Godzilla Gazette, 28
Week of March 23, 2015
- From Grace
- The Reflective Practitioner
- Weekly Events
- For Your Information
Hello, everyone! I hope your spring break was filled with fun and rest and at least some relaxation thrown in for good measure. I find this break (along with Thanksgiving and winter break) to be a wonderful perk of our work. It is my fervent wish that you gave yourself permission to just be and to enjoy this time. Hold the week close to your heart and revisit it when we get back to the jam-packed spring semester and you may feel some stress.
Speaking of stress, it's something we talk about quite a bit and we know the negative impact it can have on our health and well being. And, since we've just had a week to de-stress, so to speak, it may seem a bit odd that this week's Reflective Practitioner is all about that feeling. Unlike how we normally think about stress, however, this article focuses the different types of stress on the positive outcomes that are associated with a certain kind of pressure. It also speaks to the resiliency and grit that comes with facing challenges and that we know is critical to our students' long-term success.
Given that we're entering full on testing season and gearing up for end of year (I can't believe I just wrote that!) there is no better time for all of us to rethink how we think about stress. Think about how to engage your students in eustress when you teach, help them harness their bodies natural defense system for good when thinking about a big project or the STAAR. Don't forget, however, to give them and yourself a break now and then to relax and recharge. Some of the parents I met with at the coffee on Friday talked about how even a 5 minute bubble blowing party would do wonders to help kids stay energized and happy about school. Most importantly, remember that we lead by example - so let's stay energized and positive and our students will surely follow. :)
Have a beautiful week back with your students and each other.
The Reflective Pracitioner
February 9, 2015
Imagine this: You're a ninth-grade math teacher, and you've just been anointed as head of the school's wellness committee, a team thrown together to deal with student stress levels that are "far too high." "We need to build a more positive climate," your principal explained. "You're relatable. Students might listen to what you have to say." Now you're writing a speech for the year's first all-school assembly on a topic outside your expertise: stress management.
The speech you deliver is full of well-documented horror stories about the ill effects of stress. The following morning, the principal comes to you and explains that stress levels have skyrocketed! You’re baffled. You were just stating the facts. What did you do wrong? Nothing. Well, nothing obvious, at least. You just approached the issue in much the same way that the multi-billion-dollar stress management industry does. You told the story of stress as shaped by science, news, and popular culture. Here’s the narrative in a nutshell: Stress is bad, very bad.
In fact, another body of research reveals that stress can actually enhance performance and well-being. Yes, there is something known as "good" stress. And research shows that making people aware of good stress is a more powerful antidote to its ills than jarring them with statistics.
I propose that we shift our goal from asking students to stress less toward helping them stress better. Here are seven ideas to do just that.
1. Stop Highlighting Negative Consequences
It's our natural instinct to make children aware that they are potentially hurting themselves. But focusing solely on the harm caused by stress indicates to students that stress is bad in an absolute sense, which is simply untrue. Additionally, combating stress using fear tactics can create even more stress. Thoughts like "Oh no, I'm stressed, and stress is bad" will only exacerbate the child's worries. The research confirms that stress itself is stressful.
Recent studies by Yale and Harvard researchers reveal that corporate trainers who focused on the negative ramifications of stress increased stress in trainees. While this research was conducted on a business population, let's extrapolate that the effect on students might be the same. To stress better, students should understand this reality: A certain amount of stress is OK. It can even be good for you.
2. Introduce the Evolutionary Purpose of Stress
Students of all ages love to know that stress is part of human design. Think about our ancestors who hunted and gathered food. When attacked by a saber-toothed cat, chemicals were pumped into the body to help fight the predator or flee. This evolutionary reaction to danger is known as the stress response -- it's a survival mechanism. In modern times, we don't typically need to flee from predators, but the stress response still has a purpose. A certain amount of stress can help us marshal the resources necessary to reach a goal. Studies even demonstrate that as stress increases, so too can performance.
3. Explore Distress and Eustress
There are two main types of stress: positive and negative, also known as distress and eustress. Most kids have experienced eustress. Ask them to think of a time when their heart was racing but there was no immediate threat or fear. Maybe they were riding a roller coaster, watching a scary movie, or going on a first date. That feeling is good stress! Eustress can help boost motivation, focus, and energy; create a feeling of excitement; and improve performance and decision making. It's generally short-term in nature. By contrast, distress (commonly referred to as "stress") can cause anxiety or concern, is often outside our coping capacities, can decrease performance and lead to mental and physical problems, and may be short- or long-term in nature. Graphing a continuum of the different types of stress can really bring the point home for students.
4. Study the Researched Benefits
Lend these ideas credibility by citing recent science examining the benefits of stress:
Stress can help the immune system. In one study by the Stanford University School of Medicine, patients who demonstrated higher short-term stress before knee surgery recovered twice as fast as those who were not as stressed.
Stress can improve memory and learning. According to Cornell University neuroscientist Connor Liston, short bursts of the stress hormone cortisol can increase the brain's openness to learning. In other studies, Michael Gass, Chair of the Kinesiology Department at the University of New Hampshire, has found that those who take physical risks like bungee jumping can process information far faster than control groups.
Stress can improve decision making.
A study by Charles Morgan of Yale Medical School showed soldiers in a mock prisoner-of-war camp secreting a particular amino acid contributing to much higher cognitive functioning and better decision making. Morgan has conducted several like studies with similar results.
5. Cultivate a Positive Stress Mindset
One of the simplest yet most powerful ways to stress better is to start with the right mindset. Harvard and Yale researchers recently conducted an experiment on two groups of stressed-out investment bankers. The first group viewed a video about how stress is debilitating. The second group viewed a video about how stress enhances the body and brain. What happened? The second group -- primed with the mindset that stress was good for them -- felt more productive and energetic. This group also reported less fatigue and fewer headaches and backaches associated with distress. The results of this study are significant: Thinking about stress as "good" or performance-enhancing can work to your advantage.
For kids, this research can be applied immediately. For example, during test time, a pounding heart can be reframed by saying, "Hey, a little stress is actually helping me on this test -- my body's giving me a little burst of energy and extra focus to get through this."
6. Encourage Contingency Planning
The goal of stressing better is not for students to live in a fantasyland where they never encounter issues that cause real distress. Challenges will arise, and distress may follow, but instead of falling into a downward spiral of negativity, stressing better means creating contingency plans. When the body goes into flight-or-fight mode during distress, it can be hard to think clearly. A back-up plan can get students through it. So how is this done? Let's borrow a technique from goal-setting researchers.
Studies on goal setting show that you're more likely to stay on task by using a technique called MCII (mental contrasting and implementation intentions). With this method, you first visualize your end goal (e.g., getting a B or higher on the next science test), and then envision obstacles that might prevent you from getting there (e.g., missing study group, feeling nervous). Next, using if . . . then statements, create a plan to overcome the obstacles before they even happen:
If I miss study group this week, then I'll ask the teacher for private tutoring. If I feel nervous on test day, then I'll do a breathing exercise to calm myself down.
7. Exemplify Distress Leading to Growth
Sally Walker was a survivor of an airline crash that killed 83 people. She said:When I got home, the sky was brighter, I paid attention to the texture of the sidewalks. It was like being in a movie. . . Now, everything is a gift.
In his memoir No Such Thing as a Bad Day, Hamilton Jordan noted: After my first cancer, even the smallest joys in life took on special meaning -- watching a beautiful sunset, a hug from my child, a laugh with Dorothy. That feeling has not diminished with time.
What Sally and Hamilton were referring to is the idea that what doesn't kill you can literally make you stronger -- and the studies support this. Students may be familiar with the term post-traumatic stress, but recent research from the University of North Carolina details a phenomenon called post-traumatic growth. PTG is the positive change resulting from a major life crisis (or serious distress). Researchers studied survivors of severe accidents, people who have gone through divorce, and even former prisoners of war. In all of these situations, some come out stronger than before. PTG results in their feeling more connected with their friends and family, more resilient, and more grateful. Researchers found that those who tend to experience PTG usually approach difficulty rather than avoiding it -- they are more open to change.
In our effort to stress better, let's teach students that when stress comes on, they should embrace it rather than run away from it. When in a situation of distress, kids can think of the examples above or a personal example where distress has led to positive change. These are reminders that something good -- even great -- can come from our challenges.
Spring Break Birthdays:
- Happy Birthday, Sarah Warner! - March 19
- Happy Birthday, Stefanie Nguyen! - March 21
Monday, March 23, 2015 - A Day
- Cabinet Meeting - 8:00 am - Office - Grace, Robin, Elise
- Grade Level Team Meetings with Grace - As Scheduled - Office - Grace
- 504 Meeting - 11:30 am - Office - Robin, Corinda, Kellie, Grace
- STAAR Prep - 3:00-5:00 pm - Office - Grace, Elise
Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - B Day
- BTEN Observation Day - As scheduled - Select BTEN
- PTA Board Meeting - 8:00 am - Library - Grace
- Field Trip - 9:00 am-1:30 pm - Travis County Expo - 2nd Grade
- Field Trip - 9:10 am -1:45 pm - Inner Space Caverns - 1st Grade
- PDAS - 9:20 am - Classroom - Grace
- Field Trip - 10:00 am-12:00 pm - Pease Park - Kindergarten
- STAAR Prep - 10:00 am-12:00 pm - Office - Grace
- Meeting with Amber Elenz - 1:00 pm - Office - Grace
Wednesday, March 24, 2015 - C Day
- 6th Grade Camping Trip - Wednesday-Friday - Camp Champions - Corinda, Kellie, Brett
- STAAR Prep - 8:00-10:00 am - Office - Grace
- Learning Walk - 11:00 am-12:15 pm - Ortega Elementary - Diana Mc.G, Grace
- 504 Meeting - 12:20 - Office - Robin, Chad, Grace
- Staff Yoga - 3:00 pm - Music Room
- Camp Visit - 4:30 pm - Grace, Elise, Robin
Thursday, March 26, 2015 - A Day
- PTA Recruiting Breakfast - 8:00 am - Galaxy Cafe - Grace
- CST - 10:10 am - Office - Elise, Robin, Sicily, Jodie, Grace
- 504 meeting - 12:20 pm - Office - Diana, Chad, Robin, Grace
- ARD - 1:05 pm - Office - Claudia, Angela, Grace
- Title I Meeting - 2:30-4:30 pm - Delco Center - Grace
- BTEN Meeting - 3:00 pm - Library - BTEN Members
Friday, March 27, 2015 - B Day
- Happy Birthday, Ruthann Rushing!
- School-wide Assembly - 7:45 am - All
- Prospective Parent Meeting - 9:00 am - Office - Grace
- Woodwind Quintet Performance - 9:40 am - Gym - Kinder - 1st Grades
- Woodwind Quintet Performance - 10:10 am - Gym - 2nd-3rd Grades
- 6th Grade Returns from Camp!
Kudos: Do you know of something good? Share it with Grace to be included here or write it in the comments below!
- To Robin for organizing an amazing Mix-it-Up Lunch for all!
- To Vivien and Jud for making our Friday Assembly a beautiful celebration of literacy!
- To Elise, Robin, and Suzie for holding down the fort for much of the week before the break!
- To Janie for completing her Take Flight certification!
- To everyone for getting report cards completed!
- To Maria for ensuring that the report card process went as smoothly as possible!
- CAC Meeting - March 30
- Deadline for GT Training - March 31
- STAAR Test - 4th Grade Writing - March 30-31
- STAAR Test - 5th Grade Reading - March 31
- Staff Meeting - April 2 - Mini-U
- GT Portfolio Review - April 2
- School Holiday - April 3
- Honor Roll Assembly - April 6
- Class Picture Day - April 7
Website to Explore:
- http://illuminations.nctm.org/ - This one's for both students and teachers, from PreK-12th grade. NCTM has created a content rich website with a multitude of resources for math teachers. From their website: Illuminations works to serve you by increasing access to quality standards-based resources for teaching and learning mathematics, including interactive tools for students and instructional support for teachers. Enjoy exploring!