Strengthening Our Relationship with our Father in Heaven

 

When my priesthood leader asked if I would be up for giving a talk today, he did not ask me through the time-honored ways of walking up to me at church or in the neighborhood or even by calling me on the phone. He sent me an e-mail, and after I replied in the affirmative he followed up with another email with an attachment of the speaking assignment which I then uploaded to my Google drive via my phone, which was handy for downloading later on my laptop when I couldn’t find my phone. My point is, life seems to becoming more and more complex. I consider this to be a good thing in countless ways. We live in an amazing world where we are blessed with all sorts of technology and advancements that can so often be used for our good. We have the ability to communicate with others around the world, to stay in touch others, to share ideas with the world. I really don’t want my talk to be about all the downfalls of this complex world because I do believe these advancements are intended to be a blessing if we use them correctly.

 

What I do wish to speak of is what we might forget about in this complex world. With our ability to do more see, see more, accomplish more, we have the potential to wind up with a lot of mores. While many of these are good, there are those who have lost sight of the basics of our gospel and our world. Some of us find our relationship with our Father in Heaven being placed on the backburner. In some ways this can be almost laughable. Our Heavenly Father who is the source of all blessings give us what we need, opens doors of opportunity, all the amazing complexities I mentioned, all things that can be used to grow spiritually and even just get through our day-to-day lives, ways to build up His kingdom, and yet sometimes He is the one who is forgotten.

 

I imagine all of us have been in dark places in our lives. Perhaps we have found ourselves crying out to our Father in Heaven. Perhaps we have been at the other end of the spectrum, feeling completely abandoned and alone. I am not in a position to speak for how others have felt and what they have experienced in such times, but I do deeply believe that our Father in Heaven does want us in the camp of the former, seeking Him.

 

In this talk “Of Things that Matter Most”, Elder Uchtdorf advises us to slow down and focus on the basics. He tells a story of turbulence in an airplane: Have you ever been in an airplane and experienced turbulence? The most common cause of turbulence is a sudden change in air movement causing the aircraft to pitch, yaw, and roll. While planes are built to withstand far greater turbulence than anything you would encounter on a regular flight, it still may be disconcerting to passengers.

What do you suppose pilots do when they encounter turbulence? A student pilot may think that increasing speed is a good strategy because it will get them through the turbulence faster. But that may be the wrong thing to do. Professional pilots understand that there is an optimum turbulence penetration speed that will minimize the negative effects of turbulence. And most of the time that would mean to reduce your speed. The same principle applies also to speed bumps on a road.

Therefore, it is good advice to slow down a little, steady the course, and focus on the essentials when experiencing adverse conditions.

 

On my kitchen wall I have this little wallhanging that says “In the Happy Moments Praise God. In the Difficult Moments Seek God. In the quiet moments Trust God.” I probably don’t look at this enough or ponder it enough, but it does serve as a reminder that Heavenly Father truly is mindful of us and our lives. I feel this goes beyond both just the hard times, or just the good times. If we are giving up when things get hard, or instead only looing to Heavenly Father when things are hard, is our relationship with Him where it truly could be? Are we do wrapped up in the rush of modern life we only have time for God at certain times and certain events?

So, how can we build our relationship with Heavenly Father?

One that occurred to me was to simply slow down, whatever that might mean for each of us. In the same talk, Elder Uchtdorf says the following One of the characteristics of modern life seems to be that we are moving at an ever-increasing rate, regardless of turbulence or obstacles.

Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.

It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Overscheduling our days would certainly qualify for this. There comes a point where milestones can become millstones and ambitions, albatrosses around our necks.

I imagine everyone’s mileage may vary on what it means to be too busy, but I would daresay that one could tell if they were too busy if they were unable to focus on the most important parts of the gospel, the very things that would allow us to build up that relationship with Heavenly Father. In our mortal world of finite time, are we making the time we need?

After we make the time, what exactly do we do with this time? I imagine this is where the classic Primary answers come into play. We have been told what we need to do… are we getting it done?

In 1 John 17  we read 3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.

 

Think of the words of Jesus Christ “Come follow me.” Three words and so simple and direct an instruction. We need to do what He would have us do. Are we living as Christ exemplified? Are we treating others as we have been taught? Are we being honest in our lives?

These things are great basics that work always in our busy lives. No matter what we are doing, we can still be honest, kind, and Christ-like.

As wonderful as these things are and as important as they are for us to do to grow closer to our Heavenly Father, we also ought to go one step further. We need to have personal time to build our relationship. This might come in the form of personal prayer, in the form of scripture study, and in the form of simply considering the blessings and commandments we have been given. We ought to take the time for consideration and reflection, a time to pray to our Heavenly Father and to actively listen and think. James E. Faust said What is the quality of our secret prayers when only He listens? As we study and pray, we should do with the intent of truly speaking to our Heavenly Father.

Part of this time of prayer and study is truly believing in the divinity and truth of our Father in Heaven. Do we believe He is truly there and loves us? Do we take the time to be in awe of that fact?

President Kimball has said: “I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures, the distance narrows and the spirituality returns.”

I think this is one of the big reasons we are reminded to pray and to study the scriptures. These are ways of growing close to our Father, ways of speaking to him and reading directly the gospel He has given us. These are proof He exists and cares for us.

Next, we should consider how worthy we are of our Heavenly Father. In no way do I want to negate the love and grace He has shown us in our imperfect mortal state, but His love is one of encouraging us to return to Him one day. Are we working on our imperfections? Are we striving to be worthy of a temple recommend? Are we making use of the Atonement in our lives?

I do believe these things works for each other. If we are doing all that we can to become closer to Heavenly Father, they will become easier. It may be impossible to do these things and not finding our hearts and minds turning toward Him. I know He wants a relationship with us.

We really do live in an amazing time. We have so many blessings in this world, and as fast-paced as they make it be I think the importance of maintaining a relationship with our Father even more important. We need to pray regularly, study the scriptures, and take the time to think about our Heavenly Father and our Savior. They need to become every so real to us. We need to live as the gospel has taught us, to serve others and be examples of that gospel. We need to do these things with the intent of growing closer to our Heavenly Father.

If we do this, we will be blessed. Perhaps our trials won’t disappear. Perhaps our good times won’t be exponentially expanded. But we will be blessed. We will have the support we need. We will be given strength through our hard times. We will better appreciate and rejoice in our blessings. We will have the Spirit with us and that incomprehensible comfort that comes with being close to our Heavenly Father.

I pray and hope that we can take the time to remember just how infinitely important God is to us and to take the time to grow closer to Him.

Schools, stop making kids invite the entire class to their birthdays!

One of my biggest time-wasters on Facebook is one of those notorious mom groups. I like this mom group. It’s faith-based and well have similar understandings on a few essentials. There is comradery.

Which is why I am so angry at something that happened to the child of one of the ladies. Despite tight finances, she gave in to her son’s wishes to throw him a nice big birthday party and invited the entire class.

Yes, it’s one of those stories. No one showed up.

The post was full of sorrow, commiseration, and desires to send that little boy something birthday goodness. Ah, comradery!

But as I read through the posts, I noticed a few references and experiences that built up into a rather big issue:

School policies requiring birthday kids to invite the entire class.

Now, I don’t know if this mom’s kid’s school had such a policy, but other ladies shared horrible experiences where, yes, they were required to invite the entire class.

And I don’t get it.

Oh, to some extent, I do. If you’re going to invite a significant majority of the class, be classy and invite everyone. If you’re going to invite a significant majority of one gender, be classy and invite the entire gender. It just seems polite.

But as a school policy? That’s overstepping in a big way.

Why do schools do this? The obvious thing is to a) teach good social skills and kindness and promote inclusion and b)save headaches from crying kids and angry parents.

Which is why the aforementioned idea of if you’re going to invite most, just invite all seems to me like an important social grace, but nothing that should require a typed policy.

Here are some of the downfalls of such policies I gathered from said post:

  1. Parents can’t always afford big parties that accommodate an entire class.
  2. The most convenient and most impressive big parties are always at some big expensive party place. This is multi-faceted in problems. Kids are more likely to want to go to the Fun Place and parents are more likely to feel comfortable taking their kid to the Fun Place. Better with employees keeping an eye out than at some strangers’ house, right? (The Free-Range parent in me hates this idea.)
  3. While getting along is a fine goal, parents and kids don’t want to be pressured to invite kids were lies a truly toxic relationship.
  4. Invitees’ parents don’t always want to waste two hours taking their kids to some person’s house they don’t know.
  5. The Obligatory Invite (Young Billy has no idea who Sandra in his class is) is rather awkward.  Our kids barely know each other despite being in the same class for three years. Thanks but no thanks.

An interweb search of school policies suggested policies have a spectrum. On one end might be a recommendation to clandestinely pass out invites if you’re only inviting a few. Closer to the other end is the dreaded policy of, if you’re passing out invitations, invite everyone. I even found a few testimonials of if you’re flat-out having a birthday party, you must invite the entire class.

So, what, if we have a party with two kids down the street plus the grandparents, we will be penalized by the school’s secret police?

Clearly, there are reports of schools way overstepping their bounds when it comes to acknowledging a child’s new year of life.

Perhaps it’s not even school policy. Perhaps it’s this new mentality that we have to invite everyone, whether to be kind, impressive, loving, whatever. And perhaps that giant birthday party of screaming classmates does happen now and then with all of its childhood awesomeness. Sure, inviting the whole class does help solve the problem of a kid getting left out.

But now in accordance with those horrible tales of a kid not invited to a party, we now have stories of parties in overdrive, where the cost of inviting the whole class can mean no party at all.

 

An Oatmeal Bath of Steel-Cut Oats

Some time ago, I discovered the wonderful deliciousness of steel-cut oatmeal, and I never went back as far as my own breakfast was concerned. Oh, the other kind would find their way into the house now and then, but that was for baking and cooking and the like.

That category has in the past included oatmeal baths.

My daughter Jade is going through some sort of medical crisis right now. She’s sensitive to something, and we’re getting tests done. That still leaves symptoms to treat remaining.

Today, during my cousin’s baby’s blessing, she broke out into an insane rash/hives/who knows what. She was one miserable kid. We high-tailed it out of there, discussed some strategies as we drove, and decided we would do a combo of giving her an oatmeal bath and covering her in hydrocortisone cream. The latter is wonderful for skin conditions and as to the former, well, all sorts of benefits are touted for oatmeal baths. I personally love them for dry and itchy skin.

Now, your average recommendation for an oatmeal bath involves grinding up some of your kinder, gentler oatmeal, like the quick-cooking kind or at least the rolled oats. I had none of those on hand, but I did have steel-cut and the interweb revealed nothing against those.

They’re just really hard to grind up into a powder if I’m not willing to clean out my blender.

So, I skipped a step. I used the steel-cut oats, poured them into a muslin cloth that I then tied off, and swirled it around the bath tub while it filled with water.

I admit I was apprehensive. Steel-cut oats are not dissimilar from tiny rocks. Would the magical properties of oatmeal be released?

They were! And in a pretty timely manner! Very soon I had a lovely bath with that milky oatmeal cloud into which I might dunk my itchy child.

Do not let steel-cut oatmeal stop you from creating an oatmeal bath! It works as well as anything.

What I Did:

Poured half a cup of steel-cut oats into the middle of a muslin cloth (muslin bag, pantyhose, or any thin cloth will work, you just want the oatmeal stuff to seep out without too much trouble.

Added a 2-3 drops of a child-friendly/bath-friendly essential oil (I used Tea Tree).

Swirled the bag in the bath and under the running water, then left it in there to do its thing. Occasionally I gave the bag a squeeze for good measure.

Let my child soak. The recommendation is at least 15 minutes.

 

 

Composting Dog Poop

I received our dog Steinbjorn into our home largely on my husband’s whim. He has long wanted a dog. I’m a cat person at heart, but had no resistance against getting a dog. I figured he would be my husband’s dog and play with our girls and stuff. Oh, I love this dog, but despite my claim other people would be picking up after his poop, I sort of took over that role. Of my own free will and effort, I might add. Perhaps I’m just naturally attracted to poop.

But, ah, where to put it? Taking out through the side gate to the garbage can seemed simple enough–except we tied and blocked that thing to keep a visiting child from escaping and yet to see a reason to change things. I could always carry it into the house and flush it, often considered an appropriate method.

Or, and this is where my heart really lies, I could compost it.

I love composting. I’m not even an intense composter, just the lazy sort who more or less puts stuff into one of the three bins my husband built. It’s not particularly fast, certainly not the speed composting many speak of, but it is sufficient for our needs and we get the compost we want. It helps with our garden and flowers and grass and is a great way to get rid of household waste.

Could I do the same with dog poop?

My first reaction was… what’s the harm? My second reaction, no. When I first took an interest in composting, leaving dog crap out of the pile was a commandment. And since I’m not in a super-ultra-composting situation, I decide to abide by the commandment.

At least as far as keeping it out of those bins. That compost does end up on vegetable beds.

But that warning of dog poop really was out of concern for spreading disease to food we will eat, right? It’s all about the food.

So what if I created compost that was specifically for everything but the vegetables?

After a little research, I learned that was totally fine and dandy.

Before my husband built the three-bin system, he had bought a pair of plastic barrels, drilled some holes in them, and set them on some wheels so we could add compost and spin it. Turn and dump. It works, and those barrels are still there. One is holding the compost we need to finish spreading about, and the other sits empty and blocking the aforementioned side gate. I’m sure our garden spot looks utterly trashy right now.

But, that second barrel was a great place to stick dog crap and compost it. I marked it with a warning to myself it contained the scary dog poop and therefore couldn’t be use for food and got to work.

Now, I’m the lazy composter that will just add to a pile until I figure it’s good enough, leave it to compost and start a new pile. I’m doing the same thing here. I added a bunch of leftover dead leaves, some grass clippings, and of course Steinbjorn’s poop. I’m adding to that daily, along with whatever else I feel like adding. I now have two compost dumping grounds.

For me, it’s a great. I get to indulge my composting fancy, not walk too far with Steinbjorn’s poop, and have a second source of compost I will use on flowers and maybe the grass.

I rather look forward to cleaning up after the dog.

 

 

Relief Society Lesson: Partaking of the Sacrament Allows us to have the Spirit with us Always.

A typical Sunday for the average Mormon often involves going to church where we attend sacrament meeting and partake of the sacrament. Oh, there might be the auxiliary lessons and other such things, but that actual time taking the bread and water of the sacrament is something of a Must of the Sabbath. I myself have even found myself on a hectic Sunday saying “why go to church? We missed the sacrament?” or, on a Sunday involving some travel, hitting up another ward just for their sacrament. Another lesson might debate the pros and cons of those decisions, but today is another, concerned with that 10 or so minutes of the sacrament: Why is taking the Sacrament such an important part of the Sabbath?

As you consider that question, consider some others:

  • How does taking the Sacrament affect you and your daily life?
  • How about your life as a whole?
  • What is special to you about the sacrament?
  • Just why are we taking the sacrament and what should we be seeking to gain and learn from partaking of the sacrament?

Consider the following scriptures:  Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79 Doctrine and Covenants 59:9

(Use this time to discuss these questions as a class)

Here is what we are specifically aiming to do when we partake of the Sacrament:

  • Seeking to have the Spirit with us
  • Renewing our baptismal covenants
  • Realizing the Atonement

Clearly, we can see why we have the sacrament and why it is so crucial to our lives in the Gospel. But, as with so much of the Gospel, how often do we fail to be the stalwart warriors of perfect faith and action? I myself have often found myself tuning out during the sacrament for one reason or another and have used during my life all sorts of tricks and tips to help me stay focused.

How can we consider what the Sacrament is about?

‘Some people have told me that they’ve heard sacrament prayers so often that they don’t even hear them when the sacrament is blessed. Perhaps this is because they don’t understand what is being said. Perhaps you might want to pull your scriptures at the proper time and study these prayers. They contain profound and significant information about our promises to the Lord, and his promises to us.’ (W Mack Lawrence, General Conference, April 1991)

My husband in the early days of his mission was still learning the Spanish language. As part of his personal language study, he would read the sacrament prayer as the prayer was being said. Eventually, he had the Spanish translation of the prayer memorized and was better with the language and no longer needed to read it, but by then had fallen into the habit of reciting the prayer in his head as it was being said. This helps him focus on the prayer, rather than it becoming background noise.

Elder Don C. Clarke tells of a story from when he was a teenager: Brother Jacob, my teacher, asked that I write down on a card what I had thought about during the sacrament. I took my card and began to write. First on the list was a basketball game we had won the night before. And then came a date after the game, and so went the list. Far removed and certainly not in bold letters was the name of Jesus Christ.

Each Sunday the card was filled out. For a young Aaronic Priesthood holder, the sacrament and sacrament meeting took on a new, expanded, and spiritual meaning. I anxiously looked forward to Sundays and to the opportunity to partake of the sacrament, as understanding the Savior’s Atonement was changing me. Every Sunday to this day, as I partake of the sacrament, I can see my card and review my list. Always on my list now, first of all, is the Savior of mankind.

What do you do to help yourself focus upon and consider the sacrament?

Cheryl A. Esplin asked in a talk the following:

How can the sacrament “be a truly spiritual experience, a holy communion, a renewal for the soul” each week?

What answers do you have?

Sister Esplin answers with her own thoughts:

The sacrament becomes a spiritually strengthening experience when we listen to the sacrament prayers and recommit to our covenants. To do this, we must be willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. Speaking of this promise, President Henry B. Eyring taught: “That means we must see ourselves as His. We will put Him first in our lives. We will want what He wants rather than what we want or what the world teaches us to want.”

When we take the sacrament, we also covenant to “always remember” Jesus Christ. On the night before He was crucified, Christ gathered His Apostles around Him and instituted the sacrament. He broke bread, blessed it, and said, “Take, eat; this is in remembrance of my body which I give a ransom for you.” Next He took a cup of wine, gave thanks, gave it to His Apostles to drink, and said, “This is in remembrance of my blood … , which is shed for as many as shall believe on my name.”

Melvin J. Ballard speaks of what he calls the “wounded soul”:

“Who is there among us that does not wound his spirit by word, thought, or deed, from Sabbath to Sabbath? We do things for which we are sorry and desire to be forgiven. … The method to obtain forgiveness is … to repent of our sins, to go to those against whom we have sinned or transgressed and obtain their forgiveness and then repair to the sacrament table where, if we have sincerely repented and put ourselves in proper condition, we shall be forgiven, and spiritual healing will come to our souls.

Consider what personal benefits you find from having the Spirit with you.

The Sacrament truly is a foundation of the Sabbath, where we have this golden opportunity of time where we are literally handed what we need. We can take of the bread and water, consider the Atonement and our covenants and make, and renew our baptismal covenants. We are opening ourselves up the to the guidance of the Spirit in a very specific way.

I challenge you to take the next few Sacrament meetings to consider further what is being said and how you can take the Spirit with you from that ordinance.

What To Do When You Have LOTS of ADHD Students.

Today was an early-out day at my school, one of those blessed shortened days where kids go home early after partaking in the craft I planned for post-lunch. Kiddies go home for extra play, and I participate in PD, meetings, or, on a good day, uninterrupted planning time.

It was also a day where three students had to meet with TAs for shenanigans on the playground, two kids stared into space all day, and three students had to be directed helped with cleaning out their chair pockets.

Roughly half my class has, if not ADHD, conditions that affect their attention span. I have never in my entire career had a class quite like it. I have taken student after student to the child assessment team, listened to parents talking about this and that diagnosis, and following accommodations in IEPS and 504s. Some students have actually changed classes from mine (for other very logical reasons including a glaring situation being completely not seen but probably unofficially to balance out the issues.) I’m not entirely sure if my population is legal or ethical, but there it is.

I get that some kids get the ADHD diagnosis. I have family members and friends who have ADHD. I have always had at least one kid with ADHD, or autism, or Executive Functioning Disorder, or any one or many of things that significantly affect attention and classroom behavior.

But never have I had half my class.

ADHD

There is plenty of advice regarding the lone student with ADHD in a classroom. Those same tips can be easily applied to a small handful of such students. Yet when you hit a dozen students the dynamics change significantly.

These students experience challenges within the classroom. They may have trouble sorting out when they’re supposed to be paying attention to at the appropriate time. They may have trouble sustaining attention for a useful length of time. They may be slower at processing the information they’re taking in. They may not even understand the information.

I do not consider myself an expert on a massive ADHD classroom. I am aware that schools/classes tailored especially for such students likely have their own very specific management and teaching. I have not been trained in that.

However, I still would like to offer some tips that worked for me.

Have a Team

Ideally, if any of these students have IEPS or 504s, they ought to have appropriate help that may include more than You the General Education Teacher. Make use of that. My school is lucky enough to have a team of teacher assistants who rock their jobs. If you have any sort of assistants, use them. Other teachers in the building… use them! I know I couldn’t survive if it were just me.

If any of your students fall under the IDEA category, make your SPED teacher your best friend. Seek her wisdom and seek her help.

If you’re able to get a team together, use it. The TAs are able to handle many a small group, or sometimes sit one-on-one with a student having a particularly hard time. I have a network of teacher who are able to take a student who just needs a non-distracted place to work.

Be Specific

My teaching career has consisted of 1st and 2nd grades. At this age level, being specific is part of the job. The students simply have not had the experience to internalize every little routine. What seems like logic to us with our wisdom of age is still new to these kids. So, yes, I was used to being specific. Or so I thought.

When half your class has attention issues, you must take the most specific instruction or explanation you have ever given and simplify and specify it even more. Common ADHD tips suggest putting things into small steps. Go with this. When giving an instruction or teaching, break down the information as much as possible. If you think it’s too simple or too specific, you just might be approaching the right territory. But keep in mind it’s probably not possible to be too specific. Even if half of your attention-issue bunch gets it, the rest still might need it.

Don’t Be Afraid to Repeat Things

I originated from the school of thought that holds it adamantly a teacher should never repeat herself. While I still find this a lovely piece of worthy idealism, in my classroom it just wasn’t realistic. Not only were they 2nd graders, they had attention issues.

So, while I love the idea of them grasping an instruction or nugget of information the first time around and do hope they one day all achieve the ability, I had to face the reality that many of these kids did not yet have that skill.

I practiced ways of giving information:

  • Stating the information
  • Having at least one student repeat the information for the class
  • Writing down the information–preferably in very specific steps, one mini-task at a time
  • Repeating the information
  • Not being afraid to repeat the information.

Now, I do make it clear the importance of making sure as many students as possible are able to grasp that information and I stress the importance of trying to listen the first time. I also don’t bend over backwards for kids who ask over and over–at that point, the kid is either being willfully obtuse or possibly needing extra attention. But I have learned that more often than not, my students who ask me to repeat things truly need something repeated.

Oh, bright ideal of Never Repeat Things, you are a glorious skill I hope my students can one day attain.

One day. Until then, I will concentrate on getting them to focus on and understand one task at a time.

Groups

I will make it known I’m not a terribly huge fans of groups. At the end of the day, I’m probably a whole-class, rather teacher-directed type of soul when it comes to learning. At least in my head. The reality is that my class is often full of students working independently or in small groups. It’s just that my reality is still a little more whole-group based–I never could buy into the type of classroom that was nothing but small groups and rotating centers.

But groups certainly have their place. Just know that this section is not about making homogenous or heterogeneous learning groups or any of that.

I first stumbled on working with groups when I realized just how hard-boardering-on-impossible it was to get my class’ whole attention at one time for long enough to deliver information. By the time I had one section’s attention, another section had entirely lost it. Or, I would start talking and five sets of eyes would lose focus.

So, I decided I would cut down on addressing the whole class and address groups of students. This way I have fewer students who lose focus before I have said three words.

How do I use this? For actual educational small-group stuff. For giving certain instructions where I don’t need everyone at once. For excusing kids for bathroom breaks. Whatever I need, really.

It may seem time-consuming, but when I accounted for the time wasted trying to get everyone’s attention, I found it suitably efficient.

Attention-Getters That Cut Through the Distractions

To continue addressing students, I found that a large group of attention issues is a huge challenge. I think most teachers agree it’s necessary to have a way to quickly and efficiently get the group’s attention. In years’ past, I would use a whistle or a catchphrase and just be prepared to individually approach my one or two students who struggled to notice those.

With ADHD, there’s a lot going on. Students are hopefully doing educational work, but Susie might have on an interesting shirt. Or Teacher’s phone rang. Or a TA is picking up some students for small groups. Or there are clouds outside the window. Or a leg itches. Maybe all of these things. Many ADHD people struggle to filter what’s important when fifty things are happening around them.

And then Teacher wants to throw in a chime or a funny phrase? Just where are students supposed to file that intrusion?

Seriously, I found that no matter how much practice and repetition, many of my students couldn’t “hear” the noisy signal.

I have found two contradictory methods I use when appropriate. The first is to change up the cute catchphrase. A neighboring teacher has posters that list the attention phrase of the week. It keeps things fun, interesting, and novel.

The other is a less-is-more approach. A hand signal, usually as I stand quietly. It’s not the fastest thing on the planet, but it generally works in a reasonable time frame and has the bonus of calming my students down whereas the attention-getting phrase sometimes as the side effect of amping up students. With teaching and practice, my students know they are supposed to repeat the hand signal and quiet down, and they’re excellent about getting each other’s attention. No, it’s not particularly snappy or speedy, but I found it works very well.

The trick is, find something that stands out or apart from everything that is going on. Whatever you use must be something most will be willing to pay attention to or something that will calm everyone down.

Reconsider Seating

A common accommodation I’ve seen is to put students with attention issues in “preferential seating” and I agree with it. Back when I had only a few per class, this was easy enough. Generally this meant at the front of the room/near my desk/away from the door/away from the windows/away from distracting students. I also love the suggestions of alternative seating such as  yoga balls or wiggle chairs.

When you have thirteen students with attention issues, however, who gets this mythical “preferential seating”? They can’t all sit at the front of the room/near my desk/away from the door/away from the windows/away from distracting students. I know and get it that SPED teachers hate to hear that excuse, but physics gets in the way sometimes!

Oh, and the yoga balls and wiggle chairs. Yikes. I find these work with mild to moderate cases, but I have had students that destroy them, throw them, or fall off of them and get hurt. Some kids are calmed by the gentle bouncing or rocking, other students just now have a ball or wiggle seat to play with.

I am not at all against these seats, but they ought to be used wisely. Many kids are great with a little extra wiggle. Others may need something more subtle, like a small bouncy mat for the seat of their chair or a giant rubber hand wrapped around their chair. Others may prefer the opportunity to sit or lie on the floor.

As for official seating charts, in the 2nd grade I can assign seating while still giving plenty of opportunities to ignore it. If a student’s official seat is troublesome and there is no realistic Indiana Jones-style switcheroo possible, try to get them out of that seat as much as possible.

If an IEP or 504 gives more specific instruction than “preferential seating” by all means follow it. If there are too many specific ones to work in your classroom, let your SPED person know and you will likely get further advice.  But when putting all your attention-issue students up front altogether to distract each other is an issue, reconsider what “preferential” means. Really look at that student.

And then, keep them out of those seats as much as possible.

Be Consistent

Yes, we all have heard about being consistent. It’s a good thing, though in my case almost a zen-like goal of attainment and that’s okay. But when half your class has attention issues, consistency should be one of your top priorities. Your average neurotypical kid could likely roll with the punches a little more, but kids with attention issues will need as much consistency as you can get.

Make sure your administration, you, and the parents are on the same page as possible. Have a classroom management plan you can stick to. Make sure expectations are incredibly specific.

I’m the type that would love to let certain things go when they’re not so big of deals, and more on that later. And that would work with other classes, maybe. But when you have students who struggle to catch onto the more subtle social norms and niceties, consistency is a big deal.

Pick Your Battles and Hills of Death

In essence, you may have to decide what’s important to you. I don’t mean get picky and wishy-washy here–again, be consistent. But you may have to reconsider your standards before you decide what merits consistency. Kids with attention issues may not be as socially poised as other kids and that isn’t necessarily the end of the world. Pick a few good, age-appropriate social behaviors and expectations and hold the kids to them.

Teach Social Skills

You may need the aforementioned team help for this. We have a lovely school counselor who gives wonderful social skill lessons. Even so, I have found myself at the social and manner foundations I have broken down and taught this year. Kids with attention issues tend not to be quite on the same social level as other kids their age, either due to other comorbid factors or the simple issue of their attention span getting in the way.

One of the biggest challenges I have found in an attention-issue class is how they get along. My understanding is kids with ADHD or Autism have historically struggled to get along with other kids. But what I found rather fascinating was how much they tended to clash with each other. Imagine breaking up an argument not between one kid with ADHD and a neuroypical kid but two kids with fairly significant attention issues. Social skills here is not just a fancy set of lessons to teach them to get along with everyone else, but with kids similar to themselves.

Discuss social skills and social situations. Role-play. Set expectations of how others are to be treated.

Don’t get too upset if someone does something socially inappropriate. Remind, reteach as necessary.

In some ways, having so many kids in my class with short attention spans made this all the more natural. Beforehand, I tended to scoff at social education as frivolous. But, these kids are in my class and if I want them to function their best, social skills must be taught.

Thoughtfully Use Reward Systems

I am not a fan of clip charts or colored cards or what have you. I find them to often be unnecessary, distracting, and killjoys. My preference is to have listed, taught classroom expectations and a no-fuss counter system. I go the Michael Lindsin route with a clipboard where I can count infractions.

Even with a whole bunch of attention issues, I still find this the best method.

However, some kids really do need extra behavior help. I still hate clip charts and colored cards. I would rather keep this private.

Even with the short attention spans, many of my kids are still generally well behaved. Most kids want to please and do well in school. So, no, I did not put up a clip chart and I kept my private clipboard of infraction marking and I instead went for a whole-group behavior system.

I have a Funko Pop Baby Groot action figure who moves around the classroom. When the whole class is able to work on task, Baby Groot moves from one bulletin board to the other. When he completes a circle around the room, we get a point to be used for extra recess.

Baby Groot works wonderfully for a solid majority of my class.

After that, I prefer to tackle behavior problems individually. With many students happy enough to work for extra recess with only the occasional reminder of behavioral expectations, I am free to work more specifically with other students.

Two students have behavior trackers where they and I can put down how we felt a portion of the day went. Another student checks in regularly with another teacher in the building. Another works for specific rewards.

I like this system because it normalizes good behavior (which is why I don’t care for the fanfare of clipcharts) which even a distracted student can attain. I’m not balancing the behaviors of thirty students. I have that extra attention narrowed down to a much smaller number and the specific behavior coaching they need.

Keep Things Interesting and To-the-Point

I have never been a flashy, dramatic teacher, and I have found that with this group of students that works in my favor as long as I do make a little extra effort to be a little more interesting. I don’t need to do a song or dance every day, but a video here, a joke there, and a thorough-yet-quick lesson in a bright voice does the trick. I use lots of manipulatives and lots of opportunities for independent or partner work. Kids tend to enjoy working together (though some just love getting into a corner to quietly complete their work and mind their own business) and they love manipulatives.

Meditation and Mindfulness

I do like meditation and mindfulness practice. So does our lovely school counselor. She introduced me to a program called Inner Explorer, which leads students through specific guided mindfulness techniques.

I also have less formal approaches. Almost every day, especially if Inner Explorer doesn’t happen, I turn some nature sounds on my phone or computer and we take about 10 minutes to just sit or lie down quietly. It’s tricky for some of my students, but I have seen improvement.

Many of these kids have no idea how to just stop going. This practice gives them an opportunity where, yes, they have to sit quietly. Not the most desired thing for an ADHD kid, but one I still find to be important. Perhaps they more than most need practice on quieting their minds.

I also do plenty of coloring. I always have a drawer of coloring pages or blank paper. When I read to the class, I allow and even encourage coloring. For one thing, I think many kids these days have lost the fire art of just sitting down and coloring. For another, there is a reason adult coloring books are the thing they are. It’s wonderful meditation.

Praise and Be Positive

I’m not a particularly big fan of meaningless filler praise, but I can’t fight the importance of a kind word. If you have such a class, you may have an overly upbeat, energetic bunch. Don’t fight it. Teach a bit of normalcy, but don’t fight the good energy. Praise the kids when they do right. Have kind words ready. Make sure your class is a positive one.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

This might be a repetition of sorts for the team suggestion, but it’s a thing. Having so many kids with attention issues has been overwhelming at times, certainly not the cute and calm classroom I once dreamed of in college. Seek out help. I love teacher forums for this purpose. I guarantee there is some wise guru in your school who may have extra ideas.

I have a few students that are difficult for me to work with. No matter what I do, it seems they aren’t paying attention and have no idea what’s going on. They require nearly constant one-on-one attention.

If this is the situation, don’t put it all on yourself. Document. Talk with parents, talk with colleagues.

Take Care of Yourself and Your Own

I will keep this short and sweet: I don’t believe in the Teacher Martyr. You are but one small factor of your students’ lives and reality. While you can set up a good learning environment and help teaching skills, you are probably not going to “cure” them. Don’t put the weight your shoulders.

Go home at the end of the school day and stop worrying.

It’s an Unusual Classroom, But it Rocks

Teaching a class that goes beyond a few kids with attention issues to half the class is an exhausting surprise if you haven’t been prepared and trained for it. You will see more energy than you’re used to. You may be dazzled by the stunts and shows. You may have kids that scream for no identifiable reason, kids that blather nonsense, kids who roll on the floor/jump on the table/run around the room.

You will also see some awesome kids who are funny, creative, and delightfully offbeat.

That’s a good thing.

You may have a class that isn’t so normal. I hope my tips on survival will help another enjoy such a class.

Relief Society Lesson: The Power of the Book of Mormon

A lesson I gave last summer on “The Power of the Book of Mormon” by Thomas S. Monson.

 

We live in a time of great trouble and wickedness. What will protect us from the sin and evil so prevalent in the world today? I maintain that a strong testimony of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and of His gospel will help see us through to safety.

 

President Monson says that reading the Book of Mormon daily will help build and maintain our testimony of our Savior and His gospel.

How does our study of the Book of Mormon help us in this cause?

 

For one thing, we are taking this time as a ritual, if you will, to give our attention and hopefully our heart and minds to focusing on the gospel and all this book teaches about Jesus. The Book of Mormon’s subtitle is indeed to be another testament of Jesus Christ. We are far from the only religion that encourages its followers to daily read the scriptures, but we are blessed to have further teachings of Jesus Christ.

 

When we read the Book of Mormon daily, we are adding one more way to remember Jesus Christ, one more way to continually learn more of His gospel. By making this a habit, we sidestep the all-too-often problem of our main spiritual nourishment coming from weekly search, or biannually general conference. In conjunction with prayer, we can steady and calm our minds, hearts, and spirits with this daily opportunity to reach out to our Savior. We can make a time of sacredness in our daily lives.

 

But please keep in mind that reading the Book of Mormon goes beyond a few minutes of peace. I can practice yoga or meditate or take a nice bubble bath or even read other great books written by prophets and apostles. There is something very specific to this instruction to read the Book of Mormon that goes far beyond this being just a nice book that makes us feel good.

 

Gordon B. Hinckley said the following of the Book of Mormon: “Its appeal is as timeless as truth, as universal as mankind. It is the only book that contains within its covers a promise that by divine power the reader may know with certainty of its truth.

“Its origin is miraculous; when the story of that origin is first told to one unfamiliar with it, it is almost unbelievable. But the book is here to be felt and handled and read. No one can dispute its presence. …

“No other written testament so clearly illustrates the fact that when men [and women] and nations walk in the fear of God and in obedience to His commandments, they prosper and grow, but when they disregard Him and His word, there comes a decay that, unless arrested by righteousness, leads to impotence and death”

 

  1. Tom Perry said “Why is the reading of the Book of Mormon so important to us today? It is because the major writers of the Book of Mormon fully understood that their writings were primarily for the people of a future generation rather than for the people of their own generation. Moroni wrote to our generation, “I speak unto you as if ye were present””

 

The Book of Mormon was in so many ways not only intended for those of its day but also, perhaps even more so, for us in this new dispensation of the gospel. Ezra Taft Benson said “Each time we read the book we should probably ask ourselves: “Why did these writers choose these particular stories or events to include in the record? What value are they for us today?” The Book of Mormon is indeed timeless and offers specific wisdom and truths for us. When we think of the trials of this world, the Book of Mormon reminds us of the gospel given to us, the commandments and truths that can help us in our struggles.

We read the Book of Mormon every day because it is applicable and inspirational to us.

Of course, when we read the Book of Mormon, it should be with great intention. So much of President Monson’s talk is urging us to think of the power of the Book of Mormon. While I’m sure we all have had those moments where we slip into monotony and routine, we should strive to make reading the Book of Mormon intentional and mindful. For it is not enough to just read it, but to internalize it and build up a testimony of the Book of Mormon.

Any thoughts or ideas on how we can build that bridge between simply reading the Book of Mormon and developing our testimony of it?

Marion G. Romney has told the story of his ancestor Mary Elizabeth Rollins who as a child heard missionaries speaking of the Book of Mormon. John Whitmer gave the local church leader, Isaac Morley, a copy of the book. Mary was so intent upon reading the book that she begged to borrow it. Finally, Morley said she could read the book if she promised to bring it back before breakfast the following morning, probably sure she would either not read the book or if she did be unable to properly comprehend it. Mary stayed up all night reading and was even able to recite stories from it the next morning. Isaac Morley was so astonished he returned the book to her to finish.

It is stories like this that exemplify that passion and willingness to gain a testimony. If establishing a personal testimony of the Book of Mormon is so important, than surely reading the Book of Mormon regularly and with a willingness to learn and grow from it is essential to gaining that testimony.

President Monson says  If you will read it prayerfully and with a sincere desire to know the truth, the Holy Ghost will manifest its truth to you. If it is true—and I solemnly testify that it is—then Joseph Smith was a prophet who saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

It seems in some circles these days to dismiss the Book of Mormon as no more than nice fairy tales that are inconsequential to being in the Church, or being a good person, or living a good life. Some people even try to distance themselves away from the truth of the Book of Mormon, but President Monson is absolutely correct in this regard. To be blunt, if the  Book of Mormon is not true, than what did Joseph Smith experience? We need to read the Book of Mormon and study and pray about it for a verification of its truth, those being absolutely necessary to building a testimony.

While we are reminded that we cannot slide by on the testimony of others, we can use them to help build our testimony. When we surround ourselves with people and ideas that encourage us, I feel it can create a good support for a testimony. Speak to your friends and family who have testimonies. Study books and talks that support the Book of Mormon. But always, always do this with the goal of knowing for yourself the Book of Mormon is true.

President Monson then encourages us to maintain our testimonies, whether that be a testimony we have recently worked to build, are building, or maybe have even had for a long time. Testimonies do need to be cared for and maintained.

What can we do to continue to preserve our testimonies? This is the essence of why we have the Book of Mormon, of why we read it. Please, study and ponder and pray about it, that you can use this book to strengthen your testimony.