Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Secure Attachment: Do Good Teachers Need It?

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Secure Attachment: Do Good Teachers Need It?

Posted: 11/18/2013 4:42 pm

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As my third period students filed in the door for physics class, one of the 8th graders whispered to me, "They did it again. Ms. Morgan (name changed) cried in class." I wondered what happened this time. Ms. Morgan and I were both new teachers at the public middle school and shared nearly all the same 150 students who appeared 36 or so at a time in our classrooms. While I was older than her, we were both teaching in public middle school for the first time. How did a small group of students know what to do to crush Ms. Morgan and bring her repeatedly to tears? Why did they "go after" her repeatedly and why did a small math mistake ruin her whole day?
While reading Matthew Hertenstein's The Tell "about the power of prediction based on observations of brief samples of others' behavior," I was thinking about teachers and classroom management. Some teachers can control a class of students and some cannot. Children seem to be able to size up teachers in an instant, just as adults can sense from laboratory studies and photos who is more aggressive, what is someone's sexual orientation and other personal things in mere moments. Learning teacher's tells could help them to do better in classroom evaluations from supervisors but could it also help with management?
John Owens' in Confessions of A Bad Teacher discusses how classroom management is not taught in teaching programs. I have watched many teachers struggle with how to deal with a group of children. At several schools, I taught multiple grade levels and watched over years how certain teachers just could not figure out what to do. Sadly, many supervisors do not know how to assist these teachers in improving.
Owens suggests: "I believe that America should return to the notion of teaching as a long-term career and recognize that the first few years really are an apprenticeship, and as such, new teachers should be matched with veteran teachers who are eager and able to serve as mentor-coaches." While I agree this is an interesting idea and potential solution, but who will be the mentors? Who will decide which teachers are able to coach?
From my experience, teachers who have been around longer are not necessarily more capable of managing a classroom. There is an assumption that "experienced" teachers can guide new teachers but I feel that new criteria of attachment may be a more appropriate way to approach who can mentor or reverse mentor in schools.
Parents who were often volunteers in my classroom commented on the different tactics in place to "manage" their children from offering stickers, apple parties, free dress days which were not in use or necessary in my science lab. If some teachers need "gifts" or "threats" to manage a classroom, I would not want them coaching new teachers in these tactics.
Hertenstein talks about attachment and how "caregivers and educators [need] to realize the power of their influence to reshape the brains of children." Given the important role educators have, perhaps scientists need to share the secrets of how to create secure attachment. He discussed a six-hour program given to parents that significantly changed children's futures allowing them to become more securely attached. In fact, there are programs that have been scientifically supported such as the Circle of Security, which could be provided to parents and adapted for teachers. Maybe this class can be given to more parents and adapted for teachers.
As Hertenstein says:
Children deemed secure are significantly more self-reliant and confident in life. Some kids independently do their work, occasionally asking the teacher for help appropriately; others constantly seek the teacher's help, even when it's unnecessary. Secure attachments engender self-confidence; these children know that they can influence their world and achieve their goals through their efforts.

While I do not want to add any more items to teachers ever-growing pile of things to do, the goals of increased self-confidence and independent learning are valuable for students and teachers. Perhaps if we focused on the really important items, teachers would have less busy work to do and could accomplish the most treasured tasks.
The focus in education on testing and grades and now common core standards have not created a vibrant community of learning where all members of the educational team feel they can reach their full potential. We need to put "No Child Left Behind" in the past and find a new emphasis like concentrating on attachment. If teachers can learn "how to reprocess experiences and come to terms with the past" in their own lives, they will be ready to support secure attachment for all the children in their classrooms.
While reading Hertenstein's The Tell, his research also showed that in the classroom, "students form their first impressions of an instructor as early as the first day and hold these perceptions as much as four months later." Teachers especially ones like Ms. Morgan are immediately being graded by students and children can tell quickly what they can or cannot get away with in different classrooms. It is possible to assist teachers by sharing "tells" so that new teachers do not get caught as if "prey" in the savannah by their own students.
Students and other observers are marking "warm, enthusiastic teachers [as] more knowledgeable and better teachers than people who are reserved," but is that what makes for a good school year? "We think we know what makes a good teacher -- expertise in the field, clear goals, fair grading, quality course materials, organization, and accessibility -- but ...the evidence suggests that how a teacher conducts herself is at least as important, if not more so, than course content when it comes to the experience of learning." The 8th graders knew that Ms. Morgan was nervous and insecure; they consistently "attacked" when they could. Several more experienced teachers were assigned to assist but it was a challenging year for her.
The 8th graders who were well-behaved in my classroom seemed to take a perverse enjoyment in making the new math teacher cry when she made a mistake on the board. After the first time, they seemed like animals in the savannah going in for a "kill" and no amount of intervention seemed to help in this situation. They sensed her "weakness" and took advantage. I agree that Owens' idea of mentorship would have worked for her if she had the right person to follow. I did speak several times to the students and request that they behave and even offered to assist Ms. Morgan but as I was a "first-year" teacher at this school, my offer was discounted.
Another option would be assisting teachers directly with their insecurities. "We get a lot of teachers coming as workshop participants at the Bloodline Healing Project," said George Kamana Hunter, founder of a new form of generational healing that works on a community level.
I've observed that most of the newer teachers are not aware of their own sense of boundaries. How can they model healthy boundaries unless they feel confident with their own limits? I tend to challenge teachers with interactive exercises to help them learn to set spatial boundaries and to foster their voice of authority. They need that safe place outside of their school to make mistakes and explore. Teachers need classrooms too.

Teachers do need a village to assist them in their own growth so that they can appropriately assist their students.
Jessica Gelson is a therapist (MFT) who has worked with adolescents with severe emotional and behavioral problems. She continues to work with adults and adolescents in her private practice in Los Angeles. She shared with me that "Attachment between a child and a caregiver, in this case a teacher, is very important, because it creates a safe emotional container so the child can take the risk to be more independent. This fosters emotional, social, and intellectual growth in the child. If children feel safe, they can step out of their comfort zone and into the growth zone. This, in turn, can lead to more creative thinking and problem solving." So children would not only feel safer they would be more able to function fully and achieve their goals.
Gelson continued:
If teachers can begin to look at their own attachment issues and heal their own early wounding, then they can foster healthier new relationships in the classroom. Teaching is not just about imparting information. It is also about helping kids grow up to be courageous, thinking and productive members of society. Successful teachers take their own influence on children's lives very seriously. They do their own emotional work, they "clean up their own houses," so they can be a cleaner and more appropriate model for their students. As a therapist, I use such modalities as the Bloodline Healing Project and individual sessions, to work with adults who are trying to be the best they can so they don't pass their "stuff" on to the next generations.

There are ways to support and not malign teachers but like all professionals teachers need to do continuing education not only as educators but also as role models.
Teaching is a challenging profession that is art and science as well as managing a room of growing humans and sharing new curriculum. I think all of us can use as many tools as possible to create a system where teachers, administrators, parents and students have the opportunity to grow into the best people they can be. If scientists can assist us all to manage our tells and learn from them so we can all have the most secure attachment and self-confidence, perhaps we can all flourish together with no more tears.
About the Author: Lisa Niver Rajna was a 2012 nominee for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. She was the first teacher to appear on Career Day. She and her husband George are on a career break sharing their world adventures onWe Said Go Travel.
First Published in Huffington Post Education:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why So Many Of America's Teachers Are Leaving The Profession


Lisa Niver Rajna

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Why So Many Of America's Teachers Are Leaving The Profession

Posted: 11/05/2013 5:51 am

John Owens in his book, Confessions of a Bad Teacher, shares that "America's public school teachers are being loudly and unfairly blamed for the failure of our nation's public schools." As a 2012 nominee for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching and a veteran of public and private schools for the last twenty years, I have to agree but I was glad to hear someone else say it in print.
The vast majority of teachers are working overtime without the tools or budget to manage the plethora of issues inside and outside the classroom. On top of that, administrators who only compound the situation by micromanaging the wrong things make the lives of teachers completely untenable with their lack of support.
Most teaching preparation programs including the one Mr. Owens attended do not adequately prepare anyone for life in the classroom. For many beginning teachers, "It was as though I had just joined the circus as an apprentice clown and was immediately required to juggle plates, bowling pins, butcher's knives, and axes all day long while walking along a tightrope in midair." Teachers make more decisions per hour than any other job including what to do with a student who falls behind, manage students with learning or emotional problems, tailor each lesson every day to up to 125 students or more who are somewhere between illiterate and highly gifted.
Sadly some administrators, students and parents instead of partnering with teachers, blame "teachers which is easier than doing a massive system overhaul."
We need "teachers who can present a passion for the greatness and potential of learning and the greatness and potential of America." I believe John Owens wanted to be one of those people. His unsuccessful attempt to complete one year in the classroom paints an ugly and honest picture of life in many American schools today. The statistics from the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future show that his experience is not unique as "in urban districts, close to 50 percent of newcomers leave the profession during their first five years of teaching."
Many non-teachers claim that teaching is an easy life with long vacations. However, as Owens shares his daily routine it is a job way past full time hours, "I spent virtually every waking hour -- 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. -- all week long on my teacher duties. Lessons, backup lessons, tutoring students during lunch and after school, PowerPoints, grading, inputting data, inputting more data, meeting with parents, observing experienced teachers to learn their techniques, meeting with my bosses, updating databases, writing reports, and trying to get help from someone for the struggling students in my classes." All teachers are familiar with the many hours required to keep lessons, grades and life engaging and organized.
Most of the teachers I have worked with have been caring and concerned both with doing a great job and meeting the needs of each student. However, "every second of the day was filled with demands and -- sadly -- students whose needs still weren't being addressed despite all the efforts I could put in." Even with the frustrations of not being able to do enough, Owens wishes to be a better teacher and contribute to his students and society but the principal is not interesting in supporting his contributions as a new teacher.
Owens creates an enthusiastic response from his students but he is reprimanding for his class being too noisy. He has many meetings and moments with the principal as he is warned that he will receive an unsatisfactory rating for his first year skills. He learns that "inspiring, empowering, really teaching these students" is not enough.
Many teachers are leaving the profession, as "America is demanding too much from its teachers without giving them the proper support to educate students effectively. Commitment, caring, pushing for results, and putting in a full work's day no longer seem to be enough...Often, I felt like a soldier dropped behind enemy lines with nothing more than orders. No weapon. No helmet. No hope of reinforcements." I was disappointed and frustrated to learn about his challenges, and it reminded me of many situations and schools were I have been forced to work with incompetent management.
Students want to share themselves and deserve teachers who can be present and focus on them from "Rikkie, the bright, defiant ninth grader, who did a long piece about how prison isn't so bad to a ninth-grade girl wrote about the day she saw her father get arrested in the neighborhood check-cashing store." Students need caring supportive teachers, not teachers who feel threatened that they will lose their job for showing enthusiasm and initiative. Teachers need to work in an environment where they can thrive.
In Los Angeles, new teachers and old can find mentorship and engaging lessons with the Los Angeles Science Teachers Network. In response to an overwhelming situation in 2009, I created this network for professional development, support and camaraderie. Administrators cannot do everything and we all must participate to improve learning for the children. Do not listen to the blame. Do something about it. We are each responsible to do what we can. Write a blog, start a network, help a child and find a way to feel supported in the classroom. America needs you.
About the Author: Lisa Niver Rajna was a 2012 nominee for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. She was the first teacher to appear on Career Day. She and her husband George are on a career break sharing their world adventures onWe Said Go Travel.
This article first appeared in the Huffington Post with over 1.5K likes:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Education for the Future

By Enda Glacken

Since the early 90s, the rise of information technology has been relentless. Year on year sees increasing growth and at breakneck speeds. If there were any doubts about technology after the dotcom bubble, we can safely put them to bed. Computers are here to stay, and that means : programmers, software engineers, I.T professionals are and will continue to be in huge demand for the next number of years. 

Never before has an education in I.T looked so attractive. While the world economy has been in recession over the last number of years, arguably, the I.T industry has come away the least affected. Indeed, in certain tech hubs throughout the world, the demand for skilled programmers, software engineers and data analysts is even increasing. With high salaries and the opportunity to work in funky offices ala Google / Facebook, it is no wonder that an increasing number of young people are opting to study computer science in London and programming compared to traditional routes such as business/sales.

A degree in computer science is a superb foundation to a promising career in I.T. You'll likely spend 4 years learning the basics of programming through a specific language, often Java, and then branch out to several different languages for a wider view of the programming landscape. As with the breakneck speed of changing technologies, programming must also keep up. This means that new languages, or frameworks based on older languages are sprouting up quicker than ever before. For instance, with the development of node.js, javascript can now be used to program on the server backend rather than the frontend of websites and web apps as it was traditionally used. This has opened up a plethora of opportunities for skilled javascript coders. Jobsites are awash with requirements of frameworks such as node.js, angular.js etc.

Programming isn't just programming anymore, there's web development, software development, database programming, and the list goes on and on. It can all be a little confusing and overwhelming at first but doing a Bachelors in computer science is the best way to discover your particular strengths, and which track might suit you in the future.
By K.lee , via Wikimedia Commons
One of the exciting aspects of computer science and development, is the rise, rather explosion in popularity of web start ups. Major cities across the world, such as New York, San Francisco and London have traditionally been centres of innovation over the last 20 years or so, during the tech boom. But over the last few years, smaller cities across the globe are seeing startup hubs spring up out of seemingly nowhere. They all need good programmers and developers, so the increased demand is only good for the industry.

There's obviously a reason, rather a few : the availability of cheap capital for tech startups, a large pool of young skilled programmers and developers, increasing opportunities to network, willingness to take risks.

Visit nearly any medium sized city, and you'll find they have a startup scene. Dublin, a relatively small capital city, just had the WebSummit - an annual gathering of the tech industries brightest talent. Berlin, Amsterdam, Manchester, the list goes on. Even the Chilean government has not stood by. They have a government program that sponsors and attracts startups from around the world to come and world in Santiago to boost their sector.
Vajrapani666, via Wikimedia Commons
Then there's games. With the advent of smartphones, tablets and powerful laptops, the demand for games has gone through the roof. Angry Birds, Farmville, Candy Crush are some of the most popular app games in history. The profit on this games is staggering and drives a huge amount of business into developers. Then there's console gaming with titles such as Call of Duty, GTA V, that are on titanic budgets. It's an enormous industry which also draws a huge pool of talent from computer science.

As you can see, it has never been a more attractive time to jump into an education in computers. It is here to stay for a long time, and the career outlook is very positive. My advice, start early and be prepared to work hard!   

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Brain Research, Education and the Battle for Social Media Dominance

Does Brain Research say that Pinterest will win the battle for social media supremacy?  The answer is Yes!
In the social media battle, Pinterest may have what it takes to knock out the others. Visual focus means it speaks to our brains in a way the others don’t. Photos, not words, are the focus. No rankings or numbers of friends although the number of likes and re-pins may remake the new currency.

Pinterest is the hottest growing trend in Social Media, remember those boards that looked like cardboard and you took a pushpin and put up your favorite photo of the hottest teen star or a reminder about your next dental appointment, now you can do it virtually! Pinterest is a way to share content and “allows members to “pin” images, videos and other objects to their pinboard.” You can also like someone’s “pin” and re-pin it to one of your boards. There are boards for “trip I want to take,” “recipe I want to make,” and “House I want to have.”

Our brains learn best when they can remember and repeat or possible repin. We are visual creatures, over all other senses, but many of these photos invoke other senses and form the comments, which include our longings, feelings and dreams.  The photos tap into the reptilian brain where we want to relax, be fed, our basic needs. We see it and we want to pin it. We can have it all, at least on our boards.

Read the full article on Science Schmooze in the Jewish Journal.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lisa on National Television as a Science Teacher!


CAREER DAY: Grab your test tubes & beakers! This week on Career Day we’re DISSECTING a career that will really SPARK your interest… teaching elementary school SCIENCE!
Lisa Niver Rajna appeared on National Television on KTLA Channel 5 on September 29, 2012, in episode 302 on Career Day. After sharing over 200 careers, Lisa is the FIRST teacher ever to appear on this show.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bring Fitness Into the Classroom: Exercise Rhymes


Bring Fitness Into the Classroom

In on our modern society, a focus on academics in our education system has resulted in less physical activity for children. Most schools have reduced physical education (PE) classes to once or twice a week. Despite an emphasis on academics, reducing PE classes may be counterproductive as research indicates that fit children do better in school. Researchers at the University of Illinois concluded:
We have found a strong relationship between academic achievement and fitness scores,” said Darla Castelli, a professor of kinesiology whose area of expertise is effective physical education practices. “Those who scored well in academics also did well in physical fitness.” …[Co-researcher, Charles Hilman, a kinesiology professor at Illinois stated:]“…fit children made fewer errors than sedentary ones.[i]

Incorporating movement into the curriculum benefits learning. Dr. Sherry Bush, a prominent Clinical Pediatric Psychologist, contends that the area of the brain responsible for motor coordination is also involved in learning. According to Dr. Bush, movement engages motor centers that strengthen brain to body connections, establishes muscle memory, and enhances learning. Even simple movements like standing and writing on a chalkboard help children retain information[ii]. When movement is part of learning, kids retain information better than when they sitting sedentarily.

Fitness in the Classroom

Teachers can incorporate short fitness breaks into the classroom activities. These fitness breaks can be a regular part of the day to allow children to exert physical energy in short bursts so they can refocus on academic lessons. Getting children out of their chairs to stand, move and strengthen their bodies increases attention spans and enhances learning. Children that stretch, jump and pretend and are better equipped to focus their attention on academics.
Exercise breaks throughout the day helps kids stay healthy since short bursts of activity a few times per day are as effective as one longer exercise session. These exercise breaks also benefit teachers who are willing to do them along with their students.

Exercise Rhymes™ in the Classroom

Exercise Rhymes™ are rhymes that make exercising fun! The Exercise Rhymes fitness flashcard deck combines rhyming with exercise for kids 3 to 7 years. Exercise Rhymes can be incorporated into classroom activities for preschool and primary elementary students, and tied to the curriculum. The rhymes are fun and informative while expanding children’s vocabulary. Rhyming is well known among educators to be a building block for phonics and reading. The rhymes and exercises form mind body patterns that reinforce learning.
Cross-curricular lessons combining science, math, reading, writing, art and even physical education enrich the learning experience. For example, a science lesson on the lifecycle of a frog can include the Frog Exercise Rhyme that gets kids jumping up and down like a frog. They could also take turns jumping forward and then measuring how far they have jumped. They can write their own poem or story about frogs and draw a picture of a frog.
Exercise Rhymes are a fitness-based learning resource for parents, educators and therapists in developing a child’s learning skills while promoting fitness. The go-everywhere card deck fits today’s active lifestyles.
By: Marina McLennan, Exercise Rhymes, LLC.  www.ExerciseRhymes.com .
Copyright © 2012 Exercise Rhymes, LLC.


[i] Mitchell, Melissa (2004). Physically fit children appear to do better in classroom, researchers say. Abstract retrieved April 24, 2008, from http://www.news.uiuc.edu/news/04/1018fitness.html
[ii] Dr. Sherry Bush shared information with Marina McLennan about rhyming, movement in learning, and brain development during a meeting on April 1, 2008 in Scottsdale, Arizona.