Mental Illness Among College Students: Would a Gap Year Help?

Today’s blogger is William Beaver (Robert Morris University–Pittsburgh), author of the article “Would a ‘Gap Year’ Reduce Mental Illness Among College Students?”, which appears in the July 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of August.

I first became interested in mental illness among college students a few years ago when a dorm counselor at the college where I taught told me that the number of students on Prozac was higher than anyone would suspect. I then thought back to my years as an undergraduate. Depression, often referred to as the common cold of mental illness, obviously existed. Yet, I don’t recall anyone talking much about it, and no one ever told me they were depressed. Most likely, that was because my peer group was mostly male, where admitting any weakness rarely occurred. I do remember one time sitting around a table in the student union when someone said that a male student, whom we all knew, had tried to commit suicide. No one at the table said anything, and the subject was quickly changed.

That said, my generation certainly had things to be stressed about. A couple of days before classes started in our freshman year, the president of the school informed us that one-third of our class would not be returning for their sophomore year because they had less than the coveted 2.0, which, as I recall, turned out to be fairly accurate. For males, there was a serious penalty for getting poor grades: Vietnam. If students didn’t have a C average after two semesters, they had to sit out a semester, which also made them eligible for the draft. (I knew of two students who did end up in Vietnam.) No one talked much about that either, perhaps because the consequences could be so dire.

From my own experience, I concluded that my generation was under a lot of pressure, and depression and anxiety were probably common, but we just chose to suffer in silence. Hence, the higher rate of mental illness among today’s students was simply tied to the fact that people were more open about it. Some of the research literature agreed with my conclusion. However, other studies were finding that although people were more open about mental illness, other factors were involved, and the increase in mental illness among college students was real.

What could these factors be? Fear of school shootings, concerns about finding a good job to help pay off school loans, snowplow parents, grades, and the increased use of social media are commonly cited. In recent years, social media has garnered the most attention and has raised some intriguing questions. For instance, does the use of social media cause depression, or do students who are already depressed turn to it? One can certainly understand how cyberbullying could be harmful. On the other hand, a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found that students who agreed to limit their smartphone use reported lower levels of depression, suggesting that use alone is associated with depression.

Doing something about student mental health has proved to be difficult. Schools have increased the size of their counseling departments, but we appear to need other strategies to ensure better mental health for new students. That’s where the idea of a gap year comes in—taking the year following high school graduation and engaging in some meaningful activity before starting college.

I soon discovered that, in the United States, taking a gap year is rare. Only about 3% of students do so. But in some countries, like Norway and Turkey, up to 50% of high school graduates take gap years. There hasn’t been a lot of research on the impacts of a gap year in the United States. However, the research that does exist is encouraging. For instance, in one survey, more than 90% of students taking a gap year reported they had developed as a person and were more mature and self-confident.

The question then becomes how to increase these numbers. Certainly, teachers and counselors can help get the word out and engage students who they feel would benefit from a gap year. Schools could provide information about gap year fairs held in various parts of the country. Parents also need to be informed about the potential benefits involved and that taking a gap year can help ensure an eventually successful college experience. Gap years can be international, where students experience a different culture, or can take place close to home, perhaps simply gaining experience in working and independent living. Unfortunately, no one is predicting a decline in mental illness among college students, so it’s time to try different strategies like gap years to help lessen the problem. For a closer look at these issues, see my article “Would a ‘Gap Year’ Reduce Mental Illness Among College Students?” in the July 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record.

Telling Stories: The Need for Strong Leadership and Qualified Teachers

By Carlos J. Minor

Dr. Minor is currently an educator with the Clayton County School System in Metro Atlanta. He has served as an elementary, middle, and high school educator. Additionally, he has served as both an adjunct and full-time professor of education.

I am currently ending my 20th year in education and will be back next year for my 21st. I am a career educator, highly qualified, and have served at every level of the P-20 continuum in more than one state. The studies always tout what is wrong with K-12, but this educator thinks he has at least a partial solution: Highly qualified (and dedicated) teachers and strong, school-based leadership.

At one point I was a K-12 educator in Middle America. The pay for teachers was very low compared to other jobs in the area. One could become a firefighter, a police officer, or literally a manager at a convenience store and make 10-15K more than a beginning teacher. Thus, the urban district I worked in struggled to staff, and they literally took anyone off the street with a degree and plugged them into a classroom. There was no training, no regard for GPA or work history, and some people bounced from school to school and district to district after being repeatedly fired. For most of them, teaching was not a calling or a sense of duty; it was merely a job.

The elementary school where I worked (since closed) was one of the worst in the state. Of the 16 classroom teachers, only four were actually certified educators. Three of those were Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers, so it was entirely possible for a student to go through that school and never have an actual teacher. Adding to this, the school served a high-poverty area, where the need for highly qualified teachers is the greatest.

To say that the school administration was weak would be an understatement. The “teachers” were allowed to come and go as they pleased with no repercussions. The “teachers” were allowed to stand in front of a classroom dressed in wrinkled t-shirts and sweatpants, jeans full of holes, hoodies and leggings—you get the point. Additionally, one “teacher” would come in 45-60 minutes late daily while his students sat idle in the hallway…and this was never addressed. Another “teacher” was allowed to spend the day walking the halls talking on her cell phone while her students sat idle with a paraprofessional…and this was never addressed. A third “teacher” went off on an administrator in front of students because he did not feel that he should have to come to work on time. In fact, this third “teacher” went around the building telling all who would listen that the administration was “tripping” by expecting folks to come to work on time…and he kept his job.

These behaviors (and others) would not have been tolerated from teenagers working at the mall or at a big box store, but this went on with the full sanction of both the building administration and the Central Office. As the student body was overwhelmingly Black, Brown, and indigent, the message was clear: The Powers That Be could care less if poor minority students learned.

This school was for years an F school and eventually the Central Office made the decision to close it and lease the building to KIPP. However, most of the “teachers” at the school, many of whom could not pass the Basic Skills Test for Teacher Certification and who did nothing but give worksheets, were given good teaching evaluations and positive recommendations to move on to other schools.

This stands in stark contrast to the school district where I am currently employed. I am at a middle school in Metro Atlanta that also serves a high-poverty area, and the student body is also overwhelmingly Black and Brown. However, the educational outcomes are completely different, for several reasons.

First, the pay in this district far exceeds that of the district I worked for in Middle America. A first-year teacher here starts off making about 20K more than a first-year teacher in the other district, and this is not the highest paid district in the area. This means that this district is able to both attract and retain actual, trained teachers, and not have a staff of what can best be described as long-term subs.

Second, there are multiple Instructional Coaches working full time in the building. They are there to help that new teacher improve, to help that good teacher become great, and help that great teacher become excellent. This is reflected in the educational outcomes, as our students perform well academically given their circumstances. At the school I wrote about earlier, the administration refused to allow the hiring of an Instructional Coach, likely because they knew that the school was a veritable zoo and did not want those aforementioned staff behaviors to come to light.

Third, four strong administrators work in the building: Three Grade Level Administrators and a Building Principal. These administrators have a presence in the building, coming into classrooms and offices. They keep constant tabs on their grade levels and the other personnel in the building they are tasked to supervise. The teachers and staff under their purview are held accountable: The standards must be taught. Teachers and staff must adhere to district policy in terms of attendance, dress, conduct, and phone usage. This stands in stark contrast to the situation at the school in Middle America, as previously stated. If one were to walk into 10 classrooms at the Middle America school, 8 teachers would be seated, on their phones, while the students had busywork. Additionally, the principal was caught sleeping in the teacher’s lounge and spent a good bit of time every day playing games on her phone. Departing teachers would state in their Exit Surveys how the administration never came into their classrooms.

Fourth, my school places a premium on educational attainment. Diplomas are up on walls. College alumni status is displayed both in attire and material placed in classrooms. Teachers come to work in professional attire and present themselves in a professional manner. Instruction incorporates minority achievement and students are taught that education is The Great Equalizer.

Educational attainment was maligned in the previous district. I was considered “uppity” (among other things) for wanting to be addressed by my proper honorific of Doctor. I actually had a human resources official tell me that I (an Afro-Latino) should have hidden the fact that I have an earned doctorate. I was criticized throughout the district for having my degrees on the wall in my office. I became a target, and the message was clear: They did not want a highly educated, experienced, certified male educator of color, ostensibly because the presence of such might inspire students of color to want to be the same. Instead, the district sought to employ those who would miseducate indigent, minority students, likely to create and perpetuate a permanent underclass comprised solely of people of color.

Studies show that we educators cannot control the neighborhoods our students come from or what goes on in their homes. We can, however, control what goes on at school. When students have a highly qualified and highly dedicated teacher who comes in prepared, can relate to the students, and holds the academic bar high, the result is improved academic outcomes. When students have a well-dressed, erudite professional in front them, holding them to high standards, the students tend to reach higher. No profession is possible without a teacher. Speak with anyone who is doing something positive, and they will tell you that, at some point in their educational career, a teacher inspired them. I myself was greatly influenced by the Dean of Students at my undergraduate institution. This gentleman was always nattily attired, spoke and carried himself well, and was the consummate professional. I wanted to be like him: A nice home, a nice office, and being a positive influence the same way he was. Again: Not one professional can honestly say that they were not influenced by at least one strong teacher.

This is why we need highly qualified, dedicated teachers supervised by strong educational leaders, particularly in the urban setting. With this we will produce more people of color doing positive things who will hopefully reach a hand back. Without a doubt, teaching is the foundation of all professional work. We have a duty to prepare our students not only academically but socially as well.

Transition to Adulthood for Students With Specific Learning Disabilities

By Mariya T. Davis

Mariya Davis (Texas A&M University–San Antonio) is the lead author on the article “Transition to Adulthood: Preparing Students With Specific Learning Disabilities” (coauthored by Theresa A. Garfield), which appears in the April 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of May.

“Oh, the places you’ll go!” – Dr. Seuss

Throughout their lives, individuals experience many transitions: going to college, starting a new job, changing careers, relocating to a different city or state. The list goes on and on. Transition to a new chapter of a young person’s life can be a very exciting and fun adventure, but it can be scary at the same time. What would you do if you knew you were going to Italy, not just for a vacation, but to start a new chapter of your life? What would you do if you had only 1 year to get ready? And you knew no Italian!

The most significant change in my life was moving to the United State as a young adult. In preparation, I learned English (only British English was available at that time), evaluated my college diplomas and teaching credentials, had all legal documents translated and notarized, and studied American customs and traditions. I wanted to immerse myself into the society without spending too much time on adjustments. Now, more than two decades later, I look back and wish I had more people in my network to help me. I wish I had more time to prepare.

For young people, one of the most important changes is transitioning to independent living after high school. It is a challenging time for all students—especially for students with disabilities. Effective transition from high school to post-secondary education and training, employment, and independent living takes time and preparation. One fundamental and legally mandated requirement to facilitate successful movement from high school to adulthood for students with disabilities is the provision of effective transition services. Transition services encompass coordinated activities focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of a student to facilitate successful movement from school to post-school education, employment, and independent living (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA], 2004).

Despite federal regulations, students with specific learning disabilities (SLD) leave high school unprepared to face challenging post-school environments. Their adult outcomes remain uncertain and pose concerns for families, educators, researchers, and policymakers. Considering that post-school outcomes for students with SLD remain a critical area in need of improvement, it is essential for teachers to have the necessary knowledge and skills to support their students’ transition to adult life. However, teachers indicate that they feel underprepared and less than confident when it comes to teaching transition-related skills and implementing transition practices (Benitez et al., 2009; Cho et al., 2011; Morningstar & Benitez, 2013).

In writing “Transition to Adulthood: Preparing Students With Specific Learning Disabilities” for the Kappa Delta Pi Record, I was fortunate to collaborate with my colleague and friend Theresa Garfield, a strong advocate for individuals with disabilities, not only in the local community, but in the nation. In the article, we review federal regulations related to transition planning, examine the significant disparity in post-school outcomes that exist between students with SLD and their peers without disabilities, and discuss key elements of effective transition planning. Specifically, we address elements such as student-centered transition, early transition, and interagency collaboration. We also offer a case study to illustrate how these elements could be implemented when preparing students with SLD for life after school.

One should not assume that students with SLD have a mild disability primarily affecting their academic achievement; that assumption results in the insufficient attention given to their transition planning. Transition for students with SLD must be strengthened to assist them with finding and maintaining employment, obtaining post-secondary education, and navigating the challenging world of adulthood. I hope that teachers and other education professionals will find this article helpful to better facilitate successful movement from school to college and careers for students with SLD. With early student-centered transition planning and interagency collaboration efforts, schools can be better equipped to prepare students with SLD for effective transition to post-school environments and help them achieve their goals and aspirations for adult life.

References

Benitez, D. T., Morningstar, M. E., & Frey, B. B. (2009). A multistate survey of special education teachers’ perceptions of their transition competencies. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 32(1), 6–16. https://doi.org/10.1177/0885728808323945

Cho, H.-J., Wehmeyer, M., & Kingston, N. (2011). Elementary teachers’ knowledge and use of interventions and barriers to promoting student self-determination. Journal of Special Education, 45(3), 149–156. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022466910362588

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (2004). https://sites.ed.gov/idea/statute-chapter-33/subchapter-ii/1414 Morningstar, M. E., & Benitez, D. T. (2013). Teacher training matters: The results of a multistate survey of secondary special educators regarding transition from school to adulthood. Teacher Education and Special Education, 36(1), 51–64. https://doi.org/10.1177/0888406412474022

“Goldilocks Zone” of Learning Is Neuro-logical

Today’s blogger is Judy Willis, MD, coauthor (with Jay McTighe) of the book Upgrade Your Teaching: Understanding by Design Meets Neuroscience (ASCD, 2019) and author of the article “Stepping Up Social–Emotional Learning to Reignite All Brains,” which appears in the January 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of March.

You likely know the Goldilocks “just right” experience from the fairytale. Or perhaps you’ve heard Goldilocks used as an adjective to describe the potentially “just right” for human habitation—planets that are not too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, and are blessed with oxygen levels adequate for humans to survive.

Although I grasped the fairytale and use of the term in reference to planets, the Goldilocks concept opened possibilities for me while watching the captain in a science fiction show search for such a Goldilocks planet for the survival of her crew. As Goldilocks hunted for the right bowl of porridge and the spaceship engineer pursued the well-suited planet, I was looking for the “just right” zone to best support my learners.

Prior to that insightful day, I had changed careers from practicing neurologist to classroom teacher with a specific goal in mind: I hoped to apply my neuroscience background and study of ongoing research to develop teaching strategies promoting more joyful and successful learning. Notably, I found that substantial challenges for my students emerged from stress. For students who already had mastery, the boredom of the unchallenging lessons and homework were stressors. So was the stress of frustration for students who found no personal relevance in the topics or who progressed more slowly, encumbered by inadequate foundational knowledge.

I know that sustained or frequent boredom or frustration impacts communication circuits within the brain. And these stressors reduce effective transfer of new learning into memory. They reduce the effective top-down messaging descending from the reflective executive functions in the upper brain that are needed to manage emotional reactions. Without the input of these emotional self-control neural networks, the lower brain takes control. It relies on more primitive reactions, such as fight/flight/freeze, exemplified as zoning out, acting out, and withdrawing.

Tapping Into the Dopamine Reward System

As I watched that science fiction show, I clicked into the way the concept of the Goldilocks Zone could put my thoughts into words and action. It was just what I was seeking: to provide students with the neuro-logical benefits of learning zones that were “just right.”

I could tap into their brains’ natural dopamine reward systems, lowering the barriers and not the bar, by offering multiple pathways to success. These would provide a variety of ways to progress to mastery so that learners could work in their own Goldilocks Zones. This system mirrors the way the brain is prompted to sustain motivated effort and retain memory in response to an increased release of dopamine, which enhances pleasure and satisfaction. This dopamine reward system is awakened by cognitive awareness of achieving challenges.

Dopamine, when released in higher amounts in the brain, especially in response to achieving challenges, promotes pleasure, increased attention, motivation, effort, and memory. Other strong dopamine release stimulators include humor, choice, music, optimism, kindness, and gratitude. However, awareness of achieving goals and challenges markedly boosts the dopamine response.

Individualizing Achievable Challenges

To provide learners with achievable challenges, I continued to reinforce my positive expectation that all my students could achieve their goals. At the start of units, I clearly defined the learning goals along with the variety of ways students could achieve mastery and demonstrate their understanding. When possible, I incorporated my students’ interests into learning pathways that were especially motivating to them. My concept of individualizing achievable challenges now had a name, “The Goldilocks Zone.”

To provide this variety of pathways, I used strategies such as:

  • Pre-assessments and ongoing formative assessments and feedback;
  • Flexible groups;
  • Scaffolding and enrichment;
  • Workstations with two or more levels of challenge; and
  • Digital texts, Udio, and Newsela (5 reading levels on same topic).

Recognizing Progress

Once my learners found their Goldilocks Zones for achieving challenges en route to mastery, they needed to recognize and embrace their progress toward their goals. These experiences activated their brains’ release of dopamine and its associated benefits. As they received feedback (from me and later from independent progress awareness), their recognition of incremental goal progress and its dopamine activation were evident in their approach to learning. They were not as frustrated by mistakes and were less susceptible to respond to feedback as criticism. They persevered through more demanding learning tasks, displayed greater responsiveness to making needed revisions, sought the help they needed to continue success, and even took on greater challenges.

Not Always a Fairytale

My goal of Goldilocks Zone pathways, for every individual student in each unit, was not achieved with a magic wand or warm porridge. Particularly frustrating was the time it took to provide this individualized instruction even for a few learners in some units. In response, I applied the achievable challenge practices I used with my students to myself. I found that giving myself “achievable” tasks, en route to my goals for learners, was critical. I learned that I needed to take time and plan for how I would recognize and appreciate my own progress (even in small ways). Seeing a happy and proud student was a dopamine boost to me and an impetus to continue my endeavors.

I hope that you will take the extra time to help students on their Goldilocks path to joyful and successful learning through their low stress, high-engagement, achievable challenge pathways. Starting with even one student or one unit at a time, plan for self-recognition check-ins to sustain your motivation, and dopamine, and to persevere with these efforts so needed by our students.

The “Othered” Experiences of Minoritized Students in Three Countries

Today’s blogger is Dr. Christopher J. Cormier (Stanford University), who was the lead author on the article “Black Teachers’ Affirmations on the Social–Emotional and Mental-Health Needs of Learners: A Transnational Examination” (co-authored by Drs. Mildred Boveda, Funké Aladejebi, and Alice Gathoni), which appears in the January 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of February.

The “othered” experiences of Black students in schools extend beyond the United States. A common misconception is that the racialized experiences these students face is a phenomenon experienced only by Black Americans, and not only in schools but also in the ethos of the societies in which they reside. However, although challenges Black students face in schools can, and often do, vary depending on the cultural context, the reality is the same. That is, these students face systemic barriers to their academic achievement, which often stifle their ability to be fully functioning members of our classes and schools. Thus, given that students spend most of their waking hours in school, the challenges they face in school can, and will, bleed over into their home lives and interactions with other members of society.

For the article that appears in the January 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record, I was fortunate to work with three colleagues who are also friends and great collaborators on this topic. Each brings experience as a teacher and researcher to the piece. In this transnational narrative (avoiding a U.S.-centric approach), readers will notice that Black teachers often are expected to “fix” the issues of the students who share their racial or ethnic identity; however, we suggest strategies that all teachers can use for all students, regardless of whether they share the same backgrounds.

We believe that one major challenge in schools is that certain teachers are expected to “deal” with certain students because of a shared lineage. What I, even as a co-author, found fascinating is how that manifested differently in different countries—particularly in Kenya. During a late-night Zoom call with my colleague in Kenya, I was fascinated by all the things she related about the challenges Black students face in Kenya. A major takeaway for practitioners is that shared racial or ethnic identity does not necessarily equate to shared experiences, values, or even respect.

Co-author Dr. Alice Gathoni eloquently describes how being Black in Kenya has many layers. A major challenge in Kenya is being considered a minority if you are not a part of the dominant tribe in the region. Furthermore, the same hostile treatment that students wrestle with as “outsiders within” if they are not members of the dominant tribe is mirrored in Canadian and U.S. schools. By exploring Kenyan schools, we hope that practitioners, including school leadership, recognize that just having a Black teacher for Black students does not solve issues of inequity or address the social–emotional and mental-health needs of these students.

We focus on three dominant practices as we describe the nature of the ways in which Black teachers use their shared racial identity to support Black students’ social–emotional needs in each country represented in our article. We believe these are useful to practitioners as well as the scholarly community, especially to support the unique needs of students. The practices include (a) consider insider–outsider knowledges and within-group differences, (b) nurture individualized care and cultural sensitivity, and (c) understand the value of school–community relationships.

These strategies are often used by Black teachers, but do not require a Black teacher to use them to be effective for supporting the needs of not only Black students, but all students in schools. We are hopeful this piece will open dialogue about how all teachers—not just Black teachers—can support all students and, beyond the dialogue, lead to systemic change. We suggest using our article in professional development meetings and ongoing conversations regarding everyone’s responsibility to support students and not to rely on one group because that group mirrors its students’ cultural or gendered makeup.

Go Visual With a Graphic Novel, Comic Book, or Zine!

Today’s blogger is Adam I. Attwood (Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee), whose article “Comic Books and Graphic Novels for the Differentiated Humanities Classroom” appears in the October 2020 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of December.

Incorporating comic books and graphic novels into collaborative English language arts and social studies education offers an additional strategy for bringing complex stories to students and for developing higher-level thinking skills. Teaching core literacy skills in middle and high school often draws on time-tested strategies such as rote memorization, sentence diagramming, or row-by-row read-aloud. Though these strategies can work as part of a balanced, scaffolded curriculum, Jill Gerber and I explain in our article in the Kappa Delta Pi Record that incorporating an increasingly good catalog of graphic literature offers additional opportunities for differentiated instruction using more interactive media to engage and encourage students.

Reading graphic novels or comic books requires students to do multiple literacy activities at once. It makes their brains work more.

For example, looking at integrated illustrations while reading a story takes sight words to another level of “sight ideas.” In middle school, this is a logical progression from elementary sight-word instruction.

Similarly, by integrating social studies and English language arts instruction based in graphic literature, teachers promote connections in contextual understanding of concepts. The stories in comic books and graphic novels create more immersive opportunities to design activities that encourage simultaneously interacting with history, literature, and art so that students make connections between past and present as both a personal dialogue and as a community conversation.

In an easily replicated example of this strategy, Gerber, who hosts a blog about graphic literature at Perceptive Gaze, intentionally applies this literacy strategy by having her students write and self-publish “zines.” Like miniature magazines, zines are small booklets that emphasize comic book–like structure. This activity creates a product-based assessment in which students are required to simultaneously demonstrate their learning across subject areas.

Gerber’s approach involves a multistep process for students to design and present their zines.

  1. Research, organization, and resources. Students research their topics of interest in their assigned subject and use a simple, six-statement template to organize their thoughts for approaching this project. The teacher offers resources for overcoming the challenges of pairing art with concepts and words.
  2. Storyboard and script. Students plan and outline their story on index cards, including how they want to illustrate the concepts.
  3. Production. The teacher can demonstrate how to lay out the students’ plans on paper, advise students on which paper size would best present their stories, and assist them with the “manufacturing” of their zine. Students ultimately do all the work of writing, drawing, folding, and cutting, including making decisions on how to letter the text so that it works with the art in the context of the story.
  4. Editing station. Students practice the complexity of editing in a step-by-step process. At first, the teacher models this process; but, with practice, students edit more and more of their own work and engage in peer editing to practice constructive feedback.
  5. Presentation. In this final step, students present and explain their work. Discussion can be organized in small groups or whole-group seminars.

With practice, students internalize these skills and grow their creative output. Technical artistic skills are less important than form and format. The teacher functions as a guide for students to help them get more comfortable with the concepts and mechanical aspects of the illustrated storyboard development process. Gerber summarizes one such project on her blog and offers some additional advice with examples.

That one sample project focuses on a single activity in a social studies classroom that can be adapted for a personal narrative in a language arts curriculum or extended for other subjects. The rewards from integrating graphic literature into your instructional strategies can be even more pronounced when the approach is used to combine complex concepts in social studies with language arts literary analysis.

This type of project may take extra coordination, but its benefits for a wide range of students can be substantial by increasing their motivation and interest across topics and skills.

That Uncomfortable Topic of Social Justice

Today’s blogger is Katherine E. L. Norris (West Chester University), whose article “Using the Read-Aloud and Picture Books for Social Justice” appears in the October 2020 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of November.

Over the last six months, issues of race have been in the spotlight. Turning on the television inevitably leads to hearing stories about racial injustices and civil rights protests. In fact, over the last few years, stories of racial tension, immigration, and LGBTQ concerns have received extra media attention as we grapple with policies and practices that impact our diverse population. And children are not immune to the daily news stories and social media posts.

In many classrooms, common practice when it comes to diversity and justice has been avoidance.

With diversity, equity, and inclusion thrust into the spotlight because of the obvious inequities made more visible by the pandemic, racial injustices, and worldwide protests, educators have a renewed opportunity to begin to support students as they attempt to navigate these new realities.

Some teachers aren’t sure how to begin the conversations and how to handle sometimes uncomfortable topics of justice and fairness as they relate to race, immigration, poverty, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Teachers must start early to introduce students to the ideas of equity and justice, and to begin to give students the tools they need to work together to appreciate and value one another both inside and outside of the classroom.

Most school days are packed with content, and teachers often struggle to cover all the required curricula, so the thought of adding something else into the school day may seem overwhelming. Many teachers already use storytime or the read-aloud in their daily schedules. Why not take this opportunity to incorporate picture books that support teaching social justice and equity in the classroom?

Picture books are a great way to cover diverse concepts and experiences in a way that young children can understand. The use of picture books during the read-aloud allows teachers to introduce topics to students and guide them as they attempt to understand the importance of equity and justice.

By using the read-aloud and picture books to teach social justice, teachers can guide their students’ understanding through questioning and clarification.

The read-aloud gives students a chance to appreciate and understand cultures and lifestyles that differ from their own. Cultural appreciation and understanding serve as a place to start in breaking down barriers and eliminating stereotypes for both teachers and their students. For teachers who feel too overwhelmed to handle diverse topics, the use of the high-quality picture books during the read-aloud time is one way to begin to navigate conversations with students in a nonthreatening way.

Secondary Traumatic Stress: What Happens When Teachers Are Compassionate

Today’s blogger is Jessica N. Essary (Cazenovia College), who co-authored the article “Secondary Traumatic Stress Among Educators,” which appears in the July 2020 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of October.

Comments students have shared with their teachers:

  • My cousin died of a drug overdose.
  • The fire destroyed my house.
  • My pregnant aunt was murdered by her boyfriend.
  • My brother cries every night. He has Hand-Schüller Christian disease. So, I hit my cat.
  • I saw my Mommy dead. She killed herself.
  • Some guys took me to McDonald’s, but I did not know they were in a gang. They bought my lunch. Then they told me to kill the cop. They promised me daily lunch and a car. I did not do it. So, they beat me up and left me in the Everglades.
  • I broke my leg in a car accident.

Teachers are often among the first individuals who children confide in—especially if they like their teacher. Even if teachers were robotically focused on academics only (hypothetically ignoring social, emotional, and physical development), they could not ignore the impact of stress on a child, because it likely permeates the child’s academic experience. And when students experience ongoing episodes or a singular traumatic event, a teacher can experience secondary stress, also known as secondary traumatic stress disorder or compassion fatigue.

I firmly believe that children deserve compassionate teachers because compassion is also treatment for stress. Yet, the burnout that stems from secondary stress symptoms can cause us to lose our most compassionate educators. We simply cannot fail these children and their teachers because of societal ignorance of secondary traumatic stress.

Teachers in some communities are likely more at-risk of experiencing secondary stress, but the rate of trauma among children suggests that the majority of teachers will have exposure to traumatized children during their career. Based on my anecdotal evidence, I suspect that most teachers experience some form of secondary stress symptoms (many creating negative physical ailments/responses) approximately once every month, or more! Yet, there is a dearth of related literature, and we are just scratching the surface of this often hidden, ongoing, worldwide issue. Unfortunately, teachers may suffer from secondary stress disorder without metacognitively understanding the intricacies of their plight.

I have yet to speak with a teacher who could not relate to secondary traumatic stress symptoms due to their exposure to childhood trauma. However, many of these teachers were unaware of secondary traumatic stress disorder before our conversation. I can understand why the topic of secondary stress among educators has a dearth of related research. Have you ever heard some researchers refer to research as me-search? Sure, many research investigations begin with our practical exposure to the topic. Yet, with a topic like secondary stress, a personal investigation may be too psychologically daunting. For many years I believed that it would have been a lot easier, emotionally, to study something else. Yet, I always believed that solutions might exist for teachers, and that encouraged me to persist. Perhaps a lot of educational researchers have felt this way. After studying this issue for more than a decade, I can attest that it has brought me considerable awareness and compassion satisfaction. Why was I never taught about secondary stress in my teacher preparation program?

Yes, a crater of missing knowledge exists in our field of education. After experiencing secondary stress countless times throughout my teaching career, my conscience care for teachers and children could not ignore this enormous vicissitude. After conducting my own investigation, I was even more aware of the interdisciplinary relevance. Therefore, I found it vital to invite authorial colleagues to join me; so, I contacted two experts whom I highly respect, as they are likely among the most consummate readers in their fields of expertise. My professorial psychologist friend, Dr. Lydia Barza, has an extensive background on compassion fatigue, beginning with her preparatory work in counseling. My professorial cognitive scientist friend, Dr. Roy Thurston, has a multitude of brain-based impacts of stress readily available for discussion. Our article in the July issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record is the product of our collaborative research.

The more I speak with teachers, the more I am convinced that secondary stress expertise is critical in our field. Before you read the details, I should note that this topic is not just doom-and-gloom. Fortunately, there is a silver lining here. There are plenty of practical steps that administrators and educators can take to transform secondary stress into compassion satisfaction. Teaching is interpersonal, and harnessing compassion satisfaction is a powerful skill for everyone involved with children.

In summary, this topic, arguably, should be presented in every teacher education program and popularized in the media for greater awareness. Also, we need to collaborate with, as well as provide professional development opportunities for, social workers, school administrators, policy makers, cognitive scientists, and school counselors to help educators attain compassion satisfaction as they work with ongoing secondary stress. In addition, now, more than ever, we need governments to empower teachers by providing them with access to resources to help their colleagues on the “front lines” and the children they serve as they experience Covid-related stress.  Finally, we must empower teachers by providing them access to recommended government agencies and nonprofit services for children. These agencies should be mandated to provide timely follow-up on the services they can offer teachers, students, and their families. Working together, we can ease the burden of trauma on our students and their teachers.

An Invitation to the Past

Craig Kridel

Dr. Craig Kridel

Today’s blogger is Craig Kridel (University of South Carolina), who authored the article “Black Progressive Educators of the 1940s: An Overlooked Chapter of Progressivism in American Education,” which appears in the July 2020 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article, which is part of the John Dewey Memorial Lecture series sponsored by the Daniel Tanner Foundation, through the month of August 2020.

I didn’t know what to expect when I embarked on an oral history project many years ago.

I thought 1930s and 1940s progressive education would have entered African American schools in some way, but because there was so little documentation, I was uncertain.

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Lincoln High School faculty, Tallahassee, FL, ca. 1944; courtesy of The Lincoln Room, The Lincoln Neighborhood Service Center, Tallahassee, FL

To my delight, I would discover a group of black progressive educators and their students, many still living, who participated in the Secondary School Study, staged from 1940 to 1946 in 17 experimental high schools in the American Southeast.

My article, “Black Progressive Educators of the 1940s,” introduces KDP members to this overlooked chapter in progressive education and African American education during the time of Jim Crow. But my essay is not as much research as an invitation for readers to hear directly from those magnificent teachers and students as they describe these extraordinary experimental schools.

The 1940s narratives . . . give us the opportunity to “enter the classroom” and watch the joys and problems of the experimentation by a group of courageous teachers and students.

These teachers welcomed classroom experimentation as a way to improve the lives of their students. Like today, they were aware of problems and issues caused by change, but they felt little fear. They built strong communities among themselves and among the other participating schools in the study where, unlike today, they were encouraged to experiment with their curricular materials and instructional methods. They didn’t have professors hounding them about research designs or establishing validity and reliability. Experimentation was a natural part of their educational life, a way of life, and the Secondary School Study would ultimately maintain that an experimental school was a healthy school.

I interviewed more than 150 individuals, between the ages of 80 and 102, during a 13-year period (2007–2019). This resulted in a 150-page exhibition catalog, Progressive Education in Black High Schools (with 102 historical images and 186 contemporary photos), and a museum website, The Secondary School Study Web Exhibitions, presenting more than 500 images and historical documents and 750 statements from the interviewees—from teachers and students themselves—as they describe progressive and experimental methods from their classrooms. The interview statements do have some glow of “those were the days,” caused by the passing of the years; yet, racial injustices and the daily indignities that black teachers, students, and parents endured during that time (and beyond) never permitted our conversations to float off into idealistic utopian rhetoric.

During my work I discovered a remarkable set of materials like no other I have ever seen in my decades of archival and historical research.

All participating schools were requested to submit final reports; however, three schools prepared creative nonfiction narratives of their experiences with classroom experimentation. In these 1940s ethnographic, historical school monographs, we join educators discussing their curricular and instructional methods and ways to better convey meanings and to connect with young adults. We overhear teachers talk to students about their hopes and plans for the future and their search for ways to make school more meaningful and more able to prepare all for the indignities that they would inevitably face.

The 1940s narratives, recently republished and now titled Becoming an African American Progressive Educator: Narratives from 1940s Black Progressive High Schools, give us the opportunity to “enter the classroom” and watch the joys and problems of the experimentation by a group of courageous teachers and students.

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High school students from Moultrie High School for Negro Youth, Moultrie, GA, 1947; courtesy of Odessa Walker Hooker.

We meet Susan Prim, a teacher with a “mule-in-the-middle-of-the-road attitude toward newfangled ideas,” but who recognized that her students’ needs were not being met; and we watch her change from a traditional teacher to a progressive educator. We are introduced to Miss Parker, a first-year teacher who comes to understand the basic tenets of progressive education and the practice of teacher–pupil planning. And we follow co-valedictorians Sarah and Herbert as they walk around their high school interviewing teachers and students to prepare their commencement speeches.

My research became a gesture of service and, ultimately, of affection for those I met.

I was graciously invited into homes so that those who had been ignored and silenced for years could finally speak.

I was able to offer teachers and students a public and academic venue for their astonishing tales of the joys of education under the harsh circumstances of segregation and social injustice.

They spoke with grace and dignity, with pride and with laughter, and with anger and righteous indignation that these special experimental schools had been ignored and dismissed by their local and regional communities.

I invite you to join me and stand in the corners of experimental classrooms of the 1940s.

The published narratives and hundreds of oral history descriptions allow us to see life in those schools and to wonder how progressive ideals and classroom experimentation could alter and improve our lives in classrooms of today. “Black Progressive Educators of the 1940s: An Overlooked Chapter of Progressivism in American Education” appears in the July 2020 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record.

The Secondary School Study Web Exhibitions may be visited here.

The exhibition catalog, Progressive Education in Black High Schools: The Secondary School Study, 1940–1946, may be downloaded gratis here.

The three school reports, now presented as one volume, Becoming an African American Progressive Educator: Narratives from 1940s Black Progressive High Schools, may be downloaded gratis here.

The Daniel Tanner Foundation supported the printing and web-dissemination of these Museum of Education materials as well as the article, “Black Progressive Educators of the 1940s: An Overlooked Chapter of Progressivism in American Education,” in the KDP Record.

Get free access to the article, which is part of the John Dewey Memorial Lecture series sponsored by the Daniel Tanner Foundation, through the month of August 2020.

Craig Kridel is the E. S. Gambrell Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Educational Studies and Curator Emeritus of the Museum of Education, University of South Carolina, and is currently completing the unfinished memoir of Harold Taylor (1914–1993), former president of Sarah Lawrence College and KDP Laureate.