Monthly Archives: December 2008

Anger, Crisis and Second Step

We’ve all heard just about as much as we can handle regarding the global financial services and credit crisis.  But after ten years working in New York City public schools, I can tell you about another crisis that has been afflicting us for quite a while: anger.  Recent neurological research reveals what common sense already told us – that anger prevents learning by activating those parts of the brain that shut down learning and activate the fight or flight response.  Those who have not spent much time in our public schools may not understand the seriousness of this issue.  I’m not talking about routine anger at perceived or real mistreatment or injustice that we all feel from time to time.  Let me say it clearly: across our city, in this most challenging profession, teachers who lack support and children who lack the tools to cope with life’s frustrations reinforce each other’s anger on a daily basis, anger that is of a different order of magnitude than that experienced in other professions and settings.  “Do what you’re told!”  “I will not!”  This argument is not just for bedtime anymore. 
Harlem Link celebrationAt Harlem Link, we take a preventive approach to this problem.  In fact, our school was founded on the notion that all children deserve access to a safe environment where their faculties of scholarship and citizenship could develop.  Each year our supports for teachers have improved to foster this calm and productive environment.  According to Katie Carroll, Dean of Culture, “Everyone gets angry and upset, and dealing with these feelings can be very challenging for children and adults.  Harlem Link is taking an active role in managing anger.”  Those supports include regular meetings with the Dean, who observes all classrooms and talks through issues and behaviors before they grow into problems.
For children, this year our Student Support Team, which includes two Licensed Master Social Workers for our 270 students, began rolling out the research-based Second Step program.  According to the Committee for Children’s literature, Second Step “teaches children impulse control, problem solving, and emotion management to help them succeed in school and in life.”  Rather than have our Social Workers wait for a child to act out or present a challenging behavior, they are working directly in classrooms with every classroom teacher to roll out the program.  Next year, the “second step” of Second Step will feature teachers providing the instruction, and Social Workers stepping back to play a supporting role.
As in everything we do, working with families is a key ingredient to success in this arena.  When parents know that we enter a conversation with a constructive, solution-oriented approach that seeks common ground between their values and those espoused by the school, trust is built and solutions follow.  Through our sensitive partnerships with parents and purposeful, individualized plans, we have seen innumerable children at our school who would be otherwise at risk of missing hours of instructional time and receiving a variety of inappropriate labels, learn to control their feelings and, ultimately, their actions.  Second Step also has a home-school component built-in to the program, including activities to try at home as well as language to use for problem solving and anger management.  We also have family nights planned to assist families in instituting Second Step techniques at home.

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