Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dealing with Crisis

Finally, this week is over.

Warning: Depressing Post Ahead

I have had a few of you email me about how to handle situations like this with your own kids. Now, I am the first to admit that I am in no way an expert in psychology and I have never had any kind of crisis training (seems like a gaping hole in my education, doesn't it?). I also do not claim that this is how you should handle anything because this may or may not work for you. This is, however, how I made it through this week. Sometimes, just having a plan can be a major step forward.

I do not know how it is in other places and I am guessing there is something similar in place wherever you are. My district is a part of a larger consortium of several other districts that share counselors at times like this. When the neighboring district lost three kids in a car crash last year, our counselors spent a few days there, while their counselor could be seen in our halls this last week. These amazing people handle the major counseling issues, but there is no avoiding some of it in your room.

Full disclaimer: I still don't know what to say.

1. If you do not have any in your room, go buy a couple boxes of real Kleenex. A roll of toilet paper just isn't going to cut it today.

2. While you are out, grab some Tylenol. You will not believe the headaches that can suddenly occur on days like this.

3. If at all possible, get your own meltdown out of the way. Depending on how close you were to the student, this could come at any time. Our counselors have some varying opinions about letting students see you cry, but they all agree that completely losing it in front of your class should be avoided at all costs. Best advice from the biggest, meanest, manliest sophomore you have ever seen: "If you need to cry, cry. That's what I do."

4. Along those lines, get someone else to read the statement. First thing Monday morning, we were to read an announcement to our first hour class. This is to make sure everyone knows what happened and to clear up any rumors that may have started. Even when I did not know the student well, I have a terrible time reading these statements. For this one, I couldn't even look at the paper with out tearing up, so I knew there was no way I was going to make it through saying it out loud. Try reading it out loud before class starts to see if you can actually say the words. If not, go find one of the counselors to read it for you.

5. Be prepared for any emotion to come on at any time. Monday, kids were still more or less in shock. There were a lot of sudden teary outbursts. We literally had a counselor assigned to our hallway, so any student who had to leave the room was immediately intercepted. If this is not the case, be sure to call the office and let someone know. Many students just wanted a moment alone, which is fine, we just need to know where they are. On Tuesday, some of the anger was beginning to show, especially by some of his close friends. Kids need to know that this is normal. For some, this may be their first experience with death and they may need reassurance that what they are feeling is not wrong. I had an explosion in my room when our Drama Queen told someone that he shouldn't be mad at a dead person.

6. If you had the student in class, if at all possible, find a way to rearrange your desks. If nothing else, at least get new seating arrangements.

7. Get your kids moving. Our philosophy is to keep things as normal as possible. There will be students that think we should sit around all day and cry. There are others who may not be overly affected by the situation and do not need to be pulled into the crisis. Either way, kids are going to need something to occupy their wandering mind. Down time is the enemy here. My plan for Monday was to work on balancing chemical equations. On paper. Sitting down. Even though we weren't there yet and they may or may not remember any of it, I switched the plan to a lab over reaction types. It has 13 different mini labs in it and kept kids moving and changing their focus every few minutes. And it was a step-by-step-now-do-this type of lab, so kids didn't have to really think too hard to get to the next step. This apparently had an impact because I had three parents call me the next day and say thank you.

8. #7 will not keep all kids on task. There was, of course, non-chemistry discussion. In general, we are supposed to discourage those discussions, but there are some kids who really need to say some things. If they know you were close to the student, it is entirely possible that they will want to say them to you. To be honest, I think these comments are healthy (again, no training) and normal. Most of the side discussions were memories. It doesn't take much, however, to cross over into the "whys" and "what ifs" that invariably come. Our official response to that is "It does not matter anymore." I have a hard time with this, because, while true, it seems kind of harsh. But then again, that's life. Kids who can't get past this need to be referred to the counselor. Also, any sentence that starts with, "Well, I heard..." is to be immediately cut off.

9. Plan something interesting, but not crucial for the day of the funeral. We do not let school out the day of a funeral for a student or staff member. Anyone is allowed to go, but we are also here for the kids who do not feel like they need to attend. We get a lot of criticism for this. From everyone. I used to feel that way until my daughter was in kindergarten. A sixth grade boy she did not know had died of cancer and they had the day off. She was adamant that she was required to attend the funeral and it took a lot of convincing her not to feel guilty that she wasn't. We do not want to put pressure on kids to do something they may not be ready for. On the flip side of that, be prepared for kids to go to the funeral simply to get out of school. Get over it and move on. We made golden pennies and shot off water rockets on that day. Something fun and educational, but no one has to make it up.

10. Don't expect to get much done for a few days, but keep moving on.

I don't know about you, but this has been amazingly therapeutic for me. Again, this is in no way, shape or form to be considered expert advice. Every situation is different and every reaction is different. Your district may very well have an entirely different philosophy on things and you may be required to handle situations differently. Sometimes, just knowing ahead of time can make all the difference.

Coming soon: Much more upbeat post having something to do with teaching.

Monday, April 23, 2012

This Is As Bad As It Gets

Those were the first words spoken this morning at an emergency faculty meeting. There is no beating around the bush when the Crisis Team is in your building.

Two weeks ago, a young man committed suicide. He had graduated several years ago, but his brother only last year. There was a small ripple of grief that traveled through our population, mostly in response to those who knew the brother, but the majority of our students were pretty far removed from that tragedy. We counseled, we moved on.

And we watched.

As you may know, a suicide if often followed by others. So we went on alert. We referred kids who were struggling and those who we thought would most likely be at risk.

On Saturday night, one of my cross country girls called me and told me said she didn't want me to read it on facebook or in a text. One of her teammates had just shot himself in the head.

We had not been watching him.

Grant was a member of my cross country team. He was a programmer on my robotics team. He was involved in the school play and musical. He is going to miss a golf meet tomorrow.

To say that this is a shock really doesn't even begin to describe it. No one saw this coming. Kids are having trouble accepting it. I am having trouble accepting it. I marked him absent this morning and wrote his name at the top of an extra lab paper. What I can't get past is the conversation we had last week. He had updated me on his progress learning the program we use for our robot. He was excited about it and thought he would have it all figured out next fall.

That makes this all the harder to accept.

Several of his close friends have moved on into the angry stage, but I can't get there yet. I'm not sure I can when I can't wrap my head around what could he possibly have been thinking.

This is one of the things that you don't learn about teaching until the day it happens. No one ever really tells you what you can say to those phone calls from young people in the middle of the night. Teaching children to deal with grief is not really something I signed up for, and I feel so completely unprepared for it. So, yesterday was spent crying with that group of kids who "accidentally" wandered by my house. We talked and worked through some of the pain, but I have no idea if I said any of the right things.

As they got up to leave, one of my kids just shook his head. He looked at me and said, "so, I guess life just goes on?"

Yes. Yes it does, for some of us.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Which One, Which One?

The other night, I sat in on another incredible presentation by the Global Physics Department* on the Flipped Classroom. As you probably know, I am pretty entrenched in the Modeling right now, but Brian had me thinking of ways to add in some Flipping as well.

It really got me thinking about every teacher around the country that I peek in on. You've got Frank, who will fight tooth and nail to convince you that Modeling is THE way to go. Terie has developed a to die for one-to-one-PBL classroom that I must visit one day. And then whatever the hell Shawn does in his classroom that I simply cannot look away from.

These are all amazing teachers who all teach in different ways, but when it comes down to it, they are all getting the job done. Kids are engaged, kids are learning and from what I can tell, kids are having a good time doing it.

But what I really see as a common thread here is the latitude that is given to kids to show off their learning. Even within each individual teaching personality, there is no one size fits all method. Kids are given individual attention and they are allowed to express their learning in a way that truly fits their style. Whoa! Wait a minute isn't there some edujargon buzz word that describes this? I think it might start with a "d"**.

This is what I am after. I want to find what it is that motivates my kids and what it is that they find interesting. I don't mind a little mess and chaos in my room. I love the activity and noise and movement. I am totally okay with not having complete control over every second of my class time. While an unknowing administrator might question (and has) the learning going on, I have kids who are actually using the term "inertia" correctly in a sentence. This is beyond exciting to me, especially when I know for a fact that kid can't even spell inertia.

But the truth is...this is hard. This is exhausting. Even when you love it as much as I do, there comes a point where those textbooks start calling to you. So when I mention to the physics teacher across the hall that there is a Modeling workshop being held this summer, I understand why he hesitates. He is smart enough to know that ultimately, he is going to have to work and change a lot more than he really wants to. Part of me gets that.

But the other part of me wonders if maybe this isn't the job for him.

*Seriously, even if you don't teach physics, join in on Wednesday evenings. This is what PLC is meant to be.

**Differentiation. Did you really have to look??

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Psychology of the Teenage High Jumper

We have a new assistant track coach this year. She is an older lady, who took the job mostly so she could boost her paycheck for retirement. She is always smiling. She came up to me at the meet on Thursday and breathlessly asked me, "why aren't people fighting for this job?"

It's true. One of the best jobs in any school district is that of assistant track coach. You get to spend hours outside in the springtime weather cheering on kids who strive for that Personal Best.

I am the high jump coach at my school. When I joined the staff, that was the spot that needed filling most desperately. I was a sprinter in high school and college, so pretty much the only thing I knew about high jumpers was that we saw them lying on the mat quite a bit as we ran past.

So I jumped in and started reading. What should we do at practice? How do we find our start point? What does a good jump look like?

Lucky for me, I live in the world of the Internet and Youtube. I can plan practice and I can show them exactly what elite jumpers look like when they PR. It occurred to me this morning that if I had a better phone, we could actually watch this at practice. Hmmm...I digress.

What I was not prepared for was what goes on the in the mind of a high jumper as he or she competes. I never really thought about it before, but when you realize what those kids are facing, it's amazing they don't come to school in straight jackets.

Think about it. If you long jump, you run, you jump as far as you can and wait to find out how far the jump actually was. If it is farther than your best, you celebrate. If not, you try harder the next time. As you are preparing for your jump, you are thinking to yourself, "this is gonna be the one."

Runners go out and run their hearts out (or not, depending on the day) and when they cross the finish line, they find out how fast they ran. If it was faster than your best, you celebrate. If not, you try harder next time. As you are preparing for your run, you are thinking to yourself, "this is gonna be the one."

But if you are a high jumper (or pole vaulter), you are staring at your Personal Record. You know, deep in the depths of your mind, that you have never made it over this height. This is going to take all you have. Probably more.

It doesn't take much for a teenager to talk herself out of a good jump. You can see it in her eyes. You can see it in her approach. And your heart breaks.

I have a girl right now who PR'd her first meet of her freshman year and hasn't since. For three years, she has had a mental block. You can see it. You can feel it. As soon as that bar goes up, everything is off.

At our last meet, she made it. She finally cleared her mind and got over that hurdle*.

The relief. The feeling of a giant weight was lifted. She feels (as do I) now that anything is possible.

What a good day.

*In case of a tie for first place in the vertical jumps, there is a series of complicated procedures that often result in no one having any idea how high the bar is set. Each remaining competitor has one more shot at the current height. If neither make it, the bar lowers one inch until someone makes it. If both make it, the bar goes back up. My girl had no clue what the bar was set at when she cleared it. This often works out well for her.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Darn Kids

I was gone on Friday, so I was kind of out of the loop, but here is what awaited me when I got into my room this morning.

 If you can't read the note:
Where is this child RIGHT NOW???

My Menu