Where are all the therapeutic educators?

Since I’ve started trying to connect with other therapeutic school educators online, I’ve been able to reach exactly…zero.

I joined Twitter a couple of years ago and have been able to connect with teachers of all subject headings (from foreign language to sex ed), in different countries, in rural schools and in urban schools, pro- and anti- Common Core, you name it. But therapeutic school educators – where are you!?

I have a couple of theories for why it’s been difficult to connect with this particular breed of teachers. First, the student population we serve as therapeutic educators requires pretty concrete boundaries. Therapeutic school educators may feel hesitant to use social media in public ways.

Second, I wonder if being outside of public schools separates us from getting “the word” about new kinds of professional development (like EdCamp) or trends like “connected educators.”

Finally, I wonder if therapeutic school educators feel that most of the resources in the connected educator sphere are not applicable. I know I’ve certainly felt this way – leading to my desire to bring therapeutic school educators together in an online community.

Anyone else have ideas? Where are the connected therapeutic school teachers – or how can we connect those not yet hooked in?

Seeking to connect therapeutic school educators

The thing that keeps me going in my job, even more than my love for my students, is the power of my community. You can love your students but still burn out on the difficult work that is teaching social/emotional skills and supporting students’ navigation through incredibly complicated lives. Without the community of educators, social workers and others who care about our students, I wouldn’t be able to do the work I do.

Our school has been participating the last two years in a conference of Vermont therapeutic school educators. While my local community at my school is strong, it adds even more to know that others are out there across my state doing the same type of work and facing the same challenges as I do. It strengthens my practice when I learn from other educators taking different approaches toward the same goal – or taking the same approach as I am, confirming what I know to be good work.

Now, I want to connect even more therapeutic school educators. Twitter has been a really powerful way for me to connect to other educators around the world, but I rarely see others in this space who are primarily working with at-risk youth in a therapeutic setting. Is that you? 

If so, I’d like to start by creating a list of those of us doing this work. Get in touch with your Twitter or blog info, or just say hi. I’d love to see an exchange of ideas, best practices, shared challenges and growth among us. At the very least, I think the power of knowing we are not alone doing this work will be beneficial to everyone involved.

So are you a therapeutic school educator or know someone else who is? Please leave a comment or email me at alex DOT shevrin AT gmail DOT com. I’d love to connect!

Reflections on the case against technology integration

Over the past several months I’ve been investigating the case against technology integration in classrooms – or more broadly, the case against internet and smartphones. Because I’m earning my master’s degree in education with a technology focus, I thought it was important to be able to address concerns and opposition to what I believe to be the great benefits of technology.

Throughout my study, I read Alone TogetherThe Shallows, and Last Child in the Woods. I also kept an eye open to articles and conversations in the education world either supporting or countering technology integration. At core, these readings did not change my beliefs about educational technology, but they did expose me to some fascinating research and trends that those in the field are currently exploring. My core belief is that there is no silver bullet or single answer in education. Every student learns differently and every teacher is most effective in a different way. The tool should fit the task, whether that tool is an iPad or a riverbed.

I’m worried to learn about the ways that the internet may impact our ability to do deep, sustained reading, as I learned in The Shallows. I’m concerned that the internet may push people apart rather than draw them together, as Shelly Turkel argues in Alone Together. I don’t want my children to be more connected to their tablets than to nature, as in the future painted by Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods. However, these worries don’t outweigh my faith that the internet can help connect disenfranchised youth, that online access can spark interest and availability of higher education, or that real-audience tasks can invigorate reading and writing skill-building. I don’t think it has to be a case of one or the other, of unplugged versus plugged in, of online versus off. We can support our students in ways that make sense for each of them, and blanket acceptance or refusal of any tool doesn’t make sense for all students.

I appreciate the increased awareness I’ve gained over the course of my study, and I hope it will serve me well going forward. I can be more mindful of turning to the internet thoughtlessly, or how Im’ incorporating play in nature into my classes. I can be sure to balance the connections my students build online with the connections they’re making face to face. Throughout it all, I stand steady in my belief that we need to get to know our students well as individuals and then work from there. Relying on my core beliefs and balancing what I know about the drawbacks of screen dependence, I think I will serve my students well.

Review: Last Child in the Woods

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit DisorderLast Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We are separated from nature and it’s dangerous to our children. So goes the thesis of Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, a critique of our society’s relationship with nature and a guide to how we can reconnect. Louv describes how unstructured play in nature has given way to regimented, supervised, and risk-free activities like organized sports that take place on artificial turf. Free play has become criminalized or outlawed, parents are overprotective and live in fear of the unknown. Louv acknowledges the legitimate reasons why these cultural norms developed, but pushes back on them with evidence of the benefits of quality time spent in nature – and dangers of times spent without. “Permanent disconnection of the young and nature,” he says, “is not inevitable.”
Throughout this well-researched, broad examination, Louv looks at the micro solutions to the child/nature separation as well as the macro societal changes that need to be made. He offers ways to talk about nature to our children or our students, and ways to reimagine the way that cities and towns across the country are designed, engineered and built. Through the lenses of law, religion, school, civil engineering, design, and environmentalism, Louv covers in great detail the depth of the problem – and ways to fix it.
Louv uses a few psychological theories or diagnoses to explain what happens when we remove ourselves from nature. These emotionally resonant examples, such as “nature deficit disorder” or “cultural autism,” help drive home the point that nature is a powerful force in our lives and its impact runs deep into our hearts and minds. Louv also uses beautiful imagery of the natural places in our collective memory, like the edge of the vacant lot, the natural fort under the trees in the cul-de-sac. These descriptions sent me back to thoughts of my childhood and the ways in which I interacted with nature on a daily basis in my suburban yard. I think this is a brilliant part of Louv’s approach: we must reconnect to the value we experienced of nature in order to reprioritize similar value for our children.
In parallel to learning more about the impacts of technology on our lives, I’ve also been learning about systems thinking, and Louv sketches a complete picture of the system which leads to a deficit of nature in our lives. Because he carries out his thesis in so many detailed and varied examples, Last Child in the Woods avoids shaming or blaming any particular group (parents, educators, politicians) for the problem. Instead, the book is solution-oriented – offering folks in any role ways to start small in making a change. I appreciated Louv’s emphasis on practical advice to parents and institutions. While it can be overwhelming to think about global warming or the degradation of natural spaces in our country, I felt settled to think of small, concrete steps I can begin to take, in my classroom and my community. One classroom approach with which I was already familiar was place-based education, especially through the lens of David Sobel. Louv sketches out ideas and examples of how schools around the country are connecting with place rather than through the internet to develop children’s skills and helping them learn endangered knowledge of how the natural world works.
Reading Last Child in the Woods wraps up my study of the case against technology integration in schools. I expected to feel defensive while reading this book, but I actually agree with Louv on his opinion of computers: “The problem with computers isn’t computers – they’re just tools; the problem is that overdependence on them displaces other sources of education, from the arts to nature.” Throughout my study of the case for and against technology integration, I’ve come to firmly stand behind the “both/and.” Computers are both incredible tools for education, and impediments in the way of learning. Interactions with nature are both essential for development and not the only path toward healthy development. This echoes what I believe about teaching as a whole: there is no silver bullet, single strategy or tool that works or doesn’t work for everyone. After my study, I feel optimistic about balancing my passion for educational technology with all that’s valuable about the unconnected world.

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