On Thursday, the middle school viewed the movie "Angst" and then had some time to come back to advisory to chat and debrief. The movie is advocating for open discussion about anxiety and for students to understand that it exists in everyone, but in different levels. I wore many hats as a viewer of this film. As a parent and a teacher, this film moved me in so many ways and made me realize how positive relationships with students are the most important parts of teaching.
Here are my notes from the film:
"Angst" was made for all of us to notice anxiety and to help and support it. Some levels are a result from working outside our comfort zone: like a first date or the first day of school. This film was created to help advocate for those whose levels breech that growth zone.
Anxiety does not discriminate. Clinical anxiety needs to part of our discussions so we understand those who can't push through the impulses that cause your brain to think counter-intuitively to what they rationally know to be true. For example, walking into a new classroom full of new people. We know it to be okay uncomfortable, but okay. However, it can cause high levels of anxiety and they cannot enter that class.
The film talked about panic attacks: when the body shuts down, and we sweat, breathe heavily, our heart beat increases, and we can feel paralyzed. We can become paralyzed, we literally freeze up. This is caused by "living in the amygdala". This fight-or-flight mechanism takes over and we are not able to organize information. It can be referred to as "Amygdala Hijack Situation".
The film then went on to talk about avoidance. We often seek control by avoiding the things that scare us. In the moment, avoidance is perhaps the best way we see to deal with anxiety. The movie suggests that if we know this, then we can hopefully choose to stay, breathe, and know that the anxiety is temporary. "Escape is not the best way to deal with anxiety."
Then, the movie talked about anxiety manifesting itself as physical ailments, such as stomach aches. It told how our cortisol increases (our natural steroids) and then hydrochloric acid gets released in our stomachs causing it to hurt.
Support! We need to recognize anxiety, normalize the fact that we have many stimuli going on and we must move past the stigmas regarding anxiety as a thing that is wrong with our character. Anxiety can be out of our control. We must encourage people to speak up to get help. "Name it to tame it." We must listen, get educated, and not rush to judgement.
The film spoke of how we must try to push our anxious thoughts from the amygdala to the "front" of our brain where we deal with executive functioning. There, we understand cause and effect. We can rationalize the anxious thoughts and hopefully overcome them.
Certain methods mentioned mindfulness practices: the stress breath, ice cubes in our hands, focusing on the click of a clock, , shifting the focus of our eyes from near to far, going to a safe and special place, reading, journaling, and drawing. All of these exercises are meant to shift our mind, to rewire our brains and "engage" in neuro-plasticity.
When emotions go unspoken, we give them power. The movie encouraged us say something, to talk to some one. If you confide in someone, you share the burden and then know that some one is aware of what is going on.
The film wrapped with a quote from one of the teenagers:
"Feeling loved. That will help me get through this most."
As part of the curriculum, follow-up discussion questions were offered to get the conversations going.
First, we simply asked, "What did you think?"
It was good for us to see so we can talk about it.
My family doesn't talk about this stuff.
I know about this stuff. I turn to the logic.
Sometimes, asking for help can come out in weird ways and don't even know what it is.... that you are asking for help.
I am emotional about lots of things. I can get angry, then I get sad, I cry, then I am frustrated that I am not being heard.
Why do you think that anxiety levels are at an all-time high amongst all age groups?
We now may have a better definition so that we can diagnose it more accurately.
More school work.
Higher expectations of younger people.
We have more responsibilities.
High school pressures.
Why do you think the teenagers in the film chose to talk about their anxiety?
To help other people learn from what they went through.
What did you learn about anxiety from this film?
The physical stuff. The pain is real, but I didn't realize that the cause of some pains was the feelings and the anxiety.
Do you feel you know enough to manage anxiety in ourselves?
Do you know where to go for help?
On-line support groups.
We will continue to have conversations with the students about the film, their anxieties, their journeys. We reiterated how all the adults in this community are here to help in any way we can. Thank you for trusting us with your children. This work is so valuable and I appreciate the opportunity to explore and discuss these topics with your children.
Putnam & Laura
As we settle into Middle School, we are feeling more comfortable and confident. Schedules are becoming routine, relationships are growing, and students are relaxing into their learning. Some of the byproducts of this can be the relaxing of respectful behaviors. Students approach adolescence and some try on behaviors that are new. We have discussions about how maturity does not equal sarcasm, or how growing up does not equal being sassy. Students know what is right, but some experiment with pushing the envelope of respect.
As our holidays approach, it gives us an opportunity to reset our behaviors and remember our mission, our professional relationships that we must uphold in school. Our advisory uses collaborative projects and activities to build new understandings and to see people in a new light.
And, yes, we have created our band. "Twenty Twenty-One" (2021 will be the year the graduate) will allow us to take risks, have fun, and create music together: the ultimate non-verbal communication.
We have started rehearsing a tune selected by the students called "Under Pressure" written by Freddy Mercury and David Bowie. We will be able to perform this during an upcoming All School Meeting.
I know you have received your child's interim grades. I have read them over as well. These grades are not posted on their transcripts and merely a means to check in prior to the end of the semester in mid-January. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out.
I wish you all the best,
Welcome to our advisory's website. Here, I will post newsletters that document what we are up to in our advisory. So far, we have focused on building relationships and trust by sharing about ourselves. Conversations, stories, photographs, and other mementos help to create connections. To build community is our goal. To create a safe place to share ideas, successes, and learning experiences, Laura Velazquez and I will help to guide this wonderful crew of sixth graders through the transition into middle school.
We have been brainstorming ways that we can engage in a project that will give us an opportunity to grow closer. Last year, our advisory put on a short play based on The Giving Tree just before the winter break. The students felt strongly about reminding the community during the holidays about how the giving of one's self is paramount.
This year we have been thinking.... Advisory band. Stay tuned!
With the Middle School Dance coming Friday, it is a good time to remind students about their responsibilities as members of the FA community.
Today's advisory included some role play about the dance and situations that may occur. Reminding the students about their responsibility to be kind and inclusive was paramount. There were some questions about what to do when faced with a proposition to dance. We encouraged students to keep in mind that this is not a venue for personal agendas. We want to keep our community events about community.
Dancing together in groups was one suggestion about how to achieve this. We want to promote the tenets of our mission at FA while still having fun. If someone feels the need to ask another we dance, we talked about how saying, "Yes," will promote these principles. While students are concerned about what others might think, we offered the advice of including others. Say, "Yes, let's get a few more people. It will be fun!"
Again, it is important to keep private things private. If a student has feelings for another, it is more appropriate to that information private. We also spoke about how to be respectful if you are the one in the active role. If you ask someone to dance and they say, "Sure, let's get some others to join," be open to that. Read the situation and do not be too assertive. Realize this is a community dance.
In regards to their academics, this group has done a wonderful job transitioning to Sixth grade. As noted in our Student-Led Conferences, students are managing homework, projects, and social situations well. As we enter spring, it has been helpful to remind students that it is wise to stay focused and determined to succeed.
The Sixth-grade teachers are beginning to ratchet up the pace and volume of work. The spring term will be used to prepare them for the Seventh grade. Increased independence will come with added responsibilities and it is our goal to be sure these students are prepared both academically and emotionally.
Putnam and Laura
This past week brought some opportunities to be reminded of how to value ourselves, each other, and our experiences. Mrs. Gaudet came to have a discussion about being a "buddy" to new or visiting students. This is such an important role as we want to be sure we create a safe environment for all. As we talked, some of the students reflected on their experiences when they were new.
"I felt good when I visited. My buddy was really nice. I wasn't nervous at all."
"I was shy, but everyone was so nice."
While we assign a specific buddy to our newest students, we often mention that we are all buddies. Each of us has a responsibility to create a welcoming, stimulating, and encouraging environment for everyone. If we are socially confident, then real learning is able to take place.
As our meeting concluded, Mrs. Gaudet asked, "So, what can we do when are hosting a visitor or being a buddy to some one new?"
"Just act normal and treat them like they are our friends."
"Ask them questions. Find some connections with them."
We were lucky to host Cherise Mericle Harper on Friday. She is an author illustrator who gave us a great presentation with many valuable reminders. She writes and illustrates picture books, early readers, graphic novels, chapter books, doodle books, comic books, to name a few. She is prolific and dedicated. But mostly, she was hilarious!
She reminded us that in order to get good at something, you have to... spend lots of time doing it. She also mentioned about the importance of getting ideas down on paper and editing them later. "I only get to have the first thoughts once." She mentioned the benefits of working consistently and the perils of procrastination. She talked about how she first gets ideas down and then needs time. "Time is great. You need time to draft, sit with it, edit, and find out how to make it better. What you think was initially great, might not be your best effort." So when you procrastinate, you do not have the time to let your thoughts settle, process your work and allow for improvement.
During her presentation, she said, "I'm still doing the same stuff I did as a kid, I just got better at it. So you'll probably be doing something similar to what you are doing." I loved this notion because it gave the students the sense of value and worth. We are always working towards the best version of ourselves.
There are always multiple ways to view things in life. We seek to learn from them...
This week's advisory conversations were centered around homework, organization, and time management. The students share their increased sense of responsibility and accompanying stress levels. They share and talk about their strategies to meet the demands of sixth grade. Ms. Velazquez and I do our best to listen, guide, and ultimately allow the students to make their own choices.
If students need further explanation or demonstration about how to use an agenda, plan homework, or something else, we certainly step in offer assistance. If a student requires a candid or private conversation, we provide a safe place for them. As your point-person, we will help to facilitate the school-home connection.
Topics of technology surface as well. On-line versus face-to-face communication, and amount of time spent on our devices seem to direct our conversations. For the most part, the students seem to understand moderation as an important part of technology use. It is, however, that online persona that seems to bring upon debate. While the students intellectually know that engaging in emotional and private conversations is perhaps not ideal, they still find it the easiest and most accessible means of communication.
We talk about: Think. Breathe. Love.... with everything. And most importantly when deciding to engage in online communication. It is too easy to fire emotional outbursts back and forth, and therefore too easy to type things one might want to rescind at a later time.
Again, it is the emotional well-being that drives our goals for advisory. We will continue to listen, talk, play, navigate, share, and therefore, connect with each other, growing our circles of friends and systems of support.
Advisory, run by Ms. Velazquez and me, will provide our sixth graders with a haven. We have increased our advisory time to continue to offer the valuable opportunities to discuss, play, and learn about each other. So far, we have been talking the transition into middle school. The topics of organization, dress code, time management, and responsibility have begun our discussions. Recently, we began the goal setting process that will drive their Student-Led Conferences in October. Students will set goals in each class, however, in advisory, we are focusing on HOWLS, Habits of Work, Learning, and Socialization.
It is paramount, our students know themselves and feel safe enough to discuss their progress with others. It is this self-assessment that gives them ownership and genuine pride about their learning.