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Help Students Understand the Emotional Impact of Change

Observing a room full of seventh graders watch Inside Out for the first time in their health class, I'm reminded of how emotional I felt the first time I saw it.

My son and I viewed it together and I thought, "Wow, what a great opportunity to discuss feelings in a way that made sense to him at 9 years old."

Understanding our emotions is a huge part of life and how we cope with them really sets us up for who we will be in the future.

As teachers, we have a unique opportunity to help students understand the confusing times that adolescence potentially can bring and how we approach and model learning in these important moments can make a difference in how kids respond to different emotional cues like change and growth.

As we get a glimpse inside Riley's head we see the core emotions and get an understanding of how memories are formed and the conflict each of us feels while we try to navigate different situations.

Joy, who is at the controls the most sees to it that Riley keeps a positive outlook about life. Maintaining the various other emotions, Joy is able to put a happy spin on most experiences which keeps Riley mostly content. Unfortunately, the move to San Francisco triggers a bunch of new feelings that Joy can't protect Riley from, much like our students who are transitioning into adulthood by way of their teenage years.

You don't have to leave the state to experience a major emotional change and sometimes even just normal aging generates new perspectives and memories that can be challenging to understand and stay positive through.

But no emotion is bad on its front. They all are necessary for us to be healthy, functioning people. That's why this movie is great because it shows how each emotion plays a part in each of us and how they must work together to make us whole. Not to mention that each of us handles these feelings differently and the movie shows that as well.

Different emotions translate into experiences that students may have coupled with the context of the lives they come to us with. When change happens or challenges surface, children have an opportunity to tackle those situations in a lot of different ways and so often their emotional outlook is what will make or break the experience.

It was interesting listening to the students after the first segment was shown. The content seems to resonate on several levels and some kids talked about how sad it is. Who can't identify with

being in an uncomfortable situation that forces them to lose connection with the memories that ground us in happiness or even sadder, what if we have students who never had happy memories in their childhood to keep them grounded?

As a parent and teacher, watching the thoughts and emotions of the adults in the movie also resonates. The way we respond to the challenges of our adolescent children/students can impact the way they move forward. The kind of needed empathy is great and it has the power to really improve a bad situation at any time.

So as you go through your day today and you notice kids experiencing different emotions, try to wonder what's going on inside their heads. Rather than act with your own emotion, try to be empathetic with theirs.

And remember what sadness says, "Crying helps [us] slow down and obsess over the weight of life's problems." Sometimes we need to give students the space to do this too.

Slow down today and see the opportunity - try to fill it with what kids need, but don't let the emotions in you supersede those of the students.

What will you do to model empathy today? Please share

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in March 2016.


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