The Reconnection Project

A program to reduce stress and anxiety in school communities.

We realize that it is all many schools can do just to get their kids back in school—in all the various ways that is happening this fall—but once that is done, school staff will have to deal with the many already stressed-out and anxious students (and teachers and parents) that the pandemic has only made more stressed-out and anxious. Depression and PTSD are also on the rise. Educational models will only have limited success solving these psychological problems.

Although we feel that our full Connected Classroom program would be ideal to help everyone heal and connect, we understand that many schools just don’t have the bandwidth to do a long-term program right now. So we’ve created several small one-off or short-term programs that can at least give your students, parents, and teachers a taste for the concepts we teach and some hope that these problems are solvable. If you are looking for a deeper, long-term solution scroll down for more information on the full Connected Classroom program.

And don’t forget to listen to our podcasts!

Parent Forums

In August, we did a parent forum for southern New Hampshire, which brought in local experts to talk about student anxiety. It was watched by hundreds of people and was very well received—so well received that we had several requests from other communities asking how we could help them put on their own forums. We are happy to help!

Parent forums put the problem of student anxiety right on the table and invite parents to collaborate with the school to solve this problem together. It is not an end result, but the beginning of a constructive conversation. We recommend that the school system have a plan in place for how the conversation will be continued once the forum is done or you will lose the momentum the forum can give you.

Need Help?

If you want to arrange for your own local speakers and have a tech-savvy student or teacher to handle the technological end of things, Jeff is happy to speak at your forum, serve as moderator, and/or put you in touch with other speakers, all at no charge. If you want us to arrange for speakers and coordinate their presentations and panels for you, we can do part or all of that for a fee. If you need us to handle the technological end of things, we can do that, too, for an additional fee. The cost will depend on how much you need us to do. Please contact Jeff so we can give you pricing for whatever you need.

Podcasts

Podcasts are now part of our daily lives. What we have found is it’s a great, affordable technology to use in our school programming. We have a program where we work with schools to create custom podcasts for their school or community audience and/or beyond. For instance, we have used podcasts for parents that feature Jeff and a principal or head coach as a way for school staff to include parents in what they’re doing in a constructive way. And students can use podcasts to explore some of the concepts Jeff teaches by talking with each other about the subjects covered, interviewing adults, etc. You can hire us for as many as you want, which makes them fit every budget.

Assembly/Short Classes

Introduction to the Five I’s (This can be an assembly or class): This 2-hour program gives your students a taste of the concepts and techniques Jeff uses in his approach to helping students process the problems we all are facing, starting with COVID but involving so much more—Outcome Fever, fear of failure, Digititis, underused imaginations, gremlins and elephants—and how kids can learn the Five I’s (Imagination, Independence, Intestinal Fortitude, Integrity, Identity). Jeff also covers the Personalized Performance Plan and how to use vulnerability and accountability to feel better. Your kids will have a lot of fun and will learn something about themselves and their classmates.

Class: Level I: Developing the 5I’s is an affordable overview of some basic skills and techniques high-school students can learn in order to increase their confidence, reduce their anxiety, and learn something about themselves. The goal of our program is to begin to develop in students the Five I’s: Imagination, Independence, Intestinal Fortitude, and Integrity, which all lead to Identity. This leads to more confidence and connection. This class includes 9 hours of instruction. This can be done remotely so is a great way to engage students—and keep them connected—who are learning at home.


The Connected Classroom

The Connected Classroom is the school portion of the Reconnection Project (you can scroll down for more information on the CC and, below that, an overview of the RP). The CC is a new classroom system, which folds easily into existing curricula, that gives teachers a skill set to increase student-to-student and student-to-teacher connections in their classrooms, which helps to relieve student anxiety. The social-emotional skills taught through the CC prepare students to be happy, empathic, successful adults. The CC also helps to reduce behaviors such as acting out, bullying, and vaping, and supports the development of a safe, connected culture within the building. It can open up positive communication with parents.

Here is a one-page summary of the Connected Classroom.

Here is the entire white paper about the Connected Classroom.

The initial objective is to have each student in the building participate in at least one Connected Classroom. The goal is to go beyond existing advisory programs and ensure that all kids to have at least one teacher who knows them well and with whom they are comfortable. The ultimate objective is to gradually, with the advent of more participants in the program, work towards the building becoming a Connected School. Even if a school does not adopt the CC program, individual teachers can still benefit from the training, as it provides a blueprint for how to deal with anxiety in the classroom as well as acting out/traumatized students.

Connected Classroom Introductory Curriculum for Educators

Week 1: Overview

  • Talk, vent and come to understand how the coronavirus is affecting all of us—kids, families, ourselves, and schools.
  • Develop a felt sense of the granular difference between our childhoods and the students’.
  • The importance of working with the truth: develop a full understanding of the Digital Age and what we call “Digititis,” with its many distractions and confidence drains. A discussion of the iceberg of student anxiety.
  • Almost all parents use the New Parenting Playbook, which doesn’t work in school or extra-curriculars.
  • Psychological underpinnings (Erikson, Winnicott, etc.)
  • Critical need for collaboration with colleagues and parents and a consistent holding environment.
  • Results aren’t all that matters—enjoying the journey!

Week 2

Digging into Elephants, the undiscussed societal ills (the Overwhelming Tragedy List) that clearly affect kids and gremlins*, the undiscussed negative self-talk most of us silently endure. We also introduce trauma, a huge subject of its own.

Week 3: The Five I’s

  • Learning the positives of failure and using adversity to fuel success: begin to learn the rudiments of identity which leads to intentional confidence and how to teach them in the CC.
  • An introduction into the critical importance of imagination, being true to ourselves, and finding a sense of purpose, inspiration, and mission. The overarching benefits of authenticity, independence, intestinal fortitude, integrity, and connection. Specific ways to begin to get students to understand these crucial qualities and how to begin to attain them.

Week 4

  • Introduction to the importance of being vulnerable: the chemistry in the classroom can’t be maximized until the kids really understand one another’s journeys.
  • Listening without judgement: for both teachers and students (and parents); how to not allow your buttons to be pushed (which requires a look at your buttons).
  • Understanding that altruism is a healer: how to get kids, who are still hard-wired to want to be of service to others, to help each other.
  • This connectedness helps schools support the Secret Service’s threat assessment recommendations.

Week 5

Every student needs to develop a Personal Mental Performance Plan that maximizes their self-knowledge and ability to cope and thrive and, as a result, make better choices when they are upset, anxious, or depressed in order to manage their feelings and behavior and therefore maximize their performance in and out of the classroom. In addition to academic goals, they need to create MENTAL goals, as well as learn to devise a plan, implement that plan, achieve benchmarks, and reach goals. Teachers will create their own Personal Mental Performance plans to understand the process better.

Concrete Skills learned:

  • Developing an “emotional thermometer” to manage behavior.
  • Asking for help for themselves or when they think a classmate is in trouble.
  • Accountability: develop a mission statement and how to stick to it.

Week 6

Moving forward: Teachers have been implementing Connected Classroom ideas, so now we troubleshoot, discuss, and share thoughts and ideas.

*From Rick Carson’s book Taming Your Gremlin—highly recommended.


More information on the Connected Classroom…

John Saphier in The Skillful Teacher suggests a good teacher needs eight important personal qualities.  He or she must be

  • Fair
  • Neat and presentable in appearance
  • Have a good sense of humor
  • Courteous
  • Respectful
  • Real
  • A good active listener and
  • Able to re-establish contact after challenging or unpleasant interactions.

Yes, he or she must.  But to build an environment for today’s digitized, bombarded kids, this list has taken on added meaning as we help kids face the new cultural factors that make life especially stressful today. I call these things the “elephants in the room” because we really need to discuss them with kids, but we don’t. The first elephant is new, the second perennial:

Elephant #1: “Guys, we’re all living and learning in a brand new world, and a lot of this world is scary.  And not only is it scary, but it’s even scarier because we grown-ups aren’t even admitting it’s scary, let alone trying to help you guys deal with it.”

Elephant #2: “Everybody, including me, has a gremlin* inside that tells us things such as we aren’t that good at something, or we are worthless and might as well not try, or we are unattractive or undesirable. Nobody EVER talks about this gremlin.”

Dealing with these elephants and gremlins is the foundation of The Connected Classroom. Teachers help students talk about and work through their fears, both external (Elephant #1) and internal (Elephant #2 or gremlin). Teachers are taught skills and strategies for having these conversations in a safe way, incorporating lessons about these issues into existing curricula, and how to identify student problems that are above a teacher’s pay grade so the kids who need it can get more help.

All this work increases the intentional connection in the classroom, and, as a result, trust. So students trust they can come to their connected teacher with concerns, whether about themselves or a classmate, and teachers will know students well enough to trust they are telling the truth.

*From Rick Carson’s book Taming Your Gremlin—highly recommended.


And here’s more on the Reconnection Project:

I love helping individual kids and families, but what bothers me so deeply is that stress and anxiety issues are affecting so many children: sadly, I rarely meet a teenager or young adult who isn’t dealing with chronic stress or anxiety and whose confidence and joy levels are appropriately high. Kids should be having a ball, right? Not worried about everything they do.

More and more educators are recognizing this problem but don’t know what to do about it. So we at JLC have come up with a plan to counter chronic stress and anxiety in schools: enter The Reconnection Project.

The RP works with students, educators, and parents to reduce stress in the entire school community by increasing connection among all three constituencies: We offer programs for educators (the Connected Classroom—see above) to teach them how to reduce stress in the classroom. We work with parents to explain the cultural factors that are directly and indirectly causing stress and get them rowing in the same direction as school staff, so the kids get consistent messages and support. We also work with the adults to reduce their stress levels, as stressed-out teachers and parents cannot effectively help children reduce stress.

Most importantly, the RP works school-wide to help kids. The RP seeks to build a community where every kid can alter their path in wonderful ways no matter what adversities they might face at home or in the community. The RP offers as many students as possible insight into their emotional state and allows any student who feels he or she is not on a good path academically or personally to access resources for positive change.

Initially, we like to work with students who are interested in learning about themselves and are interested in helping others. What we often forget because of what I call “The Bombardment” is that kids are hard-wired the same way they have always been and love to be of service to others. We harness that desire to get kids to be of service to EACH OTHER. We provide training so students can help their classmates. It helps all of the kids, who are often affected by what I call “Digititis,” too: altruism is one of the best healers there is: We capitalize on kids’ innate desire to be of service to others to help their classmates to the benefit of both groups.

Each student in the program devises a personalized plan that lists both long- and short-term goals and obstacles. First steps could be as small as attending a “Good Decisions” class but, once trust is established, should place the student on a path of incremental steps that will allow them to achieve the long-term goals in their plan. The group setting also encourages students to be accountable to each other but also to support their classmates. Each student periodically takes surveys and also self-reports their feelings of anxiety, well-being, etc., so progress can be measured emotionally as well as through measurable outcomes.

In an effort to connect as many students as possible, the RP seeks to focus the camaraderie, with its concomitant accountability, engendered by after-school activities—athletics, music, clubs, student politics, etc.— to at least introduce some RP principles to students of all stripes. Here are some of the concepts:

  • The “elephants in the room”: the amalgam of cultural issues that are affecting kids directly.
  • Mental steadiness and focus.
  • Ability to use adversity to fuel success instead of failure.
  • Develop a full understanding of the Digital Age, with its many distractions and confidence drains.
  • To play or perform with lasting, intentional confidence.
  • To manage the “gremlins” (thank you, Rick Carson) in their heads, so positivity prevails.
  • Manage stress and anxiety, both individually and as a group.
  • To set goals: participants learn to devise a plan, implement that plan, achieve benchmarks, and reach goals.
  • Drive: Find a sense of purpose—what does it look like if they’re successful? What is it going to look like if they don’t achieve their goals?
  • Be a better teammate/classmate/friend.

The RP plants the seeds of empathy and, most importantly, connection, in all students. The kids love the face-to-face interaction. They love the focus on journey, not results. They love learning what makes them tick and overcoming internal obstacles. And by helping others they start to relax and feel like they are in control of their lives, no matter where they are at the moment.

The RP is customizable, so we can come up with a program that can meet any budget. To insure that the RP is effective in all school settings, we have a team of educator consultants with a range of experience to help staff at both public and private schools of all types. All of us are available to consult with school administrators and faculty members to make sure we are addressing your school’s particular issues.

The Causes of Student Stress

Much of this stress comes from what I call The Bombardment—recent cultural issues that affect children negatively. But what I have found is that The Bombardment also causes parents to parent differently: because of this, many parents now use a very different playbook from previous generations. And what educators now realize is that this New Parenting Playbook is wreaking havoc on our ability to reach kids and help them calm down and be resilient.

Interestingly, this stress seems pervasive and appears to cut across geographic and socio-economic lines: children from schools of all types are ending up with similar stress, anxiety, abandonment issues, depression, and PTSD. Left untreated, this chronic stress and anxiety can manifest itself in many ways, which range from destructive to deadly: from vaping to sexting to over-functioning to phone addiction to bullying to drug/alcohol use to suicide, the cries for help are everywhere.

The Great Isolator

We call stress “The Great Isolator” because it causes many people—children and adults—to retreat within themselves and even cut themselves off from friends and family. With today’s chronic stress, this isolation can also become chronic, and it becomes downright dangerous, as our increasing suicide rate among teens tells us. Therefore, a big part of reducing this stress is to develop a framework that forges connection. And that is exactly what The Reconnection Project does.

Here are our brochures that describe the RP in more detail:

Short, introductory brochure

The Reconnection Project for Public Schools

The Reconnection Project for Independent Schools

As you can see, we have different levels to meet any school budget.

We welcome the opportunity to work with you so we can help your students, faculty, and parents. Feel free to contact me to discuss your school’s particular needs.