Day 1 – Trauma, Mental Health, & our Students

This week a friend of mine challenged me to do 25 pushups for 25 days as a way of raising awareness for mental wellness issues that can lead to suicide and it goes by the tag #matesofmatesformates.

Yesterday was Day 1 and I questionned – what can we do beyond the challenge? How does doing 25 pushups for 25 days actually help anything?

What I will do is find out more about mental health. It is one of those things that we (at least I) think I know about. That kind of thinking means I need to learn more.

And I’ll share what I find out.

Yesterday evening I saw a TEDx talk by Phillip J. Roundtree where he talks specifically about Black mental health. I need to listen to what he says more.

In the video, he talked of trauma and how it affects black people, how it affected him.

Some questions to ask ourselves:

As teachers, how often have we described a black student as rude or that they don’t care about their education based on specific behaviours before stopping to think about the effects of trauma on that child? I have always believed that there is a reason for every behaviour. Sometimes those reasons lay deep.

How often have we done this with an Indegenous student?

When we take a look at our resource and behavioural programs – have we stopped to think how these knee-jerk responses are built right into our school system?

How are we going to change this?

Here are some questions for you…

click on the image for source…and for a post on student questioning from Inquire Within.

What do you teach? Whether it be math, English, French, science, History, economics, computer science… are you allowing your students to use whatever tools they need to be successful?

Are you allowing your students to record themselves (or you) with their phones or tablets?

Are you allowing your students to use their phones or tablets to look things up in class?

Are you asking your students to write all of their work by hand?

Are you questioning your students and expecting them to conduct their own inquiry?

Are you providing your students with all of the answers that they need to memorize to pass a test?

Whether your answer is yes or no to those questions… follow it up with


and here is the biggie…

Are you questioning yourself and your teaching practice on a regular basis?


Learning, Naturally

…or is that Acquiring, Naturally?

I’ve been thinking a lot about language learning lately, as I bring a group of students towards final evaluations in a few weeks’ time. This group is small, though of the 9 students there are 6 different levels I need to evaluate. So, I repeat, I’ve been thinking a lot about language learning lately :)

A few lines from Mr. Krashen:

“Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill.”

” Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language – natural communication – in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.”

” The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are ‘ready’, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.”

Do I like what he says because this is how I ultimately end up teaching? I can’t stand drills, grammar exercises, worksheet after worksheet of sentences and vocabulary. I can’t. It would bore me to death – all of that paperwork and its organization or, ultimately, disorganization as they all look the same and can easily hide behind each other. All of that subterfuge just gets in between me and the learner and what he or she knows anyways. Besides which, after 16 years of teaching, I know myself well enough that I won’t get around to correcting paperwork in any timely kind of manner.

So maybe it’s my lazy teaching correcting style that keeps my classroom free of worksheets and workbooks. Instead, we talk. I let them talk in English, even. It’s all for the purpose of better understanding French. But they always do some kind of talking and listening in French. At first I was following some kind of instructional format (like, today we will learn about past tense, or today we will learn vocabulary words for sports) but that made everything too…unnatural… and, ultimately, boring. It drove me nuts. So I told them to stop coming up with sentences about sports they used to play and to talk about the things they like to do now or the things they dream about for the future. I let them write it out in English and then they had to translate. We used dictionaries, translators, me, other students, whatever they were comfortable with and by going through that process they began to take more risks in speaking. Since I have all those levels I can’t quite have conversations with all of them at the same time so I’m happy for the tablets we have access to. There’s no waiting for their turn to talk, they practice talk into the tablet. Then they listen, erase, and practice talk some more. I make my rounds and record something as well, so they have my voice to listen to even if I’m not there.

Basically, the classroom is just a spot where we experiment with language. I think it grew out of my lazy correcting practice but just by listening to my students experiment with French, taking risks they would not have taken a few months ago I can say that being a lazy corrector may just have made me a better teacher for this group of learners.

School Makes Me…

Yesterday I shared a photo shared by one of my facebook friends. When I first saw it, I had a visceral reaction – my gut literally lurched as I read the words in the image. This morning, as I saw my own friends react in very much the same way to the image, I decided to do some after the fact-checking.

Here is the original image:


I did my own search with the same terms and came up with this, not quite as descriptive but equally as disturbing:

20130128-055454.jpg, well in character, comes up with a slightly more optimistic version:


But things return to their dire straits with a slight change in the search terms:


So what does this mean, this assumption on the part of Google that school basically sucks? Since Google provides results based on popular searches…it means that when people type in ‘School makes me’ or ‘School gives me’ they very often complete their searches with those very sad qualifiers.

We have the power to change this.

On a googlish level, we need to start looking for hope. Start searching for the stories that portray school as a transformative space, full of hope, love, care, and relationships.

On a larger level, in our schools and centres, with our students and teachers, we need to live those stories. As educators, we need to be hopeful, loving, and caring. We need to connect with our students and with each other in a way that supports, in a way that ensures no one sees school as a lonely, sad, anxiety-ridden place.

It starts with caring.

We so have the power to change this.

Respectful guidance

In everything. We can’t go around trying to do new things without someone to guide us. And we can’t go around asking people to try to do new things without ensuring the guidance is there for them: guidance that is offered in a way that respects us as learners, as people.

challenge me to stand on my own but remain close so I know you’re there if I need you

There is nothing worse than to walk into a classroom and see students scrambling to ‘get’ what it is they are supposed to be doing. More often than not they just end up doing something else or not showing up – that’s when you get the acting out, distracted, and distracting behaviour. If I were given a text to read and answer questions about in Hebrew or about electrical engineering without anyone there to guide me in the learning of the language or science I’d probably look for something else to do pretty quickly.

There is also nothing worse than to participate in PD with a group of educators who know that there will be no follow up, that the topic is just one in a long line of topics designed to keep everyone busy and tick off some boxes in terms of pedagogical development. Again, no real guidance here. At least none that is based in learner respect.

On the flip side, there is nothing better than to walk into a classroom and see students who are being challenged at exactly that point – you know the one, the one where they are right on the cusp of what they know and what they don’t, that zone of proximal development point – where learning is magical.

There is also nothing better than to participate in PD with a group of educators who are directly involved and invested in what they are doing. Who are learning for a reason that comes from within and not from external goals.

The first instances are insulting and disheartening, barren of respect and guidance. The second, enlightening and full of heart because they involve respectful guidance.

I’ve been blessed to have been able to experience both in my teaching and consulting practices. Blessed because the former ensure that I help create more instances of the latter.