The Mirror of Nonverbal Behavior

Can there be something stronger manifesting in subconsciously in the demonstration of non-verbal behavior?


Children are sponges for what lies ahead of  them. They soak up all that they hear and feel, which in turn  creates a burden that they aren’t familiar with. Think of it like a terrible song that you hear in an elevator. As you leave it you are humming (potentially to the benefit of whomever you are walking next to) this song that you remember but not well enough to remember the words or title of. Now, think of that same process but with the noise of parental or adult language.

It’s not enough to just consider the audience to whom we are talking to, but must also take into consideration how we say it. In an article published out of West Point, the observation was made that although we, as parents and educators, have a strong understanding of the effect that non-verbal communication may have on children and yet at the same time look for a sign of praise or receiving of information from our children and students? It is one thing for children to demonstrate traditional non-verbal clues that resonate praise and acceptance, and yet what if they fail to do so? Non-traditional nonverbal behavior or communication can also be a learned behavior, like a wink or an eye roll. However, the question remains, can they be a sign that there is something deeper, stronger manifesting subconsciously?

My father was a huge Patton fan. He once told me that Patton practiced his brave face in the mirror to show bravery and strength in the line of enemies, so I often like to think of non-verbal behavior like a student’s subconscious mirror. Although I am seeing a variety of actions and behaviors, what feelings or train of subconscious thoughts led them to get there?

The road to understanding or deciphering non-verbal behavior is certainly culturally specific, but it doesn’t have to be specific to a culture. As I have said before, it often is their version of normal, which in this case is their own created culture. There is no ideal set of non-verbal behaviors that are universally acceptable or desired. What we want, what anyone wants for their children, is to be understood , both verbally and emotionally. Enter the world of social emotional learning. If we learn to strengthen our thoughts of how we learn and how we feel, like any good muscle needing to grow stronger, than aren’t we creating a face that is more reflective of what we are feeling?

I am sure Patton wasn’t always feeling brave and gallant when he woke up everyone, but I know that children aren’t fine every single time they respond to an adult’s question. Isn’t it time we allow them opportunities to strengthen these muscles?


The tool of humility

When a child becomes the top performer on a test or hits the scoring run, they brag about it to their friends, wanting to shout it from the mountain tops. However, when a child makes a mistake, they internalize the shame and guilt felt about not succeeding. The heavy sense of guilt and self-blame that a child feels when they make a mistake can be life altering in the eyes of a child. Isn’t it time we let them learn that life is full of mistakes as well as getting everything right all the time?



A recent article in Psychological Science found that people who brag about themselves and their successes are more likely to damage their friends’ opinion of them. In other words, currently we are not teaching children how to develop the tool of humility. If it is time for children to realize and reflect on their own actions and limitations, then shouldn’t this be the tool we are using the most with our children? Yes, it is painful to hear their child did not get a sticker with their 100 on their weekly spelling test, but isn’t it more important for them to recognize they didn’t get the sticker because of what more they could have done. 

The picture above is my light box in the class of fidgets that sits on the table when they walk in the door. Make no mistake of it’s message and the psychology of it’s being. For one, it the first thing they see when they walk in the door, welcoming them to the room. The sign reminds them that the skill of accepting what they got wrong is just as strong of a skill is bragging about when they get it all right.  It is one that my fidgets know by heart (probably because I say it all the time), but my fidgets are less to panic over feeling less than others because these children accept others strengths and weaknesses as if they were their own.

In my class we have a daily  tradition of sharing everyone’s high and low. What they are happy about outside the classroom, and what they aren’t happy about. For my class of fidgets, it helps them get things off their chest and share with the other students. In my parenting sessions as a Positive Discipline Educator, this is also one of the skills we encourage others to strengthen because helping children accept mistakes is as great as celebrating their successes. The bigger part of this is the daily routine of reflecting on their own actions and how they feel about. By voicing their own reflections, children begin to self-actualize what their actions helped them feel about themselves. This can also be done around the dinner table, helping children realize the amount of power, big or too little, they are giving to their events.

Maybe if we can help children realize the why in how much power they are giving to the worth of their accomplishments and mistakes, we can help lessen or carry the load?

Working with Not Against Them

In my class of fidgets, they are gold medal winners in the areas of constant movers. For children, the constant tapping and self-soothing behavior is called stimming. Although this term is often related to autistic related behavior, it refers to self-stimulating patterns or rhythms that soothes a student in the learning process. For any adult dealing with a multitude of noise or pattern, all it takes is getting over the annoyance factor (and maybe some ear plugs).

With stimming, it can bring on a bit of a  distracting presence that wasn’t in the environment before, so I suggest working with the behavior and not against it.I know this sounds simple, but what they are presenting to you makes sense to them. It is their normal, so  use what they are demonstrating and work with it.  For example, I have a student who has fallen over in her chair more times than I count because of the constant toe-tapping she creates by rocking back and forth. Is it annoying to the other students? Yes. Has she distracted the other students in the class even though she is in the back of the room? Yes. However, I wasn’t going to let it affect ME. What she is demonstrating isn’t about ME, and I always have to remember that.

As the adult,  I decided to take ME out of it, and remember that this was her normal. So, I had two choices keep her on the current path with what she is presenting with no results, or work with what she is showing me and do something about it. Enter, the greatest adaptive seating method that doesn’t cost a penny.

img_4222By simply flipping her seat over, and allowing her to work on her stomach, her act of writing on the chair creates a series of vibrations for her to feel as she writes. In other words, she is actively involved in the learning process and is doing so on her terms.  Once again, I chose to work with her normal and make it her own.

Sometimes it’s as easy as helping them have a voice in their learning process, which is what  all we want at the end of the day, isn’t it?

A Child’s Magic: a learner’s self-empowerment

I am not a doctor. It sounds like an infomercial that you hear around 2 am when you can’t sleep blasting from the t.v., right? What I do have is eleven years of teaching under my belt in some of the lowest neighborhoods where most of the parents barely graduated high school, residencies for my counseling degree at a residential treatment center where girls had been in the foster system for most of their life, and working as a school counselor in a variety of settings.

Think of the fairy tales you read as a child, none of them spoke of a magic formula where everything you ever wanted came true just because you did something you were told to. Fairy tales happened because of what the character, usually an adorable girl with pig tales or a handsome young chap with an earnest desire to explore, did something about. They made it happen, mistakes and all. Shouldn’t children have that same opportunity?

Sometimes it’s all about working with what the child or learner brings to the classroom. Sometimes you have the unwillingness learners, the ones that  are sleepy, almost zombie like, like this kiddo I observed last week.

He was sluggish, and unmotivated, but given the appropriate content, I knew I could capture his attention. With those types of learners, I work with what he  is interested in learning  on his own.  Using the wiggle seat gave him a constant ripple of motions that sparked his body to engage physically, and working on something he liked the first thing in the morning, made his brain engage mentally. Connecting the brain and body made his learning relevant, which in turn, helped him take an active role in his learning.

Like I said, I’m not a doctor, but aren’t these simple adjustments with working with our children something we can all do? I am all about magic and children, I just feel that they should be in charge of their own destiny .

An Emotional Sandwich: understanding the difference between SEL and Emotional IQ


pbjLast week I had the opportunity to join my fellow Pollination Project grantees to talk about the importance of social change and making a difference. There were a flurry of buzz words floating through the air during our conference. Our batteries were recharged, our passions reignited, which is especially helpful given our current events lately. In talking with other grantees, it dawned on me that social emotional learning and emotional intelligence are thrown around quite casually both in and outside schools lately, but too often we, both as parents and educators, make the assumption that people can distinguish between the two.

Simply put, social and emotional learning refers to the skill set of developing the fundamental skills to manage emotions and apply those emotions in the areas of empathy, setting positive goals, and behavior management. In contrast, emotional intelligence is identifying, labeling, and applying your emotions.Since I teach a class of first grade fidgets, I like to think of these two buzz words like a sandwich, because everyone starts of with bread.


Now no one’s two pieces of bread will be the same, but the sandwich has to start somewhere, right? Once you have the bread, you have to first recognize your emotions. Am I feeling sad, angry, elated, depressed, happy or excited? That is emotional learning, or the peanut butter of your sandwich. It can be as simple as you want ( one emotion, like sadness) or clumpy (two emotions, being filled with angst and frustration). Next, we add the jelly, or social emotional learning, which is the process of applying these emotions to the areas of understanding others or empathy. I am feeling anxious in class because I realize my friend did better on her test because she studied harder than I am. Without the two ingredients, you would just have bread, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich has to have both ingredients, right?

The tendency in today’s society is to intertwine the two, mixing social emotional learning and emotional intelligence. And although you can’t have one without the other, alone they make pretty odd sandwiches. Both need each other to have a successful learning environment, both emotionally and academically to create a community where students feel self-love, a stronger sense of purpose and compassion for others.

If this is done correctly, by using each ingredient of the sandwich together instead of just with the bread alone, it will make one fantastic sandwich, that teachers and students alike will reap the benefits of for quite sometime, at school, at home, and for years to come.


The Power of Words




If you have been following along with me on Instagram, I have tried to stress the attention and emphasis you place on the quality of time you spend with the child or children in your life. Regardless of the title that you have in their life, whether it be a teacher, aunt, uncle, or parent, you are the star in that child’s life. What you do or say matters in their world 1000% percent, so shouldn’t you give that same amazing amount of energy and focus to them as well?

As I have said before, I am the mom of two Troubles and first grade teacher to a class of fidgets. During the day, I treat and talk to my fidgets just as I would do if they were my own. Of course the flurry of teachers at any school can provide their two cents about what is best for you our your classroom, but when it all comes down to it, you, the adult in the child’s life, knows what’s best.

With all that is going in our adult world of musts and must nots, when it comes to working with our children, they should be your number one priority. Period. I know that this is easier said than done, but the words that they hear from adults are just as important as the words we tell them.  The next time you begin to feel the stress and angst of the noise from the outside world, whether that’s politics, office or school drama, fill in the blank, remember that your words matter, the words that you repeat, and the world that you tell to the child or children in your life.

So don’t you want the words that you tell your children, regardless of the title you hold in their life, to be ones that can they remember and repeat or spark a journey of growth and empowerment?


To Calm is the question




Like all working moms and elementary teachers, I too was one of those that got sick over the winter break. It would have been convenient if I was the only one who felt bad in my house, but it turns out my two little Troubles got sick as well. It just so happened that they got sick on Christmas Eve too when no one was open. So needless to say I have been relying heavily on using the strategies that I write about even more so lately in the classroom.

As with any break, you feel like you are getting your sea legs, finding the perfect balance between what you know and what you feel, or connecting your head and your heart. A while back I wrote a post using my REACT© strategy ( if you haven’t gotten a chance to read it, or are new, welcome! ), and I realized that I should probably ask to take a step back before implementing the REACT© strategy and let me tell you why.

When anyone has a reaction that is an imbalance that is both physical and emotional, they feel it emotionally and sense it physically. Sometimes you can stop it before it affects your day to day happenings, which is ideal, and sometimes, it causes a road block in your ability to learn and focus. For example, let’s say you walk in the classroom late, upset and frustrated. That negative energy begins to float over you, like a fog in a good Saturday morning cartoon. It starts in the back of your forethoughts, festering and growing that you can’t shake of. As the sense of helplessness gains momentum, so does this inner sense of defeatism and negativity which you begin to think in your thoughts and feel physically. You may become antzy or daydream because really, what’s the point?

Enter the next strategy…. C-A-L-M©. Before you allow the fog of negative emotions was over you (think of the steam coming out of Yosemite Sam’s ears), try to refocus that into being C-A-L-M©. Now I must admit that this also comes in mighty handy when you are super frustrated with your class because they have forgotten how to listen over the weekend. Last week was one of those moments, when none of the tricks of the trade were working, and I simply said CALM, and this is what transpired: whatever chaos that happened froze, the noise became silent, their bodies into whatever calming position was comfortable for them. The majority of them ( including myself) sat down wherever they were standing, crossed their legs, and begin the following process:

    C=  can this (whatever this is that I am struggling with) really have this much power over                    what I am doing?

A= actively recognizing that I have lost my role in the learning process and how it can affect                or effect others and our enviornment 

L= what lesson can I learn from this moment in time, what can I take care away from                              it?

 M= make a connection between how your mind is thinking or processing this reaction to how            your heart is feeling right now 

If you notice, it is not just the textbook definition of taking a deep breath and refocusing, or the tried and trued ancient classroom discipline tool of turning the lights on. You are reminding the students that they have a chance to change how the role that the issue ( or whatever this is) plays in their current moment right now. If it does correctly, the current of energy goes from the image of steam coming from Yosemite Sam’s to a flurry of hearts that Peppe le Peu feels when falling in love.

A flurry of hearts and positivity is what we want for any child we teach or raise, regardless of our role, and all it takes is for us to take a deep breath, a tiny step back, and to stay       C-A-L-M.


Please remember if you like this post and think it may help others, please pass it on. We can only help our children, if we learn to help or share the knowledge we learn.



It’s A Matter of Perspective



This week has been a whirlwind, with the death of two screen icons and the start of school back in the new year. My heart was heavy with loss as I grew up watching Debbie Reynolds in Singing In The Rain on the couch with my grandmother as well as the loss of her talented daughter, Carrie Fisher. I will admit I am not the most epic fan of Star Wars, but the awareness that she has brought to both the image and identity of addiction and mental heath is astounding.

So, back the my classroom of first grade fidgets…

As with the new year, just when all the ebbs and flows are settling in, I get a new student     (which I will admit comes in perfect timing as  it merits a review of rules and procedures for us all). One day as my fidgets were working, he came up to my table and said “Ms. Kohl, I have the hookups”. I tried to contain the giggles growing within myself, and responded “You mean the hiccups, don’t you?”. His response is one I will never forget, “Nope, they are heavier than the hiccups and they hook me up in my thinking”.

The newest member of the fidgets had renamed his hiccups based on how they made him feel, scrambling and interrupting his learning process. As the day progressed, I reflected on the role that perspective can play on a child’s own role in their learning. How much of their learning is fully comprehending and applying and how much is it a response or reaction to what they perceive to be happening?

There are many things we cannot control in life of a child especially how they perceive the events in their life, but we can adjust the quality of what we present to them. Think back to my new fidgeter, he fully believed he had renamed a mundane annoyance because of the role that it played in his learning. What else do children rename simply because they get pulled down by what they perceive? Self worth, love, success.

I know that the road blocks are heavy and hard to adjust or maneuver in the lives of our children (both taught or raised), but with a little prior preparation aren’t we able to replace their perception with a reality that is full of hopes and dreams, rainbows and butterflies?



Wiggle in the New Year

In a traditional classroom setting long, long ago, teachers sat students in rows of five or six, in perfectly straight columns to maintain order and where all students were treated the same. Guess what? No one is the same, and if we were, it would be a pretty boring world to be in (not to mention those children who were learning in such a dull environment).

As my passion for connecting learning and emotions has begun to evolve, I have embraced the thinking outside the box, the not sitting still, and yes, the wiggles. The wiggle seat, or sensory seat as it sometimes referred to as, allows students to move around at a pace or rhythm that is comfortable with them that often helps with focusing and concentration.

If you can get past the constant bobble of heads, the end result is beyond worth it. Research has shown that students begin to fidget more when they are asked to process and comprehend new information rather than just hold on to it. 


As a teacher or parent, it is just a matter of getting past your comfort level of having a little background movement going on while the learning process is under way. It may not be the best fit for everyone’s learning style, but it allows the student to begin to understand the power they can have in creating an environment that empowers them to look within themselves to be successful.

So if it’s just a matter of adjusting our comfort levels, aren’t the benefits worth their weight in gold?

Worries and Reactions

It is that time where we are at the end of one year, and the beginning of another. For children and adults, our minds fill with worry and anticipation of what lies ahead beyond… all that the new year will bring us, both known and unknown.

What is known for a child is often what is familiar, their daily routines and things that are familiar for them: how and where they study and relax. Often a change in these routines, like the start of a new year and talk of new goals, brings anxiety. Picture a wave rushing over you that instantly beckons the tells of worry: sweaty palms, the hair on the back of your neck standing up and your stomach twisting and turning. We cannot change what we do not know, but we can adjust on how we react. 

But we think about R-E-A-C-T differently in my first grade classroom.

R= recognizing why your upset

E = identifying your emotional response to the issue

 A= actively check out on thinking about it ( we use yoga in my room)

C= what or how will you change

T= take charge of how you can make it better


Because at the end of every day, how we REACT to change makes all the difference, both good and bad.