TIME Education

How to Turn Elementary School Teachers into Emotional Detectives

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Strengthening the bond between educators and pupils can get to the root of behavior problems and bullying

About four years ago, I found myself asking a question many teachers ask their students: “Why would you do something like that?”

I was sitting down with a fourth grade student I had just been asked to counsel. I had success at getting to the bottom of students’ issues and I had earned a reputation as a teacher version of “Columbo.”

The student had been sent to the principal’s office for hurting another kid during recess. The reports were that he had also kicked another student for taking his place in line. I had worked with this student in the past for similar behavior toward peers. Now the behaviors were getting worse, and the parents were not responding. The boy answered my question about his motivations by saying, ¨Students were cutting in front of me,” and, “Two days ago they were calling me names.”

I had this realization that I was expecting the student to somehow psychoanalyze himself and come up with a grand justification for his behavior and actions. -Asking the “why did you do it” question did not help me to solve the issue — and I realized it never would. It was simply a fall-back question for adults when they were not sure what to do.

This was the beginning of my attempts to engineer ways for myself and other teachers to take care of the emotional lives and mental health of our students.

I first knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was in middle school in Michigan. I got paid a $25 stipend for running a basketball clinic with little kids and discovered I was good at motivating students. As I pursued teaching, I moved to California, and became an assistant in a classroom with students that had developmental disabilities, emotional disturbances, and aggressive behaviors. This environment, along with excellent training, challenged me to figure out how to support students with multiple challenges and give them a better quality of life. I currently teach two special needs classrooms at Canalino Elementary School in Carpinteria.

Every good teacher I’ve talked to wants to build better relationships with their students. But lack of time is a major barrier. A typical classroom has 25 to 30 students and if a teacher devoted just 2 minutes to each student, that would add up to an hour every day, which would have to come out of valuable instructional time in this academic-focused (and test-crazy) era. And even if they had time, teachers rarely have the resources to handle social, emotional, and mental health challenges. Improving professional development in this area would help. So would clear, practical, and efficient protocols that are used school wide.

What teachers most need is the ability to teach students strategies and techniques to meet the expectations of a challenging school day. To this end I developed the “Think Time” protocol — a process for identifying student’s needs by connecting their feelings and actions. My brother, a fellow teacher and a mentor to me, and UC Santa Barbara student psychologists worked with me to create a paper-and-pencil form that took teachers through the steps of asking students questions such as “What were you feeling before the problem occurred?” It gave them suggestions to pass on to students—for example, conveying that, “a better choice next time, rather than acting out, would be to ask to speak to the teacher privately.”

Here is a typical example: A student was sent to me after getting multiple warnings for disrupting the math lesson. The teacher reported that the student struggled to sit still and focus, blurting out answers without raising his hand, and was disrupting the students at his table by fidgeting and tapping his pencil. When we began, he was asked to identify his feelings from a chart. He chose energetic, excited, and anxious, which helped me understand his impulsive behaviors. The student then listed the actions that were connected to his feelings— in this case, (blurting out and fidgeting). Once I better understood the feelings that motivated his actions, I realized he just needed to choose a more socially appropriate way to cope with his feelings. We settled on having him discreetly step outside the classroom, take a 3 minute break to move around, and return to the lesson ready to try again.

Of course, not everything was smooth when I began to roll this program out at my school. Teachers struggled to find the time to sit down with students and go through the process. They had trouble finding the right replacement behaviors, and struggled to understand the true purpose of the process.

So we improved the protocol by providing training to teachers that explained the rationale, created and implemented lessons for students, revamped the questions teachers should ask students, hired mentors to assist the teachers, and made the process digital.

After these tweaks, teachers reported that students were using replacement behaviors which increased instructional minutes and improved communication with parents. But we also realized that we were only reaching the students with chronic disruptive behaviors (typically 2-5 kids per class). What about the needs of the other students?

Students with difficult behavior are not the only ones who struggle emotionally. Students often internalize feelings and lack the ability to express there needs appropriately, which makes it nearly impossible for teachers to recognize what is motivating their actions. We tested a “positive version of Think Time,” where all students could record things they were proud of, or simple acts of kindness that showed good citizenship.

From there, we developed the “check-in system.” This system teaches students how to reflect on their feelings routinely and to express them appropriately to get their needs met.

Our helloyello.net web app allows students to let teachers know what’s going on in their lives good or bad, wrong or sad, daily. And the app gives teachers the opportunity to “close the loop” quickly — within seconds— to strengthen their relationships with students.

The results have been stunning. For instance, a teacher recently shared with me that her student checked in that she was struggling to stay awake at school because her baby brother’s crying was keeping her up at night. The teacher closed the loop by letting the student know she had read her check in and asked if she could email her parents. The teacher sent a friendly email to the parents, who in turn were grateful and quickly solved the problem at home.

“Check-ins” are particularly good at addressing bullying. Students feel safe reporting problems on the playground or in the bathroom since they can confidentially reach their teachers without having to tell them face to face, in view of the bully. In one example, a student wrote about feeling bad because he participated in teasing someone; teachers, armed with additional information, are able to step in before the conflicts escalate.

Our HelloYello team is confident our procedures can help other schools in California. My school, Canalino Elementary is a Title I school, meaning at least 40 percent of students come from low-income families. Many of our students are also English language learners, requiring us to take extra care to find ways to make sure the kids understand the questions and the behaviors expected of them. Of course, schools better off than ours also struggle with the emotional well being of their students.

Taking care of our students’ social and emotional health isn’t an end just in itself. Research studies have shown that social and emotional well-being has a significant impact on student achievement. Teaching students to express themselves appropriately, with reasoning and evidence, is a recurrent theme in the Common Core Standards. Teachers cannot help students achieve their academic potential or demonstrate how much they’ve learned if they do not know how the students are feeling, what they are thinking, and what’s going on in their daily lives.

Brandon Sportel has been selected as the Carpinteria district teacher of the year, and Santa Barbara County teacher of the year. He was the California winner of this year’s Milken Educator Award.. He wrote this for “Reimagining California,” a partnership of the California Endowment and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

What Educators Can Learn About a Southeast L.A. Turnaround

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

The addition of a bold college readiness program transformed a struggling high school into an example of high academic achievement

Bell Gardens High School in east Los Angeles County was a sorry mess when science teacher Liz Lowe arrived in 1989. More than 3,000 students crowded into school buildings surrounding a concrete quadrangle with patches of grass and some trees. Expectations were low. Not much learning was done.

“It hurt my soul that here were these wonderful students who were very, very capable, but they were expected to be the working poor,” Lowe recalled.

Today, that community is still poor and ethnically isolated. Bell Gardens High has a student body that is 99 percent Latino. According to the 2010 census, the education level of its students’ parents was the lowest of any community of similar size in the state. The median household annual income was slightly more than $30,000.

Yet something unexpected has happened to the level of learning at the school. Bell Gardens High’s Academic Performance Index score, the 1,000-point scale that was used by California to measure test score success, has gone from 469 in 1999 to 704 in 2013 (the latest reported year). The school was ranked in the top 7 percent of all U.S. schools on the 2015 America’s Most Challenging High Schools list, a measure of college-level test participation I put out each year for The Washington Post.

Bell Gardens educators and parents agree that a program called AVID, short for Advancement Via Individual Determination, has much to do with the transformation.

Non-profit AVID (pronounced like the word that means “eager”) is the largest college readiness program in the country. Its success has much to do with unusually effective teacher training and a tutoring system that goes deeper than any I have ever seen.

AVID began in 1980 when Mary Catherine Swanson, the head of the English department at Clairemont High School in northern San Diego, decided to experiment with 32 low-income students coming to her suburban school as part of a busing program. Many teachers at her school said those Latino and black children should be put in remedial classes, but Swanson felt that if they were placed in a daily class that taught study skills and time management and provided tutoring, they could eventually handle even college-level Advanced Placement classes.

As Bell Gardens learned, the program was not easy. AVID classes demanded that students keep their work in order and, even more shocking to American teenagers, required that they learn how to take notes properly and do so in all of their courses. The tutoring was even more of a challenge.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, tutors, usually college students, would arrive to help students with homework questions that stumped them. The tutors did not follow the usual practice of telling tutees where they went wrong. Instead they trained the students to ask questions of whomever was discussing a particular difficulty, to help think through the problem. It took weeks, sometimes months, to get the hang of it.

Lowe, now the AVID coordinator at Bell Gardens, in 1994 was the first teacher at the school to get the one-week AVID training course. But it took three years for Bell Gardens to start its program. Juan Herrera, now the school’s principal, was then the school’s state and federal project director. He was very taken with the AVID emphasis on recruiting average low-income students. His father had been a janitor, his mother a seamstress. Kids like him tended to be left out, he thought, even though they would have benefited from an extra push.

State and district backing for the program has been helpful. Bell Gardens has about $115,000 for tutors this year. Its AVID program grew from 29 ninth graders in 1997 to 566 students, about 16 percent of the total school enrollment this year. It became so successful maintaining standards that it achieved National Demonstration School status, a designation given to only two percent of AVID schools.

Mario Martin del Campo, a former Bell Garden AVID student who became an AVID tutor, said he noticed at California State University, Northridge, where he was an English major, that students without AVID experience often gave up. They’d just say, “I don’t get it.” By contrast, del Campo said, his reaction to a difficult college assignment would be “I don’t know how to do it but I’m going to try it and see how far I get.”

The AVID classes make Bell Gardens High School a very different place from what it was in 1989. Educators like Lowe and Herrera think more schools stuck in poverty could make the same transition, if they are willing to fight for the money and make it extremely difficult for their kids to give up on themselves.

Jay Mathews, a Washington Post columnist, is the author of Question Everything: The Rise of AVID as America’s Largest College Readiness Program. He wrote this for “Reimagining California,” a partnership of the California Endowment and Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Environment

See a Massive Oil Slick in the Pacific Ocean After Spill

21,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean off the Santa Barbara County coast on Tuesday after an underground pipeline ruptured. The oil slick spread to at least 9 miles long by Wednesday afternoon

MONEY Autos

Why Your Toyota Prius Could Make You a Theft Target

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KAZUHIRO NOGI—AFP/Getty Images An employee fixes a main battery of the hybrid system in Toyota Motor's Prius.

Hint: A Tesla Model S driver wouldn't have this problem.

Hybrid cars are increasingly the target of theft, thanks to lightweight batteries that are easy to steal—at least for thieves who know what they’re doing.

Toyota Prius drivers in San Francisco seem to be getting the worst of it, a California ABC affiliate reports, with several thefts across the city in recent months.

Though there’s a serious risk of electrocution, thieves in the area have succeeded in quickly cutting cables attached to the 200-volt batteries, then removing them within about 20 minutes.

Prius batteries can go for as much as $1,000 on Craigslist, a tidy profit given the speed of the job.

Unfortunately for Prius drivers, replacing a stolen battery can cost about $3,000—and once you account for the cost of other repairs, like replacing broken windows, the final bill could be as high as $10,000. Buying a used battery online might be cheaper, but then you can’t be sure of just how used it is (or whether it was come by honestly).

Despite the risks involved, what makes the theft relatively easy is portability: The battery in the Prius weighs only about 150 pounds. Compare that to the Tesla Model S battery, which weighs more than 1,000 pounds.

If you own a Prius, there are a few steps you can take to prevent theft, including replacing the bolts fastening down your battery with tamper-proof ones.

MONEY Gas

Gas is Weirdly Expensive in This One Part of the U.S.

US Gas Prices Rise For 35 Consecutive Days
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Gas prices nearing $6.00 on March 3, 2015 in Sausalito, California.

It could put a damper on your summer road trip.

West Coast drivers might be feeling like they’ve been left out of the cheap gas boom.

Despite sub-$3 gas all over the rest of the country, gas prices on the coast—and especially in California—have been skyrocketing. West Coast drivers are paying a record 88 cents a gallon more than those on the East Coast, Bloomberg reports. And in Los Angeles, prices have actually nosed above $4.

Why the big difference?

It’s partly that California has recently instituted particularly strict laws limiting greenhouse-gas emissions. This forces gasoline companies to spend more on either pollution permits or the production of lower-carbon fuels—costs that get passed on to drivers.

But it’s also bad luck. Several oil refineries in California and Washington have been out of commission in recent weeks because of explosions, breakdowns, power outages, and repairs.

Check out this gas price heat map from GasBuddy.com, or type in your zip code here to see if you are paying fair prices for the area where you live.

TIME California

Los Angeles Raises Hourly Minimum Wage to $15

As many as 800,000 of the city's workers could benefit

The Los Angeles city council voted on Tuesday to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, up from the current $9, becoming the latest major American city to boost its wage above the federal base of $7.25.

The increase arrives as several cities around the nation enact or propose legislation to address the issue, the Los Angeles Times reports. As many as 800,000 workers in the city could benefit from the approval after months of debate and lobbying, which could push neighboring cities like Santa Monica and Pasadena to follow in Los Angeles’ footsteps.

“Make no mistake,” said council member Paul Krekorian. “Today the city of Los Angeles, the second biggest city in the nation, is leading the nation.”

Los Angeles joins a number of major U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, that have moved to increase their minimum wages. Several large companies, including Walmart, have also increased their base wages following months of employee protests.

[LAT]

TIME public health

These Are the Healthiest (and Unhealthiest) Cities in America

A jogger runs past the United States Capitol building at sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.
Pete Marovich—Bloomberg/Getty Images A jogger runs past the United States Capitol building at sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.

West Coast cities make up six of the top 10

For the second year running Washington, D.C., tops the American Fitness Index (AFI) ranking as the healthiest metropolitan area in the U.S.

The nation’s capital can credit an above average access to public infrastructure for the top spot, according to the eighth annual report.

Minneapolis–St.Paul, Minn., came in second and three California metro areas — San Diego, the Bay Area and Sacramento — rounded out the top five.

“Our goal is to provide communities and residents with resources that help them assess, respond and achieve a better, healthier life,” said Walter Thompson, chair of the AFI advisory board, in a press release.

Indianapolis came in last place as it failed to reach the target goal in nearly all of the 32 health indicators measured. Memphis and Oklahoma City also ranked near the bottom.

The AFI used publicly available data points that are measured routinely and can be changed through community effort (so climate cannot be considered a health indicator).

Below you can find a list of the top-10 healthiest metro areas, according to the AFI:

  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. Minneapolis
  3. San Diego
  4. San Francisco
  5. Sacramento, Calif.
  6. Denver
  7. Portland
  8. Seattle
  9. Boston
  10. San Jose, Calif.
TIME BMW: A Company on the Edge

See Inside BMW’s Secret Design Lab

A rare look at what happens in one of the world's most important research and development centers

For decades, BMW has advertised its vehicles as “the ultimate driving machine.” The meaning of that phrase has started to slip. In an age of connected technology, ultimate driving machines automatically brake for their passengers in emergencies or beam content from mobile phones and tablets as much as they may accelerate quickly or handle nimbly.

That puts BMW, the world’s top-selling premium automaker by sales volume, in a difficult position. It must maintain its reputation for driving dynamics while also catering to changing consumer tastes—like better fuel efficiency and more advanced technology. And it is trying to do so with competitors like Audi and Mercedes-Benz nipping at its heals. Brands ranging from Toyota to Hyundai are also trying to sell more premium vehicles.

Last year, worldwide BMW sales rose 9.5% to 1.81 million cars, while Mercedes-Benz deliveries jumped 13% to 1.65 million vehicles. Volkswagen-owned Audi posted an 11% increase to 1.74 million cars. Global demand for premium cars has rebounded as the U.S. economy recovered from the recession and consumers in developing economies, such as China, continued to buy high-end products.

Harald Krueger, who took over as CEO after the group’s annual shareholders’ meeting on May 13, is trying to continue expanding BMW’s lineup while maintaining its profitability. As part of a strategy, partly overseen by the 49-year-old executive since late-2007, BMW has been aiming to make 30% more vehicles with the same number of workers while trying to reduce production costs per vehicle by raising economies of scale in components, drive systems and modules. Now, Krueger must do the same as cars grow more complex and fuel-efficient.

One of BMW’s little-known assets lies about an hour north of Los Angeles, in Newbury Park, Calif. Designworks, a consultancy owned by the German giant, is charged with designing future vehicles, exploring emerging technologies and experimenting with new materials, such as carbon fiber a major—and costly—part of BMW’s strategy to make its cars more fuel efficient in the future. In this video series, TIME looks at how BMW is trying to deal with the difficulties of a ever-more crowded, ever-changing market.

TIME Infectious Disease

California Bill to Scrap Vaccine Exemption Moves Forward

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Bill that would prohibit parents from not vaccinating their kids passes state senate

The California senate has passed a bill that could help ensure that parents vaccinate their children, months after a measles outbreak in the state linked to low vaccination rates.

The bill, which passed the senate 25 to 10, would prohibit parents from not vaccinating their kids for religious or philosophical beliefs, public radio station KPCC reports. The bill now moves on the state assembly. If it eventually becomes law, California would become the 32nd state to ban such exemptions from vaccines.

The bill comes only a few months after a measles outbreak which infected 169 people from 20 states was traced back to a Disneyland theme park in the state. Researchers point to low vaccination rates as the reason for the outbreak.

Opponents of the bill argues it goes against parents’ rights to make decisions about their children’s health. Kids who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons would still be exempt.

 

TIME California

See How California Is Using Its Diminishing Water Resources

Farmers, business owners and residents gird for unprecedented cuts to the state's water usage

California regulators imposed sweeping cuts to water usage across the state this week, ordering hundreds of government agencies to meet mandatory reduction targets and urging citizens to stop watering their lawns amid unrelenting drought conditions.

Governor Jerry Brown set a goal to cut urban water use by 25 percent, but the plan still leans heavily on citizens to adopt their own water conservation methods. Above are snapshots of the key players in this crisis, and the challenges they’ve faced as water supplies dwindle to historic lows, as detailed by the Public Policy Institute of California.

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