Hey Kids, Look Up from Your Phones and Talk to Me!

cell phones and studentsI have a love-hate relationship with technology. I totally get that technology plays a HUGE role in our everyday lives and mostly for the good. I get it. I sincerely do. But ya know, sometimes I actually like using a real pen with real ink to write on real paper.

Born in ’79, I’m on the tail end of Gen X and the beginning stages of the Millennials. I kinda embrace technology but secretly despise it as well. I refuse to be pigeon-holed, just like my generation. And I tend to pass this mentality on to my students, where technology does not play a key role in our tutoring time.

Everyone’s Got their Nose in a Phone

The picture above is a common scene. The great art of life is around us, yet everyone’s got their nose in a phone. For all I know, these kids are looking up the history of the painting behind them or they’re just texting each other about what to do after the field trip is over.

Missing what’s right in front of us is not just the problem of today’s youth. It happens to adults too. For example, standing in line at Starbucks you’ll find that people would rather check their Instagram page instead of striking up a conversation with the stranger next to them, who, by the way, could actually be following their posts and they wouldn’t even know it. Oh, the irony.

In School, Less is More

In general, I’m from the school of less is more: less technology means more independent thinking. You’ve got a question? Great! I want to discuss it with you directly, strike up a conversation that could provoke a train-of-thought, which may lead to a new idea and connect us by thinking about an old topic in a new way.

For that reason, I do not allow cell phones during tutoring time. I think they hurt more than they help during a session. Even on silent, the distraction alone is squandered time and energy. And just like this teen, I’ve also got beef with the efficiency of Ed Tech in the classroom. Finally, let us not forget LAUSD’s Billion Dollar Bureaucratic iPad Debacle. Nine wasted zeros and one superintendent resignation later, the nation’s second largest public school district is still climbing out of this financially burdened technology sinkhole.

Having More Followers does not Mean Having More Friends

Perhaps my frustration as an educator (and even just a human-being living in modern tech-focused society today) stems from the fear that technology will inhibit the organic nature of everyday life.

Technology can aid, but it cannot take the place of real, live, face-to-face connection. I fear our students are missing out on cultivating real connections when we, as the adults in their lives, make technology a priority and rely on its computer savvy in place of our own discernment.

Having more followers does not mean having more friends. Cell phones, tablets, laptops, and whatever the latest and greatest version of these will be in three months does more harm in the classroom than we want to acknowledge. It slowly strips away the authenticity of debate.

Yes, technology is a part of our daily lives (until the digital dark age, of course) but it should not be our whole life, in or out of the classroom.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them: “To be a part of a student’s ‘ah ha’ moment is the best feeling in the world because I know I’m helping that student build foundational confidence that will lead to a successful path, not just in school but throughout life!”

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Successful Relationships Make Successful Students

communityAmerica, unlike most of the world, suffers from isolation. Our country is isolated physically and our people are isolated emotionally. Our puritanical roots have taught us to revere independence and as a culture we believe that raising a child to be independent is the best thing we could do as a parent.

All this emphasis on breeding independence, however, has led to the inability to create interdependence, which is really the act of purposely seeking out and engaging in healthy connection with a community.

Here’s Why We Have Trouble Connecting: The United States is not a relationship-based culture and that’s why we have trouble connecting to each other. Collectively, as a society, we value doing things on our own more than asking for help. This truism is mirrored in gender bias (ie: men never ask for directions) and perpetuated by this notion of a do-it-yourself, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps, and go-out-there-and-get-what-you-want American Dream. It’s what has made America the land of opportunity and what has made Americans the most overworked, overweight, over-medicated, and over-anxious people in the world.

Here’s What We Can Do About It:

  • First, if you’ve ever felt alone, know that you’re not alone. A lot of people feel alone and are wondering: Am I doing this whole living, working, and raising a kid thing right?
  • Second, we have to learn how to seek out the right community. We need to form relationship with people who share the same value system as us but also challenge us to learn to relate to one another in a new way.
  • Third, we need to teach our kids how to do the same. Children are great at making friends and forming their own little communities. But it’s when competition and lack of respect for a differing viewpoint creeps in that we learn to devalue a community because it’s different.

Community simply brings us together and makes us feel less alone. We can’t do everything on our own, no matter how hard we try. I am certainly a testament to this realization, ’cause darn it I’ve tried my hardest to go it alone and it just doesn’t work out as well as I had envisioned!

Children know this intuitively. Before we grew up and became the independent adults we are, we were able to make friends most anywhere. Jerry Seinfeld has great insight into this idea:

Teaching our Students to Rely on Others is a Good Thing

School is its own community, but it hasn’t traditionally been that great for teaching our students how to develop community and rely on each other for help. This is evident in our teaching models, where the emphasis is on working independently towards an expectation or developing competition by taking a test that measures where a student stands in relation to his or her peers. And when students are struggling, that’s where isolation becomes more of a factor in their success story than we may realize.

Because I work with students who are struggling in school, it is clear that much of their anxiety is perpetuated by the standards that they feel they are unable to live up to. Whether that be a grade they wanted but didn’t achieve or a part in the play they tried out for but didn’t get, they come to me with overwhelming feelings of loneliness that affects how well they do in school. They feel alone because they feel unsuccessful; they feel unsuccessful because they are not a member of the particular community they want to be in. They are taught by us, however, to squash their disappointment in favor of putting on a brave face and moving on to the next thing. We need to let our students know that it’s okay to stew a little bit. It’s okay to feel sad because we aren’t a part of the group. This is natural.

Biologically we are wired to feel empathy because the brain is a social organ. Too often we learn to suppress empathy in favor of independent achievement. When we discredit or discount our disappointment and try to “go it alone”, we are really going against our natural instincts — to reach out to others for help.

When a student is a part of a healthy community, however, they feel better about themselves because whatever struggles they may have, they know they don’t have to go it alone. They know they can always reach out for help. That’s the beauty of teaching our children, our students, that community should be valued. It’s not just a lesson for kids, but a life-long one that we adults need to revisit too.

Take a look at what Dr. Louis Cozolino, Psychologist and Author of several books on neuroscience, including “The Social Neuroscience of Education, Optimizing Attachment & Learning in the Classroom”, has to say about how our brains are wired for social connection.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

Find Your Place

my place To find your place in this “crazy, mixed up world” is a significant triumph. How do you know that you’ve stumbled upon it? Maybe by process of elimination of all other existing pathways that lead to the same endpoint. Maybe you just like hanging out there. Whatever the reason, you know that you have found your place because it feels like home.

For a child who feels like they don’t fit anywhere, however, finding their place becomes that much more important. Connection is the foundation of belonging, and it takes time to build those relationships. So once they’ve found their place, it’s a good thing to put down some roots, stay in one spot, and help them cultivate those connections.

This is not an easy thing to do. I should know because staying in one spot has never been my forte. See, I’m a mover and shaker. I like to mix things up and travel, live abroad, have a garage sale and take only what I could fit into my little Corolla. Throughout my travels, I was fortunate to make a lot of connections and friendships around the world, but it wasn’t until later on that I saw the value in putting down roots. Somewhere along the way I realized that without stable connections there is no community.

For our kiddos who struggle with initiating connections and having community, we must think long-term from the get go. How will my child, my student, my patient perceive themselves in 10 years based on the community they are in right now? As we all know, it’s not about the quantity of friends but rather the quality. Really, we just need one good friend, like we talked about here. Undoubtedly, connections define how we fit in our group, and our groups are the foundation of our security and self-confidence. Children who struggle with a learning difference, behavior challenge, or social skills need often struggle more with the complexity of where they fit amongst their peer group. But like their typically developing peers, their self-esteem is also wrapped up in what their friends think of them, which, if negative, can impact their self-identity in the long-term. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that your child is making connections with the right group and has the right community to fit their needs. They, too, need to find their place–their home away from home.

When I look back at all my travels, I am grateful I had the chance to meet and greet so many different types of people and feel connected in the short-term. Now that I’ve come to the point in life where I am happy to stay put, I realize the value even more in forming lasting relationships, community, and connection. I’ve finally found my place, and it feels good to say that I’m home.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student, combining Academic Support, Behavior Support, and Education Advocacy to bridge the gap between home and school in order to serve the whole student. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com

Working Towards Wholeheartedness

“Our job is to look [at our kids] and say, ‘Ya know what, you’re imperfect and you’re wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging.’ That’s our job. Show me a generation of kids raised like that and we’ll end the problems we see today.” ~  Dr. Brene Brown, Vulnerability Researcher 

The Power of Vulnerability

Be Your Imperfect Self

I was blown away when I heard this talk by Brene Brown, Vulnerability Researcher, because I saw myself in her: Wanting to quantify emotion rather than reveal to others who I really was for fear that I wasn’t good enough. Until recently,  I had not yet realized the power of allowing myself to be excruciatingly seen, no matter the consequence. Vulnerability is not weakness, but rather courage. What?! This flew in the face of my long-lived logic and understanding of how to get things done and earn respect.  I had not yet made this connection and had, therefore, put aside connecting with others in favor of trudging through the murky waters of self-doubt. I did not feel worthy of love and belonging, but yet I had a profound, almost urgent, desire for relationship and connection. The tipping point emerged when I finally realized that all this time I had chosen to live my life climbing the ladder towards acceptance when all I really had to do was accept the fact that I didn’t need to climb the ladder at all. My only job is to be my imperfect self.

You are Worthy of Love & Belonging

Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability revealed there are really only two types of people: (1) those who are wholehearted individuals, and (2) those who are not. The only factor that separated the two groups was that the wholehearted people believed they were worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. A simple belief that I, that you, that your kids are worthy of love and belonging. Connection is ultimately why we’re here. At the heart of school, family, community, religion, marriage, and parenting is the deep-seeded need and desire for authentic connection with others. At the core of teaching should be helping children develop a deep sense of worthiness so they can connect and live a loving, open, vulnerable life.

Open Your Eyes to Joy

I can tell you from personal experience that the moment I consciously chose to live a vulnerable life was the moment I saw the world with fresh eyes: an excitement like none other, a revelation of the beauty that is around us, a moment of joy, which becomes stronger each time I practice vulnerability. I chose to willingly embrace this change so that I can learn to believe that I am worthy of love and belonging. The hope is that one day I won’t have to consciously choose to practice it but rather just inherently know my own self-worth. This lesson was so overwhelmingly on-point that, like Dr. Brene Brown, I, too, had a mini-breakdown full of regret and emotional contemplation, which were vague and foreign concepts for someone like myself who justified her lack of belonging and pushed her feelings so far down that being guarded became the norm. It rocked me to my core so much that I knew without a doubt — if I wanted a real life with real love I had to embrace real change.

Live By Example for Your Kids

After I turned the proverbial corner, I saw greater hope and understood the reason to live vulnerably: to live by example. As a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, mentor, teacher, and friend the children in your life look up to you. They want guidance, acceptance, and help. They expect you to show them what to do and how to do it successfully. The problem that we face within our families and our culture in general is that we don’t know how to live vulnerably in a society that numbs itself from authentic connection. It is time to break that cycle. It is time to open ourselves up to courage, connection, and compassion. It is time to: “Stop screaming, and start listening… Stop trying to make uncertainty, certain… Stop controlling and predicting.. Say ‘I love you’ first, even when there are no guarantees…”  Wouldn’t it be a very different world if we approached each family argument, poor grade, and lost friendship from this starting point?

Wholeheartedness, here I come.

Another Powerful Study by Dr. Brene Brown: Listening to Shame

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder of Terry Tutors and Creator of the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com