It’s All in the System

Today was our District-Wide Staff Development. The campus where I work attended an all day session sponsored by one of the four high schools we have in the local district. Our speaker was an amazing man by the name of Dr. Eric Cupp. I had heard him speak to our new teachers in August and he had us alternately laughing and crying as he told us of experiences he has had working as a counselor with at-risk youth.

Today, he spoke to a mixed audience. There were teachers from PreK to high school in the same room, but what he said applied to everyone. His focus was that we need to build positive relationships with our students to be able to reach them and teach time. He compared this relationship building to systems theory in biology and that Nature does not like voids. If there is a void of some type, Nature searches for something to fill that void. This is the concept with relationship building as well. If there is a void in a child’s life, that child will seek out something to fill that void. This might be anything from gang affiliation (negative) to sports(positive). This statement was powerful to me, “Who we are and who we become begins with what we see in the eyes of our mothers at the moment of birth.” Before I become a “me” there is a “we”. This becomes the child’s “design” based on the design of their parents, which is neither good or bad. Design for everyone is good or bad depending on choices we make, or the choices parents make that in turn affect how a child feels about themself and their parents..

All of us base life and choices on three things: what we think, what we feel, and how we behave/respond to the thinking and/or feeling. If the relationship system is broken, the child acts out or misbehaves in response to what he has been taught to think and feel…usually negative. As teachers, when we know the behavior is based on negative thinking of the child or what the child has been taught at home, then the system response become predictable and we are able to work with the child rather than make the situation worse by feeding into the broken system. We must realize that a child’s anger comes from pain, frustration and/or fear.. This also is the parent and teacher reaction, but we must as adults realize the anger is from these things and not directed at the adult but the situation. This is such and important thing for all of us to remember…lashing out as children or adults rarely has to do with the situation, but what happened prior to the situation. We all need to be aware of the rules related to systems to help the child make correct choices. When they know what is at stake, the expectations and what will happen if expectations are not met…overt rules — we can see them and know them. Covert rules are like stepping on a land mine … no one knows what the reaction will be and creates a negative system.

I know this is a bit heavy and may be difficult to wrap your head around, but I did want to share for those of you who work with at-risk children or even adults.

The next two lists are the bottom line to remember for keeping healthy systems.
The Five Freedoms of Virginia Satir:

The Freedom to:

1. see and hear what is here and now rather than what was, should or will be (get rid of shoulds and oughts)

2. feel what you feel rather that what someone thinks you should feel

3. think what you think rather than what you should think

4. want what you want rather than what you should want

5. DREAM (be whatever you want to be) teachers must help foster those dreams!
Rules of Functional Systems:

1. Problems are acknowledged and resolved.(do not place blame — look for solutions)

2. The five freedoms (above) are promoted

3. Each person has equal value as a human being (remember: children feel every emotion adults feel and only have half the tools to face them)

4. Communication is direct, concrete, congruent, behavioral and specific (overt and never covert)

5. Everyone gets their needs met

6. Everyone is different.

7. Adults do what they say.

8. Roles are chosen and are flexible

9. Atmosphere is fun and spontaneous

10. Breaking rules requires accountability.

11..Violations of hurting others rights leads to non-toxic guilt *

12. Mistakes are forgiven and used as learning tools.
* Guilt is a great flag (problem — fix it) but is a terrible friend. Everyone has to learn to let go of guilt or it will kill them.

The SECRET to SUCCESS with our at-risk youth is to build positive relationships.
Dr. Cupp left us with the following three things to remember for ourselves. All too often we get caught up in trying to “fix” things we cannot fix. He reminded us that sometimes:
1. Let Rome burn (just quit and go on)
2. Get out (sometimes you cannot get well until you get out)
3. There are NO secret advantages — only hard work and determination
His entire day was focused on how we can help our students make better choices, build positive relationships and believe they can become anything that want. His words also have meaning to us all in our every day lives if we want to build and maintain healthy systems in our lives (positive loving relationships and friendships also need these same tenets). He said, There is no shortage of fools in the world — how many do you need to confront to feel good about yourself?” “Will you let fools be fools or become one too?”

An excellent day and an excellent life lesson for all of us professionally as well as personally. Things come to you when you most need to hear them in your life, today was what I needed to hear to make be better at my job as well as to strive to be a better person and sustain positive personal relationships.
Always, I wish you peace, joy and happiness, but most of all I wish you LOVE.

As Ever, Annie

First published January 29, 2013.

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