• Incredible Resiliency

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 4/16/2021 7:00:00 AM

    As this school year wraps up we should take a moment to celebrate the incredible resiliency that has been demonstrated by everyone in education.  While the expectations continued to change and anxieties creeped in at unexpected times, classes continued.  In January Dr. Balsley wrote an article on resiliency.  It was geared towards teaching resilience in children but all the same principles apply for adults as well.  

    In 2013 the US Department of Education came out with a document, Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century. The committee starts the document with this statement: 

    “How can we best prepare children and adolescents to thrive in the 21st century—an era of achievement gaps that must be closed for the benefit of everyone in society, rapidly evolving technology, demanding and collaborative STEM knowledge work, changing workforce needs, and economic volatility? The test score accountability movement and conventional educational approaches tend to focus on intellectual aspects of success, such as content knowledge. However, this is not sufficient. If students are to achieve their full potential, they must have opportunities to engage and develop a much richer set of skills. There is a growing movement to explore the potential of the “noncognitive” factors—attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources, independent of intellectual ability—that high-achieving individuals draw upon to accomplish success.

    In this brief, we take a close look at a core set of noncognitive factors—grit, tenacity, and perseverance. These factors are essential to an individual’s capacity to strive for and succeed at long-term and higher-order goals, and to persist in the face of the array of challenges and obstacles encountered throughout schooling and life. Importantly, we are deliberate not to treat these factors as residing only within the student—it is the responsibility of the educational community to design learning environments that promote these factors so that students are prepared to meet 21st-century challenges.” ( Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century., PG v)

    This came out eight years ago. From my perspective I feel like schools have done an amazing job teaching students resilience. If I had to pinpoint one lesson learned from the 20/21 school year it is this, Resilience is not a buzzword. It is a necessary survival skill that can be taught and fostered.  Or, to quote the great Bob Maley, You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”


    Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • The Good Old Days

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 2/19/2021 7:00:00 AM

    A few nights ago we were talking at dinner. I asked my 8 year old if he ever saw his friend from last year now that they are not in the same classroom. He said he didn’t. He turned to his younger brother and said, “you see in the old days we were able to play with kids from other classes and we could play on any area of the playground we wanted.”  You know, in the old days. My younger son’s mouth dropped in shock and awe, to imagine getting to play with anyone, on any area of the playground seemed too good to be true. My 5 year old is in kindergarten this year. We struggled a lot with having him start kindergarten, knowing it would be different. He wanted to go to the same school as his brother so bad, and after quite a bit of sleepless nights we decided to let him try. It was not easy. Adjusting to kindergarten was not a smooth transition and he still struggles some days. Throughout all of this I have wondered how much our current situation has influenced his start to his education. I constantly wonder if we made the right choice. How this will impact him. Would next year have been better? My 8 year old is in 2nd grade now. He has context for school before COVID. He can remember the “good old days” before mask breaks and banned drinking fountains. My 5 year old does not. I feel like I am starting to forget what it was like. I try to put it in context, it has not been that long compared to the span of my life.  Less than a year. Although it feels like so much longer.  

    When I imagine anxiety I picture a storm blowing in. It could be a beautiful blue day, and you start to see signs that a storm is coming, the wind might pick up, clouds start to form and next thing you know you are in a full blown storm, rain, lighting, wind.  It just hits so hard and fast it is overwhelming. When it happens you have to seek shelter. For me my shelter is the people I can talk to, my husband, my family, my friends. They help me process my feelings of anxiety. Sometimes they help me find solutions, other times they validate my feelings. They don’t judge me, they reassure me and remind me that I have felt these feelings before and gotten through it.  I think about my 5 year old who is experiencing anxiety too, who does not have close to 40 years of experience managing emotions to equip him to process what is happening. We do mindfulness activities, grateful moments, talk about our feelings, work out problems, consider the size of the problem, perspectives of others… I pull out every tool I have from my collective time in education but still I wonder if it is enough. I watch for the small signs that a storm is coming and try to teach him to understand his anxiety. Instead of fighting it we work with it. My hope is that he will come out of this year stronger and prepared to deal with the many obstacles that will continue to face him as he progresses through school and life. Every bout of anxiety is an opportunity to practice resiliency. 


    Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Anxiety filling your plate?

    Posted by Gretchen Wood on 11/20/2020 7:00:00 AM

    Anxiety is such an interesting emotion. It manifests in so many different forms. We know it is associated with being worried and that it can cause physical symptoms. But how it actually LOOKs can be very different from one person to another. Some people may get very chatty, others very quiet. Some might withdraw while others might giggle non stop... shaking, hives, tapping, chewing nails, avoidance, needing to overachieve, being controlling, lack of focus, being defiant…. The list goes on. At one point in my career someone asked me if I thought anxiety was responsible for behaviors in school, I laughed and said I could make a case that ALL behaviors could be due to anxiety. 

    While there are countless ways that anxiety can manifest there is one form that most adults find particular annoying. It is an uncontrollable urge to eat. And it is not usually broccoli. Normally, in my articles, I try to cite some reputable source of information. But this one is going to be all me, so fair warning, not research based, unless you count my years of experience. 

    Sometimes when I get anxious I find myself going on a hunt for something to snack on.  I have heard people joking about the “COVID-15” (like freshman 15) referring to the weight they gained while we were on the stay at home order.  I have heard countless jokes and comments about people trying to put on their jeans after a few months and realizing they were a bit more snug than the overly accommodating sweatpants they had been sporting.  “Emotional eating” is nothing new.  I have seen enough weight loss commercials to know that there are a whole slew of reasons people eat and hunger is low on the list.  I personally found that this situation was different, in that normally, I would feel anxious for a day or so, not months.  I found great comfort in a loaf of warm fresh bread, or a big soft cinnamon roll, or a half a jar of peanut butter and M&Ms… don’t judge me. 

    I found removing the temptation might work temporarily, but if I wanted chips and didn’t buy them I would just move on to something else in my pantry.  Really, the craving was not about my desire for chips but rather a way to manage my anxiety.  I had to force myself to identify WHY I was feeling anxious, put the cookie down, and make myself do something else away from food.  At home my weight went up and down each week by a few pounds, nothing too dramatic, I did not get the “COVID-15”.  However, when I came back to work in August I PACKED IT ON. More anxiety, more stress, less healthy options around me, less time to search out healthy options… I was once again forced to accept my anxiety was getting me. With lots of help of an amazing support system of co-workers and family I have reluctantly gotten myself back under control.  I no longer feel the siren call of the doughnuts from the kitchen, and can recognize when my anxiety is driving my rational thought out of control.  As people who know me understand, I am a work in progress and will have good days and bad days.  I just know when I am having a bad day to give myself grace and trust that I will make it through, and, so will you. 



    Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Anxiety Aches

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 9/18/2020 7:00:00 AM

    Over the last several months we have spent a lot of time thinking about the symptoms associated with COVID.  Every cough we hear in the store, sniffle in the classroom and headache we worry about COVID. All this concern could be causing high levels of anxiety which can cause physical symptoms that make you feel physically sick! It is a vicious cycle but one I believe we can break.  According to Healthline.com,  Physical Symptoms of Anxiety: How Does It Feel? (https://www.healthline.com/health/physical-symptoms-of-anxiety#finding-help) anxiety can cause immediate and long term affects on your body, including “stomach pain, nausea, or digestive trouble, headaches, sleep issues, weakness or fatigue, rapid breathing or shortness of breath, pounding heart or increased heart rate, sweating, trembling or shaking and muscle tension or pain.”  I don’t know how familiar you are with our COVID symptoms, but there are more than a few overlaps there.  All of this makes me want to tear out my hair, which ironically, is not a symptom.  The article continued with,

    “Anxiety, the body’s response to stress, is how your body alerts you to threats and helps you get ready to deal with them. This is called the fight-or-flight response. When your body responds to danger, you breathe rapidly because your lungs are trying to move more oxygen through your body in case you need to escape. This can make you feel as if you’re not getting enough air, which could trigger further anxiety or panic. Your body isn’t meant to always be on alert. Being in constant fight-or-flight mode, which can happen with chronic anxiety, can have negative and serious effects on your body. Tensed muscles may prepare you to get away from danger quickly, but muscles that are constantly tense can result in pain, tension headaches, and migraines. The hormones adrenalin and cortisol are responsible for increased heartbeat and breathing, which can help when facing a threat. But these hormones also affect digestion and blood sugar. If you’re often stressed or anxious, frequently releasing these hormones can have long-term health effects. Your digestion may also change in response.” 

    Some of the long term effects could be ulcers, asthma, heart problems, migraines, vision problems, and back problems.  (Physical Symptoms of Anxiety: How Does It Feel?  https://www.healthline.com/health/physical-symptoms-of-anxiety#finding-help) For more specific information on how anxiety impacts your body check out: https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/effects-on-body 

    Like any good article, Healthline lets you know how bad it is, then tells you what you can do about it. They share that there are some simple steps we can take to help decrease our anxiety:

    • “Be physically active, if you’re able. Exercise can help reduce stress and improve physical health. If you can’t be active, try sitting outside every day. Research increasingly shows that nature can benefit mental health.
    • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Any of these can make anxiety worse.
    • Try relaxation techniques. Guided imagery and deep breathing are two practices that can help your body relax. Meditation and yoga can also benefit you. These techniques are considered safe, but it is possible to experience increased anxiety as a result.
    • Prioritize sleep. Sleep issues often accompany anxiety. Try to get as much sleep as you can. Feeling rested can help you cope with anxiety symptoms. Getting more sleep could also reduce symptoms.”

     I agree with all of these steps (except avoiding coffee, seriously? The idea INCREASES my anxiety!).  If you have found that your feelings of anxiety are getting too difficult to manage, know that you are not in this alone. Everyone experiences anxiety and there are many ways to get help.  SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and  Mental Health Service Administration,  has a site dedicated to helping people connect with treatment options, https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/. ADAA, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, https://adaa.org/adaa-online-support-group, has resources and support groups to help. Or, you can go old fashion, and just reach out to the people around you and talk about how you are feeling, physically and emotionally.  You are not alone,  #InThisTogether


    Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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