Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

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Tests. Homework. Sports. Volunteering. School clubs. A social life. Family interactions. What do all these things have in common? They are potential sources of stress for students, especially for older ones.

Even if the activity is something that a student loves, it can still cause stress. Is there enough time for it? Are they doing it well? Are they losing sleep from too many activities in a day or from lying awake at night, worrying?

Students may exhibit stress by acting angry, moody or irritable, showing negative changes in behavior, feeling sick a lot, and acting out in certain settings. Stress takes a toll on a person’s health, and students are no exception. What’s worse, chronic stress can make a student feel stuck and overwhelmed, which can impact their ability to learn and thrive at school.

So what can be done? We've pulled together these resources to help students cope with stress through mindfulness and meditation. ...

Bullying means many different things to different people, but one thing is certain: bullying hurts, and it can impact any student. Did you know the latest data shows that 24 percent of female students and 19 percent of male students report being bullied at school?

1. What is bullying?

Bullying is “systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt and/or psychological distress on another. Bullying can be physical, verbal or social. Bullying is not just child’s play, but a frightening experience many students face every day,” once every seven minutes. ...

When it comes to acts of violence, including suicide and threats to others, most are communicated in some way before the incident occurs. In fact, in four out of five school shootings, the attacker told people of his/her plans ahead of time and 70 percent of people who die by suicide told someone of their intention or gave some type of warning or indication.

Imagine how many of these tragedies could be averted if someone said something?

That’s the problem we at Sandy Hook Promise want to solve and we’re asking schools across the country to join us for Say Something Week, October 19 to 23.

Almost daily we are seeing the power that students have in preventing tragedies and saving lives when they exercise the actions behind two seemingly simple words, - Say Something. Recently a brave Colorado student prevented a possible school shooting in Phoenix. How? She saw a disturbing photo captioned, "Planning the school shooting” on the mobile messaging app Snapchat and Said Something to her mom and her school's safety resource officer, who alerted Phoenix authorities. The Arizona teen who had posted the chilling photo was then taken into custody. ...

By Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been seeing teachers posting pictures of their classrooms on Facebook, saying, “My classroom’s ready!” That takes me right back to my childhood, helping my mom prepare her classroom for the students in the waning days of August.

My mom taught second and third grade at Valley Cottage Elementary School. And I remember her ritual of using the days before Labor Day to ready her classroom for her students.

Of course, preparing the classroom — even back then — meant spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars out of her own pocket on supplies — just as her colleagues did and teachers do today.

When I was a kid, we were lucky to have a laundry room that housed the washer and dryer, of course, but also served as my mom’s office, filled with all the supplies she bought for her class. It was a treasure trove of books and paper and pens. ...

By Kevin Scott, Director of Member Engagement, ASCD

Last month, I wrote about the possibility of the final weeks of school being a spring board for the rest of the school year. I basically asked this question: “What if the bulk of the school year had the energy and excitement for students that we (parents and teachers) see once the state tests are over?” As the final weeks of summer wind down, I’m already thinking about what I, as a parent, want the 2015–16 school year to look like for my sons. And since everyone seems to be interested in lists, I created a list of my top five “wants.” 

1. Reduce Anxiety and Stress: Last year, my 6th grader struggled with reading and math. As a former teacher—and a former math struggler—I had to put my growth mindset hat away as my son and I tried to get to the root of the problem. We found a tutor who helps him and connects well with his learning style. When my parents had to do the same for me a couple of decades ago, it was a mismatch because the tutor and I didn’t gel. The connection between my son and his tutor, however, ultimately dissolved the argument about the value of math in general. It was almost cool for him to get some extra help. Having a tutor that my son respects and enjoys working with has greatly reduced the stress level in my house. In general, I want us all to be a little less stressed and take the actions to insure that happens ...

When and where do new teachers learn about the bullies? 

When three-year-old munchkins, barely out of training pants, are already showing their muscle through inappropriate and aggressive behavior, it's time to pay attention. In 2005, Yale professor Walter Gilliam shocked anyone listening when he said that 3 year-olds were being expelled at three times the rate of children in kindergarten through grade 12. Over three million elementary and secondary school students are suspended a year, and 28% of middle and high school students report being bullied at school. This statistic worries us, especially when we know that novice teachers, be they pre-K or 12, have little or no preparation to deal with this phenomenon.

Expulsion is just a quick fix that is neither a means to an end nor an end in itself. Nothing gets solved and the opportunity to alter that challenging, aggressive behavior is lost. The scared children remain. Learning is impaired when children are scared. ...

Let’s talk frankly.  Most relationships between the school systems and their communities are dysfunctional - like a bad marriage.  Each has suffered deeply crushed expectations.  If each party were to write a letter to each other trying to save the relationship, letters might read like this:

Dear School:

I am writing this letter to you because I care about you.  I believe every child has to be given access to a quality education--no matter what form--as long as its quality meets the needs of kids and prepares them to be productive citizens.  I’m deeply disappointed in our relationship.  Time and time again you have asked for support and whenever I could, I have provided it whether it was money, mentors, internships, volunteers, speakers and even helping out at school events.  You promised that this is what you needed to be healthy and that kids would benefit.  ...

By Heather Naviasky, Program Associate, Coalition for Community Schools

Twice in the last several months, schools have received attention because of their strong academic performance. But in telling their stories, the Education Trust (in the case of Menlo Park Elementary a "dispelling the myth school" in Portland, OR) and the Washington Post (in the case of Carlin Springs Elementary in Arlington, VA) focused only on academic improvements, overlooking the role of educators and their community partners in ensuring that low-income children also have the opportunities and supports they need to thrive. Last month we at the Coalition for Community Schools expanded on the success of Menlo Park Elementary; this month, we dive deeper into Carlin Springs.

On January 10, 2015, the Washington Post highlighted how Carlin Springs Elementary was raising test scores. It focused on how "teaching to the test" and test prep created double digit test score gains for the school. Once again, while they zoomed in on one area of achievement, the Post did not capture other dimensions of the school’s improvement strategy ...

By Teri Dary, Anderson Williams and Terry Pickeral, Special Olympics Project UNIFY Consultants

The problem with public education is that there isn’t enough tension. The other problem with public education is that there’s too much tension. And, perhaps the biggest problem is that both of these are correct, and we don’t distinguish between creative tension and destructive tension. 

Without distinguishing between the two, we cannot intentionally build structures and relationships that create the systems our students need: systems of shared leadership, strategic risk-taking and mutual responsibility. Systems of creative tension. Instead, we more commonly build top-down structures that generate destructive tension and bottom-up structures to avoid, relieve, or push back against them. ...

By Joan Richardson, Editor-in-Chief, Kappan magazine (PDK International)

I’ve always preferred having blinds or curtains covering the windows in my home — at least the windows that face the street or my neighbors. I don’t want just anybody peeking into my house.

But the windows of my home office are only partly covered, allowing light to stream in and brighten the room and to let me look out to watch cardinals perch in nearby trees.

And, because I live in a three-story house, I have a few windows up high that aren’t covered at all, which allows me to look out over the evergreens and maple trees without any worry about nosy neighbors peering into my private space.

I’m guessing that most folks are like me — picking and choosing the times and places where we value our privacy and the times and places where we’re willing to open up a little because of the benefit we’ll gain by being a little less protective ...

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