All posts by Walter

Don’t Panic: Get the Facts…

Today at school, I was asked about “Blue Whale” — an alleged social media phenomena that is supposedly “going viral” and encouraging teens to commit suicide. Since I am teaching a Suicide Prevention Workshop tonight I thought I’d better do some quick checking in case it comes up.

One thing for certain, the media is having a field day with it. Many of the headlines and claims in the articles being published turn out to be “unproven.”  There is general agreement an “ap” (game) originated in Russia that encourages “vulnerable” teens to engage in a series of tasks (like cutting) and allegedly ends with them taking their own life.  The word “vulnerable” is very important in that sentence.

A game will not “cause” someone to commit suicide. Certainly, a game such as this is cause for concern, but it is not cause for panic. There actually have been no conclusive links between suicides and the game. It is interesting that this story was first picked up by the tabloids–they are known for their accurate reporting, right?

What can happen is that a person already having suicidal thoughts may find a game or group that they perceive shares their thoughts and feelings. The roots of those thoughts and feelings are not caused by joining a group or playing a game. It is interesting that this story was first picked up by the tabloids–known for their accuracy!

The energy that will be spent warning people about this “Blue Whale” would be better spent developing a basic understanding of suicide and it’s prevention. Most of the workshops I offer are free and are research-based. We need to understand and focus on protective factors and the fundamental causes. Personally, I believe early intervention is going to be the key to correcting this public health crisis.  When we understand the risk factors and triggers we can recognize the need.

The techniques covered in the workshop are basic and relatively simple. Perhaps not quite as simple as clicking “share” on Facebook, but they are about sharing.

One of the better “fact checking” sites is here, but you might be better served to research the facts regarding suicide and how you can help prevent it. The life you save may belong to someone you love.

Maine Public Offers Workshop for High School Writers

Maine Public and the Maine Writing Project are offering a free two-week workshop for young writers to hone their skills, called Raise Your Voice Workshop. The workshop will provide a forum for seasoned writers and teachers to share their experiences with the students. Participating students will develop writing and multimedia that will be featured on the Raise Your Voice! Web page. It also may be aired on Maine Public Radio. The program will take place from July 24-August 4 at three locations including Baxter Academy for Science and Technology in Portland, Thomas College in Waterville and the University of Maine in Orono from 8:30 AM to Noon each day. To apply, go to mainepublic.org under the Education tab, or contact Education Program Coordinator Dave Boardman at RaiseYourVoice@mainepublic.org or call 423-6934.

Just How Busy Are You, Really?

“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”

David Allen

Well, that quote got my attention! The article it was in was about productivity–something that’s been weighing on my mind during what is traditionally one of my busiest months of the year. The article also mentioned a recent article in The Atlantic  suggesting that being busy may have become a status symbol.

I’m chuckling at the thought I currently have lots of status.

In a more serious vein, let’s go back to the quote. I think it, like most good quotes, gives rise to a number of thoughts and considerations.

I’ve always believed that there really aren’t time management problems–there are priority issues. Too often we are not conscious of what is getting our attention. I recently emailed someone for some fairly simple information I needed. When I didn’t get a reply, I emailed again. This time I received a fairly lengthy explanation for his failure to reply–he explained that he is extremely busy. What I found most interesting about his reply was that he could have given me the information in the amount of time it took for him to explain how busy he was, but he didn’t. Isn’t that interesting? I can accept that my needs may not be a priority, but I’d like a little honesty.

I think his failure to provide had less to do with how busy he was and more to do with him judging my need didn’t make it to his priority list.

Some time management/productivity gurus suggest managing energy rather than time. I’ve found that’s a great way to justify procrastination. “I don’t have the energy right now, so I’ll do something else.” For that matter, it works the same with time. “I don’t have enough time to do that (even though it’s really important) so I’ll wait until…” It’s certainly not hard to find reasons not to do things!Notice, though, procrastination is still about priorities. All we’re really doing is justifying the shifting our priorities.

Notice that procrastination is still about priorities. All we’re really doing is justifying shifting our priorities. That may be okay, but let’s recognize and admit that we’re doing it. We can at least be honest with ourselves.

When we’re less than honest with ourselves–that’s when we end up giving things more attention than they deserve. Anyone who’s ever tried to have an important or urgent conversation with someone who is constantly checking their smartphone and answering text messages knows exactly what I mean. And that’s just an example.

What does have your attention? Is that what’s important to you?

How busy are you, really?

Would three of my friends please…?

This post is appearing on Facebook… almost to the point of going viral. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but my question is a little different.

Would three of my friends please attend a free two-hour workshop that will help you understand some facts about suicide and some very simple steps you can take to help prevent it?

You can do more than just provide a phone number!

I currently have two free workshops scheduled:

  • Thursday, May 11, 2017, at Bangor Grange, 1192 Ohio Street in Bangor, starting at 6:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 16, 2017, at Guilford United Methodist Church, 3 School Street in Guilford starting at 6:30 p.m.

Both workshops are free–all it costs is two hours of your time–admittedly a little more than copying and pasting a phone number, but in return for those two hours you’ll be able to help stem this crisis.  93% of students who’ve attended my class say they feel more confident about being able to recognize suicide warning signs and risk factors. 85% left feeling better equipped to help someone might seem suicidal.

And you’ll get a magnet that includes both the National and Maine Hotline Numbers as well as lots of resource material. In order to ensure we have plenty of material, we do ask you to pre-register by visiting our website or calling 343-1842.

Suicide Hotline #

But wait, there’s more! A third workshop is available through the RSU 19 Adult Education Program on Tuesday, May 2, 2017, at Nokomis High School in Newport. There is a small charge for this program… for more information or to register, visit http://rsu19.maineadulted.org/ or call 207 368-3290.

And even more! Did you know that you can report Facebook Posts that seem to reflect suicidal thoughts?  Here’s how!


Walter Boomsma is Gatekeeper trained and a NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) Certified Mental Health Specialist for Youth and Adults. He is also an experienced educator and substitute elementary school teacher.

 

Teachers — Born or Made?

“Teaching  is a natural gift; it cannot be taught through college training.” This statement posted on a substitute teacher’s forum was actually directed to me based on some previous discussion around the qualifications for a substitute teacher. I decided not to engage in a “nature versus nurture” debate and actually fell back on my “it depends,” answer to the question “What do you say?”

One of the things teachers must learn is to make sure you understand the question before you answer it.  I’m still not sure if this was a question about teaching or a question about the value of a college education.  But it did set me to thinking.

I think some of the fundamental qualities required to be a teacher are not easily taught. A couple of examples:

  • A love of children
  • A love of learning
  • A love of teaching/nurturing
  • Flexible thinking skills

I do think those qualities can be learned. There is a, however, a difference between learning and teaching. I know a lot of people (kids included) who are tired of being taught but are anxious to learn. One of the distinguishing features of an outstanding teacher is his or her ability to engage the learners and make learning “fun.”

When I started in the business of education, my focus was on adults. Macolm Knowles was just developing his adult learning theory and the word “andragogy” was becoming commonplace. They were heady times for educators.  As is often the case with new concepts, an unfortunate polarity developed. The term “pedagogy” had been around longer, applied to child learning. No one thought to raise the question of whether or not it makes sense to draw such a solid line between child learning and adult learning. We were too enamored of the labels and the differences.

But I digress–mostly to make the point that adults tend to be more task-oriented and self-directed learners than kids.  For most adults, learning is about application rather than memorization.

Colleges have been too slow to recognize this difference as an opportunity. Ironically, there has been a tendency to cling to teaching methods more suited to kids. Another digression we could take–what is the teacher’s role in teaching students how to learn?

When we look at teaching, there’s a lot that can be taught in a classroom–college or otherwise– including strategies and techniques. But if we’re not careful, we end up with the equivalent of trying to teach someone how to play tennis without spending any time on the court.

I “interviewed” my niece (Thanks, Abigail!) for this article–she’s currently completing her student teaching, a 75 day (15 weeks–one semester) assignment. She estimates that 15-25% of her college program involves actual teaching–partly because she ended up team teaching during her observations.  Not all students get that opportunity–much depends on the supervising teacher.

Can teaching be taught in college? We need to be cautious about one-dimensional thinking and yes or no answers. If  we think the answer is found in whether or not the teacher can pass the test, let’s remember that the real test isn’t a final exam or achieving certification. The real test will happen in the classroom–one reason it’s important to learn there.  Or maybe in a Dr. Seuss like way, we should be learning “here, and there, and everywhere.”