Check-in / Check-out (CICO) is a simple framework for social, emotional, and academic support, and it’s typically easy for schools and youth-serving programs to implement
Basically, CICO works because the intervention is about strengthening relationships with students and communicating with young people effectively. And, while many schools have done CICO well with in-person learning, CICO for digital learning spaces can be equally effective.
In April of 2016, I was principal of an elementary school that tragically lost an amazing kindergarten teacher. Maria would check in on me each Monday and ask about my family and how I was doing. She’d make sure to have a kind word and a smile as I began my week, and I’m certain that her kindness rippled into every classroom I visited.
At the first staff meeting after the death of a teacher who had been helping our littlest learners grow since the school was built, I discovered that there were teachers who had been serving at the school nearly as long as Maria, yet never had a conversation with her. The two minutes that Maria spent with me on Monday mornings were two minutes I would have wanted any staff member to experience, and I decided that we would be as purposeful about connecting with each other as Maria had been with me.
Our solution was to create a staff Buddy Board. The idea is simple:
Print your staff roster.
Assign each staff member a buddy.
Do something with your buddy at the staff meeting.
We used name tags that attached to a foam board with magnetic tape, and we pulled buddy activities from our Sanford Harmony box. If you don’t have Sanford Harmony, you can create your own 2-3 minute activity list as a team, or just search the web for ideas. The goal, however, was simple—every staff member would have at least two meaningful opportunities to connect with everyone else by the end of each year.
I realized that if a group of teachers could come together for a Wednesday staff meeting for decades without necessarily having spoken to everyone they work with, then to assume that a classroom of students would build connections with each other on their own seemed unwise. If love and belonging are prerequisite to learning, then we needed to be intentional about creating opportunities for our students to connect.
Buddy Boards are a great school-wide strategy that can easily adapt to digital learning spaces. You could implement them in a classroom, throughout a school, and between grade levels. You can (and should) involve staff in your Buddy Boards, especially staff that are generally left on the margins of our school community (think teaching assistants, custodians, food service, bus drivers, and crossing guards).
If only because you’ll know that every student in your digital classroom will have meaningful opportunities to experience love and belonging, creating a digital buddy board is a great thing to do right now. And, your buddy board can help engage students in important dialogue when:
Students return from a screen break, you’re waiting for everyone to log on.
You’re providing 1:1 or small group support in a breakout room, and the rest of the students are done with their work.
It’s the start or the end of a class period or day.
And, while Digital Buddy Boards are not typically part of traditional Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports training, they fit perfectly into Tier 1 PBIS practices. Anything we can do to provide students frequent and meaningful opportunities to connect with each other in low-risk, high-warmth situations increases the likelihood of them learning how to manage conflict on their own when necessary. Plus, it’s fun!
I hope you’ll join us for one of the free 90 minute webinars coming up on 26 and 27 August, 2020. Webinars are at 1:00pm to 2:30pm and 3:00pm to 4:30pm both days, and you can sign up here.
What does it mean to say that we are doing something? It means that:
Everyone who is supposed to do it (and everyone we’re doing it for) knows what it is and what it’s supposed to do.
Everyone who is supposed to do it (and everyone we’re doing it for) is equipped to do it.
We’ll get to the second condition in the next article. This week article is about the importance of knowing what you are doing and about helping you and your team get clear on your work and what you hope to achieve.
Before you read too far, I want you to know that there are more important questions for me to answer. Questions like:
I’ve linked articles from colleagues with skills and knowledge to help answer these questions, and I encourage you to read those articles too. After all, if you’re reading my blog, it’s probably because you are a leader of some kind in a caring profession, and you want to do the work the right way.
For now, what I want to do is to provide a framework for thinking about something important that you are already working on. Using this framework will help you and your team get clear about your goals, increase the efficacy of your strategy, and elevate the success of your work.
Everyone who’s supposed to do it knows what it is, who it is for, and what it is supposed to do.
Whether your school has been a Project Based Learning school for years or if your agency just started a staff wellness initiative, everyone who is supposed to be doing the thing must know what it is, who it’s for, and what it’s supposed to do.
Here is a simple exercise to take action towards clarity:
Name the thing you’re doing.
Name who the thing you’re doing is supposed to help.
Describe what the thing you’re doing is supposed to achieve.
If you’d like, here’s a print version of this exercise in print form:
The people for whom we are doing it know what it is and what it is supposed to do.
For reasons encoded deep into the DNA of how culture influences schools, agencies, and organizations, the people for whom we are doing something are typically the last to know about something we are doing on their behalf. It is essential that the people for whom you are doing it know what it is and what it is supposed to do. Here are two reasons why your project will fail unless the people your project is about are involved from the beginning:
“Nothing about us without us” is a phrase used in a wide variety of activist circles to dismantle systems where those in power make decisions on behalf of groups without power and without their involvement or consent. Examples of this that occur frequently are when:
Schools make major changes in how students learn without explaining to families why they’re making a change and what’s supposed to happen as a result.
Law enforcement agencies increase their visibility without explaining to their community what they’re doing and what their goals are.
Nonprofit agencies ask youth to speak on panels without compensating them for their time or equipping them to participate as partners.
It makes your work harder than it needs to be.
While all of the above examples are morally suspect, they also make your work harder than it needs to be. Think about how all of the above examples change when the people for whom we are doing something know what it is and what it is supposed to do:
The school changing how students learn involves families at the first planning meeting. They provide the context for the change and opportunities to be trained in what will happen in their children’s classrooms. As a result, families not only understand the work but also help the work get done.
Law enforcement agencies seek out and create opportunities to be invited into communities. As a result, officers learn to view communities as the answer to problems rather than as the problem to solve with the tools of policing.
Nonprofits explain what the purpose of the panel is going to be. Resources are provided to help youth frame their message in the context of their own lived experience, and youth are compensated (in cash) for their time. As a result, the nonprofit has a cadre of highly trained youth who can support the work as peers.
Why it matters
Leaders who can explain what their team is doing and also provide those that they serve with meaningful and frequent opportunities to be participate are better able to elevate the success of their team and their organization. Regardless of what your organization is doing, or for how long an initiative has been going on, leaders who can explain what they’re doing, who it benefits, and what’s going to happen when the project succeeds are equipped with everything the need to plan, execute, and succeed.
Author’s note: Helping leaders, teams, and organizations achieve clarity in their work is an essential element of my work. The next time you’re writing a newsletter or explaining to your team a directive you’ve received, consider scheduling a call and seeing how I can help.
Dr. Cornel West famously said “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” As a person believes that education is a means to achieve social justice, Dr. West’s words remind me that my work to create just, equitable, antiracist, and inclusive schools begins not in the classroom, school, or park district, but rather within my own self. To be a person working for justice means that paying attention to my wellness is neither selfish nor a luxury—it’s required.
Higher Ground is a nonprofit organization in Tucson that runs a student wellness center for local elementary, middle, and high school students. Like other after school programs, students can work on homework and participate in a variety of activities including: basketball, drum-line, jiu-jitsu, judo, and outside sports. What makes Higher Ground unique, however, is that each program participant has their own wellness plan organized around the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Eight Dimensions of Wellness.
Even more powerful, however, is how the Eight Dimensions of Wellness help Higher Ground staff to take care of themselves so that they are equipped to care for others. Arthur Rodgers, Higher Ground’s Executive Director explains that “the Eight Dimensions of Wellness help me create a balanced life for myself and keep me focused on the whole person when serving others. Thecia Rodgers, Community Schools Director, agrees, saying “The Eight Dimensions of Wellness help me personally to be aware of my own health and wellness lifestyle, and to identify where my own wellness could be stronger. This helps me consider each person I serve as a whole person.”
As you read through the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, notice which aspects of wellness you currently practice. It might also be helpful to note something you can do today to support a dimension of wellness that you might not practice as frequently.
Eight Dimensions of Wellness
Physical wellness is about caring for our bodies. We attend to our physical wellness when we eat well, drink enough water, and get regular exercise. Making sure to get enough sleep and scheduling necessary medical, dental, and vision appointments are also essential aspects of physical wellness. Finally, avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs is important to our physical wellness.
Learning new skills and developing new understandings supports intellectual wellness. Choose something that interests you and make a plan to learn more about it. This might be reading a book, doing something creative, or purposefully engaging in new ideas or perspectives.
Naming our feelings and paying attention to how we manage both positive and negative emotions supports emotional wellness. Managing stress, building resiliency, and developing a positive outlook are all key components of emotional wellness. Sometimes, the work of emotional wellness happens best with spending some time alone, and other times, connecting to our support networks is better.
Having purpose and meaning is crucial to wellness. Pay attention to values and sense of purpose. If necessary, uncover, discover, or recover what matters most to you. Some people find support in participating in communities with shared values. Others find it helpful to reflect on values and purpose privately. Most important, work to make sure that your actions align with your values and purpose.
One key aspect of environmental wellness is finding ways of living that respect the environment. Recycling, driving less, and planting trees are three ways that we might support our environmental wellness. Another aspect of environmental wellness connects to building comfortable places to live and work. Cleaning up the kitchen at home and clearing off our desks at work are examples of practicing environmental wellness.
The basic level of financial wellness is working to make sure that we have enough income to feed ourselves, our families, and to pay the bills. Taking stock of our income and expenses is a powerful way to practice financial wellness. More than earning money and making budgets, however, financial wellness is about understanding our personal relationship with money. By reflecting on what money means to us, we gain a better sense of what might be influencing our spending and saving, and whether those influences are helpful.
What love looks like in public
Dr. West asks us “Never to forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” As we seek to be educators who create just classrooms, dismantle oppression, and help children and youth become successful learners and good human beings, the implications of Dr. West’s words are tremendous. If justice is what love looks like in public, then our capacity to build a just world depends both on the level of love we show ourselves and how skillfully we care for ourselves across all Eight Dimensions of Wellness.
Of course Eight Dimensions of Wellness is not the only framework for practicing self-care. I would encourage everyone to spend some time researching wellness and to pay attention to resources that connect with them. However, what I’ve seen at Higher Ground makes me think that the Eight Dimensions of Wellness are a good place to start. I’ve summarized definitions and examples from the University of Maryland’s wellness information site, and you can learn more by clicking here.
I believe that the heart of effective teaching and learning is love + content + time, and that all three are necessary to build and sustain effective districts, schools, and classrooms. Here is why:
Love is the starting point of effective teaching and learning. And, while good teachers recognize that love is the center of their practice, teachers are often afraid that this love could be misunderstood. After all, when I say “I love my spouse,” I mean something different than way I say “I love popcorn.”
But let’s get real for a moment—Teaching is a profession that expects an intelligent person with at least one (and typically several) college degrees to help a room full of other people’s children become successful learners and good human beings. In between “I love my spouse” and “I love popcorn” is a type of love that effective teachers understand is at the center of their practice.
“You look upset. Are you ok?”
“I need you to focus on your work.”
“It’s good to see you! You’re running late again. We can make a plan together when you’re ready to talk about it.”
“You’re late again, and now you’re behind the rest of the class.”
“Come back to me tomorrow, and in one piece!”
“Pages 4-5 are due tomorrow.”
“I want to make sure my students are represented in their learning. That’s why I’m doing so much reading on culturally sustaining pedagogy this summer.”
“I don’t see color.”
Love is essential.
Loving our students and expressing that love in our practice ought to be an explicit part of every educator’s job description and professional preparation program. Nothing-not one thing-happens in a classroom or in a school until students know that they are safe, loved, and cared for.
Content represents precisely what we mean by social, emotional, and academic achievement. The most engaging activity in the world and the most informative text ever written are only useful if the schools and teachers using them understand what students are supposed to learn as a result.
Here are some examples and non-examples of ensuring that all students have access to important content:
There is a written curriculum, and everyone knows where to find it.
There is no written curriculum, so everyone develops their own materials.
“Hey, this fun activity I found on the internet matches where my class is at right now in their science curriculum!”
“Well, this quarter is supposed to be about life cycles, but I really like this activity about fossils. Let’s do it!”
“This math lesson is supposed to be hard. We’re learning not only how to use statistics for modeling, but also how to manage stress when things feel overwhelming.”
“Ok, now that math is done, let’s do this lesson on stress I found.”
“Ok, team, we’ve got [x] learning targets to master this semester. Do we have materials for all of them?”
“Uh oh…we’ve got three weeks left in the semester, and we only taught half the learning targets. Let’s do a jigsaw for the last three chapters of the textbook.”
“Let’s check to make sure that our reading lists are inclusive of authors of color.”
People of color are invisible in the curriculum.
Please do not neglect the last row.
Please do not neglect the last row in the table. Supporting social, emotional, and academic achievement means ensuring that our students are represented in the content we teach. Otherwise, we risk creating schools in which, as Dr. Jamila Lyiscott warns, “The content of the curriculum ignore[s] the cultures of their communities” (Lyiscott, 2019).
To become successful learners and good human beings requires that students leave our classrooms each day equipped with knowledge, understanding, and skills that they didn’t have before. While it’s possible (and typically dangerous) to teach students something on accident, students achieve more when everyone involved is intentional about what the point of each lesson, unit, and course is about.
The level of learning that happens in our schools and classrooms depends on the level of love our students experience, the level of clarity regarding the content they are to learn, and finally, the way we view time as a resource for learning.
Time is more than just a thing we all feel we need more of. Yes, we need time to collaborate, plan, teach, and reflect. All the grading, assessment, and stuff our principal or superintendent needs us to do takes time. However, when the only thing that matters in a school is what happens in this period, this semester, or this academic year, time will never feel like an ally.
I know this is a bit meta, but when we think about supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic achievement, time isn’t really about the minutes in a period we have to teach today’s content. Rather, time is the medium through which growth happens.
Think of it this way—If students were like a packet of sunflower seeds, we could predict how fast each seed ought to grow, what kind of light they need, and how much to water them. Truthfully, our students are more like a packet of assorted seeds from apple, orange, and peach trees, with a few acorns tossed in just because. We don’t expect a peach pit to turn into a mature tree by the end of a semester or even an academic year. To do the same for our students just makes everyone frustrated.
When we expand our timeframe for our work, we can see ourselves as part of a system meant to help students learn and grow over a lifetime. We also see that our role in supporting our students’ growth changes depending on where they are at in their learning. Whether we are building better schools by becoming trauma informed, enhancing our curriculum, or learning to use a new computer intervention, time is always on our side.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that anyone has a right to waste a minute in the life of a child. Time is precious. What I am saying, though, is that if we see our students as trees rather than sunflowers, we can also understand that the time frame for our work is far bigger then a single lesson or even a school year.
Sometimes, students respond to our love and our content with indifference. Sometimes they struggle with concepts far more than we wish. All too often, brilliant students are told that they are not that brilliant because of a yearly test score that can’t (or won’t) see them as anything other than a number that’s not high enough yet. But we can learn to view time differently, and if we can help our students to do the same, we can also learn that what we do today matters even when we can’t see the change right away.
I’d like for you to check out Higher Ground, an organization that has always understood that all children are worthy of love, all children deserve to be taught how to be a person of character, and that all children have a right to their own time.
I’d also invite you to read Dr. Lyiscott’s book, Black Appetite. White Food. Lyiscott, Jamila. (2019). Black appetite. White food. Routledge.
“We don’t have time to think about values…we’re just trying to finish the year and reopen school somehow.”
In a breath, educators across the United States completely transformed the way they connect with students and their families. Boundaries between work and home, always blurry for educators, have dissolved completely as we connect with learners online, via text, and curbside house calls. Thinking about our own values and vision right now feels goofy—and perhaps a little selfish—given what our work demands of us if we want to do right by our students.
Frankly, I’d be suspicious of anyone who knows what the ‘best’ way to teach, run a school, or do our jobs well right now. As I stand, in this moment, I am both proud of my colleagues and aware that we don’t really know yet what we’re doing. The risk, though, of not pausing to uncover, discover, and recover our values is to continue a drastic re-imaging of schooling without considering the values that form the ethical core of our profession. More acute, though, is that by not examining the values guiding who we are and what we do, we increase the risk of moral injury.
Moral injury is the harm that occurs when a person is forced to act in ways that violate their values. Values are windows through which we see who we aspire to be and mirrors that reflect how well who we currently are matches our aspirations. Generally, values are effective because they tend to be automatic and implicit filters that guide day-to-day decisions without too much pondering. A quick glance through the values window reminds us that we are loving, caring, and expert professionals, and brief look in the values mirror reveals the kind words and time spent honing our craft each day that let us know we’re doing our best, and that our best is pretty good.
However, when the entire context for our work shifts to something we would never want for ourselves or our students, values that used to support our work can feel impossible to live up to. While each person’s resilience, support, and capacity to practice self-care and healing is unique, many educators are struggling line up how replacing math instruction with Kahn Academy, reading instruction with audiobooks, and classroom instruction for online class meetings (where some students own three laptops and an iPad and others borrow their parent’s cell phone to text answers to their teacher) lines up with what the values at the core of their work.
If you feel like your students deserve better, you are right. And knowing that this is not your fault doesn’t make it easier.
Take a moment and answer this question: “To be a professional that effectively supports children and youth to become successful learners and good human beings, it is important that I am [insert one word answer].”
In January, I would have said my most important answers were:
Now, as I listen to my daughter communicate her grief over lost friends communicated in elaborate refusals to do the Beethoven book report, I recognize that patience, kindness, and competence won’t cut it.
Right now, I’m coming to understand that to do this work it is essential that I am:
It is important that I am healthy, and that means I schedule time to exercise. I must be present so that I focus on the issue in front of me and am available to those who need me. Finally, compassion for myself and for others helps me move beyond judgement and into action.
I am not claiming that these three values are all that are important to me, nor that anyone else needs to share my list. What I am suggesting is we might be able to look through a clearer window and more reflective mirror. Organizing resources to support social, emotional, and academic achievement begins with our values, and we get to choose what we value. Choose values that help—that’s what our values are supposed to do.
I recently led a workshop on self-care for an amazing group of caring professionals from Youth on Their Own, YOTO. While feedback from the workshop was positive, participants did ask for more time to work with three specific activities that accompany the Eight Dimensions of Wellness Cards. Below are the activities and an explanation of how to use them. Feel free to use them for your own personal reflection, or as part of a whole-staff development.
Eight Dimensions of Wellness
This activity is another way of applying the sorting activity that’s already in the deck. Once you’ve had a chance to read the cards, the invitation is to think about which dimensions of wellness might be calling to you, and to shade in each dimension of wellness according to how strongly you’re hearing that call.
Dimensions of wellness might be “calling to you” if you know that this dimension needs your attention. Or, you might feel called towards a certain dimension because engaging that dimension sounds fun. Because self-care begins from the “inside-out,” there truly isn’t a right or wrong way to shade in your wheel. Ultimately, your wheel belongs to you, and you get to decide what the visual representation means.
Generally, people use the wheel to select one or two dimensions to focus on first, and these tend to be the ones that are most shaded.
Pick One Card
The “Pick One Card” activity is a good one to do when you’re looking to generate ideas for self-care that you haven’t considered yet. The goal of this activity is to select a dimension of wellness that you’d like to focus on. From there, think of three small ways to engage that dimension of wellness, and one big way. Note that there is no need to commit to any idea, big or small. Rather, the goal is to note that you have options.
For example, I might choose financial wellness.
Finish the video game I’m playing before buying another.
Pack my lunch tomorrow instead of eating out.
Add $5.00 to my credit card payment.
Set up (or add to) an automatic transfer to my retirement account.
If you plan on using this activity in a group, it’s important to note that everyone has a different idea of what might be ‘small’ or ‘big.’ The goal is to generate options that make sense to us individually.
Supporting Our Colleagues
This activity is meant for groups that work closely together. Often, when we notice that our colleagues are overwhelmed, we want to support them. Yet, sometimes it can be hard to explain to each other what support we need.
First, participants take a moment to consider what they would want their colleagues to do when feeling overwhelmed. Then, in small groups made of colleagues who work closely and frequently together, participants find out what they can do to support self-care at work.
“Supporting Our Colleagues” looks simple, and it is. However, I recommend making sure that you’ve established safety in the group and that you’ve made clear that what we are only sharing with our colleagues what we feel appropriate for our workplace.
We Grow in Inches, Then Feet.
The Eight Dimensions of Wellness are highly interdependent. Most of my clients discover that when they or their team engages in one dimension—even in small ways—other dimension of wellness improve without much extra effort.
Use “We Grow in Inches, Then Feet” to imagine the positive changes you’ll experience when you’ve successfully attended to one dimension of wellness. By envisioning the positive outcomes in advance, you’ll activate your brain to notice them as they occur.
I hope that you’ll use these resources along with the Eight Dimensions of Wellness Deck to help yourself and your team to seek out opportunities for self-care that match what you know you need most. If you’d like to schedule a time to talk about more about this resource, click here. There is no charge to chat.
Much of my work with schools and nonprofits involves social and emotional learning (SEL). The reason why so many of my clients are eager to implement SEL into their classrooms and service areas is because it works. When we understand who we are, how to connect with others, and how emotions function, we discover an entirely new, fertile soil for learning and growth. SEL makes sense.
What I often notice, however, is that caring professionals implement social and emotional learning alongside behavioral supports. This causes two problems that reduce the overall value of SEL programming:
The goal of SEL becomes about improving student behavior and compliance.
Schools attempt Social and Emotional Learning without a written curriculum.
Social and Emotional Learning has nothing to do with how students behave.
Often, schools reach out to me for support with social and emotional learning because they want to improve their students’ behavior. The problems, though, is that improving behavior through SEL usually limits social and emotional achievement.
While effective social and emotional learning will often lead to positive behavioral outcomes, basing SEL programs around how we want students to behave limits what gets taught. For example, I recently checked out the posts on a popular SEL Facebook group. After sifting through all the vendors posting about their workshops, most posts start with a description of some student behavior that an adult wants to change.
Imagine a geometry classroom where every student were absolutely compliant with every teacher request, and never demonstrated any unexpected behavior that might disrupt the learning environment. While this classroom might be exceptionally easy to manage, positive behavior alone will not ensure that students learn geometry. At some point, we have to get to finding areas of solid figures, right? Similarly, SEL programs that are really about behavior might help students learn behaviors that support collaboration in the classroom, yet miss the actual content necessary to understand identity, name and regulate feelings, or establish and maintain healthy friendships and relationships.
Effective SEL instruction might lead to ‘better’ student behavior….as a side effect. The actual goal of social and emotional learning is mastery of skills and knowledge necessary to support social and emotional achievement.
Social and Emotional Learning requires a written curriculum.
To design effective instruction in any subject area, someone has to decide ahead of time what students are going to learn. The same is true with social and emotional learning. Whether integrated into content areas or taught as a stand alone part of a student’s day, the goal of time spent on SEL has to be for students to learn something.
Some schools create advisory schedules, SEL blocks, or otherwise set aside time for SEL without defining what students are supposed to achieve in that time. Schools and districts that emphasize SEL without knowing exactly what students are supposed to learn are left with know way of truly knowing what the results of their SEL programming actually is.
Most schools implementing SEL for the first time choose to purchase a developed curriculum. Others develop a curriculum on their own. Either method will work, so long as schools apply the same processes for reviewing, revising, and enhancing the math, English language arts, or fine arts curriculum to ensure that the SEL curriculum is up to date. Of course, curriculum documents come alive when caring professionals make use of them in ways that make sense for their learners. However, having a written curriculum for social and emotional learning supports SEL by ensuring that commonly held goals have a common language and vocabulary.
I’ve emphasized the learning in social and emotional learning throughout this post for two reasons.
The goal of SEL is not about improving student behavior. It’s about mastery of skills and knowledge necessary for social and emotional achievement.
Students engage in social and emotion learning in order to learn something. Given the time and resources assigned to SEL, having a written curriculum for what we expect students to learn is fundamental to knowing what social and emotional skills they have mastered.
Social and emotional learning makes sense. Knowing who we are, understanding how our emotions function, and being able to establish and maintain healthy interactions with people supports social, emotional, and academic success as well as improves the quality of life for our students in the future. We can support SEL best by emphasizing the learning and deemphasizing behavior.
If you’d like to schedule time to talk with Dr. Tim regarding social and emotional learning, click here. There is no charge to chat.
I’m excited to share that this exciting collaboration between me and Dawn Baumgartner has been rescheduled. The workshop is called “Emotional regulation & co-regulation to support trauma informed practices” and the description is below:
Trauma Informed Care, skills and practices, will be more important than ever upon return to classrooms this fall. During this workshop teachers/staff will reflect upon the emotional toll of the past year as well as identify emotional triggers, learn emotional regulation skills, and understand the importance of co-regulation between student and teacher.
Participants will receive a resource for self-care to explore their own eight dimensions of wellness–from the inside out. Some may choose to focus on just one dimension, while others may see connections among them all. Walk away understanding simple steps to create a healing environment that values the whole person.
The in-person workshop takes place in Phoenix on Saturday, September 25, 2021 at KOI Education on 99 E Virginia Ave, Suit 120, Phoenix, AZ 85004. The cost is $79.00 per person and includes a certificate for 3 hours of professional development.
Register now to learn classroom-possible strategies for emotionally healthy learning for your students…and for you.
Dawn Baumgartner is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who works with school age children, families, and educators to inspire them to believe open hearts will open minds. Dawn is a former director of a NYC Alternative school, with twenty plus years experience including leadership roles related to PBIS/ MTSS. Dawn is an ASU
Field Instructor of the Year recipient. She holds an MSW and certificate from the Institute for Nonprofit Management at Columbia University.
Tim Grivois earned his Masters in Elementary Education and Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Loyola University Chicago. He currently lives in Tucson, Arizona. When Tim is not keeping busy helping schools increase the good they do (and to do it justly
and equitably), you can find him reading, playing with his three kids, or zoning out to Netflix. He is also thinking about getting a chicken coop and a really big dog.
What makes this project unique is that youth lead this initiative through a group called the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC). YAC is made up of youth who, at some point in their lives, have not had a permanent place to live. Because their lived experience is precisely what TPCH wants to prevent, having youth at the center of the project is essential.
My work is to support adults older than the youth on YAC in thinking through action steps to support youth who experience unstable housing. Recently, my work with youth uncovered a gap between youth and school that surprised me:
McKinney Vento is a federal law requiring schools to provide a number of supports to students experiencing housing instability. Adults registering children and youth for school might see a questionnaire in a registration packet, and schools typically post information about McKinney Vento in the office. However, according to the youth most in need of support, no one ever really tells them directly about McKinney Vento.
When I ask youth what they think school adults like me should do about it, they say:
Right now, one of the main interventions that my group is planning on implementing this year is to make sure that high school students know who the McKinney-Vento Liaison is, what they do, and how to find them if someone needs them. This intervention will cost no more than a little time and will likely lead to greater access to support for young people who lack a permanent place to live. And, the idea came from the people we wanted these programs to serve.
If your school does something to make sure that all students know how to access McKinney-Vento Supports (and telling adults doesn’t count, according to youth), I’d be grateful to hear what you do and what the results have been. Leave a reply below or send me an email.
Ultimately, the work of self-care happens individually from the inside out. However, caring professionals are more likely to have time and space to attend to their own self care when they work in organizations fluent in the Eight Dimensions of Wellness.
One highly effective way for organizations to live the Eight Dimensions of Wellness out loud is for leaders in the organization to think about their school, nonprofit, or government agency as though our organization were one person. This is different than how we normally think. Typically, we view the schools, nonprofits, or programs we lead as systems made up of departments full of people with a variety of roles. Instead, let’s think of our organization as though it were one person, and reflect on opportunities we might have to make self-care systemic by living the Eight Dimensions of Wellness out loud.
If you are new to the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, take a look at the Eight Dimensions of Wellness graphic to the right.
While individuals attend to physical wellness by taking care of their bodies, organizations enhance their physical wellness by improving their workplace. Keeping up with the building’s maintenance, making sure the heating and cooling work, replacing lightbulbs and refilling hand sanitizer stations all contribute to physical wellness at the organizational level.
Intellectual wellness is about learning new skills and being curious about all there is to learn. At the individual level, people might read a book, listen to a podcast or sign up for a class to learn something new. An organization practicing intellectual wellness would protect time and space for professional learning and would seek input on topics of interest from staff. Another opportunity for an organization to practice intellectual wellness would be to connect the talents and interests of staff members to their work when appropriate.
Emotional wellness is about recognizing emotions and expressing them in healthy ways. Organizations that practice emotional wellness maintain a regulated emotional climate. A visitor might notice a general sense of calm regardless of how busy the environment might be. Additionally, an organization fluent in emotional wellness can express positive and negative feelings as a community, recognizing and validating any number of different emotions that people within the organization might feel.
Social wellness is about maintaining healthy relationships and repairing or exiting unhealthy relationships. If we think of our organizations as individuals, we might view our community partnerships as friendships. Organizations that practice social wellness ask themselves “What could I do to be a better participant in this relationship?” Perhaps we might send an encouraging note to contacts at our partner organization or invite new staff to take tours of each other’s sites. Thinking of partners as friends can often spur creative ways for an organization to practice social wellness.
Spiritual wellness is about living according to values and connecting to our interior life. Individually, this can happen with or without organized religion, and might happen alone or in community. As an organization, the first step to spiritual wellness is to uncover, discover, and if necessary, recover the values that guide the work. Traditions that connect the work to the organization’s purpose and guiding values support spiritual wellness.
Financial wellness is about having the resources necessary to manage expenses and to prepare for the future. Organizations practice financial wellness when they are good stewards of the funds they receive. Financial wellness is about about aligning resources efficiently and developing new resources when necessary to accomplish the work.
We practice environmental wellness when 1) we recognize how the physical environment affects our well-being and 2) we act in ways that respect the earth. As an organization, we can practice environmental wellness by keeping an organized and orderly workplace. If possible, enhancing the exterior landscaping and bringing in plants to the interior environment can also enhance environmental wellness. Initiatives to reduce waste and to use recycled office supplies are also opportunities for the organization to act in ways that respect the earth.
A vocation is a calling, and vocational wellness asks “Are we doing what we are meant to do?” Individually, we enhance vocational wellness by learning the skills necessary to do meaningful work. As an organization, vocational wellness is about ensuring that everyone in the organization is equipped with the sills and resources necessary to do their best work. Additionally, as an organization, vocational wellness is about ensuring that our work aligns directly with the purpose of our organization.
Becoming fluent in our own wellness, individually and systemically
For many caring professionals, where they work is the primary reason they seek out additional self-care resources. Imagine instead that your organization were the reason people feel healthy and happy. As an institution, your organization can model what it means to be well from the inside out.
When I work with schools, nonprofits, and government agencies on self-care, I often note that all of the Eight Dimensions of Wellness are highly interdependent. Small changes in one dimension typically lead to positive growth in many other dimensions of wellness.
On June 11, 2021, I’m co-presenting on emotional regulation and co-regulation strategies for teachers and school leaders with Dawn Baumgartner and KOI Education. If you’re in Arizona, you can register for the conference here. Dawn is a Licensed, Clinical Social Worker who works with school age children, families, and educators to inspire them to believe open hearts will open minds. Our presentation begins with Dawn sharing what research tells us about how the brain responds to emotional triggers. Based on what we know about the brain, Dawn will also share effective strategies for regulating, relating, and reconnecting with children and youth when unexpected behaviors happen in our schools and classrooms.
Next, I’m going to present this video:
It’s cute! My twins were not quite three in when I took this video. They were excited to play in their box, and excited to send their Thanksgiving wishes to their grandparents. What you don’t see is what happens next.
Right after I texted the video to my dad, my oldest kid who is nine years old saw the twins in her box! Outraged at the toddlers, she grabbed the box and dumped her siblings on the ground. I had no idea why I now had three crying children right next to me, but I could feel two different versions of me competing to take charge of the situation:
Two versions of Tim
The first version of me was shocked that my oldest had ruined a beautiful moment. Was she really that possessive of a box that I was going to recycle anyway? Whatever she wanted the box for, it surely wasn’t worth hurting her siblings over. This behavior was unacceptable. This version of me was having an emotional response.
The second version of me was shocked that my oldest was feeling upset. Normally, my oldest is a caring, loving older sibling who enjoys playing with the twins. I must be missing something. This version of me was reasoning through the facts and looking for a solution.
I can only tell this story because the second version of me won. (If you come to the workshop, Dawn would say that there were actually three versions of me, and it’s really about which part of the brain was in charge…) I scooped up the twins, snuggled them until they felt better, and was happy to see they were more surprised to be dumped out of a box than actually hurt. My oldest took her box to a different part of the yard and just sat next to it. When the twins were ready to leave my lap, I walked over to my oldest and sat next to her. I waited a moment or two, and then she explained that I had taken the box from a place where she saves her fort-building materials. We processed what happened for a while, and thought through other ways that both of us could handle the situation more effectively. The whole process took a while, but I’m proud that the best, most emotionally regulated self showed up for all of my children. This is how it happened:
Eight Dimensions of Wellness
I had a good night’s sleep and I had exercised earlier in the morning (Physical Wellness)
I was able to notice and name what I was feeling and what I noticed my kids feeling (Emotional Wellness)
My connections to friends and family, though strained by the pandemic, were solid (Social Wellness)
I’d been creating some new trainings for Positive Behavior Intervention and Support, and enjoying the new direction I was heading (Intellectual Wellness)
I was feeling good about my work and my finances at the time (Vocational, and Financial Wellness)
I had done a really neat meditation that morning all about purpose (Spiritual Wellness)
The backyard was clean and organized the way I liked it, and I had just finished repairing the rainwater harvesting barrels (Environmental Wellness)
Imagine a tired, out of shape Tim who lacked the vocabulary to name emotions. Also, he’s feeling isolated, ill equipped at work, and stressed about money. Finally, his meditation app didn’t work that day, and the backyard was a mess. If any one of those had been true, there is little chance that I would have responded to the toddler dumping as skillfully.
Helping children and youth regulate emotions begins with establishing, protecting, and expanding our own regulated space. Knowing strategies to respond to unexpected behavior is important, as is being emotionally and cognitively available to put those strategies in place when you notice disregulated behavior in the children and youth you serve.
One resource that I use to support caring professionals to maintain their regulated space is the Eight Dimensions of Wellness Deck. You can either buy a set for $8.99 or you can download a set for free. Both versions have the same content. The printed set available for purchase has:
has beautiful rounded corners,
durable card stock,
was printed at a union shop,
and is already printed for you.
And, if you printed your own set right now and got started using them, I’d be delighted! The main thing to know is that the Eight Dimensions of Wellness are highly interdependent. For most people, small actions in any of the dimensions seems to spark big changes across all eight.
Eight Dimensions of Wellness—Do it now.
While there are many ways to engage with as many of your Eight Dimensions of Wellness as you’d like, one common way to being is to pick one and get started.
Take out your deck and read the cards. Pick a dimension of wellness that is calling to you. Get a sticky note and write down something you feel ready to do to address one of those dimensions. Put the sticky note on the card and imagine how you’ll feel once you get started.
Remember, helping children and youth regulate emotions begins with establishing, protecting, and expanding our own regulated space. This kind of self-care is more than just treating ourselves to something or eating more vegetables. Rather, it’s about being intentional about our own health and wellness so that we can be available to serve others at our best.
Arizona educators, sign up for the conference. It’s going to be supportive and useful. Download a flyer here.
Everyone is invited to order or download a set of the Eight Dimensions of Wellness cards.
Many caring professionals talk about dismantling racism as an abstract goal to achieve years from now. However, though I agree that justice is a long term project, I notice that colleagues often use time as an excuse not to take action today. If your school, nonprofit, or government agency sincerely wants to dismantle racism, right now is an outstanding time to take action. Here is how:
Know your numbers.
Start with data you already have, understand, and can explain fluently.
A mistake that I often see my clients make when working with data is to ask questions that can’t be answered with current data sources. Because the data you already have tends to be more familiar, easier to access, and simpler to share, discovering where to begin and what goals to set tends to take much less time and effort.
Below is a table of common data sources that most of my clients already work with frequently.
Reading / Math Inventories
Naloxone kits distributed
Staff demographics / retention / recruitment
Chart / Case manager note reviews
Number of arrests
Calls to Child Protective Services
Program enrollment / utilization
Culture / climate surveys
Deflections from arrests / Redirections toward treatment
Follow-up calls and visits completed
Common Data Sources for Schools, Nonprofits, and Government Agencies
Next, make sure you’ve selected a measure that you understand. An example of a measure I commonly work with is student attendance. Attendance is easy to understand, and connects seamlessly with the school values of each school that I work with. However, a measure I avoid is percent passing rates on standardized tests. Although I understand the measure, I have never understood why a student who scores one point below the cutoff is invisible and a student who scores one point above is considered successful, when both students likely have similar learning needs.
Finally, choose a data source that you can explain fluently. Explaining data fluently is a skill that develops rapidly with practice, and is easier when the data source connects with something your team and your community already care about. For example, the Substance Use Resource Team at the Tucson Police Department tracks the number of follow-up calls and visits completed. This matters, because during follow-ups, SURT officers and peer liaisons offer direct access and transportation to treatment as well as life-saving Naloxone kits to family members.
Ask better questions.
You’ll notice that I described attendance and follow-ups as two examples of data that two groups that I work with already have, understand, and can explain fluently. The next step is to ask better questions.
What is this measure?
Why do we measure this?
Who decided that we needed to measure this?
What do you believe about this data point?
Whose values are reflected and reinforced by this measure?
Whose values are erased by this measure?
Who is deemed successful in this measure? Who is deemed unsuccessful?
What would happen if we stopped collecting this data?
How might collecting this data actually harm those we serve?
How might we use this data to dismantle systems that harm?
These questions are adapted from Dr. Sharla Horton-Williams’ “10 Questions to Ensure Equity in School Discipline.” And, if you are using data that you already have, understand, and can explain fluently, you can answer all of them with your own knowledge and facts that everyone in your community already has the opportunity to know.
Do it now.
Yes, form a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. Of course, lead book studies and share articles. Develop surveys and such. These are all long-term strategies that might possibly support antiracism work in your workspace. Just know that they are insufficient.
Schools, nonprofits, and caring organizations that answer the 10 Questions typically uncover multiple opportunities to make antiracism visible.
For example, schools tracking attendance data may as well track attendance by race and ethnicity. If there is a disparity between white students’ attendance and the attendance of students of color, identify a realistic and effective way to reach out to students of color and find out how they want to be supported. If white families accept naloxone kits more readily than families of color, find a culturally sustaining alternative to make the kits available.
Most importantly, don’t wait. Unless your organization can demonstrate that your data reveal no difference in access, experience, or outcomes for people of color compared to white people, your committee, book study, and surveys are performative and disingenuous. Taking action to improve measures for the people of color that your organization serves is essential to making antiracism visible.
I understand that the number of children who not only experience traumatic events but also suffer lasting injury that affects how they engage learning, life, and love, is shockingly high. Nevertheless, I do not and will not believe that we should accept trauma as a normal part of growing up. It is time to create communities where adversity is expected and trauma is rare.
And, while I was sitting down to research this blog post, I discovered that several authors have already written from their own professional experience, and their work is exceptional. Here are two articles on how caring professionals might move beyond the mental model of trauma informed care:
This article describes the lineage and limits of trauma-informed care, acknowledging the harm that can accompany a practice meant to support youth who have experienced trauma.
Dr. Ginwright explains that “A healing centered approach to addressing trauma requires a different question that moves beyond “what happened to you” to “what’s right with you” and views those exposed to trauma as agents in the creation of their own-well being rather than victims of traumatic events.” This connects to the youth-centered approach to behavioral support that tends to be more effective and respectful of youth.
In this article, Lauren Padilla interviews Héctor Sánchez-Flores, who is the executive director of the National Compadres Network. While Sánchez-Flores offers insight into nearly every limitation of the dominant approach to trauma-informed care, I believe that the most important aspect of this interview is how he explains how the whiteness of trauma-informed care communicates to youth, women, and people of color across all ages and genders that they are insufficient and need something else to heal. Instead, Sánchez-Flores describes how viewing a person’s culture as an asset and connecting them to a healing community is an essential—and sustainable—approach to helping those who have experienced trauma to heal.
Finally, I want to share that I could only find two articles with much to offer on healing-centered care. However, there are thousands of resources for putting those you serve at the center of the supports you build. What I invite us to consider, especially those of us who are caring professionals, is to examine whether the way we express care for others communicates our unmitigated confidence that our students, clients, and community are capable of discovering for themselves what healing means.
In my professional life, I’ve made a commitment to support a trauma-informed approach to care when no such approach currently exists. Now, however, it is time to elevate our understanding of what a healing-centered approach might mean for those we serve and for us as caring professionals.
Over the years, several people have recommended journaling as an emotional self-care strategy. For a while, I successfully adhered to a nightly routine of writing streams of conscious across journal pages. After a couple of weeks, I inevitably dropped the practice. When I looked back at my entries, I realized that most of the writing was simple summaries documenting my day-to-day to-do lists. The ritual of selecting the perfect smooth-writing pens, inspirationally adorned journals, and soul-searching daily writing prompts completely failed to support my emotional self-care journey.
This is a strange reality being that I’ve devoted so much of my time as an adult learner to exhaustively writing through four graduate-level degrees. I questioned why writing does not serve me the same way personally as it has academically, but I now see academic and personal writing are very different endeavors for me. Academic writing is a study in justification. Constantly citing sources, typically composed from the almighty “cannon” of literature, to justify my beliefs, experiences, and understandings of the world around me.
However, placing pen to paper to articulate my personal reality can be terrifying. And why should it be frightening to write about the only subject on Earth on which I am the supreme expert, ME? I don’t even have to pull out a publication manual to dictate margins and language use. Then, I am faced with how often I find myself dissecting the truth of what I experience with my own eyes, ears, brain, heart, and gut. There is a plethora of experts in my personal and professional spaces commentating the appropriateness of my feelings and reactions as a Black woman. The offense occurring so often and with such conviction that I wonder if I need to cite an expert to justify my reality.
So, how does my struggle to journal connect to race and self-care? For me, extensively. To care for myself means authentically and unapologetically honoring my experiences and instincts when the narrative coming from all directions screams for me to ignore myself and believe the commentators/experts. This gut check is critical in spaces that consistently deny the validity of my experiences.
I am implicitly and explicitly told that I should be grateful to simply be granted access to these spaces. Told that I have no right to complain or feel emotion because it is an honor just to be there. This reality means working in organizations where institutional policy designed to protect people is blatantly denied to me and the people I love. However, I am expected to accept the slights and respect the warped system. These spaces consider it acceptable for those who witness injustice to relinquish culpability by simply claiming not to recognize any wrongdoing, demanding that I explain the precise details of my trauma, or offering non-committal apologies expressing pain and hurt that I misinterpreted intent and action.
This complete denial of logic, common sense, reason, data, and decency reinforces the struggle to trust my voice in the midst of this mental and emotional stress. Healing the dissonance between my perceptions and the malevolent gaslighting experienced in these spaces requires an understanding of emotional care beyond the reach of journaling with a latte at my favorite coffee shop.
I find that connecting to an affirming community is life sustaining in the midst of feeling devalued and dismissed. In the political and social climate of the past several years, the blatant attacks on and disregard for the emotional well-being of people demanding accountability for acts of violence are on full display. The evidence is heavily documented across news and social media platforms. If it were not for the affirming counter- narratives of family, friends, and colleagues, I would be left doubting my intellect, instincts, and emotions. The level of fatigue from constantly questioning myself erodes emotional well-being.
This exhaustion is not easily combatted with typical self-care tactics that are, themselves, susceptible to further exposure to environmental stressors like racial profiling and bias treatment. Spas and gyms can force payment for reinforcing the very things self-care is meant to alleviate. Tethering to authentic affinity groups that attest to the validity and significance of experiences is priceless self-care for those of us struggling to reason with the unreasonable.
Emotional self-care is grounded in trusting myself as I navigate a daily barrage of unsupported opinions, biases, and prejudices that deny the truth of how I walk through life. Trusting my instincts is a struggle when the stories all around me become louder and more dominant that the story of my being. Immersion in the communities that affirm my experiences and understandings support me in ways that would be impossible in any other form.
This piece is for white caring professionals and white leaders of caring organizations who do not experience systemic racism, and for their BIPOC colleagues whose advocacy is routinely unheard.
When a system is organized in ways that benefit white people and harm people of color, the system is racist. The best time to dismantle racism is before people of color are harmed. As leaders of caring organizations, we must live their values out loud to purposefully unmask and dismantle racism at all levels of our work. One powerful approach to uncovering systemic racism is to list your systems and know your numbers.
List your systems.
A system is a collection of rules—written and implicit—that organize how something works. Common systems in the organizations I work with include:
Hiring / Firing
Instruction / Programs
Arrival / Dismissal
Sick leave / Paid time off
Student discipline / Client accountability
Registration / Enrollment
Assessment / Testing / Grading
Clubs / Teams / Extracurricular Programs
Special Education / 504
Common systems in caring organizations.
The systems within a caring organization are interwoven, interdependent, and numerous. Right now, your task is to print the list of systems, highlight the systems in your caring organization, and add any that are unique to you. It should take about 5 minutes once you have the list, and is a critical step towards leading antiracist work at your site.
Participants in workshops led by Dr. Sharla Horton-Williams and Dr. Toni Harrison-Kelly, co-founders of School Leadership for Social Justice, frequently hear Gloria Ladson-Billings’ quote, “Show me your data and I’ll show you your racism.” While data can feel overwhelming, our systems already generate what we need to know without much extra work from us. The key is to know whether our systems are organized in ways that privilege those who we serve that our white and harm those we serve that identify as people of color. Download “Using data to ensure equity” to get started.
Using data to ensure equity is an outline that will equip anyone leading antiracist work to examine any system for which they have access to data. Follow the directions on the template, and you will have a clear sense of how your systems:
Serve or exclude parts of your community.
Whether the system benefits served equitably
Who experience harm because of the system
Whether the harm experienced is acceptable to you as a caring professional
What action you can commit to take to mitigate harm
Who will do what and by when.
Be careful. Do not download the template if you are not ready to take action. Knowing that your organization contains a system that harms racially and ethnically identifiable groups of people requires action. Not to act is a dangerous decision in itself.
For leaders who understand that racism is a problem that they can help solve, I encourage you to work through this process individually, and to share your reflections with your team. When the caring organizations that I work with move from concern to action, the moral and practical benefits of equity beautifully transform our relationship to our colleagues community, and those we serve.