Friday, October 28, 2016

I'm back in my beloved India

Woken up at 5:54am by the sound of POPOPOP in fast succession: Its firecracker time in India: It’s Diwali.

 I’m lying in bed wondering to get up or not, and I begin to mull over my whole bank account opening issues, and realize, gee whiz B- it’s so Indian! I say this in general terms but indulge me, kind reader; I’ve lived in India enough to know that they say ‘Yes’ to see you happy, even when they mean ‘Yeah right-as if!’  If the person you’re dealing with has good experience with westerners, they won’t be so quick to say ‘Yes’, and their ‘Yeah right-as if!’ is colourful and poetic, making it less infuriating. Oh India!

Take, for instance, a banal auto rickshaw example:  You want to get where you’re going, you ask the Rickie (auto rickshaw driver) and he head bobs away. Sweet. Next thing you know you’ve stopped too many times to count because actually, he doesn’t know where you want to go, but wouldn’t dare say ‘No’ to your foreign face.  Now there’s Uber and Ola, options I didn’t have the last two times I lived here. But I still encounter the ‘Yes’ when they mean ‘Yeah right- as if!’

I’ve been here over three weeks, and opening a bank account has proven to be an unpleasant and drawn out ordeal. I have signed my signature soooooo many times now it’s literally a wobbly line (note to self: work on signature). I’ve had to produce document after document, and still the bank isn’t satisfied.  I have a Work Permit goddamn it, in a valid passport- what the hell more do you want from me?!? The finance manager at my school told me, ‘It’ll be open at 7:30 this evening…. It’ll be open by 11pm today… it’ll be open by 5pm this evening most certainly.’ I was losing my mind. I actually believed the finance manager was just trying to get me off his back. So, I went directly to the bank but got the exact same treatment, ‘ Oh there is a scrutiny check on your account, but no tension mam, it’ll be open by 7-7:30 this evening, I will call you’. No call. I go back. ‘Oh hello mam- what a sweet dog! (Let’s talk about your dog to avoid the statement I’m about to spew out) Your account will be open surely before Diwali, no tensions, mam.’ She gets on the phone and says, ‘…a foreigner is here, sitting in front of me only, and is feeling many tensions. Hmmhmm hmmhmmm ok ok ok, thank you.’ She hangs up, assuring me that when Mumbai contacts her, she will contact me. Me: ‘You have my number, right?’ Bank woman: ‘Yes, mam’. Me: ‘Even if it’s not good news, you’ll call to let me know the status of my account, right?’ Bank woman: ‘Yes yes mam, don’t worry, I will call you, and surely your account will be open by 3-3:30 this evening.’  This bank manager has promised to call me 6 times, and not once has my phone rang. 

This morning listening to the Poppoppos drowned out by my air conditioner, it dawns on me: Why resist? They (the auto rickshaw drivers, my finance manager and the Bank woman) aren’t trying to be dicks, they want to please me, and think by placating me with what I want to hear I’ll feel better (actually- if I may be honest, dear reader- in the moment of a ‘Yes’ delivery, my innocent self smiles, and I do feel better!). Sadly, it’s turns into more of a ’Don’t Cry Wolf’ scenario and my cynical west-African-experienced self should know better. Shit- I should know better! 

 I don’t have any alcohol at home to numb this adventure; I’m not teaching; I haven’t made any friends in Chennai and my husband hasn’t joined me yet. B U T I feel at peace here: I burn incense, stretch, and eat paneer every day; I’m with my lovely (but dirty-and-knotty-gotta-find-a-groomer-but-she’s-so-cute-looking-right-now) pup, and she opens a lot of doors that would otherwise be closed with her friendly and funny disposition. I’m in a land of dazzling fabrics, the sacred cow, ghee and daal. India: Would I have it any other way? Yeah right- as if!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Teaching Children Emotional Intelligence: Breathe into Being

You have probably heard the term “emotional intelligence” many times before. But what exactly is it, and why is it important for children to develop their emotional intelligence? How can children develop emotional intelligence, and, what does breathing have to do with it? Kindly read the following, dear reader, and learn the answers to these questions, and more!
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence (EI) is a person’s ability to identify; evaluate; control and express emotions. This kind of intelligence helps us communicate with others, negotiate situations, and develop clearer thought patterns. Emotional intelligence is the insight into and understanding of how your emotions can positively or negatively impact your life and capacity through your behavioral skills. EI is the process of recognition (understanding what you are feeling) and assessment (deciding on the best way to be the best version of yourself). Simply put, EI is awareness.
What Emotional Intelligence is not
Whilst EI and understanding your own emotions helps with remaining calm, EI is not, in itself, calmness; it is not joyfulness, hopefulness, agreeableness or other personality traits.
What do Emotional Intelligent people look like?
Emotionally intelligent individuals stand out! Their ability to empathize; persevere; control impulses; communicate clearly; make thoughtful decisions; solve problems and work with others earns them friends and success. They tend to have higher self-esteem; are more confident; lead happier lives; and have more satisfying relationships. At school they are more productive and spur productivity in others and help create a safe, comfortable classroom atmosphere that makes it easier to learn (and teach!).
Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman popularized the term "Emotional Intelligence" in his landmark 1995 best-selling book of the same name. What emotional intelligence is, says Goleman, "…is the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships." It's the set of abilities that helps us get along in life with other people in all kinds of life situations.

Mindful Breathing
In my years’ of teaching (and living), I have realized that integrating mindful breathing is a sure-fire way to tune in - and in turn - generate EI. Kids: aren’t they too young? NO- not at all! I have been surprised time and time again how children gravitate to a quiet moment. There are plenty of ways to teach mindful breathing. One of the simplest is to have children lay down, close their eyes, put their hands (or a stuffed animal) on their belly and breathe to the count of three (see their hands/stuffed animal go up) and then breathe out to the count of three (hands/stuffed animal descends). Repeat a few times. Once they are comfortable with this, the teacher could introduce affirmations, such as “I am caring, confident and intelligent” or any other positive statement. The children are in a space of love and acceptance through the simple act of breathing mindfully.
Self-Awareness and Empathy
Characteristics like self-awareness and empathy play a big part in every facet of life. We all know that how we feel about others and ourselves can profoundly affect our ability to concentrate, to remember, to think, and to express ourselves. Children without EI don't follow directions well, continually go off-task, can't pay attention for long, and have difficulty working cooperatively.
I came across this simile that describes my sentiments exactly! “Teaching without implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) is like leading kids without shoes on a trek across the Himalayas. Count on a short trip with lots of whining!”
Social and emotional learning, (SEL) the increasingly common term for EI instruction, can be expressed in a multitude of ways: it can be a lesson on the hurtfulness of insults, followed by discussions on ways to share compliments effectively. It can be the daily morning meeting, where students share feelings, such as the sadness of their pet dying or the joy of a family outing. In literacy lessons, it can be an analysis of a conflict and a dialogue about different paths the character might have taken. It can be a common occurrence, like everyday mindful breathing, to take a moment to think, rather than react automatically, and often aggressively, to stress. 
Many teachers, I included, see the results of such instruction in school because of its effect on both the school environment and education. Disruptions due to acting out, arguing or talking back decreases. We spend less time disciplining, and more time teaching. Energy flows in a positive classroom, where students and teachers alike respond with heart, instead of react in haste.
EI learning is not a quick fix or a one-time lesson. The best programs take years to get to a place where teachers and students are comfortable and the benefits substantial. While a growing number of school programs include elements of instruction aimed at a child's emotional needs, too many of those programs are fragmented, short-term, and not well integrated into the curriculum or school structure. Just as we don't expect children to learn a language in a year, we can’t expect children to learn social and emotional skills in one year, either. Indeed- it is a practice. And like every practice, it’s about process and determination. Emotional intelligence is a skill that a child develops over time as they interact with you and the world.
Schools are beginning to use SEL in classroom settings, still; parents and caregivers are in the best position to teach and enhance a child's EI. SEL programs work best when parents and teachers become partners, which means schools need to educate both parents and teachers in ways to promote behavior that improves communication, empathy, self-awareness, decision-making, and problem-solving.
Here are some suggestions for how to develop EI in your child (and you).
  1. Take a deep breath. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath, feel it in your belly for a count of 4. Breathe out through your nose for a count of 4, and then hold that for a count of 4. This is 16 seconds and the result is astounding. This ‘pattern interrupt’ is all you need to respond rather than react.
  2. Accurately name your own emotions. Children learn by watching. The first rule I learned in my Cultural Anthropology degree was: Observation - Imitation.  If you're sad and crying, or angry, take some time to name those emotions out loud with your child so they can learn to identify what you're feeling, and in turn will be more comfortable in identifying their feelings.
  3. Use a rich vocabulary. Emotions aren't just "happy" or "sad." Sometimes, emotions are complicated and layered (i.e. we can feel bittersweet about saying goodbye to a terminally ill pet). A rich vocabulary of feeling words can help unfold the complexity of the emotions. Use many different words to describe feelings, so your child can listen and learn. You could ask your child to also notice where feelings live in their body. This helps them connect to their body so they notice the feeling when their body gives them the signal. (i.e. When I feel frustrated my jaw tightens, I get a lump in my throat when I feel sad, etc.)
  4. Validate your child's feelings. If your child is having a meltdown, take some time to acknowledge their feelings, even if you don't give in to them. Instead of ignoring a tantrum, you can say, "I know how frustrated you are that we can't go to the park right now, and it's completely reasonable to feel that way."
  5. Teach empathy. Talk about compassion and empathy for others' feelings, and model it yourself in your interactions with others. Remember: Observation - Imitation.
  6. Appreciate different points of view. If your child comes home from school feeling angry or sad with a friend about a disagreement, take the time to talk through the conflict and help your child understand their friend's different point of view.
  7. Model effective communication.  Use effective (and age appropriate) communication as you navigate your own relationships. Remember: your child is observing you, to then imitate you. Yelling at your partner and storming out of the house won't do it. Instead, use feeling phrases, an “I statement’, like, "I feel angry with you, and worry about the consequences for our family when you don't follow through with paying the electricity bill like you said you would." 
‘I statements’ are a wonderful tool to engage in healthy conflict resolution and open dialogue. Create a sign that reads: I feel _____ when you _____. Affix it somewhere in your home, and refer your child to the sign when needed. For more ideas, check out this website.
With these useful tools, children can start to practice mindfulness and develop their EI. When they recognize the signals, they can help balance these feelings by identifying the root and reversing the stress response to feel calmer and becoming emotionally intelligent.
Now, could you imagine an amazing world to live in, where children become the kind of adults who take responsibility for balancing their emotions, as opposed to using alcohol, food, addictions or blaming others?

 This is about a whole new vision of education that believes educating our hearts (emotions) is as important as educating our heads.
NB- There are footnotes in the original that didn't follow the article when copied into my blog.
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Ways to Cultivate Wellbeing in the Classroom, and Beyond.

--I wrote this for school... so I added 'isn't it?' because I knew Indians would be the only ones reading it, isn't it- head bob? But when my colleague put it up online I thought hmmm this is my writing and I  used to write a blog, so.... here I am putting it in my old blog. Easier to read, too! -----
We all want to feel good, isn’t it? Well, as a teacher, I too want happiness in my classroom and in my life.  If my students are happy, then my school day becomes much more fun and rewarding. Here are a few tips to cultivate wellbeing in your world. If you have school age children, see if their educators and school environment are including and celebrating the following:
1. Slow Down
When we slow down, we notice more, we appreciate more; we take stock of relationships, learning, and goals. Everyone can benefit from slowing down: students, teachers, and administrators. There's a direct correlation between our levels of contentment and the pace at which we live our lives. In the classroom, this might look like spending more time in a morning meeting with students, or lingering over a read aloud, or taking an extra 10 minutes to engage kids in a game outside after recess.
2. Get Outside
Being outside, even for just a few minutes a day, can heighten our state of well-being. We breathe fresh air; feel the elements on our skin -- the warmth of the sun, the sting of wind, the moisture of rain --, which connects us to the natural world. Even when it's cold out, or when it's warm and glorious, we can take our students outside for a quick (5 minute) walk, or we can do silent reading outside and our feelings of wellbeing will surely increase.
Furthermore, when the weather is comfortable, why can't we have some of the many meetings we all have to sit in outside? Switching it up (weather permitting) by taking students outside under the shade of a tree could keep lessons fresh and fun.
3. Move Your Body
We all know this already, but I'm going to remind you anyway: Moving our bodies increases our wellbeing. Even if you can't take your students outside, you can incorporate stretching breaks into their days, play quick games that get their hearts pumping and their energy out, or put on music and dance.
4. Blast Good Music
Music in a fast tempo and in a major key can make us feel happy and it has a measurable positive impact on our bodies -- it can even boost our immune system, decrease blood pressure, and lower anxiety. Playing music as your students enter the classroom can be welcoming and can create a positive atmosphere. Parents and caregivers- you can listen to music at home with your child whilst cooking, or folding laundry, any time!
5. Sing
Now sing along with those tunes, or sing in your car or in the shower -- and see how you feel. Singing requires us to breathe deeply, which makes us happier. Singing along to some of our favorite music makes our brain release endorphins. If you teach elementary school, then it's easy to get your kids singing every day. Teach them a simple song and start the day with it. Use singing during transitions or to signal the end of an activity. Find songs that connect with the content you're teaching -- they'll remember it better -- and they'll feel happier.
6. Smile
Even if you're not a smiley person, try smiling more often -- aim for authentic, genuine smiles, but if you can't produce one, go ahead and fake it. Yes, even fake smiles can move you along towards a more content state of being. And more than that, they can have an affect on those looking at you. So teachers, administrators, and parents: just see what happens if you smile more often at the people you interact with on a daily basis.
7. Incorporate Quiet Time
There's an abundance of evidence about how meditation causes changes in our brain chemistry that produces feelings of calm and wellbeing. Start by taking a few deep long breathes with your eyes closed.
There's so much more to say and do on this subject, but I hoped to start with some practicle ideas. If you have thoughts, please share with me here...
thanks for reading
now go outside and smile!