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Ep. 117: Cheryl Rice - Meet Where They Are

July 22, 2020 Season 1 Episode 117
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 117: Cheryl Rice - Meet Where They Are
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Full PreFrontal
Ep. 117: Cheryl Rice - Meet Where They Are
Jul 22, 2020 Season 1 Episode 117

We are often astonished to read or hear in the news about a kid who grabs a classmate’s hair, or snatches food from their tray, or even kicks their teacher. The average person might focus on the obvious disrespectful and unacceptable in-school behaviors. However, we will be missing point if we think that kids should come to school already fully knowing how to behave “properly”. Instead, we need to receive them with open arms, find out what they can do, and provide them with the necessary help to teach them what they don’t yet know.

On this episode, Dr. Cheryl Rice, a Behavior Intervention Specialist and a Certified Instructor of Mindset Non-violent Crisis Intervention (De-escalation) Training for Educator shares what’s at the heart of meeting kids where they are in order to advance educator-learner interactions to shape nurturing learning communities.

About Cheryl Rice
Cheryl Rice has been a Special Education Teacher for over 20 years. Currently, she is a Behavior Intervention Specialist for public school elementary students grades prek through 5th. Cheryl has her Masters and Education Specialist degrees in Education, with an emphasis on working with Young Children with Special Needs. She has a National Board Certification in the area of Young Children with Special Needs. Cheryl was an Adjunct Professor at Valdosta State University in Special Education Department. She completed her Doctoral Studies in the area of School Improvement with an emphasis on Educational Leadership.

Cheryl is a Certified Instructor of Mindset Non-violent Crisis Intervention (Deescalation) Training for Educators. She is also an Early Intervention Specialist for Georgia Department of Education through GA PINES (Parent and Infant Network for Early Intervention Services). Finally, Cheryl is a lifelong resident of Georgia and a mother of 2 grown boys.

Helpful Books:

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Show Notes Transcript

We are often astonished to read or hear in the news about a kid who grabs a classmate’s hair, or snatches food from their tray, or even kicks their teacher. The average person might focus on the obvious disrespectful and unacceptable in-school behaviors. However, we will be missing point if we think that kids should come to school already fully knowing how to behave “properly”. Instead, we need to receive them with open arms, find out what they can do, and provide them with the necessary help to teach them what they don’t yet know.

On this episode, Dr. Cheryl Rice, a Behavior Intervention Specialist and a Certified Instructor of Mindset Non-violent Crisis Intervention (De-escalation) Training for Educator shares what’s at the heart of meeting kids where they are in order to advance educator-learner interactions to shape nurturing learning communities.

About Cheryl Rice
Cheryl Rice has been a Special Education Teacher for over 20 years. Currently, she is a Behavior Intervention Specialist for public school elementary students grades prek through 5th. Cheryl has her Masters and Education Specialist degrees in Education, with an emphasis on working with Young Children with Special Needs. She has a National Board Certification in the area of Young Children with Special Needs. Cheryl was an Adjunct Professor at Valdosta State University in Special Education Department. She completed her Doctoral Studies in the area of School Improvement with an emphasis on Educational Leadership.

Cheryl is a Certified Instructor of Mindset Non-violent Crisis Intervention (Deescalation) Training for Educators. She is also an Early Intervention Specialist for Georgia Department of Education through GA PINES (Parent and Infant Network for Early Intervention Services). Finally, Cheryl is a lifelong resident of Georgia and a mother of 2 grown boys.

Helpful Books:

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Sucheta Kamath: Welcome to the podcast. One more time, Full PreFrontal, exposing the mysteries of executive function. It is a delight for me to talk about executive function and its impact on learning, thinking, becoming an independent, self-managed child who goes on and takes on the world, and I am here with my dear colleague and friend, Todd. How are you?

Producer: I’m doing great. I’m looking forward to this conversation. This is going to be a fun one.

Sucheta: Fantastic conversation because we have a fantastic guest. You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I grew up in India and going to school, may parents had this warning, do not ever make us come to school. It sounds awful, but what they meant is, the only time you get called to school is when you are in trouble, and the instructions were, do not get in trouble, and part of being that kind of student is basically don’t ask questions. If you have problems, just zip it, don’t create a ruckus, do not be part of a ruckus, and we turned out to be pretty decent kids because we were extremely afraid of my dad, and we were decent kids, but I know there was one particular pattern that I noted in India. We didn’t have anything called support system and support staff, or anybody with expertise, but we had something that I noted, and of course, looking back is eight grade dropout. So, kids who did not survive were those who were having difficulties, they came from difficult backgrounds, they had some challenges that they just didn’t know how to fight their way through and the only solution for them turned out to be just leave school, and this is why I’m so excited to talk about this expert today because she’s going to give us a sense of hope and how we have changed our thinking, and particularly, maybe in the US, how we are doing things.

So, it’s a great pleasure and joy to invite this wonderful guest today, Dr. Cheryl Rice. She is a behavior intervention specialist for public school elementary student grades pre-K through fifth grade. She is also an adjunct professor at Valdosta State University in the special education department. She is a certified instructor of mindful nonviolent crisis intervention – I can’t wait to talk to her about that, and finally, early intervention specialist for the Georgia Department of Education through Georgia PINES which is Parent and Infant Network of Early Intervention Services, and she’s a longtime resident of Georgia. Today on Zoom, those who get to see this, her two grown-up boys and one of them has helped her, so welcome, Cheryl, to the podcast.

Dr. Cheryl Rice: Thank you very much for having me. Looking forward to it.

Sucheta: So, this podcast is about executive function and we talk a lot about that self-management skills inside metacognitive awareness and I love to ask my guests, particularly educators like you who have gotten in the field, now that you stand at the brink of where you get to help people, when did you yourself become aware of your own needs as a learner and a thinker, and what kind of people help you become the independent and amazing educators that you are?

Dr. Rice: I think I’m still working on executive functions sales. I think it’s a lifelong process as we age and go through different places of life, but my best recollection is probably when I was in school, I had excellent teachers will listen to. I think that’s the reason I became a teacher because I had excellent teachers, and I had an interest child or I was born in the South, raised in the South, I spoke when you are spoken to, and spanking was definitely something everybody did, and you really couldn’t make the case for yourself because if you did something you weren’t supposed to do, you were in trouble, so I think whenever I became a parent, that’s probably when I really began to learn about it because I wanted to be able to teach my own children executive functioning skills, and I became a teacher and a parent at about the same time and actually became a better teacher after I became a parent because I really wanted to raise my children to be able to decide for themselves and make the right choices rather than just [inaudible] because there was an adult in the room. So, I don’t know if that answers your question but it’s been a process, and when I became a special education teacher, it became even more clear to me because my students with special needs, we really need to systematically teach them how to make the right choices. A lot of our kids with typical cognitive development, they learn from watching others or they learn from their parents, or they learn from their peers, but students with special needs sometimes have to be explicitly taught these skills. I think it’s when it became really clear because I really had to figure out how to break it down, how do you actually teach executive functioning to students who may not have the communication or the self-control? And so, I think that’s when I really became a parent, that it was a critical need.

Sucheta: I think the long view that you have on being a learner, becoming independent, helping somebody become independent is just a continuation and as you mentioned, I personally had the same experience of executive function skills are ever-evolving and they also are very context-sensitive. That means you may think you got it and then you don't because something completely novel, difficult, unseen comes up.

So, let's establish some concepts for the listeners. In the context of schools and particularly the young developing mind, how do you see self-regulation and executive function relate to each other and how do you then see promoting self-regulation in young children being a very specific requirement, so to speak? How do you conceptualize those ideas?

Dr. Rice: Well, firstly, we cannot assume that when children go to school that they already have what they need to function appropriately with their self-regulation skills. I think we have to get to know them, meet them where they are because some students are more prepared than others in terms of being able to regulate their emotions, be autonomous, be purposeful, and so I think the first step would be to sort of meet students where they are, find out what they are able to do, set up the environment so that it's conducive to them making their own choices, but I feel that when students do struggle with executive function, and young children start – our school starts in preschool, so I work with preschoolers to begin with, there is a wide range of ability with preschoolers and naturally, a lot of it depends on their home life, obviously, but also whether or not they are an only child, whether or not they've been to any sort of daycare setting or any kind of structured setting prior to coming to school, so the first thing I do as a favor specialist is try to figure out sort of where they are, and everything they do all day requires some sort of executive functioning, whether it's staying seated, walking in line, eating in a chair rather than getting up and walking around while you're eating – there are so many things that I think as educators, we expect them to already having their repertoire of skills, and so many of our students do not have the repertoire of skills, so I feel that for them to be successful, maintaining attention is an executive functioning skill when you think about it. I think that if we don't explicitly teach those skills, we just can't expect them to be able to do more complex things like complete and activity or do work, or things like that. 

Sucheta: I love that little reference there that I think everything that is done on a daily basis requires executive function and is part of demonstrating executive function proficiency or the lack thereof, but the lack thereof is not indicative of a problem but it could be just the developmental trajectory. It's interesting if you can maybe share with us some of your thoughts. Recently, I think I read – this was before we were in COVID watch , of course, but this little girl, I guess, pulled another girl's hair because she wanted the other person, the other child from not touching her food, so now what happened is, the girl who pulled the other child's hair got in trouble but it was a failure in self-regulation in terms of she did not want her food to be eaten, but her methods were wrong, and if you only focus on the child that got in trouble for pulling hair, we may be missing the point, right?

So, give us some examples, what are you seeing in the classrooms that is often considered dysregulated behaviors and gets that student in trouble, but we may be missing the point? 

Dr. Rice: Oh, my goodness, that is such a good question, and predominantly, that is what I work with with teachers because I think as educators, we do see it as aberrant behavior. Automatically, if the child doesn't follow our rule, especially if there's aggression involved – they've hit another student, they've pulled hair, we tend to be very reactionary. "You can't do that!" and they get in trouble. As a behavior specialist, I try to figure out, well, what is she trying to tell us? All behavior is communication. I think that is key – all behavior is communication. As adults, everything we do is communication: the way we look at someone, the way we cross our arms, the way we lean in or not, and I try to relate that to adult teachers, think about the way we communicate as adults. These kids are communicating. Perhaps, they need an alternative way to communicate. So, my go-to is, rather than punish, let's figure out what they are trying to communicate and give them an alternative way to communicate. We can't assume that it is in any way malicious, especially for little girls upset with another student that it's just her way of saying, "I'm bothered and I want you to stop doing what you're doing," we need to give the students another way to communicate. We deal with a lot of what educators call insubordination and non-compliance. I would say the majority of our discipline referrals are for insubordination and non-compliance. 

Sucheta: So, tell us more about that. What does that look like in everyday school? 

Dr. Rice: Oh, the way teachers interpret insubordination as any form of disrespect or not following directions, "I'm the teacher, I give you a direction, you follow the direction." If only it were that simple. Following directions, maybe back in my day, I'm aging myself, when a teacher said do something, you just did it. We just assumed that there wasn't a choice. Nowadays, kids who maybe aren't autonomous and don't have good self-regulation, they'll say, "No, I don't want to," or they will just not do their work or they will stall in getting their work started, or they will get up and walk around the room, or they will blatantly not follow directions, or they will bother other students, and I will tell teachers, okay, punishing them is an option but what does it teach them? We need to teach them to do something differently when they need a break or when they don't want to do their work, when they are insubordinate or disrespectful. First of all, if they haven't been explicitly taught to respect authority, then we need to explicitly teach that. We can't assume that they have automatically been taught that. Again though, I feel like we are charged with telling them how we want them to behave and teaching them how we want them to behave, so non-compliance and insubordination, not following directions, not completing work is a big, big, big issue but we can't physically make a child do anything, and so what I tell teachers if punishment and chronic office referrals isn't working, we need to figure out what will work. We don't want to make them do something; we want to motivate them to do it, we want to motivate them to behave and be compliant and be respectful, and so I think there's been a big disconnect with educators. They say, "I just want them to do what they are supposed to do. I was trying to teach content, not teach behavior." So, there's just been a really big disconnect in terms of having students be compliant without getting into trouble. 

Sucheta: And I wonder if you see this, that there is a general assumption on the teacher’s part and I'm not faulting teachers for it at all because it's very fair and appropriate that kids should have learned these before they showed up. 

Dr. Rice: Absolutely.

Sucheta: And one very neat thing that you mentioned, which this idea of non-compliance and insubordination as this embedded suggestion that I don't respect you and I don't have to, and that thing is more hurtful to a teacher to see this kind of disregard for her very life's commitment, and when I talk to educators, I often say, is there any other interpretation like you were saying that the child's behavior –  I love this statement, that a misbehaving child is a misunderstood child, so I think if we take a look at why, what the intention is getting behind intention, what do you think are common reasons that educators struggle in seeing the intention when the behaviors are so overpowering and they completely camouflage the intention?

Dr. Rice: My personal belief is that it's a very emotional response when students don't do what we ask them to do. When we become teachers, I guess, speaking for myself, it's our classroom, we are the head of the room, we sort of command things and run the show, and we want to be in control, and I think control is a big part of it and if we feel like our authority has been challenged in any way, even if that's not the intention behind the student, we perceive it as no, you didn't just say that to me. I mean, not in my classroom, and so I encourage teachers to give up a little bit of the control because the responsibility is ultimately on the student. We want them to be compliant, be respectful innately, not because they are afraid they are going to get in trouble if they don't, and we want them to be motivated to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do, not because someone is telling them, if you don't do this, this will happen to you, and so I think it's just that there's a very strong emotional component, especially when our feelings are hurt. When it's done in front of other students and we are embarrassed, we feel like we have to regroup and be in charge, and show who's boss, and I've had teachers say, "I can't reason with the student in front of other children. They'll think that I'm not in control or they'll think that I don't –" 

Sucheta: I'll be weak if I just counsel them gently and will maybe misinterpret it as not having the cahoonas, I guess. 

Dr. Rice: Exactly. Absolutely, and I've had teachers say, "My administrator will think I can't control my classroom if I'm reasoning with my children," but again, I tell teachers, if what you are doing is working, keep doing it, but you're coming to me for help, so it's not working, so let's figure out a different way that we can approach your students. Perhaps, the authoritarian classroom is not producing the results you want, so let's try to figure out how we can get better results, because at the end of the day, we want everything to work, and so what I tell teachers is, instead of asking yourself, how can I deal with these behaviors? How can I address the needs of my students, say how can I support my kids? How can I find out what they need? Ask the student, how can I help you? Tell me what I can do to help you get started on your work rather than what's wrong with you? Why aren't you following directions? So, it's just really a mindset shift more than anything.

Sucheta: This reminds me, you remember when Goldman's research came about EQ, emotional intelligence, I think until then, we really felt that, one, you should be pulling yourself by the bootstraps, two, if you are fussing or having problems, then it's a weakness, and if I don't like you, I have the right to not acknowledge your challenges and help you, and third, this relationship of who is in charge and who is subservient, that can be extremely unproductive, so you are kind of appealing to educators and all of us, actually, who are in charge of children to tap into our own emotional intelligence. What part of education and curriculum do the educators receive or guidance that educators receive to know their level of emotional intelligence and develop that emotional intelligence competence?

Dr. Rice: Unfortunately, not enough. I feel that there is so much emphasis placed on content which is important, obviously, that I feel that a lot of our need teachers, especially need teachers, perhaps [inaudible] as well, are not prepared for the students that are in our classrooms, in today's classrooms, in terms of socioemotional learning, self-regulation, and so part of my training in doing that is very limited because most of the in-service in preservice training teachers receive are content-based. I'm hoping to – I work with [inaudible] University, I would love for there to be more preservice training in addressing socioemotional needs of students because I don't feel that you can educate a student who is not socially ready to learn or emotionally ready to learn, and I think there is a shift towards that. I think there is a shift towards schools having formal social emotional learning classes in schools, but we are nowhere near where we need to be and I definitely think teachers need more training. I do the mindset training once a year and I don't feel like socioemotional skills can be taught in isolation. I feel like it's not a one and done sort of thing. I think it's has to be ongoing and when you talked about emotional intelligence, I think teachers often need to be aware of their own emotional intelligence, how they are feeling when they are having anxiety, how it's manifesting itself in their classrooms, how maybe their own anxieties are inhibiting the students from being able to deal with their anxiety, so it's definitely a cycle and something that has to be ongoing.

Sucheta: It's interesting, I recently read an article in New York Times talking about the billion-dollar industry that mindfulness has become, so now, the new buzzword is mindfulness and talking about yoga or breathing, and mindfulness. Complete, it has incredible merit – don't get me wrong but I feel we are also rushing through mindfulness. Sometimes, we are asking kids to take a break, breathe, calm down, and then go in but you are right, I feel that it's not in synchrony. In psychology, we talk about this concept of emotional contagion. That means your own inner welfare is reflected in your presence and you create an aura, or people can feel, if you're not calm, you can say, "I'm calm, I'm calm," but you are not calm, and that can have a great influence. So, I feel, yes, it is asking a lot from teachers but I do feel in the long run, it can really help everybody including their family members, their own sanity, and the very needy children.

So, let's get into talking about the kids. Share with us what are the most difficult children you encounter, or more importantly, what difficulties are they encountering that you are called upon to manage? So, what does a behavioral interventionist do in the classroom contacts or school context? 

Dr. Rice: That's an excellent question. The primary issue that we are having now with our very own children is a lot of anger, they have a lot of anger and they have difficulty moving on from it. The smallest things can upset them and immobilize them to where they can't move on, they can't get past it. Someone took their pencil, someone looked at them the wrong way, and we are seeing it in very, very young children. Majority of the referrals that I receive for support our pre-k through second grade, interestingly, and as a behavioral specialist, that doesn't surprise me because they are still learning how to regulate; they are still learning how to be part of the structured setting and part of a structured group, but majority of the issues that we are seeing are just the anger and inability to channel their anger. Students that are having major acting out upsets where they are being aggressive to themselves or others, they are throwing chairs, they are hitting their teachers, and that is a child in distress as far as I'm concerned. That is not a child who's being malicious or mean. They are just in distress, so we want to emphasize to teachers, how can we support the students in their moments of distress? And I think teachers internalize that it's being done to them. "Oh, that student hit me, that student threw something at me. I didn't come to work to have a four-year-old hit me or cursed me," but again, it's a mindset shift, but that four-year-old wasn't born that way. No one is born that way. We have to meet them where they are and see them as a child in distress and teach them how to regulate. So, to answer your question, just dealing with that anger and helping them get past that, a lot of what I see is when children curse or lash out, maybe it's the way they deal with issues at home. That's what they know, and I tell that the curses that [inaudible] vernacular [inaudible] in their home and a different way to communicate at school. We act differently at home than we do at school, and some teachers will have that aha moment, "Yeah, I guess you're right. I guess if a four-year-old is cursing, I shouldn't be angry at them. I just need to tell them they can't do that in my classroom, and here's a different way to communicate when you are upset." It's not being reactionary is the hardest part, I think. 

Sucheta: I had a wonderful guest last year. Her name is Carol Tavris and she has written two remarkable books. The one that I talked to her about was Mistakes Were Made but Not by Me. It's about cognitive dissonance but the second book can be a great resource for teachers. It's called Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, and I love that book and the message there. One of the things that when I deal with a lot of behavioral dysregulation, and particularly social, because as you can see, anger can be extremely disruptive in forming meaningful relationships with people, and one thing that I talk about often is that this idea of anger is a moral emotion; we become angry when things are unfair, so if we educators looked at what is the child perceiving to be unfair and if you can actually show the fairness part of it, that can really help the child realign his emotion. Of course, this is a more cognitive approach. Once the behaviors are managed, you can become a manageable person to deal with that higher order thinking skills, but I find that helps a lot. So, can you share with us some concrete strategies that will work in these situations in terms of what can a teacher do, and I bet a lot of people find it hard to deal with others who are very angry, so what are your thoughts about that? 

Dr. Rice: The first thing that anybody can do, especially classroom teachers is create an environment that is conducive to the student feeling comfortable and safe, and I know that's not very specific, but I think that we have to start with our classroom environments. I feel like they need to be predictable, they need to be structured, teachers need to be seen as an ally, and that's a very hard thing to teach but I think it has to start there. Secondly, there needs to be a plan in place. If you have a student who is prone to outbursts, has a very delicate trigger – and those kids can be annoying, I completely understand that and they need a lot of attention – but if they need attention, then give them attention. Have something in place. If the student has a meltdown, have a plan, have a calm down corner, have sensory objects. We have created calm down corners in a lot of our classrooms with sensory objects where the student knows, if I get upset, I don't have to have a meltdown, I can go directly to the calm down corner, do something sensory that helps me calm down, A, through self-regulation that they can make that choice, that they can go do it on their own. Of course, it has to be very structured, it's limited, there is a time limit, the student has to come back and do their work once they have calmed down, but I think that's part of creating that community of caring. Listen, I get mad too, it's okay if you get mad but you're not going to throw a chair. When you get upset, go to the calm down corner, that's what it's there for. So, I think preparation with your environment, having a plan so that people aren't being reactionary, they know exactly what they need to do when something happens, everybody's not running around trying to figure out what can we do to calm this kid down? There's already a plan in place, so I think that's a lot of it. I think if you have students that are chronically non-compliant, give them a choice. Choices are amazing. Sometimes, teachers have a hard time with choices. They say, "Well, why do I need to give the student a choice when all my other students are doing what they are supposed to be doing?" and I say, because the other students don't need a choice. Give this kid a choice because what we want ultimately is for them to participate. If you give them a choice, and one of my favorite choices is, "You know what, work for 10 minutes. I'll set a timer, baby. You can just do your work for 10 minutes. I know it's a lot, but for 10 minutes, when the timer goes off, you can take a break." That is powerful.

Sucheta: Fantastic, yeah.

Dr. Rice: Because students are never really given the freedom to do that, and our kids are stressed out, they need to know that when it's too much, I can take a break, and giving them choices, "Do the first five problems of your math paper, don't worry about all 25, that might be a little too much right now, so just do the first five, take a break and come back and do five more." "Write one paragraph, that's all I want you to do, just one paragraph," and teachers are so quick to say, "We've got 20 minutes before we go to lunch. Get it done now. I don't have time, you just need to do your work," and sometimes, that takes more time than just sitting down and trying to figure out, let's just tweak this a little bit, give them a choice, and then it changes the whole perspective from the student's outlook – "Oh, wow, she's willing to work with me. This is awesome, I can actually take a break after 10 minutes," and it really works and the results are immediate, they are immediate, just in the change of attitude and the compliance, and everything. 

Sucheta: I think these are such simple sounding but such powerful methods because again, I think what I'm hearing you say or show is that the agency, the sense of control over the class still is within the teacher's hand, and yet, the student also feels he also has equal sense of agency in his future, in his own engagement in the classroom activity because it doesn't feel like it's going to come down between the battle of wits. The second thing I really liked about what you said, which can actually be applied in these difficult times in the classroom, at the home environment also is have the pre-plan, like have your plan B in place, and I think most people don't realize how hard it is to be creative problem-solving when you are highly stressed, and if you have a kid who is screaming or throwing a tantrum, you cannot innovate and you cannot engage that kid, but if you already have kind of a preplanned activity – I had a webinar the other day and I told the parents to think about having activity centers, so if you have a, let's say, pet, canine activity can be very self-soothing and if you don't have canines, then maybe you can have stuffed toys that you can play with, but something that the child needs to be told that he has choices. I love that.

How feasible is this in given classrooms and can we talk quickly about – I know it's a very important and big topic but how do you see the relationship between poverty, stress, and dysregulated kids, and are those children's needs different than children who come from middle-class or upper-middle-class, and the way they are dysregulated? Do you see any difference in that? 

Dr. Rice: Absolutely, and I've done a lot of studies or read a lot of studies and done some research on the effects of poverty, and all of the schools in my system are Title I schools which mean the majority of the students do qualify for free and reduced lunch or actually, all of the students in our system qualify for free breakfast and lunch, and yes, I see a big difference in those students because they are not having their basic needs met in terms of health care, adequate food, clothing, shelter, and they come to school sometimes stressed and they may not be able to concentrate on math because math is not a priority right now – I'm hungry or I got in trouble before I got to school, and maybe there's chaos in the home. Let's not say that students who experience poverty are all that way by any means. It's not to say that all students who experience poverty are traumatized and have bad home lives. That is absolutely not the case but we do find that students who experience poverty, there are built in stressors that they have to sometimes deal with before they've even entered the school building. They struggle with communicating if they don't feel like they've had their basic needs met. I'm a big admirer of Abraham Maslow who talks about the hierarchy of needs. I think that applies to all of us, not just children, but especially children who haven't develop those skills yet to self-regulate, they don't have the self-awareness when they are upset, they have to have their basic needs met, and once they have those basic needs met, they need to feel safe and secure. Now, that's next in the hierarchy, and we teachers can go a long way to help students from poverty feel safe and secure in school. In some cases, school is the only place they feel safe and secure, and to me, that's all the more reason to rather than punish these kids, chronically punish them for inappropriate behavior, we have to support them in their behavior and teach them alternate ways to behave, and then reward them for making better choices. Otherwise, they grow into older children who still can't regulate, and that they don't like school because it's always been a bad place or a bad experience for them. So, yes, children in poverty struggle. Our students struggle and I think that's the reason we are seeing so many more students with anger issues. In my opinion, when a child is angry, it's because they are stressed out. We tend to be agitated if we are worried about something or are stressed out, and students, a lot of times don't have any control over those situations, so it's even more stressful when you don't know what to expect, so again, teachers need to provide that structure and that predictability, and that constant care and compassion that those students will at least know that they will have a place they can be secure. 

Sucheta: You know, this reminds me of these two Stanford students, I think they came across some studies about stress, hunger, poverty, and its impact on the capacity to think big, and I think they did an experiment where they tried to live on – maybe this is an exaggeration if I'm saying $32 per day or per week – I'm not really sure but what happened is they became completely disabled, disabled in the sense that they could not think about anything but food. They were constantly hungry, their hunger needs were not met, they couldn't have intelligent conversations, they could not participate or socialize in a way where their mind was free, or to connect and emote, they were preoccupied, they were always thinking, they were looking around, where can I find the easiest food, cheapest food, and when can I get full? And not feeling full seems to be a big barrier, and to quote Maslow, to enlightenment. I think that was a very telling experiment, but I don't think an average person knows what it means to go hungry or without food, and the stressors that a child in Title I schools is experiencing probably is beyond imagination for many teachers if they have not had firsthand experience in poverty. So, my heart goes out to these children, and nothing but the most compassionate selves, we need to bring. But you are right, if somebody's behaving or acting out inappropriately, it can be pretty [inaudible].

Dr. Rice: If I can just add to that, not only does trauma affect you emotionally, obviously, but there have been studies and you're probably familiar with them – Georgia State University is very involved in studies of the brain and the physiology of the brain of students who have experienced chronic trauma. It is fascinating, I would encourage any teacher to go to these trainings. It's so fascinating to me that when this child has experienced chronic trauma, it's not just that they are emotionally dysregulated, but physiologically, it affects their cognitive ability. It can create cognitive delays, and so a lot of our children who struggle cognitively, if we know that they've had long-term chronic trauma, that may shed some light on why the students struggle, not just behaviorally but also cognitively. It's fascinating research. 

Sucheta: And they fall behind and academically, their capacity to learn with their peers or in tandem with their chronological age becomes a big problem, right?

Dr. Rice: Absolutely.

Sucheta: So, let's think about that you have done a lot of work of building relationships with students who struggle and teaching them how to make choices and redirect behaviors. What does it look like rather than at an individual student level, is there where we can take a little bit more of an aerial perspective on it and think about a classroom level versus school level, versus district level? And you have a lot of experience in that, so share with us, if you had all the resources and everything was perfect, how would you envision or craft events, or have you seen it in many parts of the country where they have managed to provide such global intercepting support? 

Dr. Rice: Again, great question. That is my dream, is on a much broader level in terms of changing the mindset of educator. I do think it is being done in some systems where they are rethinking zero-tolerance policy which has shown not to be effective. In some ways, it exacerbates the issue of discipline and behavior. I think we need to look at more sort of justice initiatives. Our school has been in some training for [inaudible] of justice but it hasn't really caught on yet. Again, it's all a mindset. I think we need to let go of feeling that we have to be in control. A big part of it, the big step in that direction is going to be training. Preservice training for new teachers, obviously, because I still think even today, new teachers don't really know where they are going to have to deal with it when they get to their classes, and we have a real big have a real big teacher turnover in Georgia right now, especially with new teachers. Three to five years, teachers are leaving now within three to five years, and so I think we need to prepare them better for the emotional piece, the self-regulation piece, and behavior piece. I think that training is critical. In-service training for current teachers as well, I think there needs to be more emphasis on ongoing training. A lot of our training is for special ed teachers because the expectation there is there may be some lack of self-regulation. I think all teachers will benefit from more training and supporting children's self-regulation, especially very young children. I think that's where it needs to begin. Perhaps there needs to be a legislation in Georgia or nationwide where we revisit our zero-tolerance policies and we revisit the way we [inaudible] children, and we develop programs for children who may be predisposed to trauma because of poverty or whatever reason. I think being proactive is going to render many, many more long-term benefits than what we are currently doing. 

Sucheta: I love that. I think one point that really stands out in the way you have laid out your dream solution, and I just can't wait for us to do that for the future of our children's health, mental health, not just education, one thought came to my mind, was have you heard of Atul Gawande? He is an American surgeon, he is a prolific writer and he has written a lot of books, and he's an academician as well, but one interesting thing he wrote that I came across recently, that he said that after many years after he graduated from medical school and became a surgeon, he reached out to his professor who taught him surgery during his residency and said, "Would you come and observe me and give me some feedback about my approach and my process?" By then, he was already a surgeon for 12 years, and he was very confident, Atul Gawande, that his professors are going to say, "Oh, my God, you're an amazing surgeon." But what happened is, he came in with a little notepad and at the end, he says, "How did it go?" He says, "Great. Here," and he hands him this notepad with seven pages of notes, and first of all, Atul Gawande was taken aback. He was a little offended. He's like, "I'm a really good surgeon," but then he read the feedback and he said, "Wow, yeah, I could do that. Yeah, yeah, I didn't think about that. Oh, wow, did I do that?" So, all the little steps that he had learned, best practices, things that you do that lead to best results in surgery or his own mannerisms including bedside mannerism, that simple feedback changed his entire outlook towards his own approach, and I feel this is something we need to do for our teachers or my peers. I would love my peers coming in with a little – not seven pages, maybe copious notes, but somebody giving feedback. I think that once you graduate and once you move onto a professional career, I feel we disconnect that feedback loop where we lose a little perspective on how well we are doing and where could be the gaps that we can bridge. I think that may be a wonderful way to ignite self-improvement in our teachers.

Dr. Rice: Yes, I absolutely agree, and back to the original question, there are three behavior specialists in our system and we have 8000 students, so I think we need – we do have counselors in every school and we do have some mental health services in every school, but our job is to work on explicitly mentoring teachers and building capacity. We want to build capacity in the teachers' ability to all be behavior specialists ultimately, and yes, I do think the mentoring and the feedback is critical. Sometimes, I'll go in and observe a teacher, and of course, there's always wonderful things that I see and it's always more good than bad for sure, but I may say, "You know, when you reprimand, smile when you do it or change your intonation, or walk around the room, or touch the student on the shoulder," and just little things that aren't a program or a curriculum, or anything that they need to buy or do that's extra, and so it's building that capacity, mentoring, providing support that a lot of times, when we are in our classrooms, we are all alone and we are all so busy, we don't have time to do that and I think that needs to be a priority as well, but we can support each other, not be embarrassed if we can't control our classroom or manage behavior and just really get the mentoring and support that we need, I think that's a big piece of it as well. 

Sucheta: Fantastic. So, as we come to the end, tell us a little bit in your professional capacity what kind of – I don't want to say report writing – but how do you create a plan? What's the distinction between a 504 versus an IEP individualized plan that you create? And give us maybe a little bit of a window into a student for whom you might have written something and how that looked. 

Dr. Rice: That's a great question. I'll distinguish first between IEPs and 504s because an IEP is written for a student with a special education plan, they've been identified as having special needs and they have an IEP team which is a wonderful advantage where anyone who serves the student comes in and as a team, we talk about what can we do to support the student behaviorally? A child with a 504, it's not a specialized service, obviously, that's a regular ed service. Again, we meet as a team and we talk about does this child have a disability that doesn't necessarily qualify them for special education but they do need support? For example, ADHD or diabetes, or anything that may warrant them getting support. Again, we meet as a team and we talk about what accommodations can we give them? What can we do to support them? Because we know they struggle, so let's go ahead and support them. For all other students, we have response to intervention and I'm a firm believer in RTI where we start to build that village from a very young age, and I know that's very much a cliché that it takes a village but it really does take a village. So many things that we do are isolated from one another. The teacher goes to see the administrator and no one talks to me or the counselor, or maybe the counselor has dealt with the student but then no one ever really comes together and says, "This is what we are seeing, let's work together to ameliorate it." So, if you have a student who is chronically acting out or having meltdowns, we bring the parent in, obviously, they are a very important part of the team and we get to the bottom of it. Is there anything that could be causing it? Is there a trigger? So, in terms of reports, I'll go in and assist the teacher in doing a functional behavioral analysis. We collect data for 10 days, and then we analyze the data to see, does this always happen right before lunch? Does this always happen when they get off the bus? Is there a particular student or a particular teacher that may be the trigger? Because in order to get to the bottom of it, we really need to know what the cause is, so we literally do the functional behavioral assessment and it's not as difficult as it may sound; it's very doable, and then we analyze the data and create a plan just for that student.

Sucheta: That's fantastic. And typically, what are the factors that determine the response and success to this plan that is developed? 

Dr. Rice: Oh, after the plan is developed and it's developed specifically for that individual student, we implement research-based interventions, I'll go in and help the teacher implement them, and she doesn't really understand how it works, and then we will collect data on the outcomes: did it work? We try for several weeks and see if it worked and if it didn't, we will tweak it and try something else. Because ultimately, we want the child to learn how to self-regulate on their own. 

Sucheta: So, this has been fantastic. As we come to an end, do you have any closing thoughts, Cheryl? 

Dr. Rice: I think we need to maintain hope and we need to create a community of compassion as best we can. We are all human and teaching is so hard, it's one of the hardest jobs anyone could ever do, but we need to remember why we went into education to help children, and at the end of the day, that is more than just teaching them content. We have to also able to help them develop trust, build relationships, and develop compassion themselves. I think if we can be compassionate towards children, then we could raise compassionate adults, so don't give up hope. 

Sucheta: I love that! Thank you for coming on the podcast and sharing your wonderful knowledge, and particularly going with us into the weeds of the difficult children and their journey in receiving the right help that they deserve and need, and I'm so excited to know how carefully this process works out and that every child has an opportunity to bring out their best, so thank you for what you do and thank you for sharing your wisdom today. 

Dr. Rice: You're so welcome and thank you for what you do as well, Sucheta, I really enjoyed being with you. Thank you.

Producer: Alright, that's all the time we have for today. If you know of someone who might benefit from listening to today's show – a teacher, principal, coach, or a parent, we would be most grateful if you would kindly forward it to them. So, on behalf of our host, Sucheta Kamath, today's guest, Dr. Cheryl Rice, and all of us at ExQ, thanks for listening and we look forward to seeing you again right here next week on Full PreFrontal.