By Doni Joszef

A message from the Positive Project at DRS High School

The Positive Project is a little initiative we’ve been brewing at DRS to integrate social/emotional learning as an extracurricular supplement to the mainstream curriculum being taught in the classroom. Technology has afforded us some interesting ways by which to do this.

We began experimenting with video workshops last year, on topics including social skills, bullying, substance abuse, and social media. The students responded strongly to this approach. It spoke to them in their own language. And so they felt willing to speak to us in ours. Discussions ensued in between video segments, and students began emoting. Teenage boys have feelings, too! Who knew?

This year, we set our sights on structuring a more solidified program, based on a wider range of topics, including stress management, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, creativity, spirituality, and various other elements of what positive psychologists call “optimal functioning.” If happiness can be learned, why not teach it? That was the basic idea behind our movement.

Our first topic of focus, to which we dedicated the month of November, is mindfulness and stress management. A settled mind is the prerequisite for healthy learning, and so we begin our journey with where it all begins: the mind.

An optimistic start . . .

And then came Sandy.

Flooded houses, flooded minds, flooded hearts.

In retrospect, we couldn’t have chosen a more fitting topic for these ever trying (and tiring) times of communal crisis. Stress is on the rise, which means anxiety and anger are the contagious emotions emanating from our torrents of chaotic consciousness.

The classroom can, and often must, be a place for lecturing and pedagogy. But it can also be a place for supportive therapy. And, during times like these, we mustn’t hesitate experimenting with it as such.

To settle our stress we must settle our minds, which means focusing less on our thoughts and more on our bodies, our breathing, our present, immediate, here-and-now experiences. This does not mean we repress our fears, it means we avoid enmeshment with them. It doesn’t mean we ignore our annoyances, it means we avoid sulking in them. Frustration and impatience are normal during times of such circumstances; by modeling resilience, teaching with an extra dose of optimism, and offering more room for students to share their experiences, their stress, their fears, we can teach greater lessons than a textbook or Regents prep course could ever offer.

We are teaching lessons in living, lessons in loving, lessons in listening.

To do so, we must work collaboratively.

I therefore invite everyone and anyone in whom these words stuck even a subtle chord to join us in our movement. Use our material (videos, articles, topics) or create your own and share them with us. The material is important, but the momentum which drives it is where the movement really begins to blossom.

Electricity or not, here we come . . . v


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