Tag Archives: Caring

On Being Loved

If you have as many true friends as you can count on one hand, that’s a lot.

I can’t remember where I first heard it, but it’s stayed with me for years. It has held me up when I’ve been alone, afraid, and unconvinced that there was such a thing as feeling better. It’s what keeps me holding my friends close and trying to be to others who they are to me.

Since friends are special and since Valentine’s Day is coming up, I wanted to say a few things about friends, about the people who have come to be my people. February 14 is the day we’re supposed to remind our people that we love them, though I try not to let mine forget.

True friends are the people who have stopped what they were doing to be happy or sad with me, who tell me when I’m wrong and cheerfully admit when I’m right, who have welcomed me into their arms and homes and lives all over the world, who have seen me grow, who want for me what I want and don’t mind how often that changes. These are the people who I turn to at any time for any reason because they’re always glad to have me. These are the people who I can (and have) called at odd hours with laughter and with tears. These are the people who witness my life the way that I witness theirs.

Like any relationship, that with friends ebbs and flows. The people who immediately come to mind when I think of counting on one hand (which, admittedly, is a very rare occurrence) have remained largely static for some time, but I always find it interesting to observe how, why, and when that changes. Life changes. People change.

But what doesn’t change is the warmth and love that all of these people make me feel. Being reminded, flooded, with all of that love augments my desire to bring warmth and love to everyone else. I’ve found loving-kindness meditation to be particularly helpful in guiding me to let go of frustrations, irritations, and anger that get in the way of the compassion and caring that I prefer to feel. It’s also a good reminder of everyone who loves me – and I admit that sometimes I do need a reminder.

Valentine’s Day can be difficult for people who don’t feel like they have people. The circle of people in loving-kindness meditation ultimately extends to all humanity, so I can assure you that you’ve got me.

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Made by Hmong women in Sapa, Vietnam

To all of my people, thank you for everything. Love you now, love you always.

A Toolkit to Improve the World

In much of my past writing on education, I discuss the need for experts at living who are caring, compassionate global citizens who aim to make the world a better, more peaceful place. Experts at living would be creative and critical thinkers, effective problem-solvers, and dedicated to altruism in order to benefit humanity. Reframing schools in terms of problem-solving would expose students to the myriad problems and suffering that exist, and provide them with experience and practice developing their expertise. Dealing with these complex problems would have the added benefit of bringing real moral, ethical, and global issues into our classrooms and conversations. This would also create opportunities for dialogue, an essential aspect of conflict resolution.

In order to build a better world and create experts at living, schools need to provide students with a clear set of values that will act as their “toolkit” for making the world a better, more peaceful place.

The values that I will discuss below – cooperation, altruism, empathy, compassion, and caring – come from an unfinished book that I began writing with a colleague over a year ago. We’ve taken a hiatus that was longer than the time spent writing, but I would like to restart; I think we have some important things to say. Consequently, this blog post is intended to introduce to some of our ideas to a real audience to gauge how our work resonates and where we need additional thought. For purposes of the post, I’ll leave out the research (though there’s extensive evidence supporting all of these ideas) and include a list of further reading at the end.

The Values “Toolkit”

Neuroscience tells us that humans have evolved cooperative behaviors in order to survive as a species. Being able to communicate with each other, work together, and help one another has made the growth of civilizations possible. It has also created the prosperity that is far beyond anything seen with other species, yet unevenly distributed across the world.

Learning to get along with others is nearly always part of early schooling, often beginning much earlier than formal education. We teach very young children to share and play with others. We want them to work together to accomplish tasks. However, at the same time, we also begin instilling values of competition, with an emphasis on dominating others and being the best of the group. These competitive ideas exist in contrast to the cooperation that has created human society. We need to decide what message we want to send, which ought to be the message that will have a more positive impact on our world.

With cooperation as a value explicit in schooling, we could ensure that children left school understanding that cooperation is what makes the world a better place. We need classrooms, lessons, activities, and interactions that cultivate cooperative behaviors and emphasize the importance of cooperation. This way, students would come to understand that their actions can help us all have better lives.

In order to make the world a better place, we need to help our young people develop into adults who identify as helpers, people who believe that assisting others is their responsibility. We know that children and young people behave altruistically and help others without prompting; there is empirical evidence alongside individual personal experience to prove it. As social creatures dependent on one another, it is also in the best interests of all people to help those around them.

Working together and helping those in need generally makes people feel good about themselves and what they’re doing. People of all ages look for volunteer opportunities. Knowing that, it is only logical that altruism should play a central role in our classrooms in order to purposefully develop it as a value that we deem important. We must capitalize on the helping tendencies already present in young children to help students see that their altruistic actions can positively impact and ultimately change society.

It is deeply part of what makes us human to be able to both cooperate and show concern for the well-being of others. Without these truly human qualities, we would not survive as either a species or individuals. Recognizing this allows us to more fully embrace them and encourage these values within schools and education. We want to build a world that emphasizes deep, meaningful altruistic relationships with others so that we are all better off.

Empathy requires us to put ourselves in another’s shoes and act accordingly, whether as a result of our feelings about the other or about ourselves in a reversed situation. Empathy takes practice. Students need to first learn to recognize that others may be feeling a certain way and then determine how to respond in a variety of circumstances. Finally, they need to learn how to communicate with those around them, particularly in cases of disagreement. Empathy will help guide students’ understanding of one another during periods of conflict, which will have an overall positive impact on their interactions.

Therefore, putting students in situations in classrooms and amongst peers that work to develop kindness will enhance the empathy that they feel for others. This will ultimately impact the choices students make when making decisions that affect those around them. Empathy also plays a role in forgiveness, which is clearly tied to creating a better and more peaceful world. If we are able to forgive others for their actions against us, we will be more inclined to cooperate and work towards the benefit of all humanity.

Practicing empathy is an essential aspect of developing citizens who work to enhance the well-being of others and strive to make the world a better and more peaceful place for all. It forces us to consider others’ needs and the value that each individual has in society. If we want our students to develop values of empathy and caring for one another, adults must demonstrate them as a central tenet of our daily interactions. We need to act in ways that emphasize our human-ness, which means working to help each other in all that we do.

Compassion for all living beings requires us to encourage students to look beyond their everyday lives and towards the world as a whole. We need classrooms, books, lessons, and activities that emphasize the importance of care and compassion for others, as well as the desire to cultivate happiness for others. Our students need to become more open-minded and more concerned with those around them. The more we do in schools to help students think, feel, and act compassionately, the more they will behave that way on their own.

Emphasizing compassion in our students is an essential aspect of developing citizens who care about others. Students must come to understand that they are part of an interdependent human society. Thus, their actions and behaviors have an impact on others and on the world. With this foundation, having compassion for others will positively impact students’ work in and outside of school to make the world a better and more peaceful place.

If we want our students to become citizens who participate in democratic societies, work towards peace, and care for all sentient beings, we need to help them understand that their actions now can and do have an impact on the future. Focusing on how to alleviate suffering can and should be an element of daily activities in schools. Recognizing the role that compassion plays in improving the world means that it should be nurtured and developed to help us reframe education to create a better and more peaceful world.

The necessity of caring for both others and oneself is vital if we are working to solve the world’s biggest, most pressing, and most important problems. We cannot solve these problems if we operate solely along individualistic lines. We must teach students to care about others if we want to make any impact at all. Care must be infused as a value throughout our education system as well as our society.

Creating cultures in school that mirror our hopes for society means that there will be congruence between what we communicate to students and what they actually see and experience. Far too often, there is little to no follow-through on the messages that we claim to send. If caring is not a central tenet of how students are treated and how they treat one another, we cannot shift schools into a system where we focus on the good of humanity. This is important for all students in all communities, but especially in circumstances where school provides the caring that might be lacking in other environments. All students need to believe that just as they are cared for, they can care for others.

We want our students to live in a world that is better than our own, which means that we must emphasize caring among, between, and for others in all that we do. This is how we will ensure that students leave school with the qualities that make us human. We need to emphasize caring in order to create a society and culture that value all sentient beings and collectively seek to make the world a better, more peaceful place.

All sentient beings deserve to live in a peaceful, sustainable world with minimal suffering. With their central role in developing the next generation of leaders, schools are particularly suited to this task. Creating a better world is far more worth our time than assessing students’ abilities to take multiple-choice tests. Educators should embrace this responsibility and seek to promote it in their schools.

We live in a world that is changing faster than the world has ever changed, and we are currently not providing our students with the tools to work within the new world that we will all inhabit before we know it. A guiding framework of core values – cooperation, altruism, empathy, compassion, and caring – can act as a starting point for schools and education systems that are truly dedicated to improving society.

Further Reading

Building Peace: Choosing Our Words

This post was initially supposed to be about mental health in the classroom because of a PD from this week. However, I was sidetracked by a conversation I overheard on the train on the way to the  café where I am now. (If you clicked on the link and are imagining the delectable smell of cinnamon rugelach, you’re right here with me.)

As a result, I’ve reframed this post as a discussion about the power of language with a specific focus on how we talk to children and to students in our classrooms.

The Conversation
I don’t always eavesdrop on the people on either side of me on the subway platform, but I generally start to pay attention when I hear the voices of very young children. That’s mostly because I think they’re adorable but also because I’m curious about parenting. My mother is an early childhood educator and has always maintained a running commentary on how people dress, talk to, and generally treat their children in public. Though I am not a parent myself but really hope to be someday, my mother’s ideas have influenced my opinions on parents and parenting. As an educator, I know that deliberate language makes a huge difference in many activities that take place in the classroom, including the formation of relationships between teachers and students.

The conversation I overheard just a few minutes ago reminded me how important it is for parents to also be cognizant of how they talk to their children and what they say when their children are around. I wasn’t paying attention until the little girl in a tutu and ballet bun tried to break into her parents’ heated discussion. I caught phrases like “if we have a boy” and “you can’t just save all that money” and “she also wants to have a career”. The child tried three times before being able to complete a sentence, stopping herself when neither parent glanced at her as they continued speaking. When her parents finally paused, the little girl announced, “Yeah, Dad, and you don’t do nothing with me!”

Both ignored her. The train arrived and all three squeezed inside.

The non-interaction made my heart hurt.

How We Talk
Two things in particular stood out to me regarding the parents’ dismissal of their child and what the child had actually said:

  1. Need for acknowledgement. When a child clearly wants to speak, the adults in discussion need to acknowledge the child’s desire to participate and let the child know when it is an appropriate time to do so. We want our children and students to be able to engage in dialogue, a true back-and-forth exchange of ideas and opinions. We want them to develop autonomy, agency, and a sense of empowerment in their ability to express themselves. If we ever expect them to talk, we need to listen when they’re ready. This happens constantly in the classroom when students want their voices heard. I can’t try to count the number of times I have said something like, “Hold on, someone else is talking now” and then followed up with, “Okay, what would you like to add?” when the other student had finished. I remember my parents telling us, “Mummy and Daddy are talking right now and in one minute you can say something. Please wait.” Acknowledging that children want to speak and then helping them determine when to do so is essential if we truly want to listen to and interact with one another in any capacity.
  2. Awareness of surroundings. Regardless of what her parents were arguing over, I know that this girl had heard too much. She was probably around four years old and clearly parroting what she’d been told about her father or what she’d overheard others say. I expect she’d heard her parents engage in a similar exchange more than once before since she was so intent on this particular phrase. “You don’t do nothing with me.” Does she even know what it means? She very happily grabbed her dad’s hand as they boarded the train, so I suspect not. When we speak, we are modeling behavior. If we want our children to grow into respectful young people and ultimately respectful adults who care about those around them, we need to model respectful language. Students hear the words that we use and absorb them. We send messages that we don’t realize we’re sending. Certain words and phrases stand out more than others and we don’t necessarily know what children will latch onto. Young people hear a lot and interpret what they hear. If we want to cultivate certain ideas over others, we need to be careful that it is those ideas we express when we’re speaking.

Why It Matters
Actions and words create environments and expectations. This is true at school, at home, and in the workplace. In the heat of the moment, that’s easy to forget. We all make mistakes and we all say things that should be left unsaid. From a pedagogical perspective, I try to be very aware of what I say and do in order to create a classroom environment where students feel accepted, validated, safe, and important. I make choices about the words I use, ideas I express, how I deal with challenges, and how I interact with students in order to create that classroom environment and culture. I can’t expect my students to act a certain way if I don’t explicitly show them what that is and insist that they engage that way with each other.

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

We all know that words matter. A lot. In each of our interactions, we need to remember that the connection we form with others does not disappear when we stop talking and part ways. I don’t always know what the people around me take away from the time we’ve spent together, but I do know what I take away. Young people are constantly learning from example, which is why I urge mindfulness in all interaction, verbal and nonverbal. If I want my students to work to construct a better, more peaceful world I have to work on that with them at a micro level before I can expect them to do that on a global scale.

The conversation I overheard on the subway platform is also relevant in terms of a really excellent presentation from PD this week about dealing with mental health issues in the classroom. I have always been interested in mental health and I’ve taught psychology in the past so little in this presentation was new in itself, but it was refreshing to attend a PD session focused on supporting students with mental health issues.

We don’t talk about mental health often enough. I’ve been trying to raise awareness about educational issues lately, which is why I want to share some thoughts on mental health in the classroom and a resource the presenters introduced that I find very useful.

The Numbers
Most of us are experts at pretending we’re okay when we’re not. When’s the last time someone asked, “How are you?” and you actually answered the question instead of providing the cursory, “Finethankyouhowareyou?” response? Society has decided that we’d rather delude ourselves than actually see the people around us.

This is a problem because many people are not fine at all. In 2014 alone, one in five American adults experienced some kind of mental health issue. It’s also a problem with young people. There has been increasing research about the number of adolescents who are struggling with mental health issues. Suicide rates are the third leading cause of death in young adults ages 15-24, and 90% of those who committed suicide struggled with mental health problems. Being able to talk about openly about mental health is a step in the right direction towards an emphasis on greater well-being for all.

The Need to Talk
Stigma is a huge problem when addressing mental illness. As noted above, we have decided that we are all “fine”. Many people would probably be taken aback if a polite, “How are you?” was followed up with, “I haven’t slept in three months, my appetite is gone, I have almost constant headaches, and I can’t stop thinking about my parents dying in a car accident. How are you?”

The simplest thing for a concerned educator to do is to make mental health awareness part of the classroom community. Teachers are in a position to indicate to students that it is okay for them to feel anything they’re feeling. It is okay for them to ask for help. Many schools have already developed (yay!) a culture around safe spaces for LGBTQ students and we are beginning to do the same for students with mental health concerns. Students need to know that they do not have to be okay all the time. They need to know that mental illness is a very real part of being human. Look at the numbers. We hide it when we avoid talking about it, but it’s more than common.

The clinicians and researchers who ran the PD session provided this website that they have developed as part of their work. This is the first time I’m sharing a teacher resource on this blog and I’m doing it because I think it is so important to allow mental health to be a very real part of classroom dialogue. My AP Psych teacher in high school said that society will have come a long way once we decide it’s as necessary to seek medical help for mental illness as it is for a broken arm. That was 2008. We talk more now than we did then, but it’s still not enough.

From Talk to Action
Let me preface this by saying that I am not trained to treat anyone for anything. That’s not my job. My job is to get to know my students so that I know when something is not right. My job is also to provide a safe space for students who want to talk, have questions or concerns, or need somewhere accepting to go during the day. The language I use, behaviors I model, topics I discuss, and the ways in which I interact with my students are very powerful in shaping relationships. There is the necessity of congruence in what I believe, what I claim to want for my students, and how I show that to them.

As I’ve written before and linked above, I believe that peacebuilding is the goal of education. That means purposefully developing real connections with one another, working towards increased well-being for all, and creating a culture in which we are caring and compassionate towards each other. The language that we use goes a long way in promoting this overall aim. With a new school year either very fresh or about to begin, I urge all educators to think about the messages they want to send and they way they go about doing that. Our students deserve a better, more peaceful world. Together, we can build that.

In addition to my educational interests, I am always intrigued about the way language has changed over time. One of my favorite papers in graduate school had me researching the clinical uses of words like “moron” and “idiot”. The next book on my ever-growing To Read list, How Happy Became Homosexual, will likely address some of my curiosities but I’m eager for your thoughts!

Please feel free to comment below. I’d love to hear about the use of language in your classroom/workplace/any area of your life (always aiming for inclusivity here), any educational resources you have about mental health, or your thoughts on/experiences with parenting. Really, I’d like to hear about anything you want to say. I love learning. Thanks for reading!