positive school wide engagement

Sitting here in the middle of a crazy and beautiful summer storm and I thought, why not update the blog? I have yet to post about the Positive School Wide Engagement (PSWE) Institute I went to back on June 23rd and 24th. I am a part of my school’s PSWE team. Last year the experience was just okay being on that team. Sometimes it was more of a time suck and other times I just felt like I wasn’t really sure of what our point was. Often the room felt less than positive. Each member is supposed to participate in the summer PSWE Institute but last summer I had no idea I was going to be a part of the team. At the end of this school year I decided to sign up again to be on the team. Next year it will come with a (very small) stipend and I figured it was a beast I already knew. So, I signed up for the summer institute not expecting much. The titles of the breakout groups sounded interesting but I figured it would be your run-of-the-mill district funded training. Boy was I wrong!

I was really impressed by what the institute offered. On our first day Anne Gearity was the keynote speaker. I have seen Anne speak before and she came to do a training with us when I worked at Southside Family Nurturing Center. She is absolutely amazing. Her Developmental Repair Model is a must read for all mental health and education practitioners. Anne’s presentation consisted mostly of this guy (I can’t remember his name, sorry) leading small groups from the audience in improv exercises on the stage. The improv was to help us understand what is needed for learning. A student needs to have security, a sense of safety, beginnings of self regulation. A student needs to feel safe to explore, have an “I can do it” confidence. Curiosity, reasonable distress, and tolerance are needed along with perseverance, stamina, focus, problem-solving, and group engagement.

One of the exercises we did to explore the need to feel safe and development of confidence was “Clams are Great“. For this exercise a group of people gathered on the stage. The instructions were that each person would stand in the middle of the group and list all the reasons they could think of that clams are great. There would be no wrong answers. The rule for everyone listening was to respond with “YES!” after each statement of why clams are great. When you ran out of ideas why clams are great you raised your hand and someone would tap you out. It turned out to be a hilarious activity and it was interesting what people reflected on when it was finished. Those who participated said they felt safer to stand up in front and list off any reason clams are great because they knew everything they said would be responded to positively, there were no wrong answers. I really liked what the facilitator said: “If you pay attention to what others are saying you will find inspiration. If you hold back reasons you are taking away the potential for that idea. When we collaborate these connections grow immensely.” 

We talked about how if we started lessons off with a similar activity, created space for students to feel safe just giving answers, how would that impact their learning? So many of my students expect to not know, expect to not fit in the academic learning spaces. How do we help them feel safe? How do we create space where confidence can thrive? I worked hard last year just to get kids to say “I don’t know”. So simple a phrase but you would be amazed how many of them can not say it and instead resort to externalizing and aggressive behaviors to get out of uncomfortable situations when a simple “I don’t know” could have resulted in them being provided support.

I also thought about what he said about holding back, not contributing, and how by doing that you are taking away the potential for ideas. I think professionally we need to create safe space as well. Teachers need to listen to one another and open up more with one another. We are supposed to be a community of educators and instead we often hide out in our classrooms and put up walls. This is not true for every teacher all of the time but it is true enough of the time that we need to break the cycle. 

We did another improv exercise called Emotional Schoolbus. It was also hilarious! There was a bus driver who was feeling a certain way, however they chose and they made it clear to the audience. At the first stop the driver let on the first passenger who boarded with a very different emotion than the driver and the driver immediately matched that emotion. At the next stop a new passenger with a new emotion boarded and all on board immediately matched that emotion. This went on until all of the seats on the bus were filled and then one by one, starting with the last to get on the bus, each person left as the emotion they came in on and all on the bus matched that emotion. 

Some of the takeaway thoughts from this exercise were around letting children.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 be themselves and that the more you do, the more they can join you. In the classroom, we can move away from making students fit into the box we want them to and moving towards letting them be, letting them have the space to feel what they are feeling, meeting them there and being with them. “Relational engagement allows positive engagement to transform into active learning and mastery”. 

Some words that really stuck:

Pause and see what they see.

Tolerate feelings as just feelings that pass and change.

Replace judgement with investment in helping them learn something new-move to repair, restorative models are looking at, and then what, fixing it in the future, we can not go back


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