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How to Help your Students Find Purpose

Posted By Amanda Leaman, Thursday, January 22, 2015
Updated: Thursday, January 22, 2015

How to Help your Students Find Purpose

By Ann Saylor

 

By intentionally starting conversations with students using simple questions, we can prompt them to begin to discover their passions and interests.

 

Young people yearn for life to have significance; they want life to matter. They have energy and a sense of possibility—anything is still possible. One of the greatest gifts we can give students is to help them discover and feed that inner spark that encourages and leads to a purposeful life—the spark that helps them understand themselves more fully and helps them find a way to make the world a better place.

 

Here are three simple strategies you can try:

 


ONE: TalkAsk youth questions; get them thinking about passions and interests. You might BE the person who helps them “catch the bug” for (fill in the blank: writing, art, singing, martial arts, making furniture) because you share your enthusiasm and passion for what you love to do. Or, you might BE the person who opens the door and helps them find what truly makes them excited. So, begin the conversation. It doesn’t have to be hard, it can simply be comparing different interests and how much each one matters to you and to them, and why. The conversation can be hidden within an activity to make it fun and engaging.  

Questions you can try:

Is this activity enjoyable to you? Do you have any goals around this? Anything I can do to help? Help them see how they can connect their spark to life; open their eyes to possibilities.
  • If students are good at spelling, encourage them to enter a spelling bee or help a friend study for a spelling test.
  • If they enjoy puzzles and engineering, suggest that they look into “Destination Imagination” or “Odyssey of the Mind.”

Try it by noticing when students light up! 

Watch for situations like these. When you see a student light up, ask pertinent follow-up questions to help them explore their interests and talents.

  • Eric just spent two hours editing video footage and then proudly showed others the resulting five-minute clip.
  • Mary, who has been bored in science, suddenly lights up when you start talking about the ocean.
  • Xavier shines when he gives campus tours to prospective students because he loves relationships and sales. 

 


TWO: Explore. We can help youth identify their best moments and begin to think about who they are and what makes them tick by creating moments and offering activities to try new things. As you offer activities (field trips, speakers, projects, service opportunities, games...), look for the “hot” spots—those moments where students get excited and sustain that reaction. If possible, offer more opportunities around those spark flashes to further engage young people. 


Try the Sparks Walk activity: 

Have participants sit in a circle of chairs facing each other. There should be one less chair than there are number of people sitting. That extra person stands in the middle and starts the game. Play begins when the circle leader says, “Take a walk if you love to . . .” and completes it by saying something he or she loves to do. (Examples might be “hike,” “travel,” or “play piano.”) Everyone who shares that interest must take a walk and find a new seat in the circle (not an adjacent seat). The person who doesn’t find a new space becomes the new circle leader and calls out the next statement, which must be about something he loves. After playing, talk about sparks, passion and purpose.


THREE: Connect. Once young people have started to explore and discover their own skills, talents, personalities and passions, they need to find ways to put those strengths to work—to create, to invent, and to serve by giving of their talents and energies. Look for ways to connect youth with other supporters and opportunities to further explore and develop their interests. You might connect youth as pen pals, interns, volunteers, lunch buddies, or even virtual conversations. Encourage students to be brave and try new things.


Questions to Ponder:

  1. What time do I dedicate for young people to identify and apply their individual interests and passions?
  2. How much time do I set aside for them to explore and take action in the community—through service, social justice and activism?

 

 

About the Author: Ann Saylor, with colleague Susan Ragsdale, is author of Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: An Essential Handbook for Working with Youth (2014), which they wrote as a resource for teachers, youth workers, and others who work with young people to foster their flourishing. The book contains a wealth of activities—all with explanations and many with variations—to help build positive relationships and empower young people by helping them know, appreciate, and build on their strengths. The book can be ordered through many online book sellers. See more about Ann and Susan at www.TheAssetEdge.net.

 

Tags:  [Grade: Lower]  [Grade: Middle]  [User Group: Administration]  [User Group: Teachers]  meaning  purpose  spiritual  well-being 

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Mindfulness & Behavior

Posted By Amanda Leaman, Thursday, July 10, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Mindfulness and its implication on well-being

It has long been known that the practice of mindfulness (see box) adds both clarity and vividness to one's experience, and that it facilitates a closer sensory connection to life. In the last decade or so, a number of researchers have been looking at how the practice of mindfulness also helps the process of self-regulation of behavior--and at the implications of such behavior for academics, psychological and social health, and well-being. Self-regulation is, after all, what a number of character educators would hope for as at least one result of their efforts. The beauty in mindfulness training is that it has so many beneficial effects, and so few drawbacks.

 

 

"Mindfulness is associated with enhanced executive functioning, better self-regulation, greater autonomy, and enhanced relationship capacities...all attests to the fact that when individuals are more mindful they are more capable of acting in ways that are more choiceful and more openly attentive to and aware of themselves and the situations in which they find themselves." 

(Brown, Ryan, Creswell, 2007, p. 227)

 


Mindfulness and autonomous action

In a summary statement about research on mindfulness, Kirk Warren Brown, Richard Ryan, and J. David Creswell noted that  "mindfulness is associated with enhanced executive functioning, better self-regulation, greater autonomy, and enhanced relationship capacities...all attests to the fact that when individuals are more mindful they are more capable of acting in ways that are more choiceful and more openly attentive to and aware of themselves and the situations in which they find themselves." (p. 227)

 

Mindfulness and self-expression

Several studies lend support to the role mindfulness plays in both behavioral self-control and self-endorsed (that is, autonomous) self-expression. Barnes, Brown, Krusemark, Campbell, and Rogge (2007) found that mindfulness had a greater ability to help individuals override or change inner reactions, and to interrupt and refrain from reacting to situations in ways they would prefer not to. Mindful individuals tend to engage in less habitual responding than their peers. It is as if the practice of mindfulness created mental space--more opportunity for autonomous choice--and thus helped one break habitual patterns. Mindful individuals feel more willful and congruent in their actions (Brown & Ryan, 2003) and their practice has been shown to help people in attaining their goals, including academic goals (Brown and Vansteenkiste, 2006). There thus appears to be much to be gained from the practice--academically, psychologically, and especially in the way that the practice enhances the basis of well-being and human flourishing.

 

 

Barnes, S., Brown, K.W., Krusemark, E., Campbell, W. K., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.

 

Brown, K.W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848.

 

Brown, K.W., Ryan, R.M., & Creswell, J.D. (2007). Mindfulness: Theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry, 18, 4, 211-237.

 

Brown, K. W., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2006). Future and present time perspectives, goal-attainment, and well-being: Antithetical or complementary? 

 

 

Mindfulness - A Practice

 

The particular practice of mindfulness discussed here refers to that developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues at the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Clinic at Massachusetts Medical Center. The practice in many of the studies mentioned here began with teaching participants about meditation and mind-body connection, and then having them engage in the actual exercise of meditation in both group meetings and at home; this was followed by group discussion regarding problem solving and daily applications of mindfulness. 

 

The meditation component entails the attempt to be fully present in the moment. As breaths enter and leave the body, the practitioner attempts to be fully aware of the sensation they engender. Specifics of engaging in the practice may be found in Jon Kabat-Zinn's book,
Mindfulness for Beginners or his CD/Audiobook
Guided Mindfulness Meditation.

 

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Teens & Sex

Posted By Amanda Leaman, Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, July 30, 2014



Teens and Sex

In 2011, 47 percent of US high school students surveyed reported having had sexual intercourse. 

 

A third of that group said they had had sex within the last 3 months. Fifteen percent had had four or more different partners so far. Nearly 750,000 teens become pregnant each year - the vast majority (82 percent) of these pregnancies are unintended. By comparison, the United States' teen pregnancy rate is over three times that of Germany (19 percent), almost three times that of France (26 percent) and over four times that of the Netherlands (14 percent).

 

Source: Sex Schools and Social Suicide, Kevin Ryan, MercatorNet, http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/

 view/sex_schools_and_social_suicide

 

Abstinence Education - is this the way?

Turning some of these problematic facts into practical solutions can be a controversial task or a matter of trial and error ("let's see what sticks"). We see passionate political debates across the board about the right approach--is it more important to promote safer-sex practices, abstinence education in schools, or a combination of the two? What happens when the effectiveness of practices clashes with personal beliefs?

 

See character educator Tom Lickona's views in Excellence & Ethics, which lay out many of the Center for the 4th and 5th Rs' arguments for abstinence education.

 

Click here to read the articles

 

The "True Love Test"

A truly loving relationship, based on mutual respect and caring, requires a combination of wisdom and sensitivity. Tom Lickona's test is designed to help students look objectively at the character of a person they are romantically attracted to or involved with.

 

Click here to see the test

 

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Creating a Philosophy of Discipline

Posted By Amanda Leaman, Monday, March 17, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, July 30, 2014



Creating a Philosophy of Discipline

A philosophy of discipline: maximize effectiveness of disciplinary measures (to foster moral and ethical growth) 

 

Every school has a discipline policy, yet very few schools have articulated their

philosophy

of discipline. Thoughtful schools are now beginning to do so and for good reason. Why does it matter? It matters in at least two ways: first, because the short term goals in many discipline policies work against the long term goals of the school's mission; and second, because how a school "does discipline" has a powerful effect on the school's moral and ethical culture. Since every school has (and should have) at least occasional discipline problems, these situations offer excellent avenues to foster--or to undermine--moral development. 

 

Discipline policies usually aim first at curtailing misbehavior, and then try to do so in a way that is (a) relatively fair, (b) relatively easy to administer, and (c) relatively free of practices that could be criticized by either outsiders or a court of law. 

 

These considerations all look at the short term, however, or at ease of administration. The way a school addresses disciplinary infractions should be seen as an extension of the school's mission-guided goals, which are long-term goals.

 

 

What Does a Philosophy of Discipline Include?
 
  1. A foundational statement (a sentence or two might suffice) of the school's beliefs about human nature from which the rest will flow.   

  2. A statement regarding the school's position on the purpose of education. What we want to accomplish as a school (e.g. compassionate leadership, lifelong learning, self-management of behavior).   

  3. A general statement regarding how the school's disciplinary policies align with the first two statements.      
     
  4. An outlined  process (ideally, flexible) that the school intends to follow in regards to points 1, 2, and 3. 

For more in-depth guiding questions to shape and refine a philosophy, including a sample, 

 

click here for some guiding questions to shape a philosophy (member resource)

 

Tags:  [Grade: Lower]  [Grade: Middle]  [Grade: Upper]  [Subject: Moral Development & Character Education]  [Type: Article]  [User Group: Administration]  [User Group: Parents]  [User Group: Teachers]  discipline 

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Four Reasons Why Noncognitive Factors Are Where It's At in 21st Century Education

Posted By Amanda Leaman, Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, July 30, 2014


The last time your school adopted a new math textbook or foreign language program, were the results remarkable? When you got new computers, or smart boards, or IPads, did student achievement begin to soar? The results were probably favorable, but not mind-boggling.

The point of the questions is not to disparage new technology or to discourage improvements in classroom materials. We need both. But we have grown to expect only baby steps in academic growth from such innovations. Is it possible we are looking for growth in the wrong places? The new word on the educational street is noncognitive factors in education.

Here's four reasons why these factors are so noteworthy, and important:

1) Noncognitive factors are the great untapped potential

The fastest, the most effective, and the deepest learning will not come from new ways to present material. It will come, and is coming, from the tangential (and too often untapped) powers of mindset, self-efficacy, the internalization of motivation, and executive functions like self-regulation. It was tapping into these powers that catapulted the academic stardom of Jaime Escalante’s students, of Stand and Deliver fame, and Sergio Juárez Correa’s classroom in a resource-challenged school beside a polluted garbage dump in a Mexican town.

2) Noncognitive factors break down silos

There is little overlap in the knowledge content of material from a World History course and introductory algebra. But noncognitive skills are generally more transferrable from one discipline to another. Monitoring one’s learning, tracking which learning strategies work best, and sustaining attention are important in all subjects, so these factors have nearly universal applications. Noncognitive skills learned in just one course can benefit students in all subjects. Departmental silos, especially those that arise in high schools, can help one another.

3) The “21st century learning” hype was a noncognitive focus

Most of what 21st century “educational competencies” called for—creativity, innovation, leadership, collaboration—are not cognitively based. Yes, there is some intellectual content to leadership and collaboration, but what the 21st century wants is not people who know everything, but people who adapt, who connect, who have skills—and the heart to use those skills for the common good. The kinds of skills that Robert Sternberg, Teresa Amabile, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan and others are pointing out like the essence of creativity, innovation, and a number of other competencies, are not what books or online courses can teach.

4) Noncognitive factors enhance moral growth

Most importantly, the reason we at CSEE know these are important is that many noncognitive factors that stimulate academic growth are precisely the factors that facilitate moral growth, too. Why? Because just as we find it easier to take in and process new knowledge when we feel competent, in control, and supported by people who care about us, so too do we feel more like being respectful of others and reaching out to those in need. We also often work for the benefit of the group when we’re not feeling inferior and when we are feeling supported and capable of making a difference.


For Further Reading:

Dweck, C.S., et al. (2011) Academic tenacity: Mindsets and skills that promote long term learning. Seattle: Paper prepared for the Gates Foundation.

Farrington, C.A. et al. (2012) Teaching adolescents to become learners: The role of non-cognitive factors in shaping school performance: A critical literature review. Chicago: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

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