Tuesday, December 20, 2016

There is so much more to "giving."

During the holiday season many of us do a lot more "giving." We make donations, volunteer to serve Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter, bake cookies for friends and family, and find so many other opportunities to give of ourselves. Where did we learn to do this? Most of us learned through our friends and family. Yet, years ago the whole community was involved. It used to be expected that you would contribute not just to your family but to the community at large.

I recently saw a Hallmark Channel movie that featured a Santa Clause who had a different perspective. Instead of just asking the children what they wanted for Christmas (shouldn't Santa know that already?) he asked the children what they would like to give. He opened the children's eye to what gifts they had that could be shared; no money or shopping necessary. 

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Our students spend 13 years in public (or private) education hearing only about what they may "get" from it. You need to do well in grade school to "get" into high school. Do well in high school and you can "get" into a good college, "get" scholarship money and grants, and so on. Earn a college degree so you can "get" a good job so you can "get" stuff. I believe it would greatly strengthen the education system, and our society, if we focused more on what students can "give."

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Some simple gifts a child can give to a loved one include helping with dinner or household chores, a Free Hug coupon, singing a song or presenting a dance routine. Some gifts our students can give to the school community include peer tutoring, helping to clean up around the school, starting a flower garden, making gifts for those who are less fortunate, and fundraising. Some gifts our students can give to the community are joining a service organization like the 4H Club or the national scouting organizations, volunteering at a local hospital, picking up trash on the side of the road, or helping a neighbor with yard work or babysitting.

Our students have so much to offer and yet without the example being set for them it never occurs to many that they should be expected to give and not just to receive. I know many of you would agree there is often much more joy in giving than in receiving. One of my students is so excited that he was able to buy gifts for his family for the first time this season. He is spending money that he earned through hard work. He says that he is so anxious to give the gifts he is having a difficult time waiting until Christmas! This young man has learned the joy of giving.

The well-known psychologist, Erich Fromm, wrote:

“Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.”
I found a number of Websites that list opportunities and resources for young people. Here are a few of them.

As we move into the New Year, perhaps we can keep these things in mind and look for opportunities for our students to give of themselves and to share their gifts and talents with others so that they might experience this joy.

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Thank you for listening.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Preparing for the Holidays

Preparing for the Holidays

The holiday season brings a great deal of excitement to the classroom. Most students are anticipating how they will spend their break and what gifts they might get. They are excited about spending time with family. Unfortunately, this is not the case of all of our students. Some children do not have celebrations during the holidays because of cultural or religious differences. There are also a number of young people who struggle emotionally during this period of time.

Many children, particularly those with autism, do not respond well to change. Staying home from school for winter break is a complete disruption of their daily routine and can generate a great deal of anxiety and stress. According to U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015 there were 49,361,000 students were enrolled in K-12 schools. We know that about 1 in 68 has autism; that means there were about 725,900 autistic students. 

Other children do not look forward to long breaks because they do not have a happy home life. Some are homeless, in foster care, come from abusive homes, and/or live below the poverty level. These children do not have the same expectations their classmates do of expensive gifts and fancy meals.
Other young people are struggling because they have lost a parent either through divorce or through death. The holidays can be a challenging time for young people who have suffered a loss, especially those who find it difficult to express their feelings. Some may experience feelings of guilt, particularly in family where a divorce has occurred.

So, I'm not writing this to be a Debbie Downer. I think it is important as educators that we are aware that some of our students may not be looking forward to winter break. We need to be sensitive to students who might be having a difficult time this holiday season. Here are some suggestions.
  1. Try to provide opportunities for students to open up and share their feelings about the holidays.
  2. Provide alternate assignments if you are doing some holiday-related activity. Be creative. For example, if you assign students the task of writing about how their family spends the holidays, you could offer students the option of writing about their dream vacation or perhaps how they envision the perfect holiday to be. If children are making a craft to give to a parent as a holiday gift, you might offer the option of making a gift for a friend or even for themselves. If a child lost a parent or another loved one, you might suggest that they make something to honor that person.
  3. Some schools have little holiday shops that are open for children to buy gifts for their families. Come up with a fun alternative activity for students who cannot, or just do not want to shop. That way those who have little or no money, or have no one to buy for, will not feel left out.
  4. If you think a child is struggling, keep in touch with other teachers and guidance counselors in your building who see the same student. Find out how they are doing in their other classes.
Keeping all of our students in mind when planning holiday activities may lead to a more positive learning environment, help struggling students cope, and still offer a nice distraction from the everyday for everyone.

Thank you for listening.