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Superintendent’s Scoop – August 2021

Right now all Sevier School District employees are reading a book by Dr. Jody Carrington called “Kids These Days.” The book was written to help school systems understand the important role they play in helping students succeed in life. Jody provides information for developing a consistent internal wellness structure for schools that can be used across divisions to hold each other up in times of crisis and be a support system to their students. Sevier School District is excited to have Jody Carrington present to all District employees at Richfield High School on September 11th. Jody will be discussing strategies taught in her book about (re)connection.

Every generation, people observe old things and define them in a new way. For every century and generation childhood memories of things are always changing. Many refer to these memories as ‘the good old days.’ One thing that the past had over us today that we are losing at a rapid rate is proximity. Never before have we had so much distance between us-literally and figuratively. In this world of massive technological proficiency, we’ve become increasingly disconnected. That is definitely one thing that the ‘good old days’ had over us. Proximity. Some say back in the day, life was harder than it is now. But one thing I have learned is that we are wired to do hard things!

One of Jody’s main focuses in the book is on Emotional Regulation: The only thing we need to teach our kids. She explains that the only way to learn emotional regulation is through relationships. If you do not have a relationship with the kid or person you are trying to influence and support, everything you try will not work. You cannot teach a kid how to regulate emotion on a whiteboard or in a handout. That is why relationships are so important. You can teach them strategies, but you cannot teach them how to regulate emotion unless you show them, unless you guide them through that process. Kids can only learn how to regulate when they become dysregulated. They need relationship (connection) in order for them to want to learn. Kids will not learn from people who they think don’t like them.

A famous quote by Maya Angelou says, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Your connection to that person is where the power lies. The premise is about the importance of kindness and that when you make other people feel good about themselves, you get the BEST of them.

When trying to connect with someone, it is important to remember that the ones who need it the most will be the hardest to give to. In the book, Jody gives Five Keys to connect or reconnect with anyone in your life.

1. Show genuine interest in things they care about. First. When you’re in a place of giving your full attention to another, and you have very little invested, or very little to lose, you can go “all in.”
2. Get their eyes and say their names. One of the best ways to get started with someone you are struggling to connect with is greet them by name and look them in the eyes. When you look someone in the eyes and call them by name, their prefrontal cortex is on as they try and establish how they know you. People need more engagement of the prefrontal cortex. That is where our goodness lives and that is where we can find who we truly want to be.
3. Get down on their level. It is extremely powerful to see someone face-to-face. Being on the same level as someone allows for easier access to their eyes. It slows you down too, because you’re consciously thinking about creating an optimal environment. They say the best conversations are in the car because you’re on the same level.
4. Feed them and they will come. Food and drink can become a critical component of helping the people we love make sense of hard things. Food, however, loses its impact when we use it as a reward. Food should be used as a regulating strategy. Food can nourish the body but it can also nourish the soul.
5. Never leave them-proximity matters-especially when they tell you to go. We are wired for connection. We do remarkably better with another person by our side when we need to make sense of hard things. Sometimes we have no choice and have been abandoned. But without exception, how we soothe, calm, and regulate, is always best with the assistance of another trusted, regulated human. This is especially true in kids; they cannot make sense of hard things alone for long.

Dr. Susan Pinker summarized in her recent book The Village Effect, that nothing can replace in-person, face-to-face connection. In fact, specific physiological changes happen in your body in person that cannot be replicated via text or email: an increase in your oxytocin and dopamine (the feel-good hormones) and a decrease in your cortisol (stress hormone.) What we can learn from this is we are wired to do hard things. In order to do those hard things to the best of our capacity, we have to remember this: We are wired for connection. It is through physical connection with other people that we are much better able to handle hard things.

Emotional regulation becomes the most important factor when we talk attachment security, especially in teens. Generally, if an adolescent has a secure relationship with just one adult, we see some remarkable differences in their choices compared to kids who struggle to find one regulated person to lean on regularly.

It is extremely important to help students regulate emotions and be a support for them. It is also important to take care of ourselves as well. If our children are held by an empty increasingly disconnected system, they will create an empty system themselves. You repeat what you don’t repair. The time is critical now to do everything we can to stay (re)connected. Dr. Carrington gave some ways for school staff to stay connected. One thing that is extremely important and beneficial is to find joy in your life and slow down long enough to notice the little things. Next, having gratitude and intention. When you change your thoughts, it will change your feelings. Third, practice forgiveness. True forgiveness, the kind that sets you free, involves the step of offering something positive-empathy, compassion, understanding-toward the person who has hurt you. And last, collective effervescence is the importance of staying connected to your team.

It is important to remember that being involved in a school system, we have the capacity to change the trajectory of a life, every single day. That is why it is so important to take care of ourselves while taking care of others.

We are given opportunities every day to (re)connect with someone. Kids these days just need you; they need us. What a difference we can make by helping kids feel loved and important. I know that if we implement some of these strategies, we can give students the support they need and provide a great future for them.