Dr. Wolbe: Multiplication, Manners and Mindfulness
Interview with Dr. Wolbe: Multiplication, Manners and Mindfulness
Michael F. Shaughnessy –
1) First of all, tell us about yourself, your education and your experience.
After earning my B.S. in Elementary Education from the University of Texas at Austin, I started my career as a teacher. I soon decided to continue my learning by earning my M.Ed. in Elementary Education from Texas A&M University-Commerce. During that time I taught grades 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 in both public and private school environments.
I became the K-8 Principal at a private school in Dallas, Texas in 1997 and decided to go back to school again, earning my Ed.D from University of North Texas in Educational Administration with a minor in Curriculum and Instruction. In 2011, I sent myself back to school once again, attending Southern Methodist University-Plano to study Academic Language Therapy (ALT), and became a Certified Academic Language Therapist (CALT) in 2013, after resigning as principal, so I could work with children with dyslexia or other reading issues. In 2015, I earned certification for teaching the Mindful Schools program.
Through all of this time I worked in schools while also attending school myself, including gaining extra knowledge from the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth. I wanted to understand more about how the brain best learned so that information could be passed on to both teachers and students. My theory was that, if there could be a better, faster way for the brain to absorb and understand information then it was silly to ignore that information, both for students and teachers.
Once starting my own company, Dr. Susie Wolbe Educational Services, I began to offer classes in mindfulness to both adults and children, within or after school, and often to families. I also offer presentations about Study and Organization Strategies based on brain research, again teaching children or teaching parents or teachers so they can help their children become more successful in school and life.
Mindfulness has helped me both personally and professionally. It is simple, secular and scientifically supported. While I have taught adults and am able to provide CPE to Texas teachers (CPE# 902209) in mindfulness or any of my other presentations, I most often teach family groupings when parents want their children to learn the strategies that are really social-emotional life skills that we should all possess.
2) Now tell us about your book and what it offers teachers and parents.
My book really addresses three categories:
- the importance of building positive relationships with students, parents, and colleagues
- the understanding that everyone should have a habit of self-care and that, if teachers have it themselves, they can then model it to students, families and colleagues
- organizational strategies, so that some of the minutiae that is required of all teachers on a daily basis can be completed more efficiently, and to teach students how to become more independent learners and more responsible individuals.
While the book is marketed to teachers both veteran and new, it will also be very helpful for parents who want to better understand and support their children as they move through school.
3) In this age of high-stakes testing, what place does “mindfulness” have in the elementary or secondary school?
My book doesn’t touch on testing or curriculum because every school has its own philosophy and agenda. But for those that do have any higher-pressure situations included as part of their school experience, mindfulness can be extremely helpful. Mindfulness teaches de-stressing strategies that can be helpful before a big test, performance or athletic event. It can also help decrease negative thinking and rumination that can take a child’s mind off the subject at hand; that way a child will be able to set aside some of the social, family or emotional distresses that negatively impact performance.
4) Focus and attention seem to be key elements of success, yet most teachers do not teach students to pay attention and the vast majority of students arrive at school unprepared to focus. What does your program do to help with this issue?
Mindfulness strategies have proven to increase focus and attention. Mindful listening or mindful breathing, alone, can train the mind to stop wandering. With all of the distractions in today’s world our minds are constantly asked to multi-task. That’s fine, unless you are hoping for excellence. The brain does one thing well at a time; it may do multiple things at a time, but it doesn’t do any of them as well. I experienced this myself once I heard the research and decided to make myself the guinea pig. I always used to have music or the television on while I was doing work, from as young as upper elementary school, I am sure.
Once I heard the research, and as I kept sending myself back to school, I tried completing a paper without any other background distractions like television or music. At first, it drove me crazy not having that background noise, but soon I could not believe the difference! Without multitasking, work is completed faster and the product is far superior. Better a child spend 20 minutes of uninterrupted time and then take a 5 minute break, than a child work for 30 minutes straight, but listening to music, texting and taking phone calls at the same time. Research says it can take 20 minutes or more to fully get back into focus after interruptions; some kids start with the interruptions, just from habit!
We need to teach the children the basic brain science that supports this information and let them know how they can improve their own experiences. And we need to teach their parents and the teachers, too; those adults are continuing the same habits they had when they were uninformed and just let their kids continue along the same path.
5) Empathy and the ability to form and maintain relationships are part of what we refer to as “emotional intelligence.” How do you encourage teachers to promote these skills, and how do you convince parents of their importance?
There is so much research that says people learn better when they feel safe and secure. If a teacher allows what was once called “typical adolescent behavior” then the receiver of that behavior, or the witness, won’t be able to learn – they’ll be too worried about who’s going to say what, and to whom, next. Mindfulness is proven to improve empathy for self and others.
We need to be kinder to ourselves, and to others. Parents need to be taught this, and so do the teachers. We need to notice that look on someone’s face, or their body language; we need to let others know we see that they’re having a hard time, and we’re here for them. This impacts the playground, the hallways, lunches, group work, classroom interactions, and times when the teacher steps out of the classroom. As we say, we need children to do the right thing when no one is looking. This is the emotional intelligence we want everyone to have, and no one gets it by osmosis. This needs to be taught systematically, specifically, and as part of the regular curriculum. It’s not MORE to teach, it’s just putting it back in everyday life.
6) Math, science, computers, technology – it seems we are continually asking students to learn more and more. Should we be lengthening the school day or school year in order to accommodate the ever-increasing amount of knowledge and skills to be learned?
NO! That would be horrible! Brain science tells us that the brain needs time to rest. It’s what Dr. Sandra Chapman of UT Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth calls the “Power of None.” The brain needs time to totally turn off, and just relax! That’s when it absorbs all of the new information it has been given. If we extend the school day and year, that situation will just lead to overload!
A better option would be to use some of the new technology to teach children how to find what’s available with the click of a button. Yes, there are some things children simply need to know; they need social-emotional skills…they need to read and write and understand math. But they don’t need to memorize all the information in our world today.
7) What about students with special needs – children with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, autism and the like – how does your program help them?
I’ve taught mindfulness to many children with learning differences (NOTE: not disabilities) and they, too, understand the concepts. If you are able to breathe, you are able to practice mindfulness. I would not get into the specifics of teaching those with autism because I have neither that training nor that experience, but I can tell you the names of people who do.
Without question, mindfulness is a practice that has blessed my life. And I am not alone. It doesn’t solve any problems for you; it just allows you to take a deep breath and be more in tune with yourself and your feelings and emotions. It helps you understand how something makes you feel and how you react physically to it, and then without judgment, respond rather than making a knee-jerk reaction. And people with learning differences are able to do that as well as anyone else, just maybe differently.
As a cousin of mine, Tyler Gordon, once said, “If I don’t let my emotions get the best of me, no one else will.” And I believe anyone alive, whether in a special learning situation or not, would and could benefit from mindfulness. Becoming less reactive, more thoughtful, more deliberate, having mindful communication, listening mindfully, expressing gratitude, displaying generosity of self, performing conscious acts of kindness, having heartfulness, eating mindfully…truly, it would take an uninformed person to believe that these blessings could not be taught and would not benefit anyone the planet.
8) Where can we learn more about mindfulness and your program?
My book is a great place to start, and I write a weekly blog you can sign up to receive through my website (www.drsusiewolbe.com). I am available to speak to groups, and will soon have a comprehensive mindfulness class online. There are also other classes available on my website (Study Skills: Organization and Study Skills Based on Brain Science; Create a Home Environment that Fosters Student Success; Overview of Mindfulness; Creating a Balanced Home Life) as well as another book – a journal, actually, PROTECT PROJECT EMPOWER. Finally, I have Best Day Ever CLUB (B.D.E. CLUB) bracelets that will soon be available on my website. As I say in my book, it’s just another way to change the world, one person at a time.
9) What have we neglected to ask?
My husband read my book and asked, “Isn’t it a lot of this common sense?”
The answer is yes, but I came into contact with a lot of teachers over my career who lost their common sense when they were overworked, underpaid, and didn’t have home-life balance. Actually, I think I lost a bit of my own common sense when I was first teaching, too. Positive, appropriate relationships with students, parents and colleagues typically came naturally to me, but I never knew the strategies that would make the daily necessary minutiae, such as how to arrange a room to inspire student independence, take less time. And I never, ever, realized the importance of establishing a habit of self-care. That, for me, was huge. And I think it will be for other adults and children too.