Sometimes, happenstance or serendipity, or whatever you want to call it, just happens.
I inadvertently learned a new word today. I was following the array of posts and articles on happiness and gratitude. Long ago, my husband noted that he had never met anyone who worked so hard at being happy. It was a hard-fought learning from my childhood that has become as natural as breathing, albeit sometimes breathing with a harsh chest cold. The morning reading included yet another article on how the Danish have a long standing record as being the happiest people in the world. Hence the new word – hygge (hue-gah).
The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute, is one of the bibles of this Danish word. Yet, another internet discovery. I was taken through a you tube walk through the homes of both a self acclaimed 100% Danish expert returning from a hard day at work and Scottish Diane in Denmark who is married into the expertise. Apparently life’s simple pleasures really are the best. Wiking lists 10 things that can be found in the typical Danish home to create the comfy, cozy context to induce this relaxed sense of security and contentment. It includes everything from candles (or a fireplace), lamps, blankets, books, hot beverages, to wood furniture, comfy clothes and thick, wooly socks. Apparently I am well on my way to developing my own hygge expertise. I am certainly committed to doing the research.
Betty Boult was the keeper of the knowledge when it came to Stephen Covey and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when I first started teaching in Abbotsford. She had done the facilitators training and she facilitated with flair. We had animated discussions and were committed to engaging with the ideas and doing the work to complete the workbook meticulously. I can still play out some conversations that resonated and remember my queries around some of the habits. Those were the days when “sharpening the saw” was just a part of daily life and took much less deliberate effort. Saying “no” was not yet part of my repertoire and everything was a priority. These were the days before children and my husband was working just as hard to start his business. The advantage of professional development in Abbotsford was that it was a small enough district that we all did pro-d together. Therefore, the things we learned and ideas we were thinking about, were discussed in the staffroom, as staff socials and the ideas frequently referenced. I think in this way, many of the ideas were incorporated into who I was.
I recently finished reading Stephen Covey’s (2008) The Leader in Me: How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time. In this book, the learning is focused on children in K-5, middle and secondary schools, in the United States (the main focus), Singapore, Canada and Japan. The power is that it that the ideas are introduced and developed with entire school populations. Students are taught public speaking and acknowledged for their strengths and encouraged to assume responsibility for leadership tasks within the school.
I remember shortly after my Covey training, I was asked to do the goodbye tribute to my mentor, Joan Fuller, at her retirement function. Public speaking had never been in my comfort zone. Memories of tomato seeds bouncing out of my hand during my 9th grade oral report haunted me. Boring topic. Questionable choice to be holding the smallest of all seeds for an oral report in front of the class. Terrifying teacher who was known to roll her eyes. Nothing good came out of it and I carried a lingering fear of public speaking. However, I loved Joan and had a vested interest in making her retirement special. I was terrified. I was over prepared and tripped over my words. I was glued to my cue cards. My vocal chords constricted. My legs shook. I blushed. And yet, I lived through it. Everyone clapped and smiled. Joan was delighted and cried. And there were no tomato seeds. I drank the Kool-Aid and was excessively proactive and had a passion for professional development. I found myself more and more speaking in front of audiences, in both my professional life and involvement in personal passions. Yes, I was one of the lives that was changed because I had come to understand I had something worthwhile to say.
Covey is frequently referenced but I wonder how many people really understand the ideas and have integrated them into their lives and then regularly revisited. There is a tremendous amount to be learned that directly correlates with empowering, not only adults but children too.
For those of you who need a quick recap of the habits:
- Habit 1: Be Proactive
- Take initiative
- Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
- Set goals
- Habit 3: Put First Things First
- Prioritize and only do the most important things
- Habit 4: Think Win-Win
- Getting what you want while considering others
- Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
- Habit 6: Synergize
- work well with others to accomplish a task
- Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
- Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep
- Habit 8 (added in 2004): Find Your Voice and Help Others Find Theirs –
- Identify gifts. Optimize them. Develop them.
I recently read a publication in the NY Times Sunday Review called My Kid’s First Lesson in Realpolitik. Annie Pfeifer is a parent bemoaning the need for our children to stand up to bullies. There is recognition of the fact that “helicopter parents” swoop in with speed and vehemence to deal with any conflict, big or small, that his / her child may encounter. The alternative presented is to let kids fight it out, like on the playgrounds in Switzerland, so they learn how to deal with conflict. It is my position that both of these options fail to provide our children with the confidence or skills to deal with conflict. Our kids need educators and families to work together to provide the guidance and mentoring to teach kids how to resolve conflict.
Playgrounds serve to be a microcosm of the world where our kids learn important lessons. They are filled with students who are human. Perfection may not be possible but the aspiration to create a peaceful playground is paramount. We want our future generation to accept that everyone is invited to the party and we all need to learn to co-exist peacefully to create a better reality. A playground is a relatively small fishbowl and a good place to learn about kindness, acceptance, tolerance and to develop problem solving skills.
Peaceful playground require:
- communication skills
- sharing space, equipment and friends
- an ability to express feelings, while considering other people’s feelings
- an ability to understand when you need to self calm and practice those skills
- problem solving skills
- ability to follow safety rules and game rules
Of course the list could go on. We have a number of programs and theories to help us navigate this course. School Codes of Conduct are mandatory in schools in British Columbia and are widely published on school websites. Articles and tweets about the topic of self regulation has become common. @Stuart Shanker has committed to tweeting a daily quote #SelfReg to encourage us to pursue and gain a greater understanding of root causes of our feelings and how to deal with them. .
I particularly like The Zones of Regulation program developed by Leah Kuypers, to teach kids that feeling emotions is never a bad thing but we require strategies to deal with them in ways that keep others and ourselves safe. If you are very angry and in the “Red Zone”, your job is to self calm before you try to problem solve. Kids are fascinated to learn that “yoga” or slow breathing actually causes your brain to calm your body. Science at work!
The Peaceful Playgrounds Program is another program that I really like. Basic messages are framed in a way for kids to easily remember and apply on the playground. It also includes a plethora of ideas of things to keep kids active and problem solving on the playground. Problem solving strategies that you probably remember from your own childhood.
- Rock, Papers, Scissors ( Yes, you commit on 3 – agreed upon rule! ) In several of my other schools, this was know as Ching, Chang, Push, apparently a well established strategy in China too!
War Toys To Peace Art is a group established to fund art projects by peace loving groups of children. The Friendship Bench is one way for kids to find their way into playground activity if they need some additional support. A bench is designated as a space for kids to demonstrate kindness by inviting kids looking for a friend looking for someone to play with. Programs like Jump Rope for Heart give kids a focus and the equipment to get involved in healthy playground activity.
Kids are human and sometimes they will need help resolving conflicts face to face AFTER they have calmed down. When kids don’t make good choices, they need the opportunity to own them. Kids need to be able to express how they are feeling and what they didn’t like in face to face conversations. They also need to learn to listen to other opinions, how the choices he / she made impacted the other person and to develop strategies for how to repair relationships. They also need to learn to move forward after they have dealt with the problem. Adults are there to support kids in dealing with the problems. The goal is for kids to develop the skills to problem solve and the confidence that they can. Adults are involved in the process to ensure that name calling and bullying (physical and emotional ) do not become an accepted norm.
“I Believe in You!” This is the mantra of my daughter. To my chagrin in secondary school, she joined the Cheer Squad at Charles Best Secondary School. I saw the objectification of women. She saw the comradarie of the cheer squad and the physical challenge. It has served her well. She bought into the importance of encouragement. As a tiny little girl who only wanted to be with her Mommy, she experienced the encouragement to go out into the world on her own. In Kindergarten, her teacher nicknamed her Sparky because she brought palpable, positive energy into the classroom every morning. As a competitive soccer player in school, she witnessed the power of encouragement to impact her performance. In cheer, she learned why cheerleading came into being.
I worked very hard to interest Larkyn in attending UBC for selfish reasons of my own. Her quest for adventure and independence, took her off to Queen’s University. She made a group of friends that negotiated the ups and downs of university life. Visiting her and her housemates was always refreshing. The young women who she pulled close to her, were people who demonstrated the same encouraging way of being. “I believe in you” was often uttered as a young woman with the unbrushed hair in a sock bun emerged from her room with a scowl on her face to take on some assignment or test or interaction that she was not feeling particularly good about. In this case, “I believe in you” was not a statement assuming success would be the end product. It was a recognition that her friend was doing something hard. It was a promise that at the end of the day, success or failure, you were still someone who mattered.
I had an adoring mother who believed I was wonderful and always assumed success in my ventures. My steadfast determination assured a fair record of successes. However failure meant not only failing at an intended task, but also disappointing her. It is something to this day that I experience. Missing the mark and disappointing the people who really want my success, results in the heavy heart times two. Perhaps this is residual from being a little girl with blonde ringlets and an over reliance on pleasing. I do find the “I believe in you”, received and delivered with a smile, has a more positive impact. It’s like being sent off with a hug of reassurance. It doesn’t presume an outcome, just the encouragement to “Go for it” and acknowledgement that you’re taking a risk that is hard.
In Grade 3 due to a significant family upheaval, I ended up in a new school after the beginning of the school year. Peer groups were already established and I was doing poorly on daily timed math drills. My Mom suggested I talk to the teacher about what I could do to improve. The teacher told me not to worry about it, I was in the average range. My take away was that she didn’t believe in me and my belief in me faltered. It took me until my statistics class in Graduate School to discover I didn’t actually suck at Math. We have huge power as educators to deflate or inspire.
“I believe in you” is a message that inspires people or at least may help them lighten up. It isn’t the belief that success is imminent. It isn’t the belief that failure is an opportunity to teach you an important life lesson. It’s the statement, “You’re on my team!” and the commitment to cheer for you no matter what! Unconditional cheering. Not a bad way to go out into the world and make our mark. It is a message that I aspire to communicate to my staff, students, friends and family on a regular basis.