Monday, April 8, 2013

violence prevention team

this fall, there was a significant round of shootings going on in the neighborhood where my flatland school is. a few people died, a few people cried...and students were traumatized having to deal with family members being injured, dead or in jail. the students feared for their safety walking to school. i went into many classrooms and had discussions with the students and teachers about how this was impacting them and in one class, the students wanted to do something about it. i smile as i think about how they began coming up with tons of ideas on what to do and how to combat violence. they wanted action. so their amazing teacher, and myself, decided to help them start a "violence prevention team" where they met up and brainstormed ideas to help educate community members on how violence was affecting them, how to make signs for awareness, and what to do at school to help. they had amazing ideas, that included selling baked goods to fundraise for supplies, "VPT" t-shirts, and they made signs that said "no guns here," with pictures of circles and guns crossed out. they participated in a discussion with the local authorities on safety in their neighborhood, becoming patrollers and what to do if they are confronted with violence. in the wake of the sandyhook shooting in connecticut, it continued to be relevant in these students' lives. they could relate to the children thousands of miles away. but in fact, it was unfortunately, just another day for these children who have learned to become so detached from violence because that is one way to cope. after this national tragedy, i was expecting an outpouring of grief in my office. but none of the students presented as traumatized by this, because, it happens to them or near them much of the year. today, a few months later, as they prepare for end of the year exams and testing, it is relevant. they live and breath different forms of violence and unfortunately it seeps into everyday interactions. the teachers come to school and starting at 8:30 are battling numerous barriers to inculcate some sort of learning into the brains of students that have been exposed to repetitive and chronic stress and trauma. i admire teachers more than can come across in writing. so i hope the students and community can gather some inspiration from each other as they battle a monster much bigger than just gun control. it starts with one. but the drive and motivation must be there. the students in the VPT show that they have drive and motivation, hopefully it rubs off on the adults.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mental Health Day

Well, it seems appropriate that I model what I tell everyone else to do right? So, today, after weeks of feeling overwhelmed and stressed, I took a "mental health" day. It basically encompassed a rejuvenation of my spirit and letting the everyday issues of a very intense school year melt away. It was something I forced myself to do, despite a weekend crisis at a middle school. I would not have been very effective I fear, in alleviating the student grief, while I really haven't been able to deal with my own stuff. So I took the day to do that. And it felt so nice to recognize the beauty in nature and let my soul absorb it. As I hiked on the Pacific Ocean coastal trail, saw the bright blue sky, and dolphins playing in the aquamarine water, I forced the worries of students, needs of teachers, suicides, and shootings out of my head. I heartily embraced my gratitude for being healthy and whole. I think when I go in tomorrow, I will be a renewed service provider and be able to manage the demands of life much better. Self care is important!

Monday, August 13, 2012

do i want to go back?

during my summers off (yes, the whole summer, woohoo!) i have to reassess whether i want to come back to school. for the past four years, the answer has been "yes." this year, it's..."yeah, sure." the slight hesitation makes me wonder if the summer was worth the 10 months of stress. but as i evaluate, and list the pros and cons in my head, i feel more positive about school starting next week. oakland isn't done with me, yet. i still have many lessons to learn, and hugs to give. we have some pretty exciting things going on this year...if they actually happen. i have learnt the brutal lesson of not getting my hopes up in the public education realm. as i get my back to school supplies (love the little planners at target), mentally prepare for the consistently changing changes in the district, and acknowledge the barrage of initial assessments we scheduled for september, i remind myself of the kiddos i'll try to help this year. yes, i want to go back.

Friday, March 16, 2012


in a meeting determining whether a child's severe actions are a manifestation of their "disability," the educational team, parent(s), and district special education representative engage in a *usually* very long discussion. many of these meetings get quite heated, egos flare, tempers rise, and sometimes it gets violent. today, in one of those such meetings, a 3rd grader, her mother and our school team met to figure out what to do next after her suspension. she had threatened, verbally harassed and caused quite a scene last week. it got to the point where she aggressively disrespected the principal and was sent home for 10 days (mom thought it was only 5, but i'll get to that).

during this particular meeting, it was going ok, but as we started to see, the parent got quite agitated whenever the principal spoke, and at a few points had to be calmed down when she stood up to leave. she also started explaining what had been going on at home, fights, a relationship break-up, being robbed three times in the past month, being held at gunpoint, getting in a fist fight with another woman (the daughter explained -"and my momma beat her down!")...there was a point when i looked in that little girl's eyes and just saw a deep sadness. this was all she knew. unfortunately we could see exactly why she acts the way she does.

as the mother learned that her child was suspended for another week, she flew off the handle, talking to the principal with such disrespectful words, but masking her tone so she didn't "sound" mean, if that makes sense. it's difficult for me to be in the room and not do anything, but these situations are tricky. i didn't want to create more drama, and was very aware of the student soaking in the whole scene. eventually, it was resolved, and the mother signed paperwork begrudgingly, but the whole meeting left a slightly sour taste in my mouth. it was obvious the whole family needs help, not only mental health but emotional and social support. not until later, when processing this high-strung event, i wondered what else i could have done in there.

i guess that i probably just did the best thing i knew how: try to engage the child to not hear the drama, listening with empathy to the mother, and being an advocate for the student. despite the parent's feelings, she should not have been so rude, but i also understood that she was like that because of her pain. it was all she knew too.

during meetings, in statements i make, or questions i have, i refer to the caregiver as "mom," "mother," "dad," "father," "aunt," "uncle" etc. i rarely use their name. today i realized that it's true: this woman was a mother. why shouldn't she be considered my mother? after all, we are all *one* right? i wonder if i could diffuse tense situations by calling the parent, "mother." would it connect us, or would she slap my face? while many of the "mothers" are much younger than me, if i could connect them to that human nature of a mother, by reminding them that they are my mother in spirit, i think it would help make a potentially volatile discussion become non-violent.

so my lesson today was that despite all the craziness that comes out of a parents mouth, i should start by seeing the Mother in her, and using that connection to strengthen the tenuous bonds of the school-home relationship. hopefully that would trickle to the student in some way...

Sunday, November 20, 2011


from a journal entry 1.4.2011:
One of my conscious activities for this month is to give. It's funny, I feel like I don't give much, but at work, I give all day long. One may not see the fruits of what I give, but in trying a shoe, in providing a safe space, by saying something encouraging, by defending a student, by listening to a teacher rant about a student or their trip abroad, by joking with a fellow colleague, by providing "insights" to an intern, by giving a hug, by providing a smidge of confidence...I guess I give a lot more than I thought. I have been beating myself up over not doing service, over not being generous, but boy, I'm not that selfish. I could always be more generous, but I'm working towards the conscious "I am going to give" process too.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


it feels like an accomplishment when a 6 year doesn't "use it" in her pants for a week. ah, the smell -er rather nonsmell- of success! a 1st grade teacher and i embarked on a collaborative problem solving model (developed by dr. ross green) last week. we sat down and i opened the discussion (making sure to note that she was not in trouble), with, "we noticed that you have been going to the bathroom on yourself almost every day...what's up?" after shrugs, more questions, the empathy stage, more shrugs, avoidance, tabling questions, and then more digging (as we learned in our training, it's key to do this all without judgment), we found out that she goes to the bathroom, but then doesn't go all the way. apparently she was rushing it, then when her pants were up, she would finish! so with some more questions, i decided it was time for invitation to solutions. since it was difficult for her to come up with ideas on how not to wet herself, the teacher and i bounced ideas off each other and made sure the 6 year old understood what was happening. i know, i know, you're supposed to let the student come up with the idea on her own. however, this was the type of thing that needed some adult input (so plan "a" right*?). ah well, we all finally decided for her to count to 20 on the toilet and if she wasn't done, count again! she even suggested having a special signal to tell the teacher she needed to use the bathroom, and they decided to have the teacher prompt her before she left with their own special phrase, "don't forget to count!"
:) overall, it's been a week and no wet pants! whew. i'll take the little things in life!

*plan a in this model is usually the adult imposing their own agenda for what is the "right" way to do something. versus plan b, which involves the child's perspective and is a bit more "collaborative"

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


small tidbits from the past week and a half:
:) -excitement and enthusiasm for the kindness patrol!
:( -then students calling the photos of the kindness patrol students "dumb" "gay" and "ugly" so the kindness kinda backfired!
:( -9 year old girl crying in the hallway because students are teasing her, calling her "smelly," "ugly," and other mean things.
:( -two boys brought into my office to resolve a conflict tell a girl that they don't like her, but won't say why and keep taunting her without engaging in problem solving.
:) -the next day when i went to talk to one of the boys one on one, he recognized how mean he was being and drew a nice picture for the girl.
:( -after a *successful* collaborative problem solving session about a 6 year old wetting her pants multiple times during the day, she walks away with wet bottoms! hmmm, anxiety and stress may be playing a larger role in this than we thought, even though the collab.prob.solv. was totally chill, empathetic and she understood that she wasn't in trouble!
:) -the boy who was cutting his wrists in class with a razor, came to school smiling the past two days.
:) -the boy in a special day class was found to have below average to average ranged cognition, not an intellectual disability,
:( -but he still runs out of the classroom and has a very difficult time following directions.
:) -deep breaths rock!