My Happiness Workbook

Over the years I’ve used the Needs Inventory with a variety of age groups to help kids identify the things they need to be happy, and to gain an appreciation for the differences in people’s perspectives. This year, I had a group of grade 1 and 2 students that I had taught the basic needs to, but I really wanted to develop some kind of activity like the inventory to make their learning more personal. The challenge, of course, was to come up with something that did not require as high a reading level as is required by many of the Restitution activities I’ve used in the past.

I started with trying to find a picture to illustrate each of the statements from the original Needs Inventory exercise. The kids were then able to colour and cut out the pictures that demonstrated the activities that they liked to participate in. We then glued the pictures to a page for each of the corresponding needs and counted up the number of pictures they had for each. This allowed us to identify which needs were strongest for each of them.

I was amazed at how engaged the kids were in this, and the deep conversations that they were having throughout this activity. So, I kept going! We talked about how there are some things we can control and some things we can’t, and how we need to focus on things we can control when we are having a difficult time. We talked about how we can help others in our classroom to meet their needs, and create the kind of classroom where everyone feels safe and accepted. I read them The Behaviour Car and this allowed us to dive even deeper into brainstorming ways we can take control when life doesn’t go quite the way we want. We ended up compiling all the activities we did this year into a book so that each child has a reminder of the things we have learned together. Thought I’d share our final result with you in case you’ve been searching for something for your youngest students too! Here it is:

I have to admit, I underestimated the comprehension that these kiddos would have for these ideas. I’m so excited to see how they recognize the power they have to make a difference both in their own lives and in the lives of others. I hope our workbook might help others to realize the same!

Well, what do you know…?!

The Manitoba Remote Learning Centre in Manitoba recently released their guiding principles for learning and teaching through online approaches.  I have to admit that personally, I have found this last year pretty challenging in terms of getting up to speed on how to reach my students when we are not able to be together face to face.  I was pretty curious to see what guidance this new document was going to offer.

There are 3 guiding principles that they have identified:

  1. Student learning is enhanced when students feel like they belong to a community in which everyone is valued, accepted and supported.

Hmmmm…. Well doesn’t that sound like a page taken out of the Restitution model describing the importance of the basic need for love and belonging.

  1. Student learning and well-being are enhanced when students have a sense of efficacy in their ability to demonstrate progress and achievement in an online environment.

What do you know?  Another basic need from the Restitution model:  Power.

  1. Student learning and well-being are enhanced when students feel a sense of autonomy and responsibility fostered through student voice, self-regulation and meta-cognition.

And there it is… the Freedom need.  Students need to be heard and given support to find strategies that work for them.

Reading this document made me again realize that no matter what the situation is, the basic needs that we learn and use in Restitution are always the foundation of success.  So while I may still be struggling a bit to figure out the “how to do it”, it is reassuring to know that if I start from where I always do – asking myself, “How can I create a need-fulfilling environment for my students?” – I am always on the right track.

The only thing missing, as is commonly underestimated when planning , is the need for fun.  During this incredibly challenging time, I think that laughter and joy are in too short supply, and that we need to be thinking about that as well.

I hope is that in sharing this today, someone out there who has been questioning their skill in teaching during a pandemic realizes, as I did, that we actually know more about what we need to do than perhaps we thought.  It’s just the mechanics we need to figure out.  And if anyone has ideas in how to meet the basic needs in an online environment, please feel free to share in the comments below!

Take care!

The Basic Needs: Helping Kids Stay Healthy in Difficult Times

And overnight, the kids are gone.  It happened back in March, and although I knew the likelihood was that similar circumstances might happen again this school year, I wasn’t really prepared for it.  But yesterday, it happened – I went to school and most of the kids weren’t there.  We aren’t officially shut down, but many parents are feeling the risk of covid is too high, and are opting to keep their children home.  As in March, I am again wishing I’d had the chance to talk with my students before they were gone so that I could try to give them something to focus on during their time away that might help them stay on track with both their physical and mental health.  I know how hard it was for me as an adult with relatively decent skills to stay healthy and happy during the spring lockdown, and I feel for all the kiddos trying to navigate this mind-boggling time without the advantages that I have.

So, in the midst of us all trying to put together home work packages, I decided to create a handout that might help our students to focus on the things in their lives that they can control, and to set some concrete goals for themselves.  Thought I’d share it here as well in case it could be helpful to someone else out there.  Please feel free to change/adapt/use it:

Restitution worksheet for Lockdown

Please also feel free to share other ideas and suggestions that you have in the comments below!

Stay well, my friends.

Two Tales of a Young Offender

Once upon a time there was a boy who went to elementary school and threatened to shoot a classmate.   This scared everyone, and immediate and serious action was taken.  When confronted, the boy explained that the classmate had been calling him names and he wasn’t really going to hurt him, but that he wanted him to stop.  The boy was told that this was unacceptable and that he needed to think more about the effect of his words on other people.  He was told that it doesn’t matter what people say to you, that making a threat is not an appropriate response.  He was told that his classmates have a right to feel safe at school.  He was suspended from school.  Everyone agreed that the boy needed to learn to have more empathy for other people.  At the end of the day, the boy recognized that the staff didn’t like him, and that they thought he was a bad kid.

Fair enough.  Hard to argue.

The problem I’ve seen, however, is that too often this doesn’t play out as a one-time situation where the child sees the error of his ways and learns to treat other people more respectfully.  I’ve spent my career with kids like this who become “repeat-offenders”, and instead of caring more about the people they hurt, they become more hardened and less respectful towards others.

I was reading Jody Carrington’s “Kids These Days” and hit a section that made me think about the situations like this that I’ve seen.  She points out that “There has yet to be a school shooter who, at least in retrospect, acted in a manner that surprised us.  You know who the kids we’re most worried about are.  What we need to be more focused on though, is how to create a village around these kids” (pg. 84).  Well-adjusted and cared for children don’t tend to cause us a lot of problems.  It’s overwhelmingly the ones who have experienced some sort of trauma that struggle.  They have learned that the only way to avoid being overwhelmed by negative emotions is to turn them off entirely and stop caring.  Lecturing them about empathy doesn’t fix that.  Punishing doesn’t either.  Being cared for and connected to others is what helps heal trauma and gives a person the safety and courage to start feeling again.

So how might this story might play out differently if the adults involved understood that all behaviour is purposeful to meet our needs, and that true growth can be fostered when we connect with a child instead of pushing them further away….

Once upon a time there was a boy who was abused by his parents.  Over the years, he internalized his experiences, learning that he was unlovable, worthless and a bad person.  Yet, deep inside him, there was still a part of him that had hope.  In spite of all the bad in his life, he still held on to some belief that perhaps life could be better someday, and this is what got him out of bed every day, and gave him motivation to try to do well.  It wasn’t always easy.  There were lots of days that the blackness in his life was too much, and it just seemed pointless to try.  On those days, he was fortunate to have a school that understood what he was going through, and didn’t label him as unmotivated or lazy, but rather, understood that doing math problems just wasn’t the most important thing when you were fighting for your very survival.  One day, when he was being teased, he lashed out and threatened to shoot a classmate.  Staff recognized that although totally inappropriate, his response showed that at some level, this child was still trying to stand up for himself and hadn’t given up on the idea that he deserved to be treated with respect.  When discussing this incident with him, they validated that it is a good thing to stand up for yourself, and reinforced that he does deserve respect.  They knew that this was not his experience at home, and that it was important to validate that he is a worthwhile person.  When the boy saw that the staff understood his point of view, he felt less defensive.  He quickly acknowledged that he had screwed up and shouldn’t have stood up for himself in that way.  He accepted that there were going to be consequences because making threats is a very serious mistake, but he was more concerned about what he could do to fix his mistake and repair the relationship with his classmate so that this could be put behind them.  He worked with the staff to come up with a plan for doing this, and at the end of the day, he knew that staff had his back and would support him even when he makes horrible mistakes.  He felt a little stronger, a little more cared for, and had a little more hope that perhaps the world isn’t all bad. 

Sound too good to be true?  I thought so too until I tried it.  I can’t believe myself how quickly most kids shift from being angry and defensive to taking responsibility and wanting to make things right when I simply validate that I understand why they did what they did.  Kids know when they’ve crossed the line.  They rarely need us to lecture them about the difference between right and wrong.  What they really need to know is that there is someone that understands the struggles they are having that led to the line being crossed, and that will stand shoulder to shoulder with them to help them navigate the challenges they are not yet ready to figure out on their own.   

Sound too soft?  My children will attest that I have very high standards and expectations.  What I’ve learned is that you can be firm and kind at the same time.  I would never tell a child it’s ok to threaten people.  That’s a hard no.  But I can understand why it happens.  And I can stand by someone to help them learn a better way.

The Different Sides of Freedom

I don’t know that any of us ever imagined that we would ever lose all the freedoms that we have in the last few months.  It’s been so easy to get overwhelmed with all the things we can’t do anymore.  I can’t leave my house.  I can’t go to work.  I can’t see my kids.  I can’t even buy toilet paper.  I’ve heard more and more people express the idea that life without freedom isn’t much of a life at all, and it seems that there are an increasing number of people who are ignoring the advice of public health experts on this basis.

Personally, as much as a beer on a patio with friends sounds amazing, I still can’t help thinking of how horrific it would be if doing this ended up being the cause of someone I love being exposed to a virus that could kill them.  But this has left me in a place where all I seem to be able to focus on is how miserable my existence is because of all the things I can’t do.

And then I stumbled across this post by one of my idols, Daniel Pink:

Pinkcast 3.01: This is how to motivate yourself when you don’t feel like exercising


Since watching this, I’m starting to notice how often the phrase “I have to…” is kicking around in my head.  I started to challenge myself to see if I could change my “have tos” to “get tos”.  It’s actually a pretty simple trick.  When I thought “I have to attend Zoom meetings”, I changed it to “I get to attend Zoom meetings”.  And while I’d still rather connect with my colleagues face to face, it does cultivate a sense of gratitude that at least what we are doing now is better than total disconnection from them, or being laid off from my job, which could easily be the alternatives.

It even seems to work with those little things that make me feel hard-done-by.  “I have to get supper on the table” becomes “I get to make supper” – which immediately reminds me of the many folks for whom food has become a luxury.

It even came up in one of my counselling sessions this week.  A student asked me if I would agree with her that school takes away a lot of freedom for kids.  I agreed wholeheartedly – of course you lose freedom when you are in an environment that places rules and expectations on you.  But the other side of that is that school also gives freedom.  You get to make friends with people that you otherwise may never have met.  You learn new ideas and skills that you otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to.   A high school diploma opens many doors that would otherwise be closed to a person.  Instead of thinking about how you have to go to school, I asked her how differently she felt when she thinks about what she gets by going to school.  There has always been a significant part of the human race that would love the chance to access education.  And right now, there are sure a lot of parents and kids trying to maintain their schooling from home that are feeling more appreciation recently for their schools than they used to!

I’ve definitely been focused on the freedom I’ve lost.  Changing my focus to the freedom I have has actually been a bit of a game-changer.  Does it work for you?



Basic Needs During A Pandemic

Today I opened up my Facebook feed, and this was the first thing I saw…

It hit me like a ton of bricks.  I’ve been feeling pretty guilty about the fact that I haven’t been super productive.  When I first heard rumblings that I could end up working from home, I thought “Wow – that would really give me the chance to accomplish a lot!”  Trying to look on the bright side of things, I tried to focus on all the free time I would have.  I could exercise every day, get back to some of those projects that I shelved because I didn’t have time, organize my closets, maybe even take up guitar or painting, which I’ve always wanted to do.  I was going to make lemonade out of the lemons we have been handed, and come out of this a better person!

Well….. I’ve binged watched 3 seasons of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”.  I’ve eaten a lot of cookies.  That about sums up the list of my recent accomplishments.

But that meme this morning hit me like a ton of bricks.  Here, I’ve been sitting here feeling like a big loser – not having any willpower or perhaps just being lazy.  How ironic that in my work, I’m a big believer that there is no such thing as lazy or unmotivated people – that there are just people trying to do the best they can to meet their needs.  It’s been my experience that what looks like laziness always turns out to be people working really hard, and largely ineffectively, to get their needs met.  Happy and healthy people are productive.  Unproductive people are struggling to meet their needs.

So what’s my problem?  When I look at what’s going on through the lens of our basic needs, it seems pretty obvious:

Survival – I’m worried about getting sick – this sounds like a terrible virus to experience.  I’m worried about my family getting sick.  I wonder who I know that isn’t going to survive this pandemic.  And these are the thoughts that haunt me at night, so that I can’t sleep.  And then all day I’m dragging my butt because I’m in a constant state of exhaustion.

Belonging –It goes without saying that I’m missing all the people who bring so much joy to my life.

Power – Working from home is hard.  It’s very important to me to feel like I’m doing meaningful work that is making a difference in the world.  It’s pretty hard to feel a sense of accomplishment when this is a pretty accurate representation of how my days have been going:

Freedom – I can’t go where I want to go, see who I want to see, do what I want to do.

Fun – So many of the things I do for fun have been shut down and are unavailable to me now.

And I wonder why I’m not thriving?

It’s so easy to slide into thinking that our behaviour is a sign of a lack of moral character.  It’s so easy to beat ourselves up.  I’m seeing it all around me – parents who feel like failures because they don’t feel they are doing a good job at home schooling their kids – employees who feel like they are not succeeding at embracing and figuring out the technology that they need to work remotely – people who feel like they are letting down their partners for being grumpy and hard to live with.  I see the news of people who have lost loved ones, who live in hot spot areas, who are struggling to pay the bills, who are living with an abusive partner, and I think about how petty I’m being about my situation when there are so many things I should feel grateful for.  Life could be so much worse.

So why don’t I feel grateful?  I realize now that my thoughts and actions have not been very effective at getting my needs met.  Understandable under the circumstances – but I also know that there are some things I cannot change and some things I can.  And I’ve largely been putting my energy into the things I can’t.  No wonder I’m tired and grumpy.

So how can I change my thoughts and actions to better get my needs met?  Here’s some of what I discovered when I started thinking about how to meet my needs more effectively:

Survival – I do the best I can to take the steps I can to protect myself and the people I love.  I’m staying at home as much as I can, and taking the suggested sanitizing and cleaning steps.  I remind myself that even before this pandemic, all of us have a time-limit on our time in this world, and that we need to focus on making the most of whatever time we have.

Belonging – I make an effort to connect using technology with the people I usually see in person to get this need met.  We participated in a parade to join in celebrating the birthday of a kid in our community.  That felt pretty awesome.

Power – I don’t minimize the impact that my reaching out and connecting with my students is making.  We may not be making much progress on the goals we were working on pre-pandemic, but I know that there is nothing in this world that is more important than being connected to other people, and I can be a part of that for my kids.

Freedom – Instead of thinking about the freedom I’ve lost, I’m focusing on the freedom I have.  I have much more control over when I start and end my work day.  I have a lot more freedom to design my day.  I can sleep when I want, and get up when I want.  I can’t remember the last time I filled my car with gas – and that’s a win for me, because I hate driving.

Fun – I’ve been trying out some “fun” things that I don’t normally do.  We’ve been playing more board games and I’ve been experimenting with making new recipes.  I have to say, though, that I gave it a shot, but I still hate puzzles!

It’s not easy.  But thinking about each day in terms of what I can do to get my needs met is helpful.  Thriving might still be an overstatement, but I do feel like I’m doing a bit better than simply surviving.

How has the pursuit of your needs been going?  I’d love to hear from you what strategies you’ve found to help navigate the challenges you are experiencing at this crazy time. I hope that perhaps sharing our struggles and ideas may help spark a thought for someone else out there to help them take some control and make their day a little brighter.

Take care, my friends.

Teaching Restitution From A Distance

During this surreal time, as a school guidance counsellor, I was concerned about how to stay connected and support our students, so I thought perhaps some of my kiddos would appreciate a daily facebook message from me – and the silver lining is that perhaps I can spread the word on Restitution to a wider audience! Feel free to share:

Message from the Guidance Office

Take care of yourselves!

Connection AND Accountability

Hello again!  Last month, I wrote about the importance of connection.  I’m a firm believer that the root of almost all problems is people not feeling included, heard and understood.  However, while I think most of us would agree that this is important, in real-life, it can be hard to do, particularly when someone is behaving in a way that we find upsetting or offensive.  For example, how DO you connect with a child who has just hit their sibling, or broken their toys in an angry fit?  The automatic response to inappropriate behaviour is to get angry and punish such actions.  The unfortunate consequence of punishment is that it often increases a person’s feeling of being pushed away and misunderstood.  I clearly remember this cycle playing out in my own life with my teenager who angrily responded to me grounding him for a week with “Make it two!”  I then suggested three weeks might be more appropriate.  Suffice it to say, as this back and forth continued, I started to have visions of him being grounded until he was 30.  And instead of my child getting the message that what they had done was wrong, I fear that the only message he remembers from that day is that his mom was mean.

To avoid this, sometimes we get caught up in the opposite reaction.  We try to see the child’s point of view, and end up making excuses for their inappropriate behaviour.  In our attempt to be understanding and supportive, we inadvertently defend behaviour that is not acceptable.  In these cases, kids learn that what they want is more important than anyone else’s needs or feelings, which can lead to tons of difficulties as they don’t develop the skills to navigate relationships.

So how do we hold kids accountable for their actions while still maintaining connection?  The trick is to validate needs, not behaviours.

To the child who hit someone – I understand and support that you needed that person to listen to you.  Hitting is not an appropriate way to achieve this.

To the child who destroyed their toys –I understand and support the need to express your feelings.  Breaking valuable things is not an appropriate way to express yourself.

As the holiday season approaches, many of our kids will be challenged by changes in routine, late nights, excess sugar, and too much excitement.  It is possible to understand what’s driving behaviour while still giving the message that certain actions are inappropriate.

I wish each of you a fabulous December, and hope that you are able to connect with the people you love over the holiday!