Decision-Making Made Easy

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I was stuck.  I didn’t know what I should do.  On one hand, there seemed a clear course of action that I should take.  I have always considered myself an advocate, and there was certainly an issue on the table that was worth fighting for.  Yet, on the other hand, there was something that didn’t feel right about this.  I had this nagging feeling that I might be doing more harm than good, and that perhaps there was another way of tackling this problem that might yield more effective results.

Or was that a cop-out?  Was I just rationalizing so that I could avoid a struggle?  After all, how many worthwhile causes were won without some personal sacrifice on the part of those fighting for the cause?  Was I just being a wimp?

But at the same time, I’ve seen people completely ignored and written off as crazy when they take on a battle only to have someone else come along and attack the same problem with a grace and skill that wins people over and achieves the desired outcome.

What to do?

I’m fortunate to have a very smart friend with whom I was sharing my woes who, instead of telling me what to do, asked me a question.

“What would a leader do in this situation?”

I didn’t even have to pause to answer this question.  My choice became crystal-clear.  And I haven’t had a moment of doubt since.

The problem was, I’d become hung up on a label that limited me.  Now, it’s not that being an advocate is a bad thing.  In fact, it’s still something I strive hard to be.  But when I got stuck, it was like being hit by a lightning bolt to try on another label that describes another characteristic that is part of the person I want to be.

This experience has made me think about how I might be able to support others in finding the answers to their own struggles by connecting them with the kind of person they want to be.

When someone is fighting because he wants to be strong, what would happen if I asked them what a kind person would do in this situation?

When someone is reacting because they want to be heard, what would happen if I asked them how a thoughtful person might respond?

What labels have you seen drive the behaviour of others that, while on one hand are very valid, on the other, are restricting their possibilities?

What labels may be doing this to you?

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The Power of the Picture

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I fell in love with Wab Kinew after I had the chance to hear him speak.  He was smart, funny, and was able to challenge the audience’s thinking and assumptions about First Nations people in a spirit of true reconciliation.  I first remember him from his days working as a reporter for the CBC, and became a fan after watching the 8th Fire series.  So when his book, “The Reason You Walk”, was released, it became number one on my “must read” list.

His journey from a reserve in Northwestern Ontario to Member of the Legislative Assembly in Manitoba has been an interesting one, and the path has not always been easy.  One of the things that intrigues me is how someone can live through so many challenges and traumas to become such a strong and centered advocate, educator and leader.  So many people are not able to see themselves through the suffering they have faced.  I was curious to see if there was a hint in his memoir that could explain how he became the person that he is today.

I know that there is never one simple reason to explain how a person becomes who they are.  It’s a blend of experiences, opportunities, genetics, luck…. A million different factors influence our personal development.  However, there was one part of Wab’s story that fascinated me.

From the very beginning, he was told that he would grow up to lead his people.

I can’t help but think that the fact that he heard this throughout his life didn’t shape him.

It makes me think about some of the messages our kids hear.  From simple statements like “You just aren’t a math person” to more cutting remarks like “You’ll never amount to anything”, I do believe that the pathway someone takes in their life is greatly influenced by the messages that they hear that help to form the picture of what they see as possible.

Wab talks at the end of the book about how important it is to him that his own children have a picture of what it is to be a strong, proud indigenous person because this will help carry them through the difficult times in life.

Do your words and actions paint an image of strength and hope for the children in your life, or do they limit their possibilities?

Being Grateful for the Garbage

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With the end of the school year quickly approaching, I was reflecting with one of my students about all that she has gone through this year. It hasn’t been an easy road for her. There are many things she had to tackle that I wish had never happened. She’s had pain that no person should have to deal with. It would have been easy for her to become bitter, angry, and throw in the towel in the face of such adversity. It would actually be quite understandable.

If either of us had the power to change what happened, we certainly would. But as we talked, I realized there was another side to her experience. She didn’t give up; in fact, she has grown a lot this year, and not just academically. She’s learned a lot about relationships, coping strategies, leadership, and the skills and strength that she possesses. I do feel some sense of comfort as she leaves the walls of our little school and heads out into the big scary world that she is leaving with the knowledge that she has the ability to handle whatever the world throws at her.

I think about how often I get angry at the situations in my own life that I think are unfair. The difficult people that I have to deal with that frustrate me. The obstacles that get in my way. I don’t feel grateful for these experiences…. but maybe I should. I’m far from perfect, but navigating through these circumstances has taught me to be more patient, kind, and understanding. I’ve learned to be a better listener, and to be more collaborative in my work. I do think I’m a better person because of the tough times.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to muster gratitude the next time life kicks me in the teeth. It’s tough to see the positive when the negative is so overwhelming.

But I hope I can. I think I could find a little more peace in my corner of the world if I could remember that my life might be richer because it doesn’t always go the way I want.

Our Amazing Brains

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I LOVE this time of year. There is nothing I find more inspiring than an early morning bike ride. The world is still asleep, everything is calm, the air is fresh, and the view amazing as the sun creeps over the horizon in a million shades of colour. I feel strong and healthy with the physical exertion.

And then suddenly – WHAM! My front bike tire kicked up a huge stone, which hit me directly in the eye! I didn’t even see it coming! End to that peaceful, picture-perfect scene.

After the initial shock and realizing I was fine, I started thinking about what an amazing thing the human brain is. Because even though I had no conscious awareness of this thing flying towards my face, somehow my body knew enough to blink. Imagine how ugly this could have been if that stone had hit me in the eyeball!

It’s so cool that our brains have developed this ability to protect ourselves. We don’t have to stop to process and think about what to do. Our reflexes just kick in and defend us from harm.

The thing is, sometimes this wonderfully adaptive feature backfires on us. I think about the many students I’ve worked with over the years who lived in situations of constant fear. Their brains were always on high alert. And their reflexes were firing like crazy to try to shield them from danger.

These kids were in constant “fight or flight” mode. They would either shut down completely or strike out. And often they were labelled with such terms as uncooperative, non-compliant, bully, or violent. The adult response to these labels? Frustration, anger, punishment.

While I am a huge believer that the one thing that we truly control is how we choose to behave in any given situation, I do believe that there are some behaviours that are not chosen. I didn’t choose to blink – my brain kicked into auto-pilot to protect me.

And sometimes I believe that students’ behaviours are no more chosen than my blinking. They are the body’s response to danger.

And instead of creating safety for that child so that they can begin to relax and get in conscious control of themselves again, the labels we attach to them often serve to make them feel even more threatened.

What can you do today to help create the safety that your most at-risk students so desperately need?

Who Do You Think You Are?

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I spend a lot of my time in a car, and one of the ways I pass the time is to listen to the Freakonomics Podcast.  The tagline for the show is that they “explore the hidden side of everything”.  It’s funny and entertaining, but what I love the most is that it often presents research that challenges commonly held beliefs.

One episode, entitled “I Don’t Know What You’ve Done to My Husband But He’s A Changed Man” tackled the topic of crime.  They looked at programs that are addressing domestic violence in Britain, the rehabilitation of child soldiers from Liberia and the criminal activity of high risk youth from Chicago.  What they found won’t be a surprise to those of us who already practice Restitution.

They found that the way you think about yourself has a immense impact on behaviour.

If you see yourself as a criminal, you will behave as a criminal.  It’s not that people don’t know that what they are doing is wrong, it’s just that they see themselves negatively, and don’t believe that any other way of being is truly available to them.

And yet, we continue to label people negatively, thinking that doing so will motivate people to do better.  Instead of sharing your own story with a child about your own challenges with overcoming temptation, we call them a thief.  Instead of exploring the complicated social pressures of middle school, we point our finger and call the child a bully.

The podcast wraps up with the musings of a police officer who questions why, when the stated primary purpose of the police force is to prevent crime, was not ONE minute of his training about prevention?   Our society has become so focused on catching and punishing offenders, that we have ignored the fact that these efforts actually aren’t that effective in making our world safer.

But if you can help a child who has done wrong to see that they are strong and capable and that there is a positive future ahead of them, maybe, just maybe, we can start to change the world.

Click here if you’d like to check out this podcast for yourself!

How Can I Make Them?

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I sometimes hear frustration from very dedicated teachers who have done a marvelous job of creating the conditions in their classrooms for their students to learn Restitution.  They are full of stories of children who have learned to take responsibility for their own behaviour, and have become very good problem-solvers.  But the frustration exists over “that one”.

We have all run into them – that stubborn child who says they don’t care if they hurt other people.  The one who seems indifferent about whether or not the classroom they come to every day is a happy place or not.  No matter what you seem to do, there just seems no way to get them to buy in.

So the question arises:  “How can I make them engage in Restitution?”

One of the things that really sets Restitution apart from other programs is that instead of externally controlling children, it’s focus is on helping strengthen kids so that they make good choices for themselves.  It’s all about setting the stage for kids to reflect, self-evaluate, and make their own decisions.

The reason why Restitution works is because internal motivation always trumps external motivation.  We say things like “The only person we truly can control is ourselves”.  Yet, when we come across that one child who refuses to participate, we tend to forget these basic principles and resort back to coercion:  “How can I make them?”

The answer is that you can’t.

You can extend the offer to help them figure out a better way – and ensure you keep the door open for them to engage in the future when they don’t accept your invitation right away.

You can work to build a relationship so that you become part of their quality world.  Once they have let you in, they may consider working with you.

In the meantime, you are responsible for creating a safe learning environment for everyone.  Although ideally it would be lovely if we could always work together to solve problems that arise, there will always be those times where that’s not possible and you have to protect others by setting a bottom line.  That might mean that “that kid” can’t be out at recess, or that your child is not going out this weekend.

This applies equally in our personal relationships.  Although we may want to work out difficulties with the people who are important to us, if they don’t want to engage in problem-solving with you, it might mean that you are breaking up with your partner, or that you are not taking your family to Grandma’s for Sunday supper, or that you are going to quit your job.

The only choice that we have in these situations is how we are going to choose to act.  Put your energy into what you can control, not into trying to change someone who does not want to be changed.

 

What Is Success?

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I love hearing stories about how problems were solved and relationships were restored because someone learned how to use Restitution.  But the part that we don’t so often like to mention is that sometimes, it doesn’t quite work out like that.

I learned this first-hand after having a disagreement with a co-worker.  I had been really upset, and went home that night and evaluated how I’d handled myself.  I recognized what my need was, and what hers was, and realized that she wasn’t the unreasonable, irrational person that I’d made her out to be in my mind.  I felt confident that I could use the skills I’ve learned in Restitution to go back and work this out.

That’s now how it went down.  She wanted no part of it.

I’ve seen this happen with kids I’ve worked with too.  After counselling a student who has engaged in bullying, they want to make it right, but the child they’ve hurt doesn’t want to have anything to do with them.

Is this a failure of Restitution?

Not at all.

Restitution is about being the best person you can be.  It’s about taking responsibility when you make mistakes, learning from them, and growing stronger because of the experience.

It surprised me after my colleague rejected my attempts to resolve the problem between us that I actually didn’t feel terrible.  I didn’t at all feel like I’d failed.  I actually felt kind of proud of myself.  It’s not easy to take responsibility.  I felt like I’d done the right thing.

Of course, it would be ideal if we could always fix the mistakes we’ve made.  But we can’t control other people, and sometimes, it’s just not possible.

Think about that the next time you are solving a problem.  If you are being the person you want to be in that situation, you have been successful!