conceptually, Social Emotional Learning, when properly executed, emphasizes acceptance despite alleged differences, perceived background, or assumed privilege. Reality often disagrees.

Such outcomes require supporting marginalized students’ perspectives and opinions in open discussions to set clear examples to majority students that other perspectives have value. Intentionally dismissing stereotypes helps, too. Different does not equal wrong! Still, respecting differences remains complicated. Establishing environments that warmly acknowledge assorted perspectives is an important and admirable aspiration for growth. Specifically, proper execution requires that teachers, administrators, and other academic authority figures must be mindful of permitting diverse ideas to be exercised in broader, learning communities. Authority then requires open-minded adults. Boundaries must be established that limit academic and social influences disproportionately empowering the privileged, athletic, or attractive child. The targeted outcome is mutual respect. The execution too often defaults to a flowery report, then the status quo.

Remove Preconceived Privilege

Because more communities now culturally evolve at unprecedented rates, affluence, alleged ethnic superiority, physical giftedness, no longer guarantees social privilege. Recently, both economic strife and success has increasingly diversified. Psychological trauma has more clearly revealed itself due to changing economic circumstances, not simply because of demographic disadvantage. Rich parents lose jobs, too! Other unexpected lifestyle changes can disrupt economic, employment, health, or prosperity patterns within previously stable communities. Students, teachers, and administrators are experiencing personal trauma in unprecedented forms as family dynamics shift. Multi-generational households and their increased tension now extend beyond minorities. Consequently, instead of hiding behind status and tradition, school leaders can social-emotionally benefit our youth by authentically demonstrating genuine compassion for increasing sources and representations of community trauma.

Authentic communication within school communities can specifically feature sharing tools for overcoming change, while not exposing families’ circumstances for public opinion to judge. Most importantly, lesson plans need to be developed and administered with more cultural sensitivity in mind. One generic solution has never fit all ethnic challenges! Current, diverse, trauma-filled environments present new opportunities to reward indiscriminately academic improvement and excellence. Emphasizing commonality in students and their excellence must become a bigger part of classroom conversations. Sensitivity to assorted opinions and shared perspectives is essential to generating cultural safe places in classrooms. Social Emotional Learning emphasizes inclusion and empathy. Those behaviors must reinforce cross-cultural engagement through eyes, ears, and hearts, starting with school leadership.

Conclusion

Ultimately, more inclusive learning environments start with school leadership. Cultural sensitivity in administration must be reinforced and rewarded. Training and demonstrated accountability regarding inclusive behaviors must be celebrated at the highest levels. Acknowledge that disenfranchisement leads to dysfunction. Whether that dysfunction manifests in violence, racism, civil disobedience, or cultural exclusion largely depends on the adults. They set the example. Explicitly equipping entire academic communities with coping skills and cultural sensitivity to enforce behaviors with respect and sensitivity begins with academic leadership. When bigots and supremacists appear in school systems’ leadership, communities need to be prepared for bullying, harassment, and violence. Acting surprised by the behavior is no longer an option. Continuously demonstrating compassion and safety is!

By Glenn W Hunter

Author of “Storytelling Wins The Best Engagements”

Board Chair, Touchstone Youth Resource Service

To Donate Please Click: http://www.tyrs.org

https://www.amazon.com/Storytelling-Wins-Engagements-Glenn-Hunter/dp/B094SZRYZ5/

November 2, 2021 Posted by | Better Communication, Better Community, Better Person, Social Emotional Learning | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Survival Brain Or Learning Brain?

Emotional trauma has recently become a consistent companion to our youth, especially with respect to their capacity to learn and grow. From a Social Emotional Learning perspective, our young people’s growth is under attack to the point that understanding how to act in different environments is more and more difficult. The difference between right and wrong for youth has typically shifted depending on the particular environment where you find them. The major problem presently is that their school, home, and play environments continue to become more confusing. Between increasing technology access and restricted recreational areas due to the pandemic, the challenge morphs between how youth should behave in one environment, as opposed to how they behave differently in others.

Survival Brain
As social beings, humans are designed to protect themselves and others from external harm. Harm can come from physical attacks, as well as emotional and mental threats. Particularly concerning young people, Social Emotional Learning skills have become increasingly essential because personal threats are being managed differently. A grade school child can call another child a particularly nasty slur, and the second child may respond with a weapon. Essentially threats are perceived inequitably, and tend to escalate quickly because too many youths are ill-equipped to manage conflict. Clearly harm can happen physically, as well as mentally. Yet violence appears to escalate increasingly quickly. Such behaviors can be traced to minor threats that escalate to survival-based responses featuring violence in response to verbally-initiated, emotional triggers.

By emphasizing responses according to the survival brain, reason becomes secondary. Currently, survival responses escalate quickly because severity of threats are harder to identify, largely because of the trauma associated with unpredictable outcomes when youths’ interact physically. Furthemore, the Survival Brain informs that persevering as a species remains essential to the human experience. Even, youth benefit when they develop trust in people who are teaching them that the world can be harmful. Furthermore, harm can appear physically as well as mentally, or emotionally. Ultimately survival focuses on an individual’s ability to navigate advantages and disadvantages resulting from routine decision making in their environment.

Learning Brain
On the other hand, the Learning Brain uses a different approach to sustain survivability in the face of newly evolving threats. The Learning Brain sounds a lot like “school smarts”. Actually, from a Social Emotional Learning perspective, it actually points more toward adaptability. When new threats emerge, the Learning Brain engages in identifying solutions that will protect the individual, or the group. Self-preservation remains a priority, but the approach leading to a solution differs. Specifically, the Learning Brain processes information and facts. As new types of threats enter our youth’s environments, they have to become more astute at discerning genuine threats. The Learning Brain processes information so that better decisions are made for self-preservation. Fundamentally, when threats emerge in society, the advantage goes to the person that can recognize the threat and has visibility to an effective remedy. The Learning Brain essentially is processing alternatives to improve adaptability and self-preservation to sustain the individual.

To look at current school-based, Social Emotional Learning problems in the last 12 – 18 months, the ability to learn has been derailed by political agendas, fear among the teaching ranks, and trauma throughout families. In environments that emphasize repetition and certainty, the question resurfaces are learning assumptions safe, effective, or even relevant. Hiding behind unsafe environments, adult apathy, and social uncertainty, short-term learning has taken a back seat. The problem is that each learning step contributes to the next learning step. With students either missing days, ignoring assignments, or plain-old struggling with lessons, the inconsistency in learning has created an unprecedented problem. The learning inconsistency results in as much underperformance as the inadequately managed education administration does across the board.

Conclusion
Social Emotional Learning has to be emphasized because students have to be re-acquainted with confidence, as well as education. The trauma surrounding academic uncertainty has created a learning deficit. Furthermore, the inconsistency and devaluing of teachers’ contributions has fundamentally weakened their crucial role. In short, the education solution resides in re-establishing honor and self-esteem at every step of the learning ladder. Lessons have to be re-established as well as students’ confidence. The Survival Brain and the Learning Brain must be sufficiently re-ignited such that students and teachers feel safe and their contributions feel valued! That correction directly requires Social Emotional Learning solutions throughout school communities. Equity in education must be prioritized. The same for reinforcing self-esteem. Coaching and cajoling becomes as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Steps for personal confidence must be incorporated and validated. Then, the learning can take better root in fertile soil. Ultimately, Social Emotional Learning impacts the heart for learning that enables better learning in the head, and results in more knowledge-friendly environments.

By Glenn W Hunter

Author of “Storytelling Wins The Best Engagements”

Board Chair, Touchstone Youth Resource Service

To Donate Please Click: http://www.tyrs.org

https://www.amazon.com/Storytelling-Wins-Engagements-Glenn-Hunter/dp/B094SZRYZ5/

September 7, 2021 Posted by | Better Communication, Better Community, Better World, Social Emotional Learning | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

That Child Left Behind

At the beginning of children’s academic careers, they are young, eager, and possess absorbent minds. Beyond an academic foundation, primary schools were once instrumental in building communities where families flourished. Then, in too many cases, pedagogical standards and metrics moved to the forefront. What once represented a community had turned into a common geographic proximity of people who bused, walked, or drove past each other during pre-determined times to their daily obligations. Isolation and trauma became common terms to describe childhood, unless you counted technology-based communication as connection. Then, in the midst of this evolution a pandemic hit the nation and consequently, established practices and rules concerning schools no longer made sense for consistent interactivity and learning progress.

Lessons Learned
The ideas that evolved regarding masks and virtual learning, represented the best thinking from an antiquated system that ran into an ultra-modern crisis. Arguing whether health and safety issues should be governed by established learning practices completely misses the point of students’ emotional needs! The point is that a student’s cry for help is not necessarily based on academic challenges. Learning can be hard. Being ill-equipped to navigate emotionally, as well as how to connect culturally, eventually creates emotional wreckage.

Lessons through a Social Emotional Learning lens emphasize that children need to feel comfortable and confident to navigate their social challenges. Social comfort and personal confidence facilitate better learning environments. Social comfort extends beyond having friends in the classroom. Its power resides in the comfort level that individual youth embrace when encountering new experiences. Fundamentally, educating youth involves a sense of wonder and a sense of comfort. Fear is the enemy of open minds. In developing students in foreign environments, either remote or in person, new barriers and restrictions facilitate classrooms that become ripe with fear, inequality, and societal pressures. Illness becomes a refuge of certainty. The problem now becomes facilitating lessons that emphasize embracing challenges as learning opportunities. Unfortunately fear and uncertainty run rampant in an environment where institutions and health seem to cripple the security where learning best occurs.

Progress Revisited
In environments that demanded individual growth, many schools dragged through an atmosphere full of collective fear and uncertainty. Often, the next growth step was treacherous. Social pressure, illness, individual isolation, all interacted to limit individual student growth. To refresh learning and growth, school environments must embrace new ideas. When the most prevalent obstacles involve contagion, uncertainty and cultural attacks, then individual and emotional stability is impossible. Progress is no longer matriculating to the next grade. Progress relies more on children continuing on a path that embraces intellectual and social growth. Progress is having the mental and psychological faculties to engage the next learning level.

Unfortunately, what too many school communities have found in recent environments is diversity represented in an unattractive fashion. Diversity is not necessarily new points of views, but rather pointing fingers at different points of view. The big, hairy obstacle is maintaining positive self-esteem among students, as well as families, while students persevere through an inconsistent school environment. Lesson plans, virtual or physical learning environments, and minimized extracurricular activities, as well as peer camaraderie have all been compromised. Recapturing progress first means revisiting academic processes. Holding a child back scholastically because of illness, fear, or embraced apathy now results in blending multiple ages in a classroom. Who wins the tie regarding consistency: academic progress, social progress, or age progress? Factor in a pandemic where attendance became a wild card, and the distinction between academic preparedness stretches academically and genealogically.

Conclusion
Assuming that successful academic progress is the ultimate goal, then competence is logically achieved at the grade level where the youth participates. Age differences become a factor that must be navigated. However, these factors do not occur in isolation. Lack of academic progress can align with anger management from a home that endured illness and financial sufferings. The choices are difficult. Unfortunately, the process of incarcerating maladjusted young adults who had their social-emotional needs ignored because they were inconvenient, creates a much larger societal problem. Incorporating emotional and cultural self-care skills among students, teachers, and administrators will benefit entire school communities. Aligning maturity and intellect need to be drivers for progress. At this point in history an age-based academic system where youth endured assorted trauma from institutions, peers, and unprecedented home dysfunction, only creates opportunity for tension to escalate. Aligning academic progress with Social Emotional Learning gives students the best chance of personal growth in a system that prioritizes their individual development.

By Glenn W Hunter
Author of “Storytelling Wins The Best Engagements”
Chair, Touchstone Youth Resource Services
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August 4, 2021 Posted by | Better Communication, Better Community, Better Person | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being Self-Absorbed With No One Looking

Beautiful people and gorgeous weather summarizes Southern California’s landscape. Depending on who’s counting, California’s southern half has an approximate population of 20 million people within proximity of awesome sunsets into the Pacific Ocean. So far, the profile is creating a breathtaking  profile, and it is lying! No matter how self-absorbed, tanned, manicured, or well-dressed they appear to be, many Californians are ugly. Not necessarily physically unattractive, but ugly people. Ironically, it is relatively easy to be self-absorbed when no one is looking. Despite external appearances, by being self-absorbed, individual frustration reveals itself in various ways. One way that sadly affects Californians is mindless violence!

Is Bad Behavior Sexy?

Once a community, a region, or a state, realizes that enormous material and social disparities exist, then the polite response for the perceived less fortunate is correcting the disparity. The truth is at the foundation for California’s notorious violent culture. Between the haves and have-nots, the state has enormous social and economic gaps. Then, after factoring inflamed frustrations from Covid-19, inconsistently fractured educational environments and largely unjustified cultural entitlement, a state emerges with potential secession in the north and race-based displacement to the south. Forget about “Can we all just get along?”; the new question is how do so many self-interested citizens find social alignment?

In a land where everyone is supposedly sexy and entitled, is anyone really either one? Fundamentally, hate is ugly. Road rage has captured the imagination of too many citizens and conspiracy theorists. Interpreting the statistics of violent crimes in our current environment and communities is debatable, particularly among a population that cannot even agree on who actually belongs here. The violence is evident in freeway snipers, race-based violence, renegade law enforcement caught up in crimes of violence and vice, plus citizens choosing to practice random mayhem. Furthermore, in sunny, southern California’s deserts, it seems that more corpses are being found there lately. This problem has become much more complicated than gang violence based on colors!

What Is To Fear?

Random violence creates panic. Consequently, scared people exhibit escalated anxiety and possess weapons. Law enforcement is doing the best that they can in tight budgetary environments and unprecedented violent conditions. Then, youth stopped attending school in some areas. Meanwhile, other schools enjoyed privilege in continuing to march toward an educated and prosperous future. The haves and have-nots encroached uncomfortably near each other physically, and those consequences led to profiling, as well as violence and incarceration. Entire communities struggled with comprehending the consequences and repercussions. Literally, the mindsets have progressed to the point where certain communities are wondering loudly, “Can we shoot them, yet?”

With multitudes exercising their broadening Second Amendments rights birthed out of unprecedented social anxiety, is anyone safe? The question is no longer whether justice is applied equally regarding violence, the issue has emerged is it practiced at all in some places? Whether it is social pressure, individuals trying to understand their place in this changing society, or economic pressure of what is a good paying job, the reality reveals a fragmenting society. Communication breakdowns in such societies are common because rules continuously shift, then trust in authority erodes. Technology permits communities to communicate quickly. But, is the information reliable? Is it trustworthy? Who’s truth do we believe?

Conclusion

Remaining calm is a tactic and people can make that choice. Yet, violence and mayhem makes news. Are life choices now driven by ratings? Nevertheless, experience says that California will survive this turmoil. Furthermore, hope appears within the most interesting stereotypes and the oddest pockets of society. For example, during a recent trip to the post office, people were politely social-distanced. Patrons smiled and held doors open for each other. The staff was professional. The post offices’ reputation for violence and unhinged customers and employees, does not stand up to this typical experience. Southern Californians, in the aggregate, want to attend to their business and contribute to their communities. The details may get a little messy, but decency seems to prevail. Fundamentally, society retains the opportunity to be kind! Such hope is not perfect. But, it clearly beats living in a militarized police state. And, while we are being kind, also be mindful, to be safe! Communities appreciate that, too!

By Glenn W Hunter

Author of “Storytelling Wins The Best Engagements”

Chair, Touchstone Youth Resource Services

To Donate Please Click: www.tyrs.org

June 23, 2021 Posted by | Better Communication, Better Community, Better Person | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer Protection is More Than Lotion

A young mother, smearing suntan lotion on one child, while trying to keep up with another child in search of mischief, was a sure sign that summer had arrived. In bygone years, summer suggested longer, warmer, sunny days. It meant more outdoor recreation. Time spent with friends and family expanded as vacation plans came to fruition. However, the previous year has had unprecedented confusion for children navigating school requirements and parents deciphering continuously changing routines. Covid 19, political unrest, disrupted school semesters across levels, and future uncertainty displaced reading, writing and arithmetic as education’s cornerstones. Yet, families continued to seek normalcy, or at least a consistent routine. With or without a mask, individuals desire a consistent set of social rules. What revised coping skills will emerge to help manage the collision of emotions and rights? With tension coming from so many social, cultural, and economic sources, what should families expect regarding an enjoyable summer? 

Violence

Extraordinary violence in retail outlets, places of employment, schools, city streets, and highways accelerate overall feelings of fear. Trauma dominates across age groups and demographics. Coping skills are becoming harder to deploy, as fear escalates. With news cycles that now routinely highlight both random and premeditated deviant violence, American society is having a harder time discerning the bad actors from our protective heroes. Was that officer a bad cop before, or after being associated with violence targeting minorities? Who exactly are our leaders that are supposed to serve and protect honest, decent citizens?

First, recognize that not all citizens, educators, legislators, authorities, and cultural icons are bad actors. Instances that suggest otherwise remain newsworthy largely because they remain out of the ordinary. Additionally, honest, hard working people across cultures and ethnic backgrounds make it through the day because they demonstrate responsibility and avoid situations that randomly compromise their safety. These millions of American often get overlooked because they are ordinary. Fundamentally, violence is part of our society. Unfortunately, bad things happen to good people. Yet, embracing behaviors that emphasize neighborly experience should have favorable outcomes. Except for the fact that guarantees do not exist. Still, losing hope is not an option.

Social Skills

Important tools to support community and individual desires for enjoying American liberties feature Social Emotional Learning skills. As people embrace their ability to act neighborly within their work and social spaces, the outcomes of these positive behaviors must have priorities. On the surface non-violence is an admirable goal. In reality, solutions are more nuanced. The absence of violence does not have to advance a local sense of community. Violence itself may reflect a more sinister problem. The problem may be insensitivity to honoring and respecting each other. What skills is society providing that are designed to enhance the well-being of society as a whole?

Empathy, compassion, respect are obvious correct answers to this challenge. Yet again, the problem resides in understanding the absence of these attributes. Exercising the ability to think before responding is an important skill for people of all ages. Assumptions are important considering they help individuals benefit from shortcuts in assessing situations in the aggregate. The problem is that interpersonal interactions are individual engagements. Social resolution for such challenges reside in the public’s ability to deploy respect whenever possible. That skill requires listening, understanding, and then responding. Ultimately, diffusing violence in the upcoming summer largely depends on societies’ ability to listen and understand. As long as individuals remain determined to impose their opinions and biases on others with the full support of authority figures, then misunderstandings will continue to escalate with deadly ramifications. Compassion, dialogue, and mutual respect provide foundations for less destructive interactions. Longer, hot days may be ingredients for troublesome summers. However, cooler heads, common goals, and civil conversations are certainlyt great foundations for local communities to mutually enjoy each others’ attributes!

Conclusion

Key challenges in many summers routinely reflect increasing violence. More aggressive conversation among national leaders fuels local trauma. Increased uncertainty on learning standards and educational progress results in student anxiety. Then, cultural and racial stress expresses itself in random and structured acts of violence. With so many problems hitting so many subgroups of our population, identifying a quick resolution is impractical, if not impossible. What can be done is to seek common ground in the supermarkets, playgrounds, and shopping locations for sharing mutual respect . Staying in place regarding social tension helps no one. Common courtesy and advocating its spread provides a chance for accountability to emerge within our national culture. Ultimately, common courtesy, civil discussion and suspending prejudiced assumptions are essential steps toward cooler heads prevailing in the midst of escalating summer temperatures. Try these steps to reduce trauma. Peace.

By Glenn W Hunter

Board Chair of Touchstone Youth Resource Services

Author of “Storytelling Wins The Best Engagements” Click: Available on Amazon.

May 31, 2021 Posted by | Better Communication, Better Community, Better World | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Education: Growth Or Pause?

In an evolving world that shifts unbelievably quickly, is this truly a smart time to ease off the pedal of education? As society and norms morph at constantly faster rates, more information and ideas circulate. Clearly, this is no time to slow any progress regarding society’s youth or their learning! Yet, between pandemics, social unrest, and ongoing questions concerning progress, communities nationwide have been inconsistent in their youth’s educational progress. While expanding challenges exist across community, financial, and intellectual barriers, now priorities concerning emotional health and future uncertainty are becoming larger factors in our society. Fundamentally, what does aligning our youths’ learning capacity and educational progress even look like considering the vastly different opinions in progressive American culture lately?

Growth
Community progress depends on several elements, particularly with regards to our youths’ learning and development. Beyond academic fundamentals, the foundation for social civility is established in classrooms and school yards. Early opportunities to get along with others at scale happens in school environments. However, how does that experience ignite when a pandemic removes possibilities for sharing a playground or a reading circle? Furthermore, what social exposure really happens when children presently learn how to take turns through a screen. Clearly, the youth will adapt. But, will they maximize their ability to interact with each other socially when a screen filters interaction?

Also, how well does learning take place where both teachers and students are unfamiliar with the environment? In fact, the more experience the teacher has, the more that they must now retool their teaching expertise for this different interface. The most difficult challenge happens when the most experienced teachers must retool with new methods of delivering lessons. Essentially, the experience that these educational treasures have polished over the years, have now become a weakness. The game changed. Specifically, the absence of personal interaction results in a brand new environment. Compassion matters! Even when environments sustain some semblance of physical interaction, the closeness remains compromised with the threat of illness. Literally, how does growth occur without establishing nurturing foundations?

Pause
One option is to pause. Because of interruptions in the school environment over the last year, measurable academic progress will be more inconsistent than any previous year. Social Emotional Learning suffers because of the dramatic changes and uncertainty resulting from illness and absence throughout many communities. Practically, does everyone progress according to their age? If progress depends on actual academic development, who is truly equipped to determine the new standards? What does social, emotional, or cultural equity look like in this subjective environment? Even if this broad standard is objective, is it truly being applied justly across individual jurisdictions? Is the solution to allow a pause in development until the challenge achieves more clarity? How long does a child repeat a grade before that child eventually progresses, or is social-emotionally scarred?

The pause is dangerous because an objective standard is already difficult to achieve. Now, an objective judgment for progress emerges from an environment that is experiencing this confusion for the first time, as well. History reveals that litigants are not patient when parents in communities believe their children’s development has been compromised. Trauma in a community under recognizable conditions can create stress in unanticipated ways. In an entirely New Normal, where progress among students has come under scrutiny, extraordinary efforts among educators may still fall short of expectations. Yet, decisions must be made and communities must progress toward proper functioning. Trauma is unavoidable with so much novelty imposing upon a sensitive population.

Conclusion
Still, decisions are required. And the consequences clearly transcend academic and social development. Even teachers need to be handled delicately considering that their precious roles have to be honored and their own social-emotional needs must be respected. Essentially, these unprecedented times bring singular challenges. The importance of emphasizing social emotional learning skills benefits all concerned parties because emotional stability is important for intellectual, social and cultural foundations. Recognize that trauma-informed approaches equip students, teachers, and administrators to be sensitive to feelings and emotional well-being for all stakeholders. Without valuing behaviors and sensitivity, across all individuals, the subsequent year will feature additional trauma. Learning and social gaps will continue to increase, therefore expanding dysfunctional pressure on society as a whole.

By Glenn W Hunter
Board Chair Touchstone Youth Resource Services
Please Donate to: www.TYRS.org

Glenn W Hunter’s New Book “Storytelling Wins The Best Engagements” is now available on Amazon.

May 19, 2021 Posted by | Better Communication, Better Community, Better Person | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment