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Have you ever heard that learning something new can be compared to making a path in the snow?

Years ago I heard this concept when attending a professional development session. Since that time, I have been reminded of its truth, both as an educator and as a learner.

I grew up in Alberta and the concept of being the first to walk through an expanse of freshly fallen snow is a very easy image for me to create.

He compared such a walk to learning new math skills and the depth of the snow to the age at which you learn them.

For instance, a young child learning a new idea is like walking through ankle-deep snow. Easy peasy. Whereas, learning something new as an adult can be like trudging through hip-deep snow. It's still attainable, but it takes more effort to not give up.

This totally makes sense to me as I am constantly working hard to learn new things and the effort it takes is definitely more now than when I was younger.

A few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). This learning journey has been like pushing through shoulder-deep snow at times! The concepts deal with the very core of who I am as a person and how I interact with those around me. It has forced me to reconsider what I thought was true about myself and dig deep to discover a new and better version of myself.

Learning DBT has also added to the analogy of the pathway in the snow.

You see, the way I was before I learned these DBT skills had created a very deep, very well-worn path. This path was created from my habits or ways that I responded to people and situations around me. They were my automatic thoughts and reactions. It was a very easy “path’ to travel on.

When I started to learn DBT skills, it took a lot of effort to push off of that old familiar path to create a new one. I knew I wanted to take the effort to do this. I knew my familiar ways of reacting, often very impulsively, were not effective. I knew that change would be worth the effort. Even using the smallest skill demonstrated this to me. So, I’d push through the unfamiliar world of empathy, radical acceptance, validation, and so much more to create a new path of connection and effective communication.

Many times I found myself back on the old path and I was often discouraged wondering if being skillful was really worth all the effort it took to use these DBT skills. Then, an interaction with a student, parent, colleague or loved one would be so much better than it would have been before the skills.

I knew I needed to persevere.

So, I'd keep pushing through and keep practicing and eventually this so-called new path is now starting to look well-travelled and is starting to get easier to stay on. My old path is getting filled in and I rarely find myself on it anymore.

What has surprised me the most is when I overhear people who are still on a path similar to my old path.

I hear so much suffering in their words, so much judgement, and so much anger. Is that what I sounded like?

That is why I continue to share the message of SILA Skills. These skills work! They are transformational! It's it easy? Nope. Is it worth it? Absolutely!

Sign up for a workshop today and start your own new path in the snow.

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Do you ever find that you talk to yourself in an unkind way?

“Why did you say that?”

“You’re not a very good teacher.”

“Why can’t you get it??”

“You’re such a loser.”

“You suck!”

People would be surprised at how hard we are on ourselves. It totally makes sense though. Our profession has Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook pages dedicated to what a ‘perfect’ classroom and teacher look and sound like. Yet, we read them and we compare ourselves and often find ourselves missing the mark.

We don’t even have to go online! We just look at the classroom bulletin boards down the hall or overhear conversations at the community hockey game to create these thoughts in our minds. Don’t get me started on Facebook rant and rave boards!

For me, I would often rehash lessons, interactions with difficult students/parents/colleagues in the evening or throughout the night. I always found myself lacking and struggled with knowing what I could have or should have done differently. As we say in SILA, I ‘should’ all over myself!

As we say in SILA, I ‘should’ all over myself!

Sometimes I was defensive and laid all the blame for the responses with those I was interacting with, but in my heart, I knew I could have handled things differently. I just didn’t know how to do it.

I also hated watching those movies and tv shows where the perfect teacher was given the imperfect class and made it look so easy to make connections and change lives! Watching those movies caused me to think that I would never be a teacher like that. Maybe that’s why shows like Mr. D became so popular.

We’d rather see the negative of our world, rather than the impossibly perfect.

Yet, shouldn’t those shows about the heroic teacher inspire us? Maybe they do for some. I think we need to recognize that there are things we can do to bring about the change we want to see in our classrooms. They don’t involve radical perfection, rather they involve learning some powerful skills.

These are the skills that are taught in a SILA Skills workshop. They are based on Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy (or DBT) and when put into practice, can truly transform a person to be the best version of themselves.

So, rather than beating yourself up with words of condemnation, you can learn to validate yourself and create an environment for change.

You can learn to say things like this to yourself:

“You’re doing the best you can.”

“I know this is hard, and I believe in you!”

“Perfection is not expected today. Tomorrow is a new day.”

“Do-overs are allowed and appreciated.”

You can learn how to talk this way to yourself. All it takes is some time and self-compassion. We are all on this journey together.

You matter too!

Check out and sign up for a workshop today!

You will never regret the time you took to invest in yourself.

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Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

I can’t believe how much I have changed in my teaching since I learned to be more emotionally skillful in my classroom. I have taught for 30 years and classrooms are so much more challenging and heart-consuming than ever before. What I have learned ---- about connecting rather than controlling, about giving kids emotional space, about how to regulate my own emotions --- helps me every day to be a better teacher.

When we look at the dynamics in our classrooms, many blame the environment, social issues, technology, abandonment, and so much more. The fact is, what these kids really need is connection. They need the adults in their lives to be there for them in ways they never have before.

Just the other day, one of my students expressed to me that our class feels like family. I’ve never heard that before! Maybe it’s because I try to find opportunities to connect as often as I can. For example, one day this student was having a hard time managing their emotions. I validated how that student was feeling. I listened and empathized rather than trying to problem-solve or fix their situation. Like all of us, students need to feel heard and seen before they can learn. It doesn’t mean that every day is great, and I try to make sure students know they have room and space to grow and that I am willing to give them that space. Maybe that is why our class feels like home to this student.

I am pleased to be able to share these skills with other educators through a workshop called Transforming Classrooms run by The SILA Skills Group, a non-profit I helped to co-found. Workshop participants tell me how they struggle with some of the difficult behaviours in their classrooms. They tell me they have been sworn at, hit, ignored, yelled at and so much more. They tell me how hopeless and lost they feel when students engage in ‘turtling’ (pulling a hoodie over their head), leave suicidal notes or images, and so many more challenging things.

I totally understand where these educators are coming from. When I reflect on how I would have responded to my challenging students before I learned these emotion regulation skills, my reactions would have exacerbated many of the conflicts that occur in my classroom every day. Now, I use emotion regulation skills to respond effectively and I am finding that student reactions are less severe and shorter in length.

Transforming Classrooms provides skills training to help every educator gain the tools to support themselves with their own emotions when students react the way they do. Educators also learn practical ways to respond to their students effectively and in a timely manner. The skills are based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which was developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan. We are constantly told to make connections with our students . But nobody ever showed me how to do it until I took a DBT-skills based program. Now I am using these skills in my classroom every day.

And now I am such a different teacher.

A recent example of this is when I was working with a couple of students on individual assignments at a table in the classroom. When it was time for me to start teaching the next subject, they didn’t want to return to their seats. Before I learned these skills, I would have demanded that they comply and return to their seats. I would have seen their refusal as disrespect and be concerned about what the other students were thinking. This desire to be in control would likely have escalated the situation and there would have been more conflict. This time, however, I used mindfulness to stop and pause and think in order to respond more effectively. I recognized that the students weren’t hurting anything by not returning to their seats and that they may need time to transition. The fact is, I was right. The crisis never occurred and all of the students had a good class.

Sometimes we as teachers need to learn that we don’t always have to intervene and problem-solve --- that sometimes we just need to give students space to deal with their emotions. One day one of my students became very upset over the volume of noise in the classroom. Normally, I would have stepped in. I would have tried to fix things. I would have asked them to leave the room so we could talk about it in the hall. Not today. I just waited. That was so hard!! But the student calmed down on their own. The rest of the class became silent, watching me and how I responded. I validated everyone. I said that some days it’s hard to concentrate when things are loud. “Let’s all try to work on our assignments more quietly,” I said. Later I talked to the student about how hard it must be to be upset like that. The student felt like they were being heard rather than being fixed. It was a win-win situation for them and for me.

Our students’ behaviours don’t have to define them. Our responses can help them be a better version of themselves.

These skills work.

Register today for a workshop to learn how you can transform your classroom too.


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