RULER Institute & RULER Implementation Conference

This week, The Willows continues our fruitful collaboration with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence with two special RULER trainings for educators. RULER is the evidenced-based approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) developed at Yale and designed to teach emotional intelligence to people of all ages.

On February 6 and 7, we will host the first event, entitled RULER Institute: Creating Emotionally Intelligent Schools with Marc Brackett, Ph.D., Director; Dena Simmons, Ed.D., Assistant Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence; Yale trainers; and Willows teachers and administrators. Participants will learn about the RULER approach and anchor tools and become equipped to with the foundational skills to bring RULER to their schools or districts.  A highlight of the training is the opportunity to tour our classrooms to see RULER in action throughout The Willows.

This is the second RULER training we have offered; our last training in May 2018 brought teachers and administrators from public, parochial, independent, and charter schools from West Coast schools in California, Oregon, and Washington State to The Willows with the goal of enhancing the emotional intelligence of students, teachers, staff, and families by integrating RULER principles and tools into the curriculum and cultural life of their schools.

Then, at week’s end, we are thrilled to be offering our very first RULER Implementation Conference for schools previously trained in RULER, also featuring Dr. Brackett and Dr. Simmons presenting alongside educators from The Willows. The conference will feature:

  • Keynote presentation from Dr. Brackett and Dr. Simmons
  • Breakout sessions led by members of our RULER team and art teachers on specific implementations of RULER
  • A panel led by Willows students and parents discussing their experiences with RULER

Some of the exciting topics that will covered within breakout sessions include:

  • Navigating Difficult Conversations
  • Integrating RULER into Secondary School Humanities
  • Project-based Learning and RULER
  • Supporting LGBTQ Students with RULER

The Willows is proud to be hosting both of these events in hopes of sharing with fellow educators what we’ve learned through implementing RULER at our school so far!

RULER and Robotics: An Unlikely Yet Winning Combination

16b226e6-1532-42e6-a217-cb99912a3933

For over a decade, The Willows has sent a FIRST LEGO League team comprised of middle school students to one of the league’s qualifying tournaments held each fall. Every year, despite our best efforts and assiduous preparations, our teams have never advanced to the Regional Championships – until this year!

What changed this year? If I told you one of the key components to our team qualifying was related to RULER, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence approach to developing emotional intelligence that The Willows is implementing, you might at first be surprised by this. How could these seemingly disparate topics possibly intersect in a meaningful way?

Each year the FIRST LEGO League tournaments are organized around a central theme, and this year’s theme was “Into Orbit.” At the tournament, teams of students were judged in four different categories: project, robot design, core values, and robot game. For this year’s project, students were challenged to identify a problem related to long-duration human space exploration, and then to devise a potential solution to said problem.

During the team’s initial brainstorming for solutions, they researched solutions that NASA and other organizations had arrived at over the years to combat astronaut depression and other social-emotional issues that affected their time both in space and back on Earth. They read about software that had been developed that astronauts could use to connect to therapists while in space, though to date the software has not been implemented. This concept reminded our students about the Mood Meter app, which allows users to chart their moods on phones or tablets using the RULER Mood Meter that can be found in all Willows classrooms.

img_8511

This connection sparked a great idea: what if we develop an app for astronauts that combined some elements from the Mood Meter app with the aforementioned software above, so that astronauts could self-monitor their emotional states plus also connect to mental health professionals on Earth to work through problems. The Robotics team now had a sharp focus for the project that they had to prepare for the tournament.

A detailed description of their app was incorporated into the project presentation that ultimately helped the team win First Place at the Qualifying Tournament on November 10th. “Honestly, it was one of the best feelings in my life,” said eighth grade student Isis Ginyard afterwards. “I never expected us to win after years of disappointment. It was exhilarating!”

In preparation for their next tournament, Isis then took the initiative to spend part of her Thanksgiving break creating a mockup of the app, got feedback from her fellow team members and her FIRST LEGO League coaches (myself and Wendy Amster), and brought a tablet to show to the judges at the Regional Tournament in early December. Unfortunately, the team did not have the same success at this tournament (though only 5 teams out of several dozen advanced to later tournaments in Houston, San Diego, and Uruguay).

We are so proud of our resilient Robotics team, not only for how well they represented the school at both tournaments but especially for incorporating the work we’ve been doing for the last several years with RULER and emotional intelligence. Their efforts this year were a huge testament to the power of our progressive, whole child-centered approach here at The Willows, where topics like robotics programming and emotional intelligence sit side by side in the same project!

 

 

Open to Revision

When you think you’re done, you’ve just begun!

                                                                                                            -Lucy Calkins

Although the quote above from beloved literacy expert Lucy Calkins was originally intended to motivate writers to always remain open to revising and improving their written work, one might also apply it to the work we undertake here at The Willows. Given that our theme this year is “Story,” perhaps this quote has even more relevance. Our community is constantly writing and revising our story, through the changes we make to our campus and our educational program each year based on our needs and our desire for continual improvement and innovation.

This school year there are several such enhancements worth highlighting. First, inspired by the partnership we’ve forged over the last few years with Culver City’s reDiscover Center, a significant renovation was undertaken this summer in our Middle School designLab, overseen by Middle School Dean of Students Doug Klier. Last school year, Doug invited members of the reDiscover Center’s faculty to provide professional development to our faculty on safe use of woodworking tools, and also rented a variety of tools and related equipment from the center to be used in specific projects last spring (click here for more on information on this). Once these tools were in the hands of teachers and students, and we saw the inspiring woodworking projects being undertaken, Doug realized the need to not only permanently add such tools to the designLab but also to provide a workable space for all of us to access and store them. As you can see, his vision has been more than realized, with a permanent woodworking center now in place, complete with mounted power tools and safety equipment (to be used with teacher supervision).

 

IMG_8543

A major wish list item from our music department was added to the Electronic Music Room: a sound booth. Each week, Greg Blum, one of our music teachers, helps students create sophisticated beats and compositions using software like GarageBand and Logic in his electronic music classes. However, when students recorded live audio, it was always challenging to do so without capturing the sounds of other students talking as well as other ambient noises within the building. Those days are over, thanks to the purchase and installation of the new sound booth!

58F23560-6DA4-46F6-A1CA-749A97F5CFCF

In addition to changes to the physical spaces within our campus, we are always reflecting on whether we are utilizing the best approaches to learning throughout our educational program. Last year, various Lower School teachers met regularly as part of a new Language Arts Committee to examine aspects of our reading and writing program. One suggestion that emerged from these meetings was a desire to pilot the program Handwriting Without Tears with our youngest writers in Kindergarten and 1st Grade, which prompted us to purchase an introductory set of materials towards this end. Initial feedback from teachers using the program has been positive, and we are potentially providing additional professional development on the program in advance of next school year.

Many of these revisions were made possible thanks to generous donations to the school during last year’s annual Jog-a-Thon event. Other notable purchases made include:

  • an Occulus Rift, along with other materials needed for virtual reality explorations
  • potter’s wheels for our art department
  • additional Imagination Playground Blocks for students to use on our yard

Stay tuned for many other enhancements to come as the school year progresses!

Learning to Tell Our Story: The Moth Comes to The Willows

proxy.duckduckgo

“The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.” –

-Mary Catherine Bateson

As we wrap up the first month of a new school year, we reflect on the inspiration we’ve already received from our new school theme for this year: Story. As quoted above, stories help humans make sense of the world, they connect us to one another, and, especially in a school setting, are indispensable tools for educators to use in classroom to support the learning of our students.

This month, on October 10th, we are honored to be hosting a visit from the acclaimed storytelling organization The Moth. The Willows first connected with Micaela Blei, Ph.D., Director of Education and Community Programs for The Moth, this past spring at South by Southwest EDU in Austin, TX, after hearing her and three other educators share their stories as part of a keynote entitled, “Stories of Schooling and Getting Schooled.” On the 10th at 7:00 PM, she will be presenting “The Moth Storytelling for Empathy and Engagement – An Innovative Strategy for Child Development” as part of our annual speaker series (register here)

In addition to speaking to our parents and the larger community, The Moth will also be leading a workshop with our faculty earlier that same day. We feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to learn alongside these expert storytellers. Last spring we got a sneak peek of what to expect at this workshop because one of our Middle School faculty, Bobby Hamm, attended a similar session led by The Moth at South by Southwest EDU. During the training, session leaders asked participants to practice telling personal stories within the five-minute time limit that Moth storytellers have to adhere to.

According to Bobby, “The value of bringing The Moth to The Willows relates to the idea that we’re all storytellers,” sharing further that attending the session made him consider how using the techniques taught by The Moth storytellers might be able to help struggling writers at our school.

Ultimately, given our theme of “Story” this school year, we could not ask for a better time to have The Moth visit. As educators, storytelling is central to so much of our work, and whether we are sharing ideas with students or parents we know how important it is to be able to articulate stories about the learning that is taking place all around us each day.

Level Up Village: 6th Grade Global Partnerships

IMG_6392

One favorite talking point for most educational leaders and policy advocates these days is that children must acquire 21st century skills in preparation for work in a global economy. Beyond the rhetoric, what 21st century learning actually looks like in schools can vary; personally, I believe The Willows remains on the cutting edge with our longstanding focus on interdisciplinary, project-based learning that integrates current technological tools in thoughtful, meaningful ways.

One recent example of The Willows cultivating students’ 21st century skills involved our 6th grade participating in a unique partnership with the organization Level Up Village. The mission of Level Up Village is to “facilitate seamless collaboration between students from around the world via pioneering global STEAM enrichment courses.” Our first experiences with the organization took place last school year, during middle school Intersession, where a group of Willows students collaborated with students in India to co-create websites using HTML and CSS. Encouraged by this initial experience, middle school teachers looked at other, potentially lengthier, course offerings, and they were excited to find one focused on a novel study of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, which 6th graders already read in their Core classes each year.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 1.18.25 PM
Click here to access the video.

As you can see in the linked video above, one of the main components of the Level Up partnership is student-created videos that are shared by students in one classroom with another classroom in a different country. Willows 6th graders were paired up with classrooms in Ghana and Zimbabwe for the novel study, and their first task was to create short videos introducing themselves to each other.

As they read The Giver over the course of approximately five weeks, students traded videos on various topics, including utopias, dystopias, and methods for solving specific problems related to one’s community. Teachers made use of blocks of time in their weekly schedules specifically devoted to technology integration for video creation and support with navigating the online Student Portal used to submit videos and access materials for the students’ collaborations.

The teachers involved with this project report that it was a worthwhile endeavor overall, though it was not without its challenges. For example, the classroom that was paired with students from Zimbabwe was presented with some unique teachable moments as that country found itself in the middle of a military coup during their five-week collaboration. Besides giving teachers with an opportunity to compare our government and culture with theirs, Willows sixth graders had to practice patience waiting for their partner videos to be uploaded. Furthermore, discussions in all classes emerged as our students had to come to terms with cultural differences observed while reviewing videos, as well as technological challenges (i.e. limited computers) that their partner classrooms might have been dealing with.

One of the unexpected gifts this project offered was that, through reviewing their students’ videos, teachers were able to learn so much about them, in a way that doesn’t normally happen in the typical school environment. Liz Ganem, one of the 6th grade teachers, said that “Going into parent conferences after this project, I felt like I knew some kids better than I ever have before.” She noted that students creating these videos in quiet spaces away from class and for an authentic audience had an opportunity to express themselves and elaborate in a different kind of way. Teachers and students, in a sense, treated the videos almost as they do traditional writing assignments, using revision notes and teacher feedback on ways to make their messages clearer before sending them off to their partners in Africa.

IMG_6394
http://www.instagram.com/willowscommschool

This last revelation has inspired the 6th grade teachers to contemplate how they can use video more often as a means for their students to respond to literature. Furthermore, the Level Up Village project reinforced the universal tenet that people all over the world can connect through great literature. As Liz remarked to me, “I love that it was a book that was connecting these two cultures – it made my kids realize that you can talk to anyone in the world about a good book!”

Student-centered Learning Environments: Redesigning One Fourth Grade Classroom

“It is sobering to realize that the majority of American schools today, barring a minority of interesting experiments, look as they did at the end of the last century”

-Mara Krechevsky & Janet Stork, Harvard Project Zero (2000)

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 9.04.07 AM
Click here to access a short video on our Instagram page illustrating the flexible seating arrangement in action!

When I walk the halls of our campus at The Willows, I’m not so sure the above quote rings completely true. The schools I went to as a child and that I first taught in 17 years ago definitely don’t have the unique, vibrant energy from faculty and amazing artwork enlivening the environment that we have here.

However, even though The Willows does not closely resemble a school in 1899, some features in education are notoriously slow to change. Personally, I believe it is safe to say that the classroom arrangement of individual desks facing a teacher lecturing at the front next to a board is one of those features.

This year, in one fourth grade classroom at The Willows, dynamic changes are underway. Inspired by similarly-minded teachers and school leaders across the country, fourth grade teachers Stephanie Tanner and Lily Solomon have embraced the concept known as a flexible seating classroom for their students.

This arrangement was described in a recent article in NEA Today as the “Starbucks classroom” because of the focus on creating spaces for students to sit and work comfortably as adults are accustomed to at the iconic coffee shop. Instead of rows of desks, flexible seating classrooms feature students working at standing desks, café tables, couches, on top of pilate balls and next to hokki stools.

Beyond just giving students comfortable spaces to think and work, the research behind a flexible seating arrangement highlights several potential positive impacts for students:

  • Focus and engagement: students who struggle to remain seated and still throughout the day are often better able to focus and stay engaged with the task at hand when they have some choice over what type of seating is best for them
  • Responsibility: teachers allowing students to choose what type of seat is best for them communicates the message that the student is responsible for his or her learning, and that he or she is mature enough to make smart choices

When I first heard about flexible seating coming to The Willows, I wondered what had initially led Stephanie and Lily to consider redesigning their classroom space in this manner. Both teachers shared that this past summer, they reflected on how their group of kids had a lot of energy that was sometimes hard to channel, and that traditional seating arrangements were just not fitting the needs of most students (*note – 3rd and 4th grade students “loop” at The Willows, meaning they have the same teacher and classroom for two years in a row).

After scouring Pinterest and several other education blogs that featured tips for setting up a flexible seating classroom, Stephanie and Lily pitched the idea to Terri Baird, our Director of Teaching and Learning; she loved it, and had actually already been researching flexible seating on her own. Terri asked the teachers to write up a proposal for materials, with a plan in mind to pilot this approach this year in one classroom and possibly expand to other rooms if successful.

Two months into the school year, teachers and students alike approve of the new classroom arrangement. The teachers report that students are getting more work done without becoming distracted, and are working quicker and staying focused for longer. Students are motivated to stay focused since they know that if the teachers feel they have chosen an unproductive spot, they will be asked to move. Favorite spots for many children include the standing desks, wobble tables, and the couch; least prized seating options so far, perhaps unsurprisingly, are the traditional desks – though some students do prefer them.

Other Willows teachers are showing interest in potentially changing some, if not all, of their classroom seating arrangements. In one faculty meeting where we discussed flexible seating, many teachers agree it may not be the best approach for every classroom, or for every group of teachers and students. So far, however, for one fourth grade classroom, the change has been welcome.

Cultivating 5th Grade Designers

Each school year, educators working in schools across the country gravitate towards some of the same shared ideas that are touted to transform teaching and learning in the classroom. Several years ago, the burgeoning Maker movement made such promises, and you’d be hard pressed to find a set of slides at most educational conferences these days that forgets to make at least a passing reference to Stanford University professor of psychology and author of Mindset Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindsets.

Here at The Willows, we strive to keep up with the current trends everyone is talking about, while still staying grounded in the values and traditions that have guided us for the last two decades. The last two years or so, one of the current educational memes that we’ve tried in earnest to incorporate is design thinking (see previous posts here and here for more information).

However, true to our constructivist and progressive traditions here, we are not just talking or teaching about design thinking – we are actually designing, and, hopefully, cultivating young designers in the process.

Let’s take a look at some of what our fifth grade students have been up to lately as an example. In Maker classes, I began a design and robotics unit back in March with an initial study of a particular design problem nested within our own community – well, to be more specific, a few blocks away from our campus proper.

Here are two photos (annotated by a fifth grader) and a video of a stoplight near our school that myself and many other community members approach each day on our way to The Willows. For first time users approaching this intersection, it is entirely unclear how traffic is supposed to proceed – there are no yellow or green lights (only constant flashing reds), and “Right Turn Only” signs are regularly ignored by drivers who weave their way around the concrete median in the middle of the intersection. As I told the kids, I am consistently baffled that there are not more collisions here!

designthinking annotated process copyTo approach this intersection as a design problem, I gave my students an annotated version of Stanford’s dschool’s design thinking diagram and asked them to consider several questions for each step in the process, including:

  • How do you think the drivers approaching this intersection feel?
  • How do users of this intersection decide when it is safe to proceed?
  • If you were to redesign this intersection how would you want users to feel?
  • What specific changes to the design of the intersection do you recommend?

In order to answer these questions, we not only watched videos but also took a short field trip to the actual intersection to accumulate some real time observational data. I encouraged each group of students in their observing to really try to put themselves in the shoes of the people who used this intersection – to empathize and understand the decisions of the drivers and how the unsafe conditions at the intersection impacted these decisions. Unsurprisingly, many fifth graders enjoyed seeing people disobeying the traffic signs and going around the median (though I discouraged them from chastising the drivers while we sat there at the intersection!)

Once we had collected data about the intersection and came up with some possible solutions, it was time for us to move on to the next step in the design process – to begin working on designing prototypes of a new intersection. Currently, we are in the middle of this process; first, we have had to take a few weeks to learn how to program LEGO EV3 Mindstorm robotic vehicles to be our “cars” in the new traffic systems.

Look for a new post on our progress as well as some other design work 5th grade has been engaged with very soon!

 

Regulating Strategies to Deal with Test Anxiety

Last week we welcomed Marc Brackett, Director, and Robin Stern, Associate Director, of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence back to The Willows. In their talk to parents and the larger community, they reminded us of research findings that show children in schools today experience higher levels of anxiety than their parents. While there are myriad potential causes for this anxiety, one cause that is especially present this time of year is standardized testing taking place in schools. bubble-test

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, children suffering from anxiety related to taking standardized tests typically present three main categories of symptoms:

  • Physical symptoms, often resembling those related to a panic attack, including headaches, nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, and light-headedness
  • Emotional symptoms, including feelings of anger, frustration, fear, helplessness, and disappointment
  • Behavioral/cognitive symptoms, including difficulty concentrating, thinking negatively and comparing yourself unfavorably to others

At The Willows, challenges like these make us feel more grateful than ever for our burgeoning partnership with Yale and the RULER program for emotional intelligence that we are implementing in our community. In order to address these concerns straight on, specifically with our youngest test takers in third through fifth grades, the members of our Willows RULER team recently met with our Upper Elementary teachers.

Due to two to three teachers in a classroom, Willows teachers are able to meet regularly during the school day at our monthly Learning Lunches, where DK-8 faculty are invited to meet, watch, and discuss a video on a topic relevant to our professional practice and break bread together (often with colleagues who teach in separate buildings and rarely see each other.)

For this particular lunch, rather than watch a video and then discuss potential applications for our different classroom settings, we began with an open forum led by RULER team trainer and 5th grade teacher Alex Wolfe, who asked everyone to begin by sharing strategies they’ve used over the years to mitigate student test anxiety.

All teachers emphasized the need to impart to students specific and concrete strategies to use when anxiety begins to rear its ugly head during testing, such as:

  • Don’t spend too long on one question
  • Skip certain questions and come back to them at the end
  • For questions that require written responses, don’t leave them blank (even if you have no idea how to respond – anything written can be scored!)
  • Use positive self-talk and mindful breathing

(See below for links to more specific strategies and tips)

self talk

Certain teachers also shared related posters they already have on display in their classroom for their students. Alex shared that one particular piece of advice she tells children is that these kinds of tests are designed so that some questions are hard and some are easy, so if you don’t answer one correctly it’s ok, because usually no one answers all the questions correctly.

self talk 2Particular attention was given throughout the discussion on how best to help our 3rd graders, who are facing the standardized testing experience for the first time. Many teachers acknowledged the need to strike a fine balance when talking to these students about testing; it’s our job to simultaneously convey that on one hand they need to take the test seriously but also try to regulate their stress as well.

Christina Kim, our Director of Student Life and leader of the school’s RULER team, shared that it’s important for children to recognize that standardized tests can be thought of as a different genre that we all need to be able to comprehend. Like other texts, it has certain structures and conventions that are predictable, and just like we would with any project or assignment, we all simply must try to do our best.

Christina also shared some related posters photographed on our recent school visit to High Tech High. I felt that all teachers present left our lunch meeting empowered to help students navigate the wide range of emotions that arise during test taking.

growth mindset poster

For more information on test taking anxiety please visit:

https://childmind.org/article/tips-for-beating-test-anxiety/

https://www.iecaonline.com/PDF/IECA_Library_Test-Anxiety.pdf

Telling Learning Stories Through Documentation

Documentation is an act of communication; it makes public a conversation about what we value. 

                                    -Harvard Project Zero, http://www.pz.harvard.edu

At certain times of the school year, things can feel so busy it’s tough to take a moment and catch your breath. This is of course as true at The Willows as anywhere else, especially given the number of diverse projects and endeavors always underway. A challenge busy individuals have within any organization is to make time to stop and understand the processes going on around them. A further step, beyond pausing to take stock, involves articulating what you have accomplished to others.

Last week, I was part of a group of Willows teachers and administrators that went to visit the High Tech High network of charter schools in San Diego. During the last school year, our community watched the film Most Likely to Succeed, which featured one of their high schools prominently to illustrate the power of project-based approaches on learning and curriculum building.

IMG_4616High Tech High is well known for impressive and high-quality project artifacts visible throughout their halls, and there were plenty of examples that wowed us as we toured each school. However, what caught my eye most of all was not the amazing creations on display– it was the documentation accompanying each project that helped explain the process behind the project.

Besides simply articulating details about process, the very best pieces of documentation help tell relevant learning stories about curricular projects. They might walk an audience through the steps of the process, highlight epiphanies or failures that led to necessary revisions, or unpack the knowledge that was developed by participants. Ultimately, the idea is to make the thinking and learning involved in the project visible to all in an intentional manner.

A long tradition of researchers and educators from Harvard’s Project Zero – who’ve published seminal works like Making Thinking Visible and Visible Learners – and the vast network of schools associated with the Reggio Emilia experience have long advanced the power of documentation as a tool for improving teaching and learning. According to these proponents, powerful pieces of documentation do more than just capture what happened. Instead, the intent is ultimately to push learning forward, and, as the quote above states, to make “public a conversation about what we value.”

While feeling inspired after leaving High Tech High, our visit also caused me to reflect on similar work with documentation that we’ve undertaken at The Willows. Some form of documentation regularly accompanies all of the artwork that hangs in our halls and classrooms, and we have worked this year to make some of these displays more interactive by adding QR codes for visitors to access additional relevant (and often process-oriented) content. Additionally, knowing that a great picture often tells its own story, we have provided several professional development sessions for teachers this school year on photography techniques and how to incorporate high-quality photographs into their documentation.

What’s next for The Willows and documentation? Knowing that teachers are always juggling many different priorities, we are currently exploring how we might better utilize different templates for easy input of content and photos (see this recent example from 3rd grade). tipi documentation-page-001Also, we have recently begun engaging fourth through eighth grade students in this process in Maker and Science classes, having them document their progress on projects by creating websites and digital portfolios using Google Sites. The more we can engage the whole community in the process of communicating the learning that is taking place, the better!

 

 

 

Raising Resilient Children

What is the mind? What can we do to help kids develop a resilient mindset when facing life’s challenges?

These perplexing and provocative questions were just two of many raised and discussed at the most recent event in our annual Ideas@TheWillows speaker series, led by acclaimed UCLA professor and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute Dan Siegel.

E_17_Speaker_Dan_Siegel015

One of the things that I truly value about working at The Willows is our community’s willingness to engage in a thoughtful exchange of ideas with extraordinary people like Dr. Siegel. I first became aware of his work in my early years of fatherhood, when my wife and I read his book The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. Later, I became aware of his efforts to introduce mindfulness into schools through his Mindsight Institute’s MindUp curriculum that we’ve used parts of with middle school students at our school.

In his wide-ranging and lively talk, Dr. Siegel shared findings from research about resiliency, which he linked generally to the concept of integration in brain research. Adults and children who are adept at integrating the various systems of the brain in a harmonious manner are better suited to facing life’s challenges without becoming overwhelmed or disconnected. To illustrate this at one point in his talk, Siegel asked for volunteers – specifically, people who sing in choirs (including our Director of Library Services Cathy Leverkus) – to come on to the stage with him. He gave his singers various directions to demonstrate the results of an integrated brain (harmony, where different singers worked together towards a common goal) versus a non-integrated brain (chaos, where different singers covered their ears and only sang their own song). E_17_Speaker_Dan_Siegel040

Besides sharing essential brain research for everyone to ponder, Siegel also underscored several helpful takeaways specifically for parents in attendance. According to Siegel, the most powerful finding from parenting research that many are not aware of is the need for parents to make sense of their own lives first – in his words, “It doesn’t matter what happened to you, it’s how you make sense of it.” If we neglect to engage in this process of looking inward and examining our lives, we run the risk of sending mixed messages to our children as we direct them to make good choices in their lives.

Additionally, he mentioned several times the importance of parental presence. I have found myself repeating one line from his talk several times on this subject:

The more present you are, the more you are willing to learn about who your children are versus who you want them to be.

In Siegel’s view, modern parents’ preoccupation with a future destination for their children often leads them to send messages that provoke shame, which he defined as the opposite of resilience, as well as encouraging children to compete with each other instead of “competing with the world’s problems.”

Afterwards, I debriefed with my colleague Andrea, who is part of a team of teachers at The Willows working to implement and strengthen our school’s RULER emotional intelligence program from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. One connection she made between his message and our school’s work with mindfulness and emotional intelligence was Siegel’s emphasis on the need to look inward, to be aware of this inner world that we all need to connect to in order to recognize and regulate the energy associated with our emotions. Clearly, this message applies for adults and students alike in our community.

One final note: Siegel did give an answer to our initial question above – “What is the mind?” – which I have to share (I would recommend reading one of his many books on the subjects of mind for a detailed explanation:)

The mind is the embodied and relational self-organizing process that regulates informational flow between ourselves and others and the planet.

E_17_Speaker_Dan_Siegel002
Lisa Rosenstein, Head of School, Dr. Dan Siegel, and Christina Kim, Director of Student Life