Lee Guerette is an educational leader and advocate of SEL who helps teachers bring social emotional skills and mindfulness into their classroom. Prior to establishing Cognitive Yoga, Lee spent 25 years as a classroom teacher, reading and learning disabilities specialist and 30 years as a member of the Adavaita Meditation Center. Lee offers a wide range of programs and services from personal coaching to workshops, college level classes and on site introductions to mindfulness for students in the 7th to 9th grade.
Lee specializes in coaching teachers to instill in their students methods that help them focus, manage their emotions, collaborate and set goals. Teachers will have strategies that increase student involvement, critical thinking and executive function. After a successful career as a reading/writing and study skills teacher Lee now coaches other teachers how to achieve the same success. Lee is no stranger to the challenges of classroom management and the shallow disengaged attitudes of middle school students. Her book Cognitive Yoga is now available at Amazon and will guide thousands of teachers to weave the benefits of SEL into their daily classes.
Currently she is teaching a Nashua Community College. composition and study skills to freshman year students. She will be expanding her venue to include Emotional Intelligence and Leadership and has created an Introductory course called the Challenge of Change.
Here’s a script to soften the hard edges of social judgment: It is designed to be used during an advisory and takes only three or four minutes.
Close your eyes and imagine your very best friend. Think about the good times you have has together. Now think about your best friend talents and qualities that you admire. They might be bold, artistic, truthful, funny, creative, loyal ….. Allow their good qualities to emerge in your mind, the reason you like spending time with them. Now think about another person you normally avoid. Imagine your friend talking to that person and bringing them into your circle of friends. Your best friend tells you that this person has one or two outstanding qualities. What do you know them to be? Consider how those qualities or talents are good, clever or useful. In your mind, tell that person that it’s good that they can … fill in the talent, skill or trait. Thank them for doing that. Return to room awareness and rest.
Social Capital an excerpt from the book Cognitive Yoga
Social capital is defined as the amount of respect, recognition, admiration and acceptance that you get from your peers. People who are charismatic leaders have a great deal of social capital. Even when they commit crimes or get caught red-handed doing something wrong, they are so charming that most of us forgive them. The kids who have a great deal of this commodity need to be taught to be kind and generous about extending their circle to include those with fewer gifts. They are “pupular,” my son would say.
A Stanford professor who has been studying wild chimpanzees for years says that dominance and the privileges of dominance changes your brain chemistry, and also there are corresponding brain changes because of stress, being the recipient of harassment from the higher-ups. It is nearly certain that some kids will be on the receiving end of negative aspects of group dynamics. (Sapolsky)
People who may be socially awkward, shy, the family scapegoat, or the butt of put-downs in school are not doing anything intentionally to become the way they are. Often, people with low social capital have learning disabilities, do not read social situations well, or are the littlest, or last born in a given group. Sometimes buckteeth, crossed eyes, or certain physical disabilities contribute to low social capital. Long after the physical problem is gone, the residue from that stage remains. Once life puts a person in a disadvantaged situation, habitual reactions and the attitudes of others create perception and subsequent defense mechanisms.
The principal of the Practical Philosophy Foundation of Boston Massachusetts, Mr. Cedric Grigg, once told me that the most certain way of “killing” someone was to form an opinion of him or her and refuse to change it. Once a reputation is established, the biases towards those individuals are very hard to undo. The awful thing is that a person who is “thought” of in a certain way often finds themselves defending against the cloud of attitude or accepting it and thereby becoming what people think of them.
I recall a moment in my life when as a senior in an all girl’s Catholic High School, after several years of being the butt of jokes and “gossiped“ about, I had an opportunity to tell others what it felt like to be on the receiving end of that kind of harassment. An English teacher had set up an impromptu speech exercise, and students drew from the hat a topic to speak on. I happened to draw, “Why do people follow the crowd?” I described times that I walked into a classroom, and people suddenly went silent, and all the eyes turned towards me, so I knew that they had been talking about me. I spoke about an incident when I brought a book bag to school instead of carrying the collection with a cord around it. Suddenly everybody had an opinion, and my decision scrutinized in great minutia. I reminded the girls that after an awkward moment during class the incident was discussed and repeated long after the time it occurred. After this speech, several girls came up to me and apologized for their subtle cruelty. They had no idea how it felt to receive this kind of treatment. I wish I could say I never “rejected” anyone without knowing them but I also participated in leaving two not very pretty girls completely isolated during their lunches. I might have risked approaching them, had my own reputation not been so fragile.
As a teacher, you know that toxic shame binds the heart and creates a defensive posture in kids. It needs to be gently lifted so that the students feel comfortable exposing their weakness, and gaps in learning. It is only when a child trusts you enough to ask their questions that you can help. Students with learning disabilities are often told that they’re not trying, they’re lazy and/or stupid, they’re upsetting or shaming their parents, they’re not like their brother, and so on. A cycle begins where sincere improvement attempts end in humiliation and failure. The child begins to resist and resent any attempts to “teach” him/her. It might be helpful if teachers assume that kids are doing the best they know how or that if they are struggling and resentful they have good reasons to be that way. So how does a teacher ease the hurt and binding from past social and educational traumas?
By sitting quietly with a child, you can often figure out what sort of impediment is holding back their learning. Ask them to describe what they think as they do an assignment. Listen carefully to what they are saying and note how they explain the processes. If they use words having to do with a certain sense, such as “Oh now I see what you mean,” or “Finally I can hear what you are saying.” you can determine that their dominant learning style is seeing, hearing or some other sense. A sense preference or a child having more aptitude in one area more than others, ( Howard Gardener pioneering works in Frames of Minds) is less of an issue than trusting you and your ability to intuit what they are feeling.
Learning disabilities can be a hurtle, however, because that question is so complex and science by itself, I will leave that to the specialists in your school to work with you. You may want to check in to LDonline.com or the national center for learning disabilitieshttp://www.ncld.org/for additional information. But still, after gathering the data and recommendations from the specialists, and by working quietly with the children, you can often intuit how to meet their needs. It is more important that a child trusts and reveals himself than any particular technique or machine.
A child who lacks social capital needs your support and kindness. They are the ones who suffer the most from a nearly inescapable amount of stress in the middle and high school years. You can teach kids who have these challenges some strategies that will make their lives easier. A way for the student who does not have much social capital is to work with younger children as a tutor, teacher, or service person. The younger children almost always admire an older child, and their status is automatically positive, whether or not the older student has social capital within his/her peer group. If you think that is a suitable route, it’s a way for the awkward student to gain skills and respect. Nothing teaches like the experience of teaching.
As a teacher, you can look for opportunities to “coach” an awkward child and find ways to showcase their individual talents. You can encourage them to join clubs with students who have similar interests. And support their growth by letting them lead an activity that they can execute well.
Another Skillful way to offer support to a child who is socially awkward is a “lunch bunch” meeting. At my former school, after about three or four weeks of school, teachers would nominate students who they observed being socially awkward or not making friends. These students were then offered the opportunity to join a lunch group that met once a week with a counselor or L.D. specialist. During lunch, the counselor observed social "faux pas" such as “chewing with your mouth open" and might suggest that the child takes smaller bites, use a napkin or blow their nose on tissues. The lunch coaching also got into more subtle interpretations such as ways of responding well to another person’s interests. After a time, students who had met in “lunch bunch” became the best of friends, and had learned social skills and worked their way into the hierarchy of social groups.
Stanford University. "Why Do Humans And Primates Get More Stress-related Diseases Than Other Animals?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 February 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070218134333.htm>.
This newsletter is brought to you by Cognitive Yoga as a courtesy. If you like this material consider offering your organization, school or institution a free introductory lecture on Social Emotional learning. 603-888-2355 or email@example.com