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[A message from School Director, Chris "Cliff" Claflin]

 

This Wednesday I was pleased to have the opportunity to attend a professional development module that has been going on at YES Southwest all year called FuelEd. The purpose behind FuelEd is to provide teachers the tools to deal with the socio-emotional needs of their students and the space to discuss the emotional stress that can build on an educator when not tended to. The sessions are grounded in sound research through a program at Harvard through the work of Megan Marcus and her associates and were developed to empower teachers with tools to address a core component of our jobs that we typically do not get training on – supporting and addressing the emotional needs of our students and each other in the school setting. This week one of the topics discussed was the importance of mirroring emotions in others. Here is an example that I experienced this week when a student who was crying came up to ask me to use my phone:

Non-mirroring response

Mirroring response

Student: Mr. Claflin, can I use your phone? 

Me: Sure but what’s the matter? Why are you crying?

Student: Pauses … I wanted to play soccer but I just found out that tryouts were in January.

Me: Hey that’s okay, there’s always next year and you’ll have a chance then.

Student: Mr. Claflin, can I use your phone? 

Me: Sure but you seem upset? Why are you upset right now?

Student: Pauses … I wanted to play soccer but I just found out that tryouts were in January.

Me: I would feel upset too if there was something that I really wanted to do and found out I was not able to do it.

My tendency, before the training, would be to go to the non-mirroring response immediately. I want to always leave students with advice or a pep talk to “fix” why they might be feeling bad. However, what I am doing when I do this is inadvertently building shame in that person for feeling a certain way. By not acknowledging it I am sending a message to this person that you really have no excuse to be crying right now so “buck up”! This day, however, I came in with a hyper-awareness to validate emotions when I encountered them and answered this student with the mirroring response. Her response was very telling. She got quiet, looked at me and stopped crying. I don’t think she stopped crying because she was ashamed or embarrassed but because she simply needed someone to listen to her. There are three steps to mirroring emotions:

1. Acknowledging the emotion. (“You look really upset, frustrated, etc.”)

2. Recognizing and identifying the reasons for the emotion. (Ask questions; if a student does not want to say why, then validate by possibly saying “sometimes when I am really upset I have a hard time talking about it” and give them a specific time in which you will come back to them.)

3. Validate the emotion. (This does not mean you are validating the reason but are validating the emotion. Ex: If a student came up to me and said “this Wall Street is unfair” and started crying I would not go immediately into the reasons why the Wall Street is actually fair. Depending on the time and space I would first validate the emotion and by doing so I am validating that it is frustrating when something comes across as unfair.

In the first response from the example above I do the first two steps but I neglect to do the third. All three steps are crucial or the result can be very different.Validating emotions does not give freedom to use emotion as a vehicle to act disrespectfully, unprofessionally or rudely. Over time, validating emotions empowers people to deal with them more productively and not be swept away by them. But they don’t go away by shaming them away. They go away by someone simply acknowledging that they are okay to be experiencing what they are feeling.

Emotions, like fear, are important things for us to be in tune with as they point us to areas we may need to address. Fear points us to an area of personal growth. Frustration points us to a rule or policy that may need improvement. We cannot and should not ignore our emotions so that they can inform questions we should ask or requests that need to be made. I encourage all of you to challenge yourself to use this moving forward and can vouch that when you do you will see the impact in building a much more solid relationship with that student or staff member and will empower that person to more powerfully deal with emotions moving forward.