Tip #15
Insight: The Gift of Understanding

Insight is the ability to gain understanding into difficulties faced by a person, family, community, or organization and can be one of the most valuable superpowers available to an educator both personally and professionally. The ability to truly understand ourselves and take notice of how we respond when an event outside our control goes wrong is an incredible lesson to share with the students who sit in front of us.

When I was named a Teacher of the Year for the state (Ambassador of Excellence), they had a professional video team come in to record both my teaching and talk to my students. Ironically, when they interviewed my students, there wasn’t one student who talked about how much content they learned in my class. Rather, they talked about how I helped them leave a better person than they came in. They stated that I modeled responsiveness and self-awareness showing them the importance of self-reflection and stepping back when faced with challenging situations. Bottom line, they learned more and were impacted not from the content I shared but rather from how I made them feel and my ability to both model and transfer insight. These comments were not only meaningful, they were striking to me, because this wasn’t exactly what I expected.

I now understand that insight drives resiliency and grows from the foundation of mindfulness that we cultivate personally. Physiology drives psychology. In other words, the body is always the precursor to the behavior. Therefore, being able to identify and recognize the physical distress that an uncontrollable event may spur, allows us to intercept a reactive response the brain may have and capitalize on the uncontrollable through our own self-awareness. Similarly, being able to step back from an experience and move beyond our most immediate reactions, allows us the opportunity to consider multiple interpretations of one event.

Think for a moment about a child who is dealing with her parents’ divorce. That child might try to reconnect her parents in a desperate attempt to maintain normalcy and connection with both parents. A parental separation is after all, a loss for any child. When the parents choose to separate despite the child’s effort to keep them together, she can blame herself. This self-blame in turn creates increased negative emotion to this already difficult event. When children are able to process experiences like this and develop the insight to know the separation is hard but not their fault or responsibility, their coping and adaptation process is activated. Think about how gaining understanding into difficult experiences has been helpful to you in your life.

What are you doing to create opportunities for the cultivation of insight in your students. And, what are you doing to foster your own insight and model that for those who sit before you?

Story from the Field

During the 2018-19 school year, Maricopa Unified School District implemented the Calming Corner at Butterfield Elementary School. Due to its success, the Calming Corner is expanding to all Maricopa Unified School District Elementary Schools for the 2019-2020 school year.

The Calming Corner was designed to help students self-regulate their emotions while remaining in the classroom. The Calming Corner is a designated area in the classroom that is open for any student who needs a personal time-out. Noise cancelling headphones, glitter bottles, books, coloring, and sensory objects are some of the tools available to students in the Calming Corner.

Students using the Calming Corner have an opportunity to use and try different coping strategies in a safe and supportive environment without losing instructional time. There is no penalty for using the Calming Corner as it is not used for discipline matters.

The Calming Corner Program positively influences teaching methods within the classroom by decreasing the time teachers spend currently addressing and supporting students experiencing mental health concerns. Many of the children live a transient lifestyle and have experienced trauma that often impedes on their academic success. The program helps reduce disciplinary referrals made to administration and helps the child remain in safe and supportive classroom environment. Most often, if a student is having an emotional meltdown in the classroom setting, the child is escorted out of the classroom missing pertinent instructional time which can result in leaving school for the day. The Calming Corner is a strategy to help students identify their own individualized coping mechanism and instill future advocacy to manage emotions.

The Calming Corner Program partners with Maricopa Unified School District’s current evidence-based program, PBIS. PBIS stands for Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports and establishes effective classroom management and preventive school discipline. Calming Corners, like PBIS, promote a positive school culture by making classroom environments a safe climate. The Calming Corner program’s primary goal is assist children in self-regulating their emotions while supporting teaching and learning.

Like individualized instruction, the Calming Corner can be individualized to meet a student’s mental health needs. For example, after many attempts to assist a student who has a diagnosis of anxiety and often missed school due to the anxiety, the decision was made to utilize the Calming Corner. Each day, at the same time, the student went to the Calming Corner regardless how she was feeling. After two months of this intervention, she regularly attends school, grades improved, and the need to leave school diminished.

The Calming Corner program partnered with community organizations that provide additional support. Maricopa Police Department and the Maricopa Education Foundation approved grant funding for the expansion of the program. Arizona State University’s Jamie Valderrama, Lecturer/Undergraduate Program Coordinator, with the Integrative Health Initiative, School of Social Work, teaches Mindfulness to our Elementary teachers.

The success of this program is based on the belief that supportive adults can help children nurture their social-emotional growth by providing tools in a safe and supportive environment.

Tara Roy-Pablo, LMSW
Employer: Maricopa Unified School District

Take Action

Insight starts with your ability to step back and pay attention to your internal responses to external events (Mindfulness). Try some of the following exercises to cultivate your insight.

  • Practice training the brain to be present via a meditative practice such as: Meditation, Mindfullness, and Somatic Exercise (Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong
  • Journaling – identify emotions and thoughts associated with different events that occur in your day. Be detailed, how did your body feel, what thoughts and emotions correlated to those physical sensations, what was your judgement and how did you process the experience? Authenticity is key, did you accept the experience or avoid it? The more we are willing to own our reactions/responses the closer we get to controlling our emotions vs our emotions controlling us.