Category Archives: Mental Health

Dead Rainbows?

RainbowsI’m honored to have been invited to speak at two Kiwanis Club Meetings in February: Orno on the sixteenth and Dover Foxcroft on the twenty-third. Since both invitations offered a fair amount of latitude regarding my topic, I decided to come up with something new!

Finding Dead Rainbows – where you stand makes a difference will be both thought-provoking and fun. Rainbows are about hope and promise. Where we find rainbows has a lot to do with where we look. And where we look has a lot to do with where we stand.

“The work will wait while you show the child the rainbow, but the rainbow won’t wait while you do the work.”

Some thoughts on addiction…

I’ve recently found myself referring people to this video, so I decided to make it easy to find by embedding it here! Please note I do not see this as a political issue–I see it as a social, and in many cases, personal issue. Bear in mind also, any attempt to summarize a complex issue in a five-minute video is going to suffer from over-simplification and omission. The point is not to convince; the point is to get you thinking! (I’m not sure I agree with everything presented, but we’ll leave that for another day!)

Season’s Greetings… the best is yet to come!

AVP Small


 

Dear clients and friends…

Another year has passed and with it arises the opportunity to reconnect! As most of you know, I try hard not to write the typical Christmas letter—just to share some updates and accomplishments over the past year.

The first thing most will notice is this comes to you on a new letterhead! You’ll recall last year I announced that while I’m still a licensed broker with Mallet Real Estate, I was no longer actively seeking clients. That is all still true, but I’ve also become a bit more focused. My former high school teacher and now good friend Tony has been asking me for years, “When are you going to listen to your calling?” While I’m not sure it’s a calling, I have determined it is time to admit that I am first and foremost an educator and author.

My time spent with the kids at school continues to be enlightening and entertaining! This past spring, I volunteered to use the resources of Abbot Village Press to publish our Elementary School Yearbook. We created a yearbook team of students to assist and ended up producing a quality product at an affordable price. No, I do not plan to become a yearbook publisher, although it looks like we’ll be doing this year’s as well.

I’ve believed for some time that there are some additional writing and publishing projects in my future. Unfortunately, some major course development work this year continues to keep several writing projects sidelined. Course development includes not only major revisions to several real estate courses but also some new courses both real-estate related and adult not.

One goal I achieved this year was completing my training with the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). I’m now fully gatekeeper trained and a Certified Mental Health First Aid Specialist for both youth and adults. This also means I am qualified to teach the Suicide Awareness and Prevention Training required by Maine Law (LD 609) of all school employees. What is most important to me personally is that I now have information and resources to offer kids and adults who find themselves in a difficult place.

One of the adult education programs I teach for frequently has asked for an “adult educator enrichment program.” The course will likely include some things about the way adults learn along with checklists to improve delivery of material in an adult setting. The program will probably use some material from the Substitute Teacher Course I teach (kids aren’t really that much different!) and my “Public Speaking for the Nervous and Frightened.”

But my best days are still the ones when the phone rings early in the morning and I’m needed at school. The kids haven’t run out of things to teach me. They may be small people, but they really do have big brains and it’s fun to look ahead and imagine a world run by these future leaders.

I’ll never forget the day “Johnny”—a fourth grader with a fifty-year-old outlook—stopped by my classroom after most of the kids had left. It seems he wanted to have a “mature” conversation on a wide variety of topics. At one point he informed me, “Pre-k and kindergarten were the best years of my life.” When I asked for further explanation, he added, “Because I really didn’t have to do much.” I decided not to suggest that the best years of his life might be yet to come but they probably wouldn’t be about “not doing much.”

Have a meaningful holiday and a new year filled with health, happiness, and prosperity. It’s a busy time of the year and you probably have a lot to do, but you can still make these the best years of your life!

All the best,

WB Signature

Won’t You Guide?

This is a chapter from “Small People — Big Brains” that was written in 2012, shortly after the Newtown tragedy. My intent in republishing it this year is not to remind us of the tragedy; it is rather to remind us of the possibilities and opportunities we face every day.


 

When I got the call last Monday that I’d be needed at school, I was momentarily struck with the reality that going “to work” included the distinct possibly of not coming home. Like many, I’d been mourning the huge loss we experienced in Connecticut. As a society, we’ve trusted teachers with our children’s education for a long time. The Newtown tragedy has demonstrated that we also trust those teachers and staff with our children’s very lives.

While I in no way want to diminish the loss of those children and adults, as time has passed I think we might consider that we are also mourning the loss of safe havens for children to learn. The grief that we are feeling calls out for answers and brings with it a rush to prevent this type of tragedy. We want to bring back those safe places.

One of the most meaningful things I learned about “classroom management” while preparing to become a substitute was the observation that “the only behavior you can truly control in your classroom is your own.”
child-865116_1280One day this week I was working with first graders on an art project. I’d been warned to keep them busy or “they will make your life miserable.” We’d been doing quite well, actually, when I suddenly lost control of the classroom. Amid the coloring and cutting and pasting and cries of “Mr. Boomsma, can you help me with this?” very suddenly and spontaneously one child started singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Within seconds, fifteen little voices chimed in and I was left to stand and watch the unfolding of what might be described as a “Normal Rockwell Moment.”  For at least six renditions of the song (the part they remembered) my life was anything but miserable.

But it was not because of anything I did.

Every sane person wants to prevent the type of tragedy we experienced on December 14, 2012. As we work through the grief, I believe we need to remember that six-year-old who decided to sing. To be sure, somebody taught him to sing. But he decided it was time to sing. If we don’t remember him and his choice, we are in danger of deluding ourselves into thinking we can fix this by controlling things (guns, videos, the media, etc.) and perhaps even people.

I’ve asked myself what I might do to prevent this type of tragedy and believe the long look answer lies in another truth:  “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.” While we cannot ignore those broken adults, we (collectively, not just teachers) are “breaking” children every day by missing opportunities, failing to provide structure, and in too many cases engaging in outright abuse and neglect. The same newspaper that headlined the Newtown events also carried a story of an eight-year-old girl who was raped. These tragedies deserve equal outrage.

Anyone who spends any time working in schools has met them–the kids we are breaking. A kid who is constantly angry for reasons we don’t yet understand–copes by screaming and pushing his way around. The loner who is always seen off by herself during recess…

All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any reindeer games.

Just this week a nine-year-old confessed to being tired first thing in the morning explaining that her dad goes to work at 3 AM and she’s required to get up to care for her younger brother. She’s a real good kid and I think will grow up to be a responsible adult. I’m not indicting her Dad because it’s likely an economic necessity. But she’s carrying a lot of weight on her young shoulders–can we be sure whether it will make or break her?

What happens to us shapes us, but we decide who we are. Those of us who are fortunate enough to work with kids have a key–we need to focus on building strong children who learn the skills–including the skill of self-control–that will allow them make good decisions about what they will do and who they will become.

Then all the reindeer loved him
as they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
you’ll go down in history!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year—maybe not!

frustrated_at_my_desk_400_clr_8478It may seem counter-intuitive, but for many people the holiday season is anything but the most wonderful time of the year. There are many reasons why a person might experience the “holiday blues” and it’s an especially difficult time of the year for those who suffer from clinical depression. Feeling “down” during the holidays can be especially trying because there’s the sense that everyone else is feeling merry.

Regular readers know that I’ve spent the past year becoming gatekeeper trained and a NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) Certified Mental Health First Aid Specialist for both youth and adults. I did this in a large part so I could offer the training required to bring folks into compliance with the recent law (LD 609) that requires all Maine school employees to receive basic suicide prevention education.*

One of the things I learned during my training was that Facebook has a system in place that allows users to report posts that reflect bullying or the potential for self-harm. This was, it seemed to me, a fairly well-kept secret. I intend to include it in any training I offer and, hopefully, “spread the word.”

So this morning, I decided to “vet” the process before I shared it with you. I have good news and bad news. The good news is most social media platforms have taken suicide prevent seriously. The bad news is that, true to form, Facebook has changed the methodology several times since introducing it several years ago. While it’s still relatively easy to report, it’s not exactly intuitive.

If you see a post that raises some concerns (examples would be hopelessness, despair, obsessive thoughts about death) on Facebook, you may click the down arrow at the top right of that post. Next click on the drop down menu “report photo (or post).” On the next drop down, click “I think it shouldn’t be…” On the next drop down, click “Something else.” This will finally take you to the option of reporting the potential for self-harm. These steps “worked” as of this morning, December 2, 2015.

Personally, I think it should be easier. Frankly, I also have some concerns about whether or not it truly generates action. On unrelated issues I’ve found Facebook less than responsive. Supposedly a “team of experts” will immediately take action and reach out to the poster with an offer to chat, resources, etc.

I’d therefore encourage anyone who sees a post that creates concern to reach out personally with an offer to talk and listen, encouraging the poster to call a hotline. This might sound scary, but compassion and caring are all that are required to intervene—you do not have to be an “expert.”

An important resource is the Facebook Help Center—the link is https://www.facebook.com/help/594991777257121/ and it’s worth visiting before you need it. This link should take you directly to the safety resources page covering suicide prevention, bullying, etc.

Another resource can be found at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/online.aspx where you’ll find links to methods for other social media such as Twitter, YouTube, etc.

Information and course dates will be posted soon. The two-hour program is designed to raise awareness about suicide risk factors and warning signs and to provide information on what steps to take if suicide is suspected. While focused on students and youth, the information and skills learned are appropriate for use with anyone who might be feeling suicidal, no matter what their age.

Hotline Numbers