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~ thoughts from The Hill on the journey of learning ~

Launching into Spring!

March 14, 2017

I am thrilled (and a little nervous!) to present my first week ​of radio spotlights on education with WCHL this March 20th, the first official day of spring.


We will begin this new project with a focus on the value of nature: how it can help students tap into their inner wisdom, improve self-regulation, and provide a much-needed reprieve for Highly Sensitive Students.  Stay tuned for future posts!

WCHL: Week One--A Focus on Nature

March 20, 2017

"Come forth into the light of things,

and let nature be your teacher ~"

-William Wordsworth


This week on WCHL, we are launching a new two-minute "Spotlight on Learning," to be broadcast each weekday at 2:40PM. The theme for this week is nature, and how it can support students' growth. Here are some highlights:


* Children need time to play in order for their brains to develop to their full potential, but only 4.1% of states require recess today. No wonder our kids can become restless, disinterested or come home drained...Remember when your mom used to say, "Go outside and play!" It's not the same world today, but there is an organization right here in Chapel Hill that provides a safe and engaging environment for kids: Learning Outside.


* For middle and high school kids, it's important to know that (according to Psychology Today) time in nature can help to alleviate symptoms of ADHD. If your son or daughter is an HSP, it's especially important to detox from the sterile school setting and have access to the beauty and simplicity of nature. David Sobel writes, “If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, 'the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings' " (Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education).


If you would like to learn more about "green therapy" and its power to heal and support our youth in the journey of living and learning, here are some additional resources that I shared on the air:


Therapeutic Adventure: 64 Activities for Therapy Outdoors, by Roger Day


Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv


Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality, by Eva M. Selhub


Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-being, by Esther M. Sternberg, MD


I am so grateful to WCHL for providing the opportunity to share this spotlight on learning, and look forward to connecting with you next week!

WCHL:  Week Two--From Nature to Nurture

March 27, 2017

This week on WCHL during the "Spotlight on Learning," we shifted from the power of nature to the importance of nurture.  One of the key voices in this exploration was Dr. Daniel Siegel, and his seminal work, The Whole Brain Child:  Twelve Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive.  A paradox of parenting is that, in order to help support our kids' growth, we must nurture our own well-being.  Seigel writes, "“As children develop, their brains "mirror" their parent's brain. In other words, the parent's own growth and development, or lack of those, impact the child's brain. As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well.”


We also explored the importance of social connections:  did you know that being cut off from friends or excluded from events triggers the same part of the brain as physical pain?  These angles are explored in an article in the New York Times by Niobe Way called "Middle Schools Need to Focus on Caring and Connections."  Nurturing those social connections and a sense of communal safety for our middle school students is their #1 need during these tumultuous (and changing) years.


For high school students, helping our sons and daughters develop an inner compass that guides them towards authentic decisions is paramount.  But that tool takes trial and error to navigate and negotiate.  We nurture them best when approaching "mistakes" as opportunities for curiosity, creativity, and courage.  You might be surprised to learn how much your high school kiddo thinks that a misstep now means that failure is fatal.  Our years down the road offer more perspective for the marathon that is life--but they need the support to see that life really is a long-distance sport, not a sprint.  Our friend, Dr. Daniel Siegel, gently reminds us:  “Too often we forget that discipline really means to teach, not to punish. A disciple is a student, not a recipient of behavioral consequences.”


With our Highly Sensitive Kids, nurturing their special spirit is one of the greatest gifts we can offer them on the journey of individuality.   You might think that they are "wasting time" when staring outside the window, getting lost in a video game, or puttering on an instrument in the garage.  Imagine if Bill Gates' parents had prevented him from playing around with his school's computer to practice programming a game of  tic-tac-toe as a teen.  Dr. Elaine Aron, who first coined the term HSP, writes that "...HSCs have a tremendous amount to offer the world. But they do need special handling. They need to be appreciated, to have their special needs and sometimes intense reactions and behaviors understood..."


We end this week with a focus on the family on Friday, and a little ingredient called dopamine.  It's the neurotransmitter that is released when we encounter a moment of novelty or surprise--and it can really boost connections in our immediate tribe.  Nurturing little adventures and explorations are not icing for our family on special occasions:  they're essential every day.  So let's find some time to celebrate the weekend and just the small joys of being together:  it can be through making an ice-cream sundae or a scavenger hunt--you decide.  Just don't doubt the benefits:   the bonds that are strengthened through dopamine dumps reap rich rewards with our relationships and our ability to risk and grow!  For many of us here in NC, next week is spring break, so you'll have some fresh opportunities to explore creating fun adventures together.


Here's to a new season of nurturing our kids, our families, and each other.  And thank you, WCHL, for nurturing this opportunity for me to share this spotlight on learning with our community!

Perfectionism....A Parenting Support Circle

March 29, 2017

Join us at InterGifted for a workshop that offers support and direction for parents of Gifted, Sensitive, & Twice-Exceptional Kids. 


Parents of 2e & HSP kids can have their own roots of perfectionism and struggle to reconcile an inner picture of impossible standards with the outer reality of their flawed family.  Join me for this two-session parenting circle which will help you explore how to manage feelings of frustration, limitation, and sometimes alienation related to parenting your non-neurotypical children. Learn tools of Social & Emotional Literacy to help navigate and negotiate the journey of your family and bring more harmony to your home.


In Session #1, we will explore what perfectionism is: how it shows up in ourselves as individuals--and now as parents. We'll do some team-building with other participants and exploratory writing to set the stage for growth and change.


In Session #2, we will look at some specific strategies and tools of Social-Emotional Learning to help both our collective family and our individual journey as parents.


Dates:  April 22 + May 13, 2017, 18.00 Central European Summer Time on Skype. Sessions are 75mn long.

Cost:  $75 USD per session.

World Health Day Campaign

April 7th, 2017

As we begin a new month, April is abuzz with activity:  from Poetry Month to Jazz Appreciation; from baseball season to Stress Awareness--there's a lot going on!


This week on WCHL, I focused on Autism Awareness with the release of Sesame Street's character, Julia; Maya Angelou's birthday; opening day in baseball; and the fact that Ella Fitzgerald is the featured musician for this year's JAM (Jazz Appreciation Month).  But there's perhaps no more important message than that of the World Health Organization on Friday:  because the theme of their 2017 campaign is preventing and treating depression.


Did you know that the leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds is suicide?  This fact was brought home at the recent conference, "Transforming Lives:  Overcoming Stigma in Mental Illness," sponsored by our own Faith Connections at St. Thomas More Catholic Church this past Friday.  What was especially poignant to me, as a former educator, were the four young women from East Chapel Hill High School who spoke with courage and conviction about their own journeys of encountering challenges with mental illness.  Some of them dealt with issues of OCD, one is fighting an eating disorder, and another is working to befriend the gremlins of anxiety--but you would never guess it.  Each of them was beautifully poised and incredibly articulate.


I recently wrote in my quarterly newsletter about high-functioning depression, and I'd like to offer a highlight of that column here again today: 


I have learned that "high-functioning depression" can masquerade in the least likely candidates....Like Amanda Leventhal, a college student at the University of Missouri, who lives an all-American fairy tale. She has had the courage to speak out about her mostly hidden journey, writing that we can often miss the overachievers: "We don’t see the student with the 4.0 GPA. We don’t see the student who’s active in choir and theater or a member of the National Honor Society. We don’t see the student who takes on leadership roles in a religious youth group." Dr. Landau of Brown University understands the subtle symptoms of perfectionism that plague students like Amanda and coaches them to recognize that they are expert caretakers--of everyone but themselves.


Although I knew from other studies that young women tend to "internalize" their angst (vs. boys, who often "externalize" their frustration--) but recently heard about a study on NPR that depression among teen girls has risen substantially since 2011, partially due (researchers think) to pressures from social media. Of course this is not a gender-specific problem: the meeting I recently attended at Faith Connections in February highlighted the journey of a mother, Betsy Rhodes, who lost her (gregarious, talented) son to suicide. Her program, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, is called "Talk Saves Lives."


What is important about the WHO initiative and the young women at Faith Connections is that they are giving voice to this silent struggle, and helping us to reach out with compassion and courage.


Midst so much going on in April, let's take some time to have a talk with our young people about their journey:  the one who looks most "together" might be the one who needs you most of all.


Jackie Robinson Day~!

April 10th, 2017

Well, sports fans--it's a big time!  Last week, the UNC Tarheels became NCAA Champions with their Redemption in the Desert, and all of us here in Chapel Hill beat with hearts that were Carolina blue.


This week, we look towards a very special occasion on Saturday, April 15th, 2017:  the 70th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first game--and breaking the color barrier in baseball.  As a former Brooklynite, this story is near-and-dear to my heart because it epitomizes the values of equality and diversity that brought me to that borough so long ago....But in addition to becoming the first African-American to ever play in the majors, Jackie brought quite an impressive resume:  did you know that he attended UCLA and lettered in baseball, basketball, football, and track?!  There's no doubt that #42 was a force of athletic talent. 


As we know, Jackie was also a man of incredible integrity.  As I wrote this word (one of my favorites--) the letters grit leapt to the screen....So interesting.  Jackie Robinson faced tough challenges and taunts on the field--and heartbreaking alienation on the road.  It's hard to believe that this superstar was not allowed to eat at restaurants with his teammates or stay in the same hotels where they slept.  It's hard for me to even type that reality.  I don't want to believe it's true...and yet, we must remember this part of the story--now more than ever.


So on Saturday, in Dodger Stadium, a larger-than-life statue will be unveiled, in honor of this hero.  And we will celebrate this amazing man's journey.  But I'd also like to highlight the ways his memory still lives today.  Did you know that the Jackie Robinson Foundation is funding the college education of over 30 scholars?  Not only that, but JRF provides a curriculum of "42 Strategies for Success" to inspire and empower young people to reach for their dreams--including an initiative called Extra Innings for Graduate Fellows.


There's no doubt that Jackie Robinson created a new canvas for all of us in sports--but with the power of this Foundation, we have only begun to see a glimpse of his legacy in learning.


The Buddy Bench

April 20th, 2017

"Kindness begins with me."  Yes.  But in what ways can we teach our children to reach out to others, when they might feel isolated themselves?  Do you know about The Buddy Bench? It was first started by Christian Bucks in 2013, who was preparing to move across the ocean to a new school in Germany, but nervous he'd get left out.   And that's not an anomaly, even when kids are on home-turf.  Did you know that 80% of kids interviewed in a study admitted to feeling alienated at some point in their school journey?  Christian was nervous about being "the new kid on the block," especially at recess.  He knew what it was like to be lonely, so he reframed his fear and created a safe space for kids to sit--and for other children to have the opportunity to ask each other to join in their fun on the playground.  It's called The Buddy Bench, and it's become a sensation and tradition across the country, with over 2,000 benches now in schools, preventing loneliness and fostering new friendships.


As a certified coach in Social & Emotional Intelligence, I couldn't be more proud of this kiddo.  And--on this 18th Anniversary of Columbine--I honestly can't imagine a better way to prevent future tragedies....It's difficult to revisit that awful event in our nation's history, but as we know, violence in schools happens much too often.  The reasons are complicated and multifaceted, but in research for my Spotlight on Learning with WCHL this week, I stumbled on some themes of warning signs for kids in danger of committing future violence, provided by the APA.  I'd like to share them again here:


* early childhood abuse of neglect

* having been a victim of bullying

* withdrawal from friends and activities

* regularly feeling rejected and/or alone

* feeling constantly disrespected


Do you see how having a Buddy Bench can improve school climate?  ((And what if we had a Buddy Bench in board rooms? )) Christian, who was initially nervous about going to school overseas is now realizing that he can make a difference because "kindness is contagious."  He reflects, “Amazing things happen when you share your hopes and dreams...and you may end up helping more people than you can ever imagine.”


By being a buddy to the lonely or the lost, kindness can begin with each of us.  Sometimes we just need to build a bridge over troubled water--or provide a bench in our own back yard.

Mattering

May 2nd, 2017

This week on WCHL, I will highlight an article by Sheryl Sandberg on the loss of her husband.  It was published last week in the New York Times, titled, “How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a Loss.”


Sandberg says that she learned everything she could to help her son and daughter recover their footing after the loss of their dad, and her lessons are poignant. One of them is that children need to feel a sense of belonging. Sandberg reflects:  “...extreme harm and deprivation can impede a child’s intellectual, social, emotional and academic progress.  As a society, we owe all our children safety, support, opportunity and help finding a way forward.  We can start by showing children that they matter.


Sociologists define 'mattering' as the belief that other people notice you, care about you and rely on you.  It’s the answer to a vital question that all children ask about their place in the world starting as toddlers, and continuing into and beyond adolescence: Do I make a difference to others?


When the answer is no, kids feel rejected and alone.  They become more prone to self-destructive ('Hurting myself isn’t a big deal, since I don’t count anyway') and antisocial behaviors ('I might be doing something bad, but at least I’ve got your attention').  Others withdraw.”


You may be surprised to learn how I taught my students that they mattered when I taught high school English.  It was rare when a student crossed the line, but if that happened, he or she would get a detention after school—although never with another classmate.  He or she would come alone, and the first thing I would do is have them fulfill a chore—maybe it was washing the board, straightening desks, picking up trash, stapling papers...I had a lot that needed to be accomplished before I could leave, and on those days, they helped out.  Next, I would have them write a letter home about what happened that day—and trust me, I taught the writing process then too:  it had to be three paragraphs, with proper grammar. The first one explained what went wrong, the second addressed how they would prevent it from happening in the future, and the third outlined new goals for the rest of the quarter.  We would both sign it, and I required a parent’s signature on my desk--first thing the next morning.


You would think that these kids would resent missing football practice or spending time with friends or getting their usual ride home on the bus home, right?  Well, not exactly….You see, those same students would eventually, ultimately, stick their head in my door after school again some day.  And you know what they would inevitably say?  "Hey, Miss C—ya need anything?"  It still makes me smile.  I loved those moments.  My kids knew they mattered to me...and that their contribution to our learning community mattered.  A lot.  And I hope they never forgot.

"Tiny Touches"

May 15th, 2017

In my private practice here in Chapel Hill, I read a lot exciting discoveries in neuroscience, and study a great deal of information about positive psychology; I also teach some amazing tools of Social-Emotional Learning.  But, especially because May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, I also want to acknowledge the very real underbelly of anxiety, overwhelm, and intensity that is present in the lives of our youth.  


I have been known to say, “It’s never been harder to be a kid” and now I’ve been adding the other side of that coin as well:  “It’s never been more challenging to be a parent.”  In fact, I think it’s the hardest job on the planet.  Today's issues are complex, but whether it’s a situation of addressing test anxiety, prescribing medication for ADHD, or preventing a panic attack, our society tends to default to a “fix it” approach. We want to find a solution, and move on.


Some solutions are possible—but with kids, it’s often the minute we find relief with one thing, another situation surfaces....and the bar keeps moving.  So I'd like to offer a perspective from one of my little Brooklyn*Buddas—a six grader in Park Slope.  "Andy" doesn’t particularly enjoy learning…it’s drudgery, even at the progressive private school in his cool neighborhood.  But—Andy adores soccer.  He lives to play this game.  So I would always try to weave this passion of the sport into our sessions together.  One day, Andy taught me one of the keys to success in soccer:   it’s called “tiny touches.”  Andy’s coach instructed the team that the more they are able to make contact with the ball, the better confidence and command each athlete will have on the field.


Kurt Aschermann, in his book, Coaching Kids to Play Soccer, explains:  “Simply defined, dribbling consists of 'tiny touches' of the ball, usually in close quarters.  When dribbling, as in the performance of other skills of the game, players must be able to use all parts of the foot—the inside, outside, top, and sole.  Your players must be able to change speed, change direction, and dribble with their heads up.  There are only two times when soccer players should have their heads down:  when the player first touches the ball, and when it is last touched.  Keeping the head up is essential because otherwise your players will not be able to see their teammates, defenders, or the goal.”


How does this skill relate to mental health?  Well….'tiny touches' must continue throughout the game.  It isn’t enough to do them once or twice and then score—this technique has to become consistent and constant.  'Tiny touches' must become routine, almost like breathing.  If we were to approach support in mental health like “tiny touches” by providing many opportunities of education and encouragement, think how amazing our world might be—and how strong we could help our kids become. 


It's not a solution, but it is an amazing approach....and it just might be a key to winning the game.

The Grand Central Station--of your mind...

June 15th, 2017

Earlier this month, I focused my "Spotlight on Learning" at WCHL on the different parts of the brain.  While we tend to give a lot of focus to the higher functions of the cerebrum, we can often underestimate the other sections that are pretty important too--like the brain stem, which connects to the spinal cord. It is the lowest, most primitive area of the human brain—but without it, we would be lost.


The brain stem has many basic functions, including regulation of heart rate, breathing, sleeping, and eating. But it also plays a key role in conduction. All information relayed from the body to the cerebrum and cerebellum, and vice versa, must traverse through the brain stem.


I compare the brain stem to Grand Central Station, in New York City:   it’s where everyone and everything meets. This is the place where you connect to the Metro North for a weekend out in the countryside—or it’s the portal to a million places in the Big Apple.  Lots of signals are running in and out of the brain stem, just like travelers in this rail system.  And they all have someplace to go.  Pretty cool.


Tim Birkhead, author of Bird Sense:  What It's Like to Be a Bird (2012), explains it this way:  “Although we tend to think of the brain as a discrete organ - a lump of squidgy tissue - it is better to think of it as part of an elaborate network of nervous tissue that reaches out to every single part of the body.”


The brain stem is the portal to celebrate every single part of our intricate mind~!