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Teaching strategies to improve life skills

teens laughingA student’s experience at school is not solely academic. There are social and emotional aspects that influence students just as much, if not more, than their academic lessons. As a teacher, administrator, or counselor, you play a role in teaching your students the life skills to succeed not only academically, but also socially and emotionally.

New York Times author Jennifer Kahn recently discussed social emotional learning:

‘“Something we now know, from doing dozens of studies, is that emotions can either enhance or hinder your ability to learn. Marc Brackett, a senior research scientist in psychology at Yale University, told a crowd of educators at a conference last June:

‘Once a small corner of education theory, S.E.L. has gained traction in recent years, driven in part by concerns over school violence, bullying and teen suicide. But while prevention programs tend to focus on a single problem, the goal of social-emotional learning is grander: to instill a deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions. . .’

Educators and parents have long assumed that a child’s ability to cope with such stresses is either innate — a matter of temperament — or else acquired ‘along the way,’ in the rough and tumble of ordinary interaction. But in practice, Brackett says, many children never develop those crucial skills. ‘It’s like saying that a child doesn’t need to study English because she talks with her parents at home,’ Brackett told me last spring. ‘Emotional skills are the same. A teacher might say, ‘Calm down!’ — but how exactly do you calm down when you’re feeling anxious? Where do you learn the skills to manage those feelings?’”

Defense Mechanisms

Teaching students how to manage emotions is a challenge in and of itself. As a teacher, there are a variety of strategies you can use to equip your students with positive coping skills. A crucial part of the WhyTry Curriculum, Defense Mechanisms, teaches students how to choose their reaction to pressure situations. A great way to teach your students how to control their emotions is storytelling. Share a time when you were able to choose your reaction and maintain control. Frame it for them by telling what could have happened and how you used your defense mechanisms to change that outcome.

Motivation

Another coping mechanism students can use is motivation. By learning to take a possibly negative situation or challenge and turn it into positive motivation, students are one step closer to success. WhyTry’s Motivation Formula teaches students to channel their energy in a positive direction rather than reacting negatively.

Sometimes, these challenges come in the form of mistakes. By teaching students the value of mistakes, you can show them that one decision doesn’t necessarily determine another. Kevin Christofora, writer for edutopia.com, put it this way, “Rather than viewing mistakes as the opposite of success, teach children to see them as necessary building blocks on the road to success.”

Provide opportunities

Take time and give your students the opportunity to implement what they are learning. Group projects and activities not only teach teamwork, they allow students to practice these life skills in the safe setting of the classroom.

You can use group discussions to open the way for your students to interpret and internalize just how they can take what they’ve learned and use it in other parts of their life.

What teaching strategies do you use to improve life skills? Share your ideas in the comments below. To learn more about how the WhyTry Program can help you engage students online, contact us. 

Four keys to help your students stand up to cyber bullying

teen boy computerIt used to be that a student could leave school and leave bullies behind with it. With today’s expansion of technology and social media platforms, that is no longer the case.

The American Academy of Pediatrics defines cyber bullying as “deliberately using digital media to communicate false, embarrassing, or hostile information about another person.”The recent suicide of 14-year-old Hannah Smith has brought cyber bullying back to the forefront of discussion. As cyber bullying has become increasingly prevalent, especially among teens, it has also become clear that it is much more difficult to assess and prevent than other forms of bullying. Still, while it’s difficult to stop the problem, it is possible to equip children and teens with the tools to stand up to cyber bullying.

1.    Teach them to tear off labels.

Like bullying, cyber bullying is highly driven by labels. It involves name-calling, threats, rumors and more. When a child encounters these negative accusations, it is easy for them to fall into the trap of believing it and letting it change the way they behave to conform to the labels they receive. By teaching your students that they can choose what labels they let stick, you equip them to handle any labels cyber bullies might try to use. This teaches them that not only do they choose their own labels, but also the importance of the way they label others. It gives them the ability to stand up to and stop cyber bullying when they see it.

2.    Teach them positive defense mechanisms.

Cyber bullying can make the bullied individual feel threatened and pressured. They react to the situation using their defense mechanisms. The easiest way to react to a negative situation is negatively. By teaching students how to react positively, you give them the power to control their final outcome in the situation.

3.    Teach them to channel challenges into positive motivation.

Overcoming bullying is a daunting challenge, and with today’s technology, the threat of a bully is ever-present. Students may not feel able to overcome cyber bullying. Viewing the challenge in this way can lead them to channel their energy in a negative direction. Give your students the tools (positive self-talk, purpose, passion, etc.) to take the challenge and channel it in a positive way.

4.    Teach them to use social media and technology in a positive way.

Many students are not cyber bullied or cyber bullies themselves, but they are witnesses to it. Teaching your students to speak up to cyber bullying will go a long way in the fight to stop bullying and cyber bullying.

These tools will not only equip the victims of bullying, they can also encourage bystanders against bullying and cyber bullying.

Guest blog: Things I have learned from WhyTry

 

Typically when I blog, I have some sort of inspirational story or a call to action message. However, this time I’m going to try something new- tips that I’ve learned from personal experience while teaching WhyTry.
1. Many times, my coworkers and I have tried to remember what we did a few weeks ago during a WhyTry session and cannot remember. So, I began doing a “WhyTry Recap” each week after our sessions. This has been very helpful.  I document who taught what lesson, particular things the students said, if any referrals were made to the guidance counselor, any items of concern, and if we were able to finish the lesson. Recording all this does not take long and your brain will thank you!
2. We have learned the hard way that there must be consequences for the students’ disruptive actions. We have always tried to keep everyone in the group, despite some acting out. After a student breaks one of our rules, we typically pull him or her to the side to discuss what happened and how we’re going to make it better. This sometimes results in moving the student to another group, or at the worst- moving the student to a table by him or herself. We have grappled with this, as we believe that some of the students that are acting out are the ones that need to learn these lessons the most, but still understand that one student’s actions can detract from the overall success of the rest of the group. Speaking one on one with the student who is acting out helps the student feel less threatened and keeps the other students on task.
3. At one of the two schools where we do WhyTry, all of the 4th grade classes have already finished the six-week lesson plan we developed. However, my supervisor and other co-workers thought we should take the opportunity to teach some additional lessons from the WhyTry curriculum. So far we have only done this once, but the students really seemed to love the lesson. This also gave us a great opportunity to know the students more on an individual level. Take the time to learn something new about your students whenever possible!
4. Our students absolutely love stories! Time and time again we have found that when we lose their attention, a story brings them right back in. My co-workers use props for some of these stories, like a shield and sword for our lesson on defense mechanisms. Every time I tell “Rachel’s Story” the students always ask questions like, “When did this happen?” or “Do you really know Rachel?” Although these questions don’t have any bearing on the moral of the story, it is an indication that the story caught their attention and they want to know more. Try using stories throughout your lessons, especially when you seem to have lost their attention.

I hope you find this list to be beneficial. Please add any other tips you have learned in the comments section!

Next month, I will write about my experience researching WhyTry. This has been a difficult to say the least! I have faced many obstacles in figuring out the logistics of my research, from obtaining permission slips to gathering and organizing data. While this has been frustrating, it has been worthwhile, as I hope this research is beneficial to the implementation of WhyTry for next school year. Be sure to watch my blog next month!

 

Marissa Emrich is a senior social work student, aspiring school counselor, fiancee, sister, friend, and daughter.   To read more about research surrounding WhyTry, visit our website.

WhyTry announces online curriculum launch

After months of building, planning, and re-building, WhyTry is excited to announce an online product subscription!  Not only is this move helping us go “green,” it will benefit WhyTry facilitators worldwide by putting all of WhyTry’s favorite products in one place. Below are the “top ten” highlights of what you get when you switch over to the WhyTry virtual community:

1. The WhyTry teacher’s manuals: Each subscription includes both the elementary and secondary teacher’s manuals, divided into colorful, comprehensive, and improved versions of the printed curriculum.  Each chapter also provides you with a “flexible lesson plan” sheet to fill out and create a lesson that meets your group’s needs and time restrictions.

WhyTry Online Curriculum

2. Visual metaphors: You’ll get beautifully colored, printable versions of the ten WhyTry visual analogies.  We’ve tried to improve the art as well as the questions included on these posters.

WhyTry Visual

3. PowerPoint: When you sign up for a year’s subscription, we’ll send you our full PowerPoint DVD, but a condensed version of this DVD is a click away on the WhyTry Online site.

WhyTry Online Curriculum

4. Music: At no additional charge, we’ll provide you with all of the WhyTry elementary, secondary, and hip-hop tunes, easily downloadable in iTunes. Printable lyrics and processing questions are also provided.

WhyTry CD

5. Student journals: You can print out elementary and secondary journal pages for each of your students, and find facilitator journal prompts to make the most out of journal time.

WhyTry Journal Activity

 

6. Learning Activities: WhyTry has 150 learning activities to engage students and help them effectively process the WhyTry principles.  Each activity has a recommendation for spatial requirements, age, group size, and time.

7. Tutorials and other video: Training videos for each of the metaphors will help you improve your teaching and better understand the activities.  The site also gives you recommended links for entertaining videos that help complement your lesson.

 

8. Recommended reading: For each lesson, we provide you with a book list and description of how each book can enhance the learning experience for your students.  Simply click on the book title to order the book from Amazon.

WhyTry book list

9. Virtual community: Your WhyTry online subscription includes free entry into the WhyTry social media site, where you can collaborate with other professionals and get new implementation ideas.

 

10. Instant product updates: Because WhyTry Online is, indeed, online, you’ll be the first to know when there are updates and improvements to the program.  You’ll instantly get to utilize these improvements…at no additional cost.

Click here to be directed to the online site. If you have additional questions, feel free to contact us at 866.949.8791.

A life-changing final project

Audrey Cordova looked around at her 8th grade WhyTry class, notebook and pen at the ready.  For the first time in her teaching career, she was relinquishing control of her classroom and letting the students take the reins completely. So far, it wasn’t going well.

The students’ assignment was to design a mural representing the principles of WhyTry as their final project. Some students rigorously huddled at the whiteboard, making lists and writing plans, while others arm wrestled, sat quietly at their desks, stood on tables, or passed around mints.

Defense mechanisms were being used as students realized their ideas weren’t being acknowledged.  If they were excluded, they found other activities to distract them and show that they didn’t care.  “The class has now split into three groups,” wrote Audrey in her notebook. “One group is having off-topic conversation, and one group is just sitting. I think the group that is planning thinks they are the only ones on task, but in reality, it is their exclusiveness that has left the others feeling unheard. So the others resort to their defense mechanisms of acting like they don’t care or just being off task, or sitting silently to protect oneself.” Frustration and anger became increasingly evident as the day wore on.

Watching this process unfold was a huge learning experience for Audrey, who generally runs a structured classroom. “I’m questioning my own teaching strategies this year and have to wonder if we had had several chances to try this where students led the classroom, would they have learned to be more productive now?” wrote Audrey.  “I’ve taught enough years to know the answer to that is of course. They need opportunities to practice and apply what we learn in WhyTry in ‘real-life activities.’”

Finally, the students came to Audrey to announce that they had finalized their idea.  But when Audrey inquired further, it was evident that not everyone had contributed.  She shared the observations she’d made in her notebook, and a profound silence fell over her students. “Every person in the room knows they have to take accountability for why this day, in the end, was a failure when it came to one group coming together to accomplish this challenge. No one was perfect today,” Audrey later wrote.  She challenged her students to go home and think about how they could truly apply the principles and tools of WhyTry to come together and create their project. They agreed, vowing to do better tomorrow.

At the end of the day, Audrey wrote in her notebook, “Although today’s objective of getting a group plan down on paper that everyone was involved with, failed, I feel the students and I learned a lot from today, and I will consider this one of the best teaching days in my career… even if I stumbled into it by accident.”

Despite her usual insistence on deadlines and order, Audrey let the students run the show again the next day, and was impressed this time.  She wrote, “Students are way different today, and in a good way… All of them seemed very aware of their behavior, and this introspective way of thinking is allowing for progress.  35 minutes into class, everyone agrees on a plan and wants to get to work.”

There were, however, still roadblocks.  Five days into the project, the students decided they weren’t happy with it and voted to start over.  Audrey wrote, “My mind is racing as to ‘now they will never finish.’ However, how can I stop them when all they want is to create something of the highest standards? …  They clearly don’t want to let me or each other down. They are 8th graders who typically only care about just getting the assignment done as quickly as possible, and today that is not the case.”  The students spent the rest of Day 5 formulating a new plan.

Finally, in the last few minutes of class on Day 10, the class proudly finished the mural.  They wanted to march it outside and show it off immediately. “I wonder what happened to my 8th graders who shy away from looking smart and wanting others to see how hard they worked. It excites me to see the level of pride they take in their mural,” wrote Audrey.

Audrey told the class she was proud of the ways they had used the tools of WhyTry during the planning and executing of the mural. Afterward, they held a well-deserved celebration party. “Interestingly,” wrote Audrey, “They tell me that had they not fallen on the first day of working together, they didn’t think they would have accomplished the challenge.”

Audrey’s class is living proof of one of the fundamental messages of WhyTry: that the process of tackling a challenge can be just as valuable as the end result.

The description of the mural, as written by the students, is below:

 

“Our mural has two sides.  One side represents what life is like when you use Why Try and one side represents what it is like when you don’t use Why Try.  (They call them the good and the bad side.)  It begins with the words “Why Try” on each side.  On the good side, the words are clear and easy to read and on the bad side, the words are being torn up.  The bridge is central to the theme.  The first mural did not have a bridge.  We added the bridge to show that a person can travel to either side depending on whether they use the tools of Why Try or not.  The bridge is also slanted upward to represent that getting to the good side is an uphill climb, as we learned in the Reality Ride.  It is much easier to slide down to the bad side.  On the good side, there are paths that can lead you somewhere.  On the bad side, people are just left roaming aimlessly with no real direction.  This is symbolic again of what Why Try does for you.  The mural itself is very representative of the lifting the weight in that it is split and one side is better for you than the other.  On the good side, the playground offers opportunities to play and have fun.  The opposite is true on the bad side.  The people on the good side have made good choices to keep their river clean and therefore have the opportunity to fish.  You cannot do this on the bad side.  The sky is clear and the view is clear on the good side whereas on the bad side, it is cloudy and dark.  In general, the overall climate is just better on the good side.  The view is clearer because you have climbed the wall.  You have freedom, opportunity, and self-respect.”

Bullying is a monster. Together, we can fight it.

A bigger kid takes your lunch money.  Your schoolyard enemy pushes you around on the playground.  These are the bully stereotypes of the past.  The “bullying problem” has morphed through the years into a full-fledged epidemic of nightmare proportions.  The Internet and mobile phones have pushed the problem beyond the walls of our schools, haunting the victims and often emotionally crippling them.  Over half of adolescents today say they’ve been victims of cyber bullying.  About the same number of teens have engaged in it themselves.  Eight out of ten LGBT students have been verbally harassed, four in ten have been physically harassed, and six in ten feel unsafe at school.

The statistics are alarming.  According to the National Education Association, 160,000 children miss school every day for fear of being attacked or intimidated.  The National School Safety Center reports that American schools harbor over 2 million bullies and nearly 3 million victims.  90 percent of fourth through eighth graders report being victims of bullying.  87 percent of school shootings are carried out by a victim seeking revenge, and one in ten student dropouts are due to a bullying problem at school.

As the problem grows, so do the repercussions.  Suicide rates are on the rise among children in the U.S. and around the world, and this is largely attributed to bullying.  A child victim who avoids such a tragic end will still likely face low self-esteem, fear for his/her safety, anxiety, emotional disorders, and depression.

Fighting such a large and complex monster can be daunting, to say the least.  At WhyTry, we’re familiar with all the problems facing youth today, and we’re determined to help.

Here’s how the WhyTry program can impact bully prevention in your school:

The overall approach of WhyTry is to create an environment where students feel free to express themselves. It helps them become comfortable enough to share their experiences as victims of bullying and seek the help they need.

WhyTry has several lessons that focus on specific key concepts, several of which are addressed below.  Secondary concepts within these lessons help support the main principle of the lesson while tying in with other lessons.  The combination of these lessons helps create a big picture where students can see their world and understand their role within it.

Through the WhyTry program, students become better enabled to understand their emotions and behaviors, as well as the emotions and behaviors of those around them.  The personal insight gained in WhyTry can help both victims and bullies.  Victims gain a greater understanding of why bullies do what they do, and bullies learn empathy and gain a vision of how their actions affect or hurt others.

The purpose of many of our group learning activities is to help build unity and create a cohesive group.  Classrooms and groups that go through these experiences become closer and more supportive of each other.  Such support systems can be key to preventing and addressing bullying.

 The following is a breakdown of the WhyTry lessons and how they relate to the issue of bullying:

“The Reality Ride” helps bullies see the consequences of their actions.  When discussing the actions that get them into trouble, they are invited to point out the consequences of each of these actions.  The discussion is typically focused on the personal consequences, but in the case of bullying, there is also a focus on the ways their actions affect others.  They are encouraged to put on the shoes of their victim and imagine what it would feel like to be on the other end.  (For example: “How would you feel if someone posted embarrassing secrets about you online?”)

When we discuss “Tearing Off Labels,” we address the ways in which negative labels limit our opportunities.   We discuss the impacts of a negative label.  This gives us another opportunity to teach empathy.

Labeling others (through name calling, for example), is a form of bullying which can be taken to extremes and become very emotionally damaging. Students are encouraged to focus on the positive attributes of themselves and others, and form a pact not to label others negatively.  In this group environment, they are able to see the good in themselves and others and act accordingly.  When this happens, powerful change is possible.

On the flip side, the bully is also being labeled.  In this lesson, we discuss strategies to help them change the behaviors that are earning them their “bully label.”  We teach them how to interact with others appropriately.

“Defense Mechanisms” is one of the most powerful lessons to combat bullying.  Bullies lose their power when everyone understands defense mechanisms: what they are, why we use them, and how we use them.  As the group recognizes emotions and behaviors in themselves and others, the bully’s secret is out.

Through this lesson, bullies recognize their own defense mechanisms and emotions.  They are forced to take a hard look at why they do what they do and how they respond to pressure situations.  They then can think in advance about positive alternatives to their current response, leading to positive outcomes in real-life situations.

“The Motivation Formula” focuses on the keys to resiliency and dealing with challenges.  Struggling students learn how to channel the challenges of life, including bullying, into positive motivation.  They learn how to use positive self-talk and self-esteem, and are introduced to the importance of support systems.  These can be important resources for victims of bullying.

Bullies can also benefit from this lesson.  Remember, there are many reasons students become bullies.  Often they are suffering from some form of abuse themselves that they are simply refracting upon others.  Through “The Motivation Formula”, they will recognize that they can channel the challenges they are dealing with in a way that doesn’t hurt them or hurt others.

“Climbing Out” is about peer pressure, and focuses on how others influence us in negative ways.  One of the biggest challenges in dealing with bullies is the “bystander effect.”  Students will support their peers in negative behaviors because they feel pressure to do so, even when they recognize that the behavior is wrong.

This lesson provides opportunities to talk about why bullying occurs.  We often use the term “misery loves company” to show that people who have been abused or bullied themselves often turn into bullies, like crabs pulling other crabs with them into a pot.

In “Climbing Out,” we gain insights from both sides of the bullying situation.  We often discuss the “climbing out” metaphor in terms of positive peer pressure, allowing an opportunity to teach students how to stand up to a bully as a group.  We again discuss positive support systems and how to create them.

“Jumping Hurdles” teaches students specific steps to solve problems for themselves.  As these steps are addressed, we can use bullying as a topic of discussion and help them identify how to solve that problem as a group.  We begin by identifying the problem: “What is bullying?”

We then create options, applying the skills learned in “Defense Mechanisms.”

The next step is to get help: this is done by creating a united group of students committed to supporting one another and preventing bullying.

We take action: Students are encouraged to talk to a trusted adult, confront the situation, and create a safe environment.

We focus on self-esteem and an attitude of “It will get better.”  We believe in the bully’s ability to change.

The last step is to jump back up:  “Don’t give up if you are being bullied.”  “Don’t give up if you mess up and bully someone else.”  They can always try again and do the right thing.

The “Lift the Weight” lesson teaches youth that “bullying is easy, anyone can do it,” but working hard to obey laws and rules of home, school, and society makes us better prepared for the future, and gives us more opportunity, freedom, and self-respect. Ignoring the rules, on the other hand, lessens our opportunities, just like lack of exercise weakens us physically.

“Getting Plugged In” is the most important tool in combatting the bully problem.  The principle of support systems is emphasized throughout all the WhyTry lessons for this very reason.  Every child needs to understand the power that comes from connecting with other people and how to make these connections.  This lesson is key in helping victims of bullying and in keeping potential bullies from engaging in negative behavior.

 

Contact us to learn more about implementing WhyTry as a bully prevention program in your organization. Together, we’ll create a brighter future for our youth.