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I think we can all admit that we could stand to use more happiness in our lives right now. Our students could use it more than ever.
With the last semester spent on remote learning and secluded from their friends and with the upcoming school year looking to be anything but normal, we need to start thinking about how to address their happiness.
Discovery Education has a great video about the 6 Key Components to Happiness, but here is a break down of the components and a few mini lessons to go with it.
Our brains can move a mile a minute and jump from one thought to the next. Rarely, do we stop to just breathe and take those deep breaths that fill our lungs up with air and settle our minds.
Our students can have a lot of fears, anxieties, and stressors affecting their lives right now. Starting the class with a mindfulness activity can set the mood for the remainder of the class and even the whole day.
Take 5-10 minutes to practice breathing exercises or to do a guided meditation (check out this list of Great Apps and Websites for Movement and Mindfulness in the Classroom). Remind students that, like anything else, mindfulness takes practice.
The first try they might find their minds wondering for four out of the five minutes. That’s okay. Tell them to allow those thoughts to creep in. Acknowledge them and then send them off on a drifting cloud.
The key is to build a habit of this. Implement it into your lessons 2-3 days a week. You will start to see results in your students’ attitudes and demeanor.
Research has found that people who practice gratitude are overall kinder humans, have stronger immune systems, and even sleep better.
Some easy ways to incorporate gratitude into your classroom is to have a Thankfulness Wall. Give students post-its and have them write two things for which they are thankful. Have them stick it on the wall.
Maybe on Fridays, students can share aloud if they want to. You can even just keep a pile of post-its near the wall and encourage students, whenever they are feeling thankful, to write it down and post on the wall. Another gratitude activity is to do thank you texts.
At random times, tell students to take out their phones (or if they don’t have devices, a piece of paper) and send a text to someone telling him or her that they are thankful for them.
Furthermore, students can start a gratitude journal and use it as a warm-up. They can list four things they are thankful for and why. That idea is a great way to get students in the right mindset for teaching and learning.
3. Positive Outlook
A positive outlook is very much associated with gratitude. The more gratitude you express, the more your outlook switches to a positive one.
The Mayo Clinic lists some ways to change negative thinking to positive thinking.
A good idea for the classroom is to hang an anchor chart of negative self-talk on one side and then how to change it to positive self-talk on the other side. In addition, get students journaling on what is going well in their lives.
A lot of times students focus a lot on the negative and drama in their lives but neglect to realize all of the positive in their lives. Invite students to share those good things more.
4. Generosity Generosity is all about science! When we help other people, our brains release oxytocin which naturally puts us in a good mood.
Generosity can be as simple as giving someone a compliment or holding a door open to as complex as building houses for other people. The possibilities are endless.
Teachers can give students a generosity bingo card and have students try to fill out as many as they can. Classrooms can do a 30-day Generosity Challenge with a new act of kindness a day.
Even still, classes can take on a class project for the semester in which everyone works together to do an act of good deeds. Some ideas include:
5. Human Connection
The human connection piece is so important. Even the most introvert of persons still wants to feel included and involved with other people. With social distances and the cancelation and shut-downs of many places, teachers have to get creative. Some ideas include:
6. Sense of Purpose
Lastly, we all like feeling like we matter. We want our lives to have meaning. Give students opportunities to explore their potential, showcase their strengths, and foster their talents. Do career-inventories. Do personality tests. Show them what kinds of jobs they can have. Highlight what they are good at doing by giving them that role in a group project. Take them to career and college fairs. Show them that they matter because they do.
I hope these help move your students along to happiness.
I have been a teacher for the deaf and hard-of-hearing for 9 years now. A common question I got was if I would teach my child sign language. I always replied with a hearty, “Of course.” I wanted to pass my love for the visual language down to my offspring.
Nevertheless, I didn’t want to just teach my kids sign language because I happened to make a career out of it. There are many benefits to teaching children to sign from a young age. Hopefully, after reading these reasons, you’ll want to reap the same rewards from American Sign Language (ASL) as well.
1. Sign language is another way to make connections
Babies and toddlers are growing up in a very stimulating world. They have a lot coming at them every day. Bright lights. Loud sounds. Fast-paced action. Sign language is another way for them to make connections to language.
When my son and I read a book, I point to a picture, say the word, and sign it.
When I talk, I sign key words (MORE, PLEASE, MILK, WATER, etc).
When we spell out words with his little magnet letters, I say and sign the word as well.
When we are out and about and see everyday things, I point, say, and sign what it is.
In all, he’s getting the spoken, written, picture or real-life representation, and ASL version of a word. Sometimes all at once.
Sometimes not, but either way it’s one more way for a young child to begin forming word recognition and connections. Low-hanging fruit.
2. Sign language helps with communication
Research has shown that too much screen time can cause speech delays in children, but sometimes screen time can be unavoidable in a technology driven world.
Sign Language can help. Studies have found that sign language taught at an early age can help progress speech development faster. In addition, sign language aids in easing frustrations.
Oftentimes, toddlers don’t have the words to produce what they want, but they are able to sign what they want.
Does it eliminate all whining and tantrums? No, but sign language prevents unnecessary prolonged crying.
For example, instead of whining and leaving my guessing what he wants, my son can sign when he wants to drink milk, eat food, go to sleep, get more to eat, and be all done eating. He brings me a toy he wants opened or turned on by signing please.
On the other hand, we can sign when something is “hot, no touch,” and he can repeat back by saying, “hot” and backing away.
He also can find his toy animals when we sign what they are. We can see that he is reasoning in his mind that he understands what we just signed, and he is trying to put the pieces again. Then, the lightbulb goes off, and he finds the object.
Overall, ASL combined with speech touches upon visual, auditory, and kinesthetic processing and helps store more pathways in the brain; therefore, memory becomes stronger. Again, another easy way to help in your children’s development.
3. Sign language can be discreet.
All parents have had those moments where we are out in public and our child is causing a disturbance. We hiss under our breaths, “Stop it,” but our child can’t hear us. We want more than anything for the earth to swallow us whole.
However, with sign language, I can sign STOP, NO, WAIT, HOLD without raising my voice and attracting all kinds of unwanted attention. It doesn’t work every time, but it is setting my son up for success in that I am teaching my son another way to control his behavior.
On other occasions, I can sign something to my son without causing a break in the conversation. At dinner, and I notice my son needs to take a drink? I sign WATER. My son wants me to do something? I can casually rub my upper chest for PLEASE to let him know that he needs to say that first.
Hopefully, in the future he can let me know when he has to go to the bathroom without shouting, “Poo poo or pee pee,” in a setting like church (although that would be funny). However, sign language lets you have those conversations you don’t want the world knowing.
4. Sign language is fun.
Lastly, sign language is just fun. Little kids love hand movements and gestures, and sign language is exactly that.
With it, parents and children can sign songs, nursery rhymes, and books. ASL is another fun element added on top of learning experiences. YouTube has tons of videos parents can search and what better way to spend some time with the kids.
Sign language is another resource to have in a parent’s toolkit. I can see the light in my son’s eyes when he makes a connection. I can see his frustrations melt away when I quickly recognize what he is trying to communicate. I can see my shoulders visibly relax when I avoid a public meltdown with just one sign. I see the joy he gets when I make silly faces and songs. I can see him learning and growing. And that’s why I am teaching him sign language.
Resources for Parents
Elise Tate, Mommy Influencer, creator of SignMeUp, and wife of NFL player Golden Tate, has a great starter sign resource for all parents, teachers, and caregivers wishing to teach their children or students sign language.
Her love of sign language started out as a necessity and soon turned into a passion project. After hearing the statistics that 90% of deaf children are born to parents who can hear, but up to 88% of those parents will never learn how to sign, Elise knew that she had to get her book and resources into homes and classrooms.
SignMeUp is a book/resources designed for parents to teach their children sign language. She has plans to publish a whole series of sign language books and posters as well. Her dream is to expand the books to be in all schools, doctor offices, and hospitals.
So why SignMeUp?
1. SignMeUp is easy to use.
2. SignMeUp is great for non-signers.
3. SignMeUp is a great resource.
4. SignMeUp is aesthetically pleasing and durable.
5. SignMeUp is diverse.
How to Go Back to In-Person Teaching
Step 1: Try on your pants
We are all so used to not only being seen from the torso up that our pants have been nonexistent for the past two months. Most of us have been wearing sweatpants, shorts, and even no pants at all for so long. Showing up to school in your swim trunks or yoga pants I'm pretty sure will be frowned upon.
To prepare for in-person teaching try on your pants. One, to see if they fit and two, to get used to the feel of them. It's important to train yourself to keep your pants buttoned for up to 8 hours because you can no longer turn the camera off. I highly suggest intervals. Each day wear your pants a little bit longer until you can refrain from ripping them off. No one is no longer going to cut you slack if you forget to wear your slacks.
Step 2: Practice muting yourself in real life
The principal isn't going to buy the excuse, "It's ok, Mr. Smith, no one can hear my talking because my mic is on mute.," in a staff meeting. Nor is the administration going to like if they go into your classroom for an observation and you are on the phone with your friend because you claim your "mic is on mute."
Start practicing now by keeping quiet when someone else is talking. Try turning on the TV and watching the news. Do your best to eliminate all background noise. Refrain from talking. I realize this is extremely hard, but try your best to plaster a big smile on your face and nod your head occasionally.
Step 3: Realize your whole body will now be seen
We are all used to slightly adjusting our bodies so we are out of the frame to do our texting or crossword puzzle when we are meant to be listening and pay attentioning.
When we go back to school, we need to realize we can't obscure ourselves to lie our head down or roll our eyes during mind numbing meetings or when a student gives an absurd answer. We can't pick our nose, laugh loudly, swear under our breaths. Everything will be seen like it's 1984.
Step 4: Practice holding your pee
Teachers have gotten used to the luxury of peeing whenever they felt like it. It will be hard to readjust our bodies to no longer being able to use the facilities when the time arises. We can't just turn our cameras and sound off. We will have full classes once again and extra duties which won't allow us to excuse ourselves.
See how long you can hold your pee each day to practice returning to normal. If you get a UTI you have succeeded and passed the test! You are ready!
Step 5: Study your students' faces.
By now we are used to students not showing up for class or turning off their cameras, so we can't see them. You might want to brush up on what they look like before returning to school. I suggest stalking your colleagues' and administration's social media accounts, so you can remember what they look like as well. "Ohh, Ms. Johnson, you aren't an icon of a cat in real life?" "Mr. Ryan, your legs look quite nice. I haven't seen them in awhile." "Mrs. Tyler, your shins and calves look much different than I remembered." It could be quite embarrassing if you turn off for school and you can't put faces to names. Start studying now!