My work is focused on solutions to help students, educators and their institutions to thrive, not just survive.
I am deeply concerned that we are not asking the right questions as we move to reopen schools across the educational pipeline. I have always believed, reified by the amazing book by James Ryan, Wait What?, that asking good questions is critical to the ability to think through problems. Quality questions often get at the soft spots in plans and strategies and arguments. Sometimes, they show that the Emperor really is not wearing clothes. They force thinking in new directions. They are framed as questions but in a sense, they are guides.
How one asks questions matters of course. The idea is not to be hostile and make the questions into accusations. The point is actually to probe for and listen to and hear answers but more than answers, the point is to see if the question-recipient has thought about the issues posed. The absence of a question being considered is an answer too.Continue reading “The Questions We Need to Be Asking for Schools/Colleges that are Reopening: Are We Asking Them?”
When we struggle and can’t find the perfect words to express our feelings, we oft-times turn to well worn aphorisms (defined generally as short statements of a general truth or statements that provide insight or quality advice). The trouble is that some of these common aphorisms aren’t true and yet we utter them as truisms. And we keep repeating them as if saying them more confers more heft to them.
In reality, some aphorisms are downright wrong and harmful. (True, some are apt and accurate.) Some have taken on a political connotation, messaging vastly more than what one might suspect at first blush. Add to this that there are existing common aphorisms that contradict each other, leading one to believe that both can’t be true or can they?
For the record, I am not the first and surely will not be the last to question the meaning of what we say repeatedly that lacks meaning and actually promotes falsehoods.Continue reading “We Use Aphorisms in Times of Trouble: Time for Caution”
I recently published this piece on how to revamp education. Hit the link below.
For me, the key is not what content we should offer to students of all ages and stages. The key is not what tests we need to give to students of all ages and stages. The key is not what particular class sizes we need to have for students of all ages and stages.
Instead, it is about what values — goals and aims — education can and should provide/achieve for our students.
We have tended to be so siloed in education. We have tended to be so discipline-focused in education. We have been so unwilling to see education as a pipeline where many folks are educators and education is not just what happens in the classroom.Continue reading “Overhauling Education: If Not Now, When?”
A recent article in the New York Times observed that doctors often miss post-partum depression. This illness affects not only the new mother but also the infant to whom she just gave birth. And it can affect other members of the household. And, the illness is usually treatable. Think about that for a moment.
Then, I was watching NFL football and saw the gruesome ankle injury of Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys. And, I saw his tears and his teammates showing support. When you read about his personal road to the NFL, even if there is some hyperbole, you can’t help but think: Wow; this young man hasn’t had an easy journey….and now this. Physical injury yes but mental distress too.Continue reading “We Don’t Recognize Mental Distress: That has to Change”
I recently read an article about a party in Marblehead, MA attended by 20–30 young people. Apparently, no masks worn were worn. It seems there was no social distancing. There was, it appears, sharing of drinking cups (unclear what was in the cups). Now, this party occurred in a private home. (No word best as I can read as to where the homeowners/parents were.)
Apparently, most of the attending students scattered when the police arrived. That means that contact tracing is tough sledding since the names of party goers is not known. It seems that the students who were identified (because they were not fleeing) are not being subjected to any police action.Continue reading “Why Don’t We Listen to COVID Guidance?”
These are difficult times. That is for sure. We know too that positive feelings are important and to think positively, we need three positives for every one negative.
That is why I created this Positive Feeling Tree. Each day, we take positive feelings from a jar filled with them (a gift from a friend) and we read them and put them on the tree.Continue reading “The Positive Feeling Tree: An Idea for Now”
Holidays are hard for many generally and now specifically. So, here’s something to try whether you are near or far, in person or remote: Tongue twisters!
Yes, really. They have a long educational history. They promote learning and enunciation. They build vocabulary. They showcase mistake making and trying again. They enable laughter among young and old. They are plain fun.
Try this downloadable right priced PDF — it can be ordered by several families and the tongue twisters tried (they are listed alphabetically). There are other word games in the book and one can also create one’s own tongue twister.Continue reading “A Fun Strategy for Families/Friends During Holiday”
When we listen and watch what occurred during election night and in the days after, one has to wonder how to help children process what they are seeing and hearing. Regardless of one’s political party, it seems to me that we are having a hard time making good on this message: we are the United States of America.
Here are a set of strategies that can work with COVID-19 protections in place to help children (and perhaps adults too) understand how we move forward, how we create unity, how we deal with social and racial disparities. These are strategies for online, hybrid and in person learning. Ask: how do we process and understand how we became divided and how we can become united. In this context, I am deeply informed by the 1960’s and the ways in which our nation was ripped into pieces then.
One more point: the goal is not to be partisan. It is to allow students to process the election whether one is in a Red or Blue State or has Red or Blue family/friends.
Also: this has been written just after the victory for President Biden as declared. It is possible that other activities/exercises will arise in the next few days, weeks and months.
Classroom Strategies and Activities:
Consider games that involve rules and rule-making and then changing the rules mid-stream or arbitrarily picking a winner or having too many rules. Here’s an example. Suppose that students each have separate piles of an item, ideally identical (paperclips; spaghetti; marbles; countable items). Then say: Let’s play the paper clip game. Students will say: How do we play? Collectively the students can make the rules without distinguishing between them. Then, let students try to play but it is too confusing. So, one needs to prioritize among the rules. Assume a set of rules are adopted but as the game is played, the teacher keeps changing the rules mid-stream. Then assume students play by the rules but the teacher arbitrarily picks a winner, not the actual winner. The point is we need rules, we need to play by them and we need to be fair. We cannot change rules mid-stream or after the fact. Students can address how this worked and did not work and how we want it to work.
There are a set of questions that can be asked about voting that will interest students and can be researched and debated. For those with large international students, one can conduct comparisons among nations. Ask what percent of the population votes in US and other nations. Why is it higher/lower in different locations? Ask students at what age one should be allowed to vote. Ask students who should be allowed to vote. Ask students about why election day is a Tuesday. Is that optimal? Is it used by other nations? How about early voting and its effects? Many of these questions are not “political” and could work whether one is in a red or blue state.
Ask students to think about how voter irregularity could occur. What kind of scams could exist? How can we prevent those? Students like to decode scams so it is worth identify some scams (whether in the US or elsewhere) and have student consider how the scams worked. For example, look at this article. Ask who is targeted? Why is it so so easy for scams to work? Read the article below to learn more.
There are a myriad of children’s books on voting and voting rights. It is worth reading one or more of them to children but one has to be careful to make sure the pitch and tone of the books is fair and steady and accurate, given the complexity of voting across the US – federal and state rules and regulations. My choices here are not historical – on the history of voting and voter suppression.
Here are two suggestions about the importance of voting; these are intended for an elementary school audience, although V is for Voting can be adapted because it uses the alphabet to share Democratic processes.
Little Blue and Little Yellow might have value too in terms of unity.
It is worth getting an actual sample ballot for students to see; most folks don’t see an actual ballot until the first time they vote. Share with students how to decode the ballot and how much one actually needs to know to be a thoughtful voter. Note, too, the propositions that get voted upon at an election. With the ballot in hand (before students vote), ask them how it could be simplified. Ask how well they can select among the candidates. Ask what information they would need to decide. Let the students even do research and then indicate their voting preferences for one or two races based on what they learned.
Allow students to have a place to express their feelings and thoughts anonymously – say chalking or post-its on a wall. Students need to be able to process and expressing feelings is one strong route toward that end. The point is not to be judgmental with respect to what is posted (assuming it is in the realm of decency).
Consider how transparent and open we are about our support for different candidates. Ask students their views on whether people who are asked should or do share for whom they voted. Why might people be silent? Why might they share? Would you (as a student or teacher) share. Why and why not?
Have students do these two short writing exercises: If you were elected President but the margin was very close, what would be the first three sentences you would say on television (and in writing) to the American people regarding your win? If you were the loser in a tight presidential race, what would be the first three sentences you would say on television and in writing in your concession remarks. Have students read their remarks to each other. Compare them to the actual remarks of incoming President Biden and outgoing President Trump.
Transitions are hard for people in all situations and a presidential transition is not easy. What four things would make a transition from one leader to another easier, better and smoother? Do you think those four things will happen? (Teachers can keep track over the coming months based on the students’ lists.)
Let me start with the answer to the question posed in this title: Yes, debates can most assuredly be teachable moments and more importantly, there is real value in helping children process them effectively with quality educators in a school setting.
Let’s put politics aside (assuming that is even possible) and ask the question this way: What can our children learn from the debates related to the upcoming election? What can they learn about themselves and their peers?
For me, these debates can be evaluated on several levels but whatever level one chooses, they seem to generate strong feelings and thoughts.
Children likely reacted to the argumentative style exhibited in the first debate and interruptions of each candidate as the other spoke. Add to this that the moderator, who had rules, could not get the debate under control, hard as he tried. (He was like a teacher in an unruly classroom where the teacher has lost the ability to get the students to engage.)
For some children, the debate sounded like fighting, and that in and of itself may have been a trigger of memories of uncomfortable fights within their families and communities. For children who struggle with rules and rule obedience, one wonders if the flaunting of rules messaged that rules don’t matter – at least for some people. And, the debates messaged about personality and tone and style. And, make no mistake about it: the most knowledgeable and well-educated teacher of substance may irritate children if he/she is disrespectful, dismissive, nasty and aggressive.
Some watchers had to turn off that first debate or walk away. Others were left with nagging negative feelings. Autonomic nervous system were and perhaps will are on high alert.
Ask: Were any of these issues processed with children in schools? Were I a guessing person, the answer would be no – in part because schools are online or hybrid and changing up the curriculum might be difficult and hard to do in terms of getting the right non-political pitch and approach. And, there is the issue of time and preparation.
But there is an opening for students to process the events if they can get in touch with what the debate evoked in them. Think about how feeling identification (both positive and negative) would be beneficial. And The Feeling Alphabet Activity Set could have been used to help with that effort, adapted to be sure.
Yes, there were different parties: a woman and a man. And, at least at first listen, the tone and style were different – but not that different. And, there was less in terms of personal and family attacking. But, make no mistake about it: this debate was also laced with nastiness. And there was rule disobedience.
Students could compare and contrast debate style within this second debate and between the first and second debates. That would be a useful exercise. And it begs for us to ask: Who was easiest to listen to? Who shared the most substance (assuming its veracity)? Who showed respect for others?
But, for an educational perspective, I cannot help but focus on the fly on the head of the VP’s white hair for two seconds. Surely, that can make children and adults laugh. And, it fosters a wide range of funny thoughts: Did the VP know it was there? Could you feel a fly on your head? Why would a fly stay in place for so long? And, were you a conspiracy theorist, was the fly actually a tracking device or a hearing device or a device to get signals (like positive or negative beeps to answers given)? Imagine children drawing and writing about the fly on the head – that would be a creative exercise.
For all students, finding the flies painted by well-known artists on their portrait paintings is an engaging activity with many opportunities to reflect on the “why” question. Why did these artists paint flies and what meaning can be ascribed to them? The answers have modern analogues and might surprise you with their current relevance! Enjoy reading more about flies in famous paintings in the article below.
Our children need us to help them process our complex and difficult world. With school interruptions and now online, hybrid or in person learning which works in varying degrees with different students, we need to take affirmative steps to give students the tools to manage what they are seeing and hearing day in and day. out. We cannot assume that our not talking about what is occurring will make it go away. Indeed, we do way better processing with children and at a time like this, processing feelings could not be more important. Taking the time to turn the debates into teachable moments will help our children understand their feelings and then be more able to be ready, willing and able to learn. At a time like this in our nation, turning any of the negative or difficult moment or events into teachable moments is a positive. And, The Feeling Alphabet Activity Set, adapted to different settings, is one tool that can make these teachable moments possible.
Share your thoughts if you try this and we’d welcome including your suggestions so other educators can learn from you.
By Ed K.S. Wang, M.S., Psy.D.
Even as a passive observer, the debate was extremely disorienting due to the lack of civility that I am not accustomed to in past presidential debates. I was feeling irritated, restless, and felt my blood pressure was rising. I was so stressed that the one behavior I could manage was “flight” from my distress. I turned off the TV thirty minutes into the debate.
Thinking of my physical and emotional responses, I thought about the reason behind writing the Feeling Alphabet Activity Set with Karen Gross. We trust the scientific explanation of stress and the benefit of stress management. Paying attention to our feelings and naming them make us less likely to get caught up with negative feelings and thoughts. This mindful action helped to alleviate some degree of distress in the stressful situation that I experienced.
The Feeling Alphabet Activities Set is a pathway towards the practice of mindfulness. Naming feelings is the first step into processing those feelings with associated thoughts and behaviors. Sometimes it is hard to see the connection between feelings, thoughts and behavior because all three can happen so quickly like during the evening of the debate. But after I turned the TV off, I had time to connect my feelings, thoughts and behavior to prevent my negative feelings took over.
By paying attention and acknowledging my negative feelings of anger, shame and frustration as a result of the uncivil debate and my conviction that this is not what our country is, positive feelings and thoughts of hope, change and gratitude for what good there is about this country re-surfaced. Such positive feelings, though miniscule, helped to counterbalance the negative ones. Some peace of mind is so important during this stressful time in our country.
It’s events like this that remind me of why Karen and I wrote the Feeling Alphabet Activity Set (buy through this site).
Edward K. Wang, a grandparent and psychologist, promotes the social and emotional well-being of children across the globe. As the Director of Policy and Planning for the Division of Global Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, a former member of the National Advisory Council, Department of Health and Human Services and a public steward of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, he continues to call attention to the resiliency and hope, growth and healing of mental ill adults and children.