The Back to School Blues

'Back to school' - it's a term that conjures up a lot of emotions for parents and children.  For traditional students, returning to school is something they look forward to after a fulfilling summer break.  For nontraditional students however, the return to school  feels  quite the opposite. Summer has been a wonderful release from 9 unbearable months in the classroom; going back feels like a return to the struggle, anxiety and defeat they felt the year before.  Even though some nontraditional learners do voice their unhappiness,  few parents or teachers truly get the depth of their despair when school approaches.  Although some children will talk dejectedly about going back to school, more of them are blunting their emotions and are putting on a brave face. 

As a Learning Specialist and former Child Psychotherapist, I try to unveil the inner world of these nontraditional learners for teachers and parents to fully comprehend.  Having worked as an advocate and specialist with these learners for almost 20 years, I know hard they work  to keep up but how they are  often still behind and struggling. The dilemma is that they have OptiKode Learning Styles which cause them to be at a disadvantage in traditional classrooms. They need teaching methods which differ from the ones most teachers  use, and which are different from the ones that reach traditional learners.  Not getting them, these bright, nontraditional learners sit, and they wait, and little by little they lose motivation, confidence and tread water all year.  Is it any wonder that I refer to their predicament as 'school trauma?' I think its a fair descriptor for the chronic helplessness and dis-regulating anxiety they feel day after day.  

HOW CAN KNOWNG THIS HELP PARENTS AND EDUCATORS?

  • Understanding and empathizing with your child can go a long way to offsetting the deep isolation they regularly feel in their ives. Let them know you want them to share their feelings about school being hard or pointless.  By all means let them know if you felt this way when you were in school.  Don't hide that information but share how you coped and got through.  
  • If you have a nontraditional child, let them know they are not the only child struggling in their class.  Struggling children always think they are the only ones who are behind.  30% of students in their class are in the same boat - let them know!  Help them identify which other kids are struggling like they are.  Get to know the moms of these students and befriend them. Build community so both you and your child  can get support.
  • Nontraditional learners don't love learning for learning's sake like traditional learners do.  One of the greatest gifts you can give your nontraditional child is understanding that for them learning often feels rote and boring.  Whenever possible find ways to bring learning to life with kid-friendly  outings, movies, discussions and projects that may raise their interest in learning.

FIND OUT IF YOU HAVE A NONTRADITIONAL CHILD

It goes without saying that an important next step is to find out if your child is a nontraditional learner.  A simple, free test offered by OptiKodes Academy's  will tell you that in under 10 minutes.     https://www.optikodes.com/optikodes-tests

Our mission this year at OptiKodes Academy is to demystify the nontraditional learner. These bright learners don't have to struggle  and their parents  don't have to figure out what to do by themselves.   Discovering your child's OptiKode Learning Style is the first step in bringing out the natural born learner in your child and making this the best school year ever.

 

The Back to School Blues

'Back to school' - it's a term that conjures up a lot of emotions for parents and children.  For traditional students, returning to school is something they look forward to after a fulfilling summer break.  For nontraditional students however, the return to school  feels  quite the opposite. Summer has been a wonderful release from 9 unbearable months in the classroom; going back feels like a return to the struggle, anxiety and defeat they felt the year before.  Even though some nontraditional learners do voice their unhappiness,  few parents or teachers truly get the depth of their despair when school approaches.  Although some children will talk dejectedly about going back to school, more of them are blunting their emotions and are putting on a brave face. 

As a Learning Specialist and former Child Psychotherapist, I try to unveil the inner world of these nontraditional learners for teachers and parents to fully comprehend.  Having worked as an advocate and specialist with these learners for almost 20 years, I know hard they work  to keep up but how they are  often still behind and struggling. The dilemma is that they have OptiKode Learning Styles which cause them to be at a disadvantage in traditional classrooms. They need teaching methods which differ from the ones most teachers  use, and which are different from the ones that reach traditional learners.  Not getting them, these bright, nontraditional learners sit, and they wait, and little by little they lose motivation, confidence and tread water all year.  Is it any wonder that I refer to their predicament as 'school trauma?' I think its a fair descriptor for the chronic helplessness and dis-regulating anxiety they feel day after day.  

HOW CAN KNOWNG THIS HELP PARENTS AND EDUCATORS?

  • Understanding and empathizing with your child can go a long way to offsetting the deep isolation they regularly feel in their ives. Let them know you want them to share their feelings about school being hard or pointless.  By all means let them know if you felt this way when you were in school.  Don't hide that information but share how you coped and got through.  
  • If you have a nontraditional child, let them know they are not the only child struggling in their class.  Struggling children always think they are the only ones who are behind.  30% of students in their class are in the same boat - let them know!  Help them identify which other kids are struggling like they are.  Get to know the moms of these students and befriend them. Build community so both you and your child  can get support.
  • Nontraditional learners don't love learning for learning's sake like traditional learners do.  One of the greatest gifts you can give your nontraditional child is understanding that for them learning often feels rote and boring.  Whenever possible find ways to bring learning to life with kid-friendly  outings, movies, discussions and projects that may raise their interest in learning.

FIND OUT IF YOU HAVE A NONTRADITIONAL CHILD

It goes without saying that an important next step is to find out if your child is a nontraditional learner.  A simple, free test offered by OptiKodes Academy's  will tell you that in under 10 minutes.     https://www.optikodes.com/optikodes-tests

Our mission this year at OptiKodes Academy is to demystify the nontraditional learner. These bright learners don't have to struggle  and their parents  don't have to figure out what to do by themselves.   Discovering your child's OptiKode Learning Style is the first step in bringing out the natural born learner in your child and making this the best school year ever.

 

Does Your Child Have Executive Dysfunction? Those Who Do Fall Behind in School

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Executive Skills are a relatively unknown set of skills that are needed for ongoing school  success.  The group of learners who seem naturally endowed with executive skills are the traditional learners. From day one of grade school they independently begin developing the ability to: 

  1. allot enough time to complete term projects
  2. easily diagnose how and where their learning went wrong
  3. seek help when they need it
  4. know what their learning resources are
  5. get to test days well prepared
  6. plan ahead for  test and project due dates
  7. turn things in on time
  8. get through homework easily and efficiently
  9. prioritize learning tasks
  10. balance school life and extracurricular activities

The surprising things is that these traditional learners seem to develop these executive skills all  on their own without parents or teachers needing to guide them much.  This is because they have a predictable OptiKode where the Reading Modality is Dominant in their Functional Style and a lucky side-benefit of such a traditional OptiKode seems to be strong executive skills.

Non-traditional students by contrast are Reading Dormant in their OptiKode and poor executive functioning comes with their OptiKode. Unfortunately children with non-traditional OptiKodes have a double jeopardy - low interest in reading and poor executive skills.  This creates  huge challenges for them and their family.  

 An online assessment will easily help you identify what your child’s OptiKode is and most importantly what their Dominant 3 modalities are. Every child - and person -  has 3 Dominant and 2 Dormant modalities in their OptiKode.  Knowing what is Dominant for your  non-traditional child  is essential. With this knowledge you can then link the right tools and learning strategies to their Functional Style. This offsets the handicap they face being non-traditional learners in traditional school settings. It also  offsets their executive dysfunction by making learning feel easier and more natural, just like it feels for traditional learners. 

I teach parents how to help their children stay organized, create work plans, and to get good at time management.  These skills can be taught at any age and parents can quickly become effective teachers of these skills. There are many resources online and in bookstores which can help parents begin to understand the mechanics of executive functioning and how to help their children develop them. Two  good titles to search for to help your child improve their executive functioning skills are:

Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents' Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning

Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary "Executive Skills" Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential

Here is a good video that speaks to what executive functioning is and why it is so important in your developing child.  

OptiKodes For Couples - The Power of OptiTuning, Part 1

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When I worked as a Clinical Psychotherapist, the greatest challenge for me was working with couples. The picture above says it all - when couples are stuck and defensive with one another, it is usually long, hard work to get them to begin opening up again.  

OptiKodes offer a very powerful way to help couple's see each other in a very clear and non-judgmental way. When couples I work with first see their different OptiKodes they immediately realize that their tension patterns are partly stemming from the inevitable differences in their Functional Styles. This usually creates immediate breakthroughs. Instead of blaming each other for not understanding or meeting their needs, they see that their partner's different OptiKode simply creates a different Functional Style with unique rhythms and  preferences.

Seeing their different OptiKodes,  partners spontaneously grow more curious about each other because they have a new framework for truly seeing the dynamics of each other's OptiKodes. This naturally leads to more mutual understanding and harmony. Intimacy then flourishes as the couple gets better at staying attuned to each other's OptiKodes. 

Being able to understand and work with each other's OptiKodes is what I call 'OptiTuning.'  Its a very rare and powerful tool to have in life.  Being able to interact with others while  knowing the similarities and differences between your Functional Styles creates immediate breakthroughs.

These days neuroscience is discovering that humans are intrinsically wired for connection with each other.  With OptiKodes I am revealing the depths of how differently humans function.  In my work with OptiKodes I am endeavoring to make our human drives for connection and functioning work together seamlessly. When how we connect and how we function harmonize well. we have easier access to the satisfying lives and relationships we seek.

In my next post,  OptiKodes for Couples - Part 2, I will give specific examples of how I have used OptiKodes in couples' relationships. Seeing and identifying with these examples will give you more of a sense of the way in which OptiTuning and OptiKodes can transform lives and relationships. 

Back To School Means Back To Stress

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The first week of school is underway in many local school districts and for most families back to school means back to stress.  As a Learning Specialist and former Clinical Psychotherapist, the inner part of peoples' lives is always a top priority for me.  I know that high levels of stress compromise learning and disrupt family harmony.  I'm always on the look out for signs and symptoms that a student of mine is buckling under the stress of school.

In recent weeks most of my summertime students have been expressing real dread about the coming school year.  One 3rd grade student likened it to 'going back to prison.' In his heartbreaking words he spoke about how great it was to be out of prison over the summer, but how awful it felt to be returning. For him, like so any other children, back to school means back to stress.

Whether or not your a child is a non-traditional learner which puts them at risk for academic difficulties, your child is likely more stressed than you realize. Even the gifted learners who excel at school experience a huge hike in stress when school resumes.  Gifted learners  are concerned about maintaining their good grades and being the best in their extra-curricular activities. Believe it or not, being gifted is a huge source of stress for many children and teens. For kids with at-risk OptiKodes, school is a return to a grueling, day by day battle to learn the traditional way.  Their Functional Styles - otherwise known as an OptiKode - are not clear to teachers, much less parents, so they are like fish out of water, swimming upstream for 9 long months!  

What can parents do to help children withstand the effects of school-based stress? Here are a few ideas that will help you play a needed role in minimizing school stress load in your children's lives:

  1. Monitor how you check-in with your kids - don't just focus on their grades or tests and getting homework done promptly after school. Key into your kids' mood and mirror them. For example: "You look like you may have had a very hard day; what would help you recharge before starting homework?"  Or, "You've already worked really hard today. Let's have some fun before we begin homework. Everyone does better after getting a break to do something they like."
  2. Help kids get in touch with pressure by modeling that when you are under pressure yourself. For example: "Wow, today was totally overwhelming for me. I never felt like I could catch up and my boss didn't give me good feedback after I worked hard on a project." Or, "Sometimes I just feel like quitting work when I have a rough day.  I need to do something really nice for myself right now to feel better.  If I take care of myself, I'll probably feel like going back to work tomorrow."
  3. Create a 'mood wall' where you mount a dry erase board or coat it with chalk board paint in a color your kids like. Encourage them to draw pictures or write words, poetry or sentences that express their stress and concerns. Be sure and add yours. Set up a regular time when your kids can tell you about what they put on the wall and you can do the same. This kind of practice models emotional intelligence and coping skills - two important things that school does little to teach.

Kids in today's high-pressure school system need to have a safe place to express their feelings and know parents care.  Without an ear to hear their troubles, kids internalize their stress which then crops up in anger, depression, anxiety and worse. Back to School doesn't have to mean back to stress. Attuned parents play an important role in listening closely and offering their children deep emotional support.

Changing Schools - How to Navigate This Tough Decision

As a Learning Specialist, school placement frequently comes up as an important issue with the families in my practice.  When a child is falling behind and is showing clear signs of  resistance to going to school, it is time to consider whether the fit between the child and their current school is right. 

As stressful as considering changing schools can be, there are real guidelines that can help determine if a new school placement is necessary. In my work, I guide parents through a decision funnel that looks at 5 important factors.  If more than two factors are present, a school change is possibly needed.  If three or more factors are present, a school change should be made if at all possible.  The factors I use are:

  •   A child is a non-traditional learner 'as defined by their OptiKode' and is   struggling
  •    A child  has learning disabilities that can not be  supported with an IEP  at   school
  •    Despite attempted academic interventions, the child's well-being is      deteriorating
  •  There is an intractable power struggle between school staff and the  child/family
  •  The child and  family have a sense that another school would ignite a love  of learning

Once these factors are considered and a parent sees the need for a school change, the next important consideration is obvious - which school? The good news is that in the surrounding area there are a variety of schools to consider.  One is Eagle Peak Montessori in Walnut Creek. Eagle Peak is a free, charter school that does a marvelous job combining the best of the Montessori philosophy while still addressing the California State Standards. Nonetheless, Eagle Peak is not  the best fit for a child who has attention deficit or another processing disorder which makes being self-driven and independent difficult. Horizons Home School is another good free public school option which has helped many non-traditional students get the most out of high school.  However, Horizons Home School would not be the best fit for a highly social child who needs a great deal of peer interaction to thrive.

 Currently I have a family with 6 children, 2 of whom in my mind would do better in an alternative school placement.  We are beginning the process now and I suspect that these 2 children will be attending another school before year's end.   I know how hard it is to go through this process; thankfully  I have not as yet had a 'fail' - a placement that wasn't a good fit, or worse yet, was a disaster.  As a former psychotherapist I enjoy attuning to and supporting families as they navigate this tough decision.  I also use the individual OptiKodes of each student to find the right school that will ignite each child's love of learning. 

How OptiKodes Breathe New Life Into School Success

         

        

 I did a phone intake today with a a mother who is seeking new solutions for her 11th grade daughter's school difficulties.  It didn't take long during the intake to determine what underlies this high school girl's struggles - she has all three risk factors working against her academic success: 1) she has a late October birthday and therefore is young for grade level; 2) her OptiKode shows she is a non-traditional learner; and 3) she has recently been diagnosed with a learning disability as well. In looking at her OptiKode pictured above, both the gold Reading Modality and the dark blue Thinking Modality are 'dormant' in her OptiKode.  This means that both reading and math are not her natural strengths. As the word dormant implies, she has had to work quite hard in school to make the grades. The problem now is she is running out of energy to sustain this battle and she still has two more years to go.

Cases such as these are very heartbreaking, but as I explained to her mother today, the power of OptiKodes is how  quickly they create learning breakthroughs regardless of how long a student has struggled.  As I briefly explained to this mom, there are 120 different OptiKodes, with multiple variations of each one. Yet all that is needed with each student is to dial in  their particular OptiKode for it shows which tools and techniques will unlock each student's full learning potential.

The image of this new client's OptiKode above  tells me just how to work with her. The light blue outer ring shows that she is very image or picture oriented. A picture literally says a thousand words to her and this can be used to help her in all her subjects.  One of several tools I will use to help her with reading comprehension and vocabulary will be a visual  story boarding technique instead of using traditional, written notes.  The second ring in her OptiKode shows she is very Moving Dominant - no wonder she is such a talented athlete.  When the red, Moving Dominant Modality is first or second in an OptiKode you almost always see a student who plays year-round sports.  Unfortunately most of the time this same  Moving Dominant OptiKode will also be Reading Dominant and this is true of 25% of all OptiKodes. These are the non-traditional learners who confound teachers year after year.  If only the education system at large knew about Functional Styles and how to empower these equally gifted students with a fine-tuned understanding of their OptiKode.

 I will meet with this high school student and her mom and brother in two days time.  As is always the case, this family will go away with a very deep understanding of the similarities and differences in all their OptiKodes and how to keep this understanding at the forefront of their interactions with one another.  For the 11th grade student who is the real focus of treatment, my goal is for her to leave feeling real hope that the next two years of high school will be entirely different. 

 

How We Learn – don’t Bribe or Beat – Ignite the Flame of Curiosity

Neither Children nor School Districts need the ‘Carrot or Stick’ Approach

In over 15 years of working with struggling students, I know one thing for sure – All children are natural born learners. Curiosity is wired into our DNA and consciousness. The old adage, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink’ is dead-on with children and education. You can’t beat education into a child and it’s very challenging to try to bribe them to learn as well.

Our current carrot and stick approach to education totally misses the point. Parents can give kids $5 for every A and ground them for every D, but this approach encourages cheating and grade grubbing, not learning. As every parent knows, positive reinforcement (bribes) may sometimes work. Punishment, especially if it is not a natural consequence, rarely changes behavior. read article»

I read hundreds of articles every month on many aspects of education and education reform. Most of what I read focuses on the glass being half empty with very little creative and practical insight into how to get the glass full. It’s a joy to come across someone like Vanessa Ralph, a USF biomedical science graduate and high school chemistry teacher, with real insight.

More on Vanessa later, but first…

Many children are returning to Common Core classrooms this year. While I believe every child is a unique individual, education does require some standardization to be effective and affordable, but we do not have to sacrifice individuality, nor create standardized children in the process.

Two-thirds of American Federation of Teachers’ delegates voted in support of the standards’ potential but called for them to be guidelines, not straightjackets. Our members also called for school officials to be held accountable for proper implementation, for teachers and parents to have real input in the process, and for a different and more meaningful accountability system for educators and students not based on testing every child every year. Finally, teachers supported a moratorium on the high-stakes consequences of Common Core-aligned assessments until, at the very least, the standards are properly implemented. read article»

As I see it, the biggest issues with Common Core right now are: it has become a cause celebre for divisive politics and a ‘pot of gold’ for businesses that want nothing more than to exploit changing tests and texts for profits. The only real hope for education reform is for parents and educators to align for ‘what works for every child?’ Is this even remotely possible, give that ‘our children, not the others are our main concern? This is exactly why we need an education system that is fair to all and is really about education and not politics or financial status.

Now, back to Vanessa –

Vanessa is spending her time hand drawing a chemistry textbook stylized for people who prefer to learn visually. She is implementing wisdom and insight that I employ day in and day out with multisensory learners – meet them where they learn best, or as I like to say – sync the learning to the student.

It’s chock-full of illustrations that help reiterate the point in a way that will make sense,” she said. “The problem with textbooks is they explain a concept over five or six pages of really small text that can be broken down into a sentence and an image. read article»

Vanessa offers us a real example of how educators and parents can rally around what we now know, through neuroscience and cognitive development, about the learning process – it’s not about the right carrot or an effective stick, it’s about – what does each child need to light and fan their unique flame of curiosity.