Tag Archives: Mental Health

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Building the toolkit for paraprofessional success

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Paraprofessionals — you are kind of a big deal! You use your talents to inspire and to encourage students to discover their own strengths. Your role is unique, with limited time to plan with collaborating teachers, you passionately meet the needs of many students.

This article is for you, with the goal of strengthening your toolkit. I’ve compiled a list of practices under three critical elements of this dynamic role: knowing thy student(s), collecting data, and facilitating student independence.

No. 1: “Know Thy Student” is Essential

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

As a paraprofessional, why is this quote important? We need to build deep trusting relationships with our student. Deep trusting relationship that will set our students up for success. To build a relationship with our students we must get to know them.

Beyond IEP information, get to know who they are as an individual, their strength, interest, and learning barriers. Specifically, finding common interest and common ground improves the level of service we can provide. Try creating a profile page for each student. Include at least two strengths, two preferences and interests, and two needs or challenges.

To gather this information, try using a “Getting to Know You” or “How Do You Learn?” survey. There are tons of free surveys on Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers to get you started. By investing this time to build a deep, authentic relationship, we can advocate and support our students with instructional strategies.

No. 2: Collection of Data is Integral

Collecting data helps our team analyze student’s progress and determine instructional strategies to support growth.

The following is one of my favorite data collection tools to support and track student growth.

No. 3: Facilitating Independence is Necessary

Accommodations and modifications are tangible supports to help students make progress in the classroom. And we use the insights from data collection to determine what kinds of supports are needed. Accommodations and Modifications are chosen by the team and determined based on data collected.

Accommodations are the “how” the curriculum is presented, they remove barriers to help students understand content. Modifications-change the “what” of the curriculum, what content is taught. We want to make sure that we are not unintentionally modifying the work by giving too much support or making the work easier, like hints or the answers.

As Micheal Giangreco supports, a paraprofessional’s goal is to fade support so that students need us as least as possible. Work with cooperating teacher to systematically fade supports. A great strategy to fade support is “time delay.”

Time delay is a procedure designed to result in errorless or near-errorless learning of skills by providing a time-based prompt to ensure the learner exhibits the correct response (time gradually increases between the direction and the prompt). To see “time delay” in action, visit Vanderbilt EBIP’s YouTube channel.

At this time in education, more now than ever, we cannot afford to underutilize anyone’s talent, especially that of our amazing instructional assistants. Here is to strengthening the entire village involved in supporting the whole child.

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How educators can best focus on the social-emotional needs of boys

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Creating safe spaces for youth, in particular boys and young men, to express what they’re going through and heal from trauma is one of Chad Reed’s overriding objectives. His personal history and work with nonprofits serving youth of color in the San Francisco Bay Area has made him a strong advocate for social-emotional learning (SEL), which he believes is a must before academic subject matter.

While developing the soft skills reflected in CASEL’s five competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making) can be challenging for all students, one’s gender, socio-economic level and cultural background can shape how readily a student can integrate this learning.

Understanding the particular challenges facing boys can help teachers better support them in navigating social-emotional territory.

Reaching boys inside and outside the classroom

Reed talks about how much impact therapy and healing circles have had on the ability of the young men of color he’s worked with at Oakland Outreach Center to talk about what’s going on in their lives. Surrounded by others who both care and have been through similar experiences, eventually they started expressing the emotions and pain behind their experiences, some as traumatic as seeing friends shot or living with severe addiction in their homes.

He is quick to clarify that males in general, regardless of race, have not been encouraged to express certain emotions or feelings.

Studies confirm that starting at infancy mothers and fathers talk to their children differently depending on gender. Later in childhood boys are encouraged to problem solve whereas girls taught a wider range of vocabulary to describe their emotions.

Although researchers acknowledge a slow overall shift in how boys and girls are brought up, these changes are slow, and even nonexistent in some communities where clearly defined gender roles still dictate what’s normal and permissible.

Another issue noted by Josh Brown, a Los Angeles middle school special education teacher, in an EdSource article is that many boys grow up no strong male role model at home — nor at school. According to 2019 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men make up less than 3% of the nation’s preschool and kindergarten teachers and 20% in primary and middle school.

“This gender disparity in the teaching profession is unfortunate because it is critically important for young boys to see positive male role models in their lives,” says Brown. “Qualities that make a great teacher, like patience and sympathy, are not typically associated with men.”

He adds that male teachers modeling such traits in front of the classroom can positively influence the emotional and ethical development of students, especially boys.

Beyond increasing teacher workforce diversity

Based on a body of research showing that having teachers with a common background helps build student confidence, there are efforts to diversify the teaching force. In New York City where male students of color comprise 43% of NYC’s public school demographic, while only 8.3% of the entire teacher workforce is made up of Black, Latino and Asian men, an initiative headed by NYC Men Teach is recruiting more male teachers of color into the city’s public education system.

In a class discussion between five boys and a Black teacher featured on a WNYC-TV news report, the students agreed that, regardless of race or gender, what matters most to them is personal rapport and concluded that empathy goes a long way.

Brown illustrates the power of empathy with a story about a 12-year-old boy with whom he had a tumultuous relationship much of the school year. By mid-spring semester, they’d developed a positive rapport and the boy began revealing more details about his personal life, eventually sharing that he had frequent court dates related to a custody battle. Brown realized that these dates coincided with the boy’s most difficult days in the classroom.

“From that point forward, I paid closer attention to his social-emotional needs, and made it a point to be especially patient and empathetic with him,” says Brown.

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Supporting social-emotional learning in today’s classroom

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Before students can really focus on math, science or any academic subject, they need to have their basic needs met and one of those needs is emotional security.

“Regardless of how fantastic your teacher may be or how incredible that science curriculum is at engaging and motivating you, if you have a student who’s dealing with stress or trauma or unable to get over the interpersonal interaction they had right before they entered that classroom, they’re not going to be able to process the dynamic curriculum that’s being presented to them,” says Christina Cipriano, the director of research and a research scientist at the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, in an EdSurge interview.

Today that stress may be related to economic uncertainty in the family, concern about an elderly loved one or even being able to log in for class. Even prior to today’s pandemic-triggered upheaval, many educators were strongly advocating for social-emotional learning (SEL) to address bullying in the classroom as well as to help students develop the skills today’s employers are seeking such as the ability to tolerate unpleasant emotions.

Relationship building for teachers in times of COVID

“Education is about relationships, building relationships that foster a positive environment or a positive vibe or a positive/good feeling about an accomplishment or project,” says industrial arts teacher Tim Zavacki. “Teachers who make you feel good are the ones you remember in a positive way.”

He believes that one to one communication is the first step in building those relationships. Now with the pandemic he does regular wellness check-ins and finds the students really need them. Small talk with kids is typically about what they like to do outside of school, their hobbies, things they have done, places they have been or their school day but may open the door to other things.

Opening up that line of communication goes a long way to building trust, so if an emotionally loaded situation comes up students feel more comfortable confiding in him. At times when Zavacki has questions about recent attitude or behavior, he pulls a kid aside in a neutral space that they are familiar with usually in the classroom. In the case of his woodshop there are side rooms, never an unfamiliar room hallway or closed office. It’s all about making them feel comfortable in their environment.

“I start off and tell them that I want to ask them a question not as teacher to student but for lack of a better phrase ‘man to man.’ There are days that are easier to do than others based on getting the ‘read’ on the student first.”

For students who are working remotely, it’s not just about developing relationships with the student but also the family. As teacher and teacher trainer Sarina Subhan says in an Oxford ELT blog that provides technical tips on staying connected, “If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that remote learning for students below the age of 18 must be in collaboration with parents.”

Distance learning-related difficulties like logging in are common stressors STEM educator Chad Reed sees regularly as project coordinator for Calculus Roundtable. He has made reaching out over the phone to offer support to these families a priority.

Self-reflection for developing metacognition

Metacognition along with self-reflection helps students regulate and evaluate. Zavacki recently added reflection questions for students to answer as part of their weekly reports. Having students reflect is key to getting them to think, be more introspective and perhaps consider trying new strategies if necessary.

In a recent blog, Laura Ansteatt, team lead at Frameworks, shares that she’s found personality quizzes very popular with students because they enjoy learning more about themselves and their peers. Interestingly, some students began to question whether they were placed in the “right” category as they explored the different strengths and challenges of each personality type.

She took advantage of this opportunity to explain how regardless of age or experience in life, reflecting on our personal challenges can be difficult, yet that self-awareness is the first step to understanding ourselves, learning, and growing.

“Once we can recognize our strengths and challenges, we can learn to best use these traits,” she told students. “This self-awareness can also lead to possible efforts to manage ourselves and what we view as weaknesses.”

In fact, the teaching approach at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence employs the acronym RULER for the ability for us to be able to recognize, understand, label, express and regulate our emotions, explains Cipriano.

Focus on the leadership

Modeling behavior for students is a key part of their approach, explain both Zavacki and Reed.

Precisely for that reason, the work at the Yale center focuses on the social-emotional learning of the adults in the room and the educators because they’re the co-constructors of knowledge in that environment, notes Cipriano.

She emphasizes that the work doesn’t stop with teachers, saying, “It’s important for the leadership to invest in social-emotional learning as something that is important from the top down, not just the bottom up.”

She explains that for students to be expected to increase in their social-emotional competencies, leadership needs to focus on the psycho-social health and well-being of teachers so they feel like they’re available to teach it. For that to happen, you obviously need to focus on the leaders and their psycho-social health and well-being.

“Otherwise it just becomes another thing that doesn’t stick and that is the complete antithesis of what folks in the SEL field want to happen with social-emotional learning.”

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3 simple New Year’s resolutions for church staff

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We’re near to the finish line of 2020, with everyone ready to bid this chaotic year adieu. As we try to shake off a rough year, it’s time to look ahead and consider how to start 2021. While COVID-19 isn’t fully behind us, we can still take a few actions to make this new year better than the last.

Resolution No. 1: I will take 5 minutes to plan the day ahead

With a ton of helpful time management and productivity tips available, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. However, there’s one tip that’s made the biggest difference in my productivity. At the end of each day, take five minutes to think.

  • What did I accomplish today?
  • What do I need to complete tomorrow?
  • What’s coming up the rest of this week?

Repeat this process at the end of your week. This time, focus on the upcoming week with the same questions. Apply the same concept at the end of each month. This helps me plan ahead and unwind at the end of my workday. Even if I didn’t complete everything I wanted to that day, at least I’ve documented those tasks so I won’t forget them tomorrow.

Resolution No. 2: I will take care of my health

Yes, New Year’s resolutions are often health-related, but you don’t have to start preparing for a marathon or fitness competition. Your health is more than how many pushups you can do — it’s your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. To stay strong in ministry for the long haul, you must make time to take care of yourself.

  • Schedule workouts, devotional time, and rest on your calendar (what gets scheduled tends to be what gets done)
  • Listen to a sermon or podcast
  • Take a 15-minute walk before lunch
  • Have coffee with a good friend and talk through a challenging situation you’re facing

You won’t have much to offer others if you’re exhausted and drained. This may require you to talk with your boss about your schedule or responsibilities. It’s better to have that conversation now before you’re nearly burned out and you’re able to think straight to come up with a solution.

Resolution No. 3: I will invest in my volunteers

This may sound like more work, but this resolution can end up saving you time. Think about your current volunteers. Which ones are reliable, have a great attitude, do an excellent job no matter what you throw at them, and have leadership potential?

Invest in these potential leaders to disciple them and help them grow in leadership capacity. Then work with them to identify volunteers who might value more mentorship. This isn’t just about getting them to do more — it’s about helping volunteers grow spiritually and discover how they can best serve others.

  • Ask volunteers for their input and ideas
  • Take a few minutes at volunteer meetings to introduce a spiritual leadership principle and discuss it with the group
  • Make sure they know you appreciate their servant’s attitude
  • Find out what they do for a living; what unique skillset each person has and how they’d like to use those talents to serve their church family
  • Connect volunteers with roles that best fit their skills, personality, and spiritual maturity
  • Send hand-written thank you notes

These are fairly simple, uncomplicated resolutions (let’s face it, we all need simple after this last year). However, these steps can help you be more effective so you can better serve others. Plan ahead, take care of your health, and invest in volunteers. That trio can help you build upon or sustain momentum in the new year.

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Design for mental wellness

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Decades of case studies and research studies have demonstrated ways that interior design can improve mental healthcare environments. Design interventions such as altering space layouts, improving lighting and daylighting, modifying colors, and introducing natural elements have been found to reduce anxiety and aggression in some mental health patients, leading to more constructive therapies, less violence and less need for medications to control behavior, among other benefits.

A natural next step is to employ similar interventions to support and improve mental wellness in order to prevent the onset of mental distress or illness.

In a recent article in Healthcare Design magazine, executive editor Anne DiNardo reported on the growing number of interior design firms undertaking mental health facility projects. Some of this growth is due to recent regulatory and payment changes, as well as to greater social awareness and acceptance of mental health issues, that has increased demand for mental health services and thus for additional facilities and treatment centers. Some of it, though, stems from increased awareness within the mental health services community of the salutary benefits of having well-designed facilities.

An article from Psychology Today, published last February, co-authored by a physician and an architect, that describes four ways design can improve mental healthcare spaces, states, “In truth, modern, well-designed mental health treatment spaces contribute to healing and expand the therapeutic benefit provided by a skilled team of mental health professionals.” The authors also acknowledge the increasing inclusion of designers in the planning and design of mental health treatment spaces.

For their part, designers are employing evidence-based design to arrive at their proposed interventions. Currently, one of the most frequently downloaded articles on the website of the Journal of Environmental Psychology is one from 2018 of a study conducted by a team led by Roger Ulrich that examined how design interventions can help reduce aggression in psychiatric wards.

Similarly, a frequently downloaded article from the April 2020 issue of HERD: The Health Environments Research & Design Journal presents findings of a study that explored “symbolic content inferred by spatial design aspects and the ways in which design can afford, or mitigate, development of interpersonal agencies, psychological safety, and negative stigmas” in a mental health facility waiting room.

If interior design can be employed to improve the experience of patients in mental health facilities, can it also be used to help foster mental wellness and prevent the onset of conditions such as anxiety and depression? Danielle Payne, a master’s degree candidate in the department of interior design at University of Manitoba, believes it can.

For her master’s practicum she took on the task of designing a community center for teens and young adults, in particular those suffering from depression and at risk for suicide. Drawing on contemporary approaches to health care design, such as salutagenic and biophilic design theories, and incorporating findings from studies of light and color therapies as well as others, she created a design for the entire multi-story facility with a focus on providing a safe and comforting environment and a pro-social space that would serve as a resource center and provide a sense of community and places for privacy in order to boost mental wellness and counteract negative feelings and behaviors.

Payne’s project is just one example of the potential interior design has to improve mental health by creating environments that infuse spaces with positive stimuli and promote wellness. Months of confinement and isolation have taken their toll on millions of people around the world, and in response popular media have reported on ways individuals can employ design interventions in their homes to combat despair, depression and anxiety.

Similar strategies have been incorporated into workplaces as well to help alleviate stress and worry. By employing proven design solutions and strategies we can help to reduce the prompts that can trigger mental distress and the destructive behaviors that can flow from it.

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Missed diagnosis: Travel amnesia

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Is travel becoming a distant memory? After seven-plus months of lockdown by a global pandemic, an overlooked side effect may not be so obvious as a persistent cough or intermittent fatigue, but it is making its mark none the less: Travel amnesia.

Americans are not only missing travel right now, they are struggling to remember what it felt like. But for all that forgetting, Americans say travel is their most frequently recalled happy memory, more than special occasions or personal achievements. In fact, the majority cite creating lasting memories as a primary motive for trips, according to a recent study conducted on behalf of Hilton.

With so many staying at home, 90% of survey respondents admitted to believing that the nation is facing a travel memory deficit that will have long-lasting impact, including greater stress and missed opportunity for special moments with loved ones.

With this thought in mind, a majority of those surveyed said they are already looking ahead to making their next travel memory, as 94% of Americans surveyed are planning to travel again. And two-thirds vow to quit putting off taking trips and make their dream vacations a reality.

“Travel is an unstoppable force, and we know consumers are eager to reconnect with the people and places they love,” said Danny Hughes, Executive Vice President and President, Americas, Hilton. “Hilton is ready to welcome guests back with all the assurances they need — best-in-class hospitality, cleanliness and flexibility — to create their new memories whenever they are ready to be out and traveling again.”

The survey results provide details about how U.S. consumers are thinking differently about travel. With the travel memory deficit at the forefront of consumers’ minds, a pent-up demand to travel is bubbling over: 66% of those travelers surveyed will quit putting off special trips they have always wanted to take and almost two-thirds (63%) of those looking to travel again will choose more relaxing travel over adventure travel.

New travel memories are on the horizon for many. According to the survey, eight in 10 (80%) travelers will prioritize creating new travel memories when they choose to travel again. Among travelers who plan to travel again, over one-third of Americans surveyed (39%) plan to travel more than they previously did once travel restrictions are lifted and three in five (62%) will be more adventurous by journeying to brand new places to make travel memories.

Kelton Global conducted the survey online among 2,030 Americans aged 18+ in the United States during the period of September 7-14, 2020 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.2%.

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Telehealth is changing healthcare — patients are telling us so

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If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it’s that telehealth that is likely here to stay. But why?

Convenience is critical to its success, but it can bridge the gap of care between caregivers and patients during the pandemic. It’s proving to be a legitimate solution to reaching patients in underserved areas.

Telehealth technology is no longer a concept but a tried and mostly trusted solution for care delivery. Since the height of the pandemic, patients’ use has fallen, but people still like what it has to offer, and its use seems to be reaching critical mass.

Multiple studies bear this out. Most recently, according to UnitedHealth Group’s fifth annual UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey, which examines Americans’ opinions about numerous areas of healthcare, 56% said it is likely they would use virtual care for medical services.

Likewise, 26% said they’d prefer a virtual relationship with a primary care physician, the survey found.

In a separate study, Harmony Healthcare IT said that telehealth limits COVID-19 risk exposure -a priority considering that 71% of respondents said they are fearful of visiting a doctor’s office or hospital of the pandemic.

This study was conducted in July 2020, with more than 2,040 Americans surveyed on telehealth, of which 51% were female, and 49% were male. The median age was about 37; they had employer-provided health insurance, while 23% had Medicare, and 10% had Medicaid.

Sixty-seven percent said they had used telehealth in some form since the pandemic compared to only 46% who said they had used telehealth before COVID-19. Similarly, 63% said they were apprehensive about their first telehealth appointment, but the vast majority (72%) ultimately enjoyed their experience.

When asked, convenience was the top reason for the patients wanting to use telehealth, followed by safety and flexibility as the top three factors patients liked the most.

Additionally, patients said they experienced shorter wait times compared to in-person visits, with more than half saying the time between scheduling an appointment and visiting their provider was shorter than in-person. Likewise, 61% said the virtual waiting room’s time was also shorter than an in-person visit.

Interestingly, patients who participated in telehealth visits faced technical difficulties. One-third opined that they experienced delays during their telehealth visit because of technical challenges. Twenty-eight percent said those delays caused them to miss or reschedule their appointment.

Patients said they used telehealth for several medical providers. Primary care physicians were the most used (59%). Cardiologists (11%) followed, then neurologists (11%) and oncologists (6%).

Interestingly, 70% said they would be more willing to talk with a mental health professional if they could virtually.

Even though most respondents enjoyed their telehealth experience, many are still split on the type of visit they prefer. Overall, 55% said they would prefer an in-person visit. Among age groups, millennials said they felt the most comfortable using telehealth (59%), while baby boomers were the least satisfied (46%).

Forty-three percent also said they have concerns over privacy and security when using telehealth.

But overall, 70% said telehealth provides adequate care, and 66% feel that telehealth will eventually replace in-person doctor visits that don’t require hands-on exams or labs.

Perhaps most surprisingly, 66% said they’d be willing to give up their current doctor if it meant they could receive a quicker telehealth appointment. That’s no small shift in the landscape in how healthcare might be offered soon.

While the pandemic changed nearly every aspect of life in 2020 and required many to pivot, telehealth likely is poised to change healthcare as we have known it.

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How water helps boost student mental health

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Most of us have experienced times when an ocean, river rapids, a waterfall or a very cold swimming pool has demanded our attention or inspired awe. Water is indeed a powerful force of nature. However, it’s not commonly thought of as part of the educator’s toolkit (unless perhaps you’re teaching Montessori or marine biology).

This article may change your mind.

Oceans and water in general can be used by educators to benefit student learning both as a mindfulness tool and a boost to brain functioning. The importance of finding ways to incorporate mindfulness and social emotional learning into the educational realm can’t be over emphasized as student mental health, already a top concern pre-pandemic, worsens.

Why water?

Water is tangible.

Water is calming.

Water is universal.

Water is accessible.

Like meditation, attention to water can be used as a focal point to provide a mental break. The physical, tangible nature of water allows it to be experienced by the senses which can help young people who find meditation or mindfulness exercises like breath awareness overly challenging or too ephemeral.

The calming effects of water are well documented. Viewing a body of water, or what’s called blue space has been shown to significantly lower psychological distress. Similar to green space studies, researchers have discovered that viewers of photos including urban landscapes gravitated to those with water features such as fountains.

Being in water is even better. Submerging yourself for a swim or dip in water has scientifically proven neurological benefits such as improved blood flow to the brain and

Water is elemental. Like air, it is universal. While it’s central to many religious practices, it can be claimed by none. While other tools regularly used to help reach a mediational, mindful or introspective state like mantras, chants or even yoga postures may have some distant or not so distant religious affiliation, water is cross-cultural and secular.

Water in some form or another is accessible for most of us. It’s in nature and a part of our daily lives. We use it to take showers or bathe, to wash our hands and to drink. You can find water sounds and videos online digitally.

What is blue mind and how one student uses it

Here’s how learning to bring attention to water has significantly helped Ayla reduce stress and stay focused on academics.

In eighth grade, one teacher introduced our class to the concept of red mind and blue mind, developed by marine biologist and researcher Wallace J. Nichols. Red mind is fiery like anger, frustration and short-temperedness. When you’re in a red mind space it’s easy to overreact, feel stressed out and maybe do something you’ll regret. Blue mind, like water, is flowing, cool and refreshing. In class, we did fieldwork near the ocean and learned how to use real water to get into a peaceful blue mind state.

Now as a high school student studying remotely, there are times I want to quit school or I get stressed working on math or biology alone in my room. One way I use blue mind in these moments is to jump in the shower. The feeling of water on my skin is soothing and helps me relax. It gets me refreshed and back on track. I go back to the problems with a more positive mindset. If I’m on a video call or can’t take a break, I drink a tall glass of cold water.

I’m lucky to live near the ocean and go nearly every day to swim, hang out or watch the sunset. It really helps take the edge off, especially now that I’m basically using my phone all day with school and social media.

In a recent Soho House article, Nichols explains how we get overstimulated when there’s a lot of technology and screens or when we are anxious and there’s uncertainty. He adds that while it’s normal for our moods to flit between “blue” and “red” mind and stimulation can be useful when harnessed for good, it can go too far and turn into burnout, breakdown and even mild depression. He calls this “grey” mind, a state best avoided.

How to integrate water?

Beyond coaching students to practice blue mind individually, teachers can integrate whole-class water experiences. In the Blue schools blog, Nichols highlights ideas teachers working on a green schools initiative shared. These included exposing students to water by bringing a fountain into the classroom, getting kids outside to nearby ponds and creeks, and taking inner city kids on field trips to state parks with lakes. Others talked of connecting water with the curriculum to inspire more awe, connection and conservation.

One PE teacher who was already giving canoeing and kayaking instructions said, “After today I plan to build in more time for play and solitude, and to touch the water and splash and to just ‘be present’…without correcting their cross draw stroke!”

Whether you’re a student, an educator or a parent, connecting with water can help you process dire situations as well as everyday frustrations. Nichols urges people to discover their personal way of making that connection. “Find your water. It could be digital, domestic or wild — if you live in NYC, go get next to a fountain.”

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When politics and public health collide

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Public health in the United States has been an intrinsic aspect of national well-being for more than a century. Without the mostly invisible public health machine, we would see all manner of preventable ills ravage our society.

When cynically wielded, political power can wreak havoc with public health, and the COVID-19 pandemic is a timely example of how politics run amok can interfere with even the most basic protective measures. A negative or combative intersection of public health and politics costs lives, and this is where we must push back.

For the Health of the Many

Public health nursing came into its own under the prescient guidance of Florence Nightingale in mid-1800s England. In the U.S., the equally visionary Lillian Wald coined the term “public health nurse” and ushered in an age of addressing the collective welfare of New York City’s citizens by championing the importance of sanitation, housing, and other challenges that can hobble an economy and keep the poor downtrodden. Her work has been described thus:

“Wald’s first priority was to provide nursing services to her neighbors. Soon, she and an ever-growing number of nurses who came to live at the Settlement were well known figures on the streets of the Lower East Side, making their daily rounds to those who had put out a call for help.

“Within a few years the Henry Street Settlement had become a vibrant neighborhood center, offering residents of the Lower East Side not only nursing services, but a playground and a kindergarten, afterschool programs, classes for adults, boys’ and girls’ clubs, mothers’ groups, day trips and vacations to the country, summer camps, a theater, and the myriad other activities that came to be associated with the settlement house movement.”

The American Public Health Association (APHA) was founded in 1872, just twenty years prior to Wald’s Henry Street Settlement. Of its origins, the APHA states:

“From our inception, APHA was dedicated to improving the health of all U.S. residents. Our founders recognized that two of the Association’s most important functions were advocacy for adoption by the government of the most current scientific advances relevant to public health, and public education on how to improve community health. Along with these efforts, we have also campaigned for developing well-organized health departments at both the federal and local levels.”

Without the efforts of Wald, her contemporaries, and her successors who toil to this day on behalf of all, our public health system would not exist in its current form. Public health is our bulwark against outcomes we would be wise to avoid through prudent, forward-thinking investment.

The Politicization of Public Health

What is politicization? According to Wikipedia, it is “the social tendency for various abstract concepts as well as specific entities and collections of facts to go from being seen as objective and/or seemingly outside of politics to being a part of culture war debates and/or topics for subjective discussion.” And Dictionary.com defines it in these terms: “to bring a political character or flavor to; make political.”

During the course of the pandemic, the President and his Republican allies have chosen to politicize the wearing of masks, calling it an assault on individual freedom, while galvanizing voters by pitting them against public officials calling for such measures.

A culture war has ensued throughout the course of 2020, with death threats against officials advocating for safety and science, demonstrations, and other attempts to undermine respected experts. Coronavirus outbreaks in the White House have even infected the president himself. Despite it all, White House gatherings as recent as Election Day have drawn largely maskless crowds, even as more members of the inner circle are sickened.

Politics has utilized public health for negative purposes before. During the AIDS epidemic, advocacy groups like ActUp had to vociferously fight for action from the Reagan administration. The epidemic began in 1981, yet Ronald Reagan did not deign to mention AIDS until 1985.

And during the 1918 flu pandemic that killed 50 million worldwide — with 675,000 of those in the U.S., anti-mask groups demonstrated vehemently.

The Collective Good Still Matters

When public health measures are used for nefarious purposes like political self-interest or the pitting of segments of society against one another, everyone loses in such a cynical calculus. Outright denial and turning a blind eye do nothing to assist the collective in creating a sense of safety, that most basic of human needs.

Public health should not belong in the sphere of political abuses of power, yet history shows us that it is repeatedly dragged into the mud despite painful historical demonstrations that collective harm always results.

The collision of public health and politics should not be a mechanism for worse outcomes, the vilification of science, and the sidelining of experts, yet that has been our pandemic story. With hopes raised for a new administration that embraces science and reason, we can just begin to see the light of day through the darkness of recent times.

How many continue to die unnecessarily? What corners were cut? Which self-centered, manipulative deniers of science will be held in contempt? History will write that story, and we will all hopefully learn the painful lessons in order for history to not repeat itself so often that it begins to stutter.

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3 reasons to unplug during a vacation

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With all the chaos and uncertainty we’ve faced this year, we could all use a few days to relax and recharge. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take some time off once Christmas services are over (whatever those end up looking like). While it’s tempting to stay plugged in to what’s going on at the office, there are a few reasons why you should avoid work email while on vacation.

Reason No. 1: Your family needs you

A quick, easy way to make your spouse and kids feel like they’re not as important to you as the church is to focus on work while on vacation. If you must, check your messages once or twice a day. Go ahead and turn off notifications so you’re not tempted to check messages. Then, enjoy the blessing that is your family (even when the kids are driving you nuts).

Reason No. 2: You need to recharge

Vacations are intended for rest and fun — both of which recharge your body, mind, and spirit. Even if your time off after Christmas is a staycation, you can still leverage this time to recharge before the upcoming year of ministry.

However, if you interrupt your time off by checking email and responding to questions, you’re not getting the full benefit of your vacation. You’re actually robbing your staff, volunteers, and congregation of a rested and refreshed leader when you don’t fully relax during a vacation. Which leads me to the third reason…

Reason No. 3: Your team needs you to set the standard

If you’re the pastor or leader of a ministry area, your team looks to you for the standard. They will see how you handle various situations and will likely follow your example. With that in mind, do you want team members who come back from vacation rested and excited to dive back into ministry? Or, do you want them still exhausted when they get back to the office? I’m quite certain you’d prefer the first option.

Now, you may have objections to this idea.

“I’ll have a ton of emails in my inbox when I get back if I don’t stay on top of it.”

“There are issues that may come up that I’m the only person who can handle.”

Here are a couple of options to manage these challenges:

1. Guard the inbox. Yes, you probably will have plenty of emails to handle when you return. However, you can be proactive to get ahead of this before you leave. First, make sure your staff knows your vacation dates and that you will not be available unless it’s an extreme emergency (the building is on fire, etc.).

Ask them to hold any non-urgent emails. Schedule one-on-one meetings with each person the week you return to answer their questions in bulk. Also, set up an email out-of-office notification and refer people to someone on your team for questions.

2. Prepare your team. True delegation requires significant time to train and mentor your team so they can handle things in your absence. If you haven’t made that investment yet, you can’t solve this the day before you go on vacation. However, take some time to talk with key staff or volunteer leaders at least a week before you leave.

Discuss any issues or questions that may come up while you’re gone and how you would handle those if you were present. Ask them what types of situations they’re comfortable handling (and what you’re comfortable with them handling) and under what circumstances you want them to contact you. Provide clear guidelines and document your instructions.

You, your family, and your church will be better served with you rested and refreshed. We should all strive to serve diligently and with excellence. Part of being able to do that is recognizing we can’t be on-call 24/7 without consequences. Relax, unplug, and have fun with your family. You’ll be a better leader and will enjoy ministry even more when you return.

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