The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 176 Transcript
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
GONZALEZ: Today’s topic is heavy. We’re not learning a strategy you can add to your instruction or reviewing research on teaching methodology. This episode won’t do anything to help you teach your content more effectively. For that reason, and because people will see the topic and assume it’s going to drag them down, I fear that this one won’t be listened to as much as the others. But I hope I’m wrong. I hope that if you’re on the fence about whether you should stick with it that you’ll stay, because you’ll come away from this episode with a better understanding of how you can help students in real crisis. I learned so much nuanced information, gained some new insights, and heard advice that is different from what I would have done as a practicing teacher, so I think it will be worth your time.
Before I go any further, I do want to offer a warning: We will be diving into the topic of suicide prevention today and we know that educators can also struggle with thoughts of suicide. If you have thoughts of suicide, please reach out to the Prevention Lifeline at 1- 800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. These thoughts are treatable, and your life is valuable.
My guest today is Anne Moss Rogers, author of the book Emotionally Naked: A Teacher’s Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk. Rogers lost her son to suicide in 2015, and since then she has devoted her time to learning about suicide prevention and sharing what she’s learned with others as a speaker and writer. In this episode we talk about some important misconceptions about adolescent suicide, factors that are most likely to contribute to suicide in young people, signs and risk factors to look for, and things educators can do to prevent suicide.
As we transition out of COVID-related restrictions, remote teaching, and lockdowns, it’s important to remind ourselves that some students did not fare well during at-home learning, experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma that they’ll carry with them back into school. Within that context, we have even more reasons to pay close attention to our students’ social and emotional well-being. Doing that well includes learning to recognize signs that a student is contemplating suicide and knowing what to do next. This episode will help with that.
Before we start I’d like to thank Listenwise for sponsoring this episode. Listenwise is a fantastic collection of NPR podcasts, age-appropriate for grades 2-12. The podcasts come with easy-to-use lessons designed to build students’ background knowledge and vocabulary while engaging them on important current event topics. It’s great practice for meeting listening & speaking standards! With Listenwise Premium, you get built-in comprehension supports, automatically scored quizzes, interactive transcripts so students can read along as they listen, and more. Use audio stories as an equity lever to reach all your students – including those reading below grade level. Individual and school trials are available when you sign up for free at listenwise.com.
Support also comes from ISTE. Future-proof yourself and your career by becoming a member of the International Society for Technology in Education—ISTE. Joining ISTE’s passionate community of global educators helps you find your network, build your skills and grow your career. Plus, members save on dozens of PD options and ISTE books. Hundreds of thousands of educators have trusted ISTE for relevant professional learning for over 40 years, so you can count on ISTE to provide the gold standard in educator PD. Sign up now at iste.org/membership. Use discount code CULT—press enter to activate it— to save $10 when you join. That’s iste.org/membership.
Now here’s my interview with Anne Moss Rogers about suicide prevention.
GONZALEZ: Anne Moss, welcome to the podcast.
ROGERS: Thank you so much for having me and for tackling a difficult subject.
GONZALEZ: Yes, it absolutely is. Let’s go ahead and start with helping our readers get to know a little bit about your story and how you came to make this sort of your mission. We’ll talk about your book and the other materials that you have online. Tell us a little about yourself.
ROGERS: So I used to own a digital marketing company, and I was in marketing for decades as first as a copy writer and then as a business editor. And in 2015, I lost my younger son to suicide. And I didn’t understand why suicide and it would take a really long time before I would. And I found that I wasn’t passionate about digital marketing anymore, so I just made a switch and said I’m dedicating my life to suicide prevention and mental health and addiction and all those subjects nobody wants to talk about.
GONZALEZ: Wow. That is a big shift.
ROGERS: It is a big shift.
ROGERS: And I wrote my first book “Diary of a Broken Mind,” which is a memoir, and I included my son’s rap lyrics so they could get two sides of my family’s story. And then in 2020, in January, Jossey-Bass a division of Wiley Publishing, one of their reps called and said, do you want to write a book for teachers on suicide prevention? And I said yes, immediately. Got off the phone and I’m like, why me? And then I thought, why not me? I mean, I go and speak in schools, and I have a co-writer Kim O’Brien who’s a PhD and a licensed clinical social worker. And we interviewed teachers who had been through suicide death and how they adapted and changed their teaching methods after that. We interviewed a lot of people, but they were the main focus, those and school counselors.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So this book is, at the time that we’re talking, it will already have been published and put out for teachers to be able to access, and I’m going to have a link to that on the website.
GONZALEZ: And just again, it’s called “Emotionally Naked: A Teacher’s Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk.” And you also have online resources too, correct? You’ve got a website and videos.
ROGERS: I do. I have videos and I keep adding things too as well. Like I did a blog post recently about how to speak to grieving students, what are some tips? How do teachers walk into that classroom? And then also is a book you’ll be able to kind of download that last chapter of resources so you can just click on the links and find, and be able to print out some of the quizzes and things, because nobody wants to copy it from the back of the book.
ROGERS: And I know teachers don’t want to do that either, so we needed to make that resource available as well.
GONZALEZ: Okay. And we’re going to remind people at the end of this again also what your website is, but let’s go ahead and tell them now what the URL of that is so they can visit it if they’re listening and want to take a look now.
ROGERS: So emotionallynaked.com is my blog, and then I have a site, my speaker’s site, it’s annemossrogers.com, and that also has links to resources as well.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So just real quick, why is it important for teachers to educate themselves about youth suicide?
ROGERS: Well I, you know, they see millions of adolescents nationwide, and their eyes, ears, and gut feelings and all of that are a critical part of the workflow of demoting suicide as a cause of death in young people. Their relationships with students are a vital asset to that process. Really kind of think of teachers as a bridge from students who are struggling to the resources like the school counseling team, their parents and mental health resources. And that is such a vital link and that’s what we want to kind of push forward in this book. And while the goal of the book is to promote suicide prevention, we’re not advocating some exhaustive 24-hour type education on suicide prevention. That’s really about 10 percent of it. What we want to do is we want to kind of strike a health balance within that overall Tier 1 framework of positive behavioral interventions and support, and the book covers prevention, intervention and postvention because all of those done well go back to preventing suicide. And so we want to do all three steps really well and really thoroughly.
GONZALEZ: Okay, okay, good. And so the book is going to go into a lot of detail about that. What we’re going to do today is just sort of talk about maybe the most important things that teachers can do to recognize and then work toward preventing. Before we do that, just give us an idea of how significant the problem is right now in this country, or maybe not even in this country, but of youth suicide.
ROGERS: So unfortunately it is now the No. 2 cause of death, and we know that kids are, 15 to 20 percent of kids who are reporting for having suicidal thoughts. But the good news is the gap between suicidal thought and actual death by suicide is about 2,000:1. So that means that we have a lot of room for prevention and intervention. And when I was interviewing Jessica Chock-Goldman, who is a school psychologist at a Manhattan school in New York, she said, I’ve learned to ask every student that comes by my office if they are thinking of suicide, because if they are talking about it, so should we. And the pandemic has kind of pushed this subject to the front of the line, and we know that kids are stressed about returning to school. So knowing that, we need to arm them with the information and transitions and let kids know, guess what? Transitions are difficult for everyone and start to ease them and help them understand how to help themselves, basically.
GONZALEZ: Got it, got it. Okay. So in the book, you dispel a couple of important misconceptions about suicide. So let’s talk about those first.
ROGERS: So everybody, the first question I get every single time, from parents, teachers, if we talk about suicide, does it give them the idea? And we know that’s just not true. And what I have found in my research from having the website, and I have a ton of data now myself, is kids do want to tell. They’re not going to want to go to a therapist, and they’re going to want to talk to someone with whom they have a relationship.
ROGERS: So few people tell a mental health professional. They tell us, so we need to know what to do, what to say and how to receive that information with empathy and kindness and know what to do in that next step.
GONZALEZ: Got it. And you mentioned earlier this therapist that you’d talked to, and that she actually makes a point of just coming out and asking troubled students, are you thinking about suicide, to make sure that it’s very out there and clear.
ROGERS: Very clear.
GONZALEZ: And so this is not the kind of thing, yeah, this isn’t going to make a depressed student suddenly decide, oh, that’s an interesting idea. Let me follow up and do that. I’d never thought of that before. There’s no risk of bringing up the topic with students.
ROGERS: No. Most kids who, most kids haven’t told any, that haven’t told anybody have been thinking about it anywhere from six months to many years. I’ve had kids tell me online, and they’re 15 and they say, I’ve been struggling with thoughts of suicide since I was 7.
GONZALEZ: Oh my gosh.
GONZALEZ: Wow. That’s incredible. Okay.
ROGERS: So if they tell you and you should be honored that they’ve finally told someone.
ROGERS: That they chose you and saw you as a trusted adult.
GONZALEZ: Right, right. So let’s talk a little bit about the factors that are most likely to contribute to suicide in adolescents.
ROGERS: So often you’ll see headlines like “Child dies because of bullying.” And adolescent suicide is a result of many issues, never just one. So millions of kids are bullied every year, and few die by suicide.
ROGERS: So it’s what we call a contributing factor, and they’re usually a constellation of contributing factors to it. And they happen to a child that’s already vulnerable, and by vulnerable we mean one that’s exposed to violence or other trauma, lives with a mental illness such as bipolar or depression, has lost a family member and is grieving or any of the ACEs, Adverse Childhood Experiences. So it is the constellation of those issues all together.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So they’re already typically dealing with, you know, their own personal kind of collection of issues that, you know, I know that one of the things, I’ve got three teenagers right now, and I know that they all have their own, you know, struggles that sometimes to many people seem like, well that’s just a normal teenage thing to deal with. What typically ends up being the last straw that pushes these students towards actually thinking about or even acting on suicidal thoughts?
ROGERS: So in my interview with Dr. Victor Schwartz, he pointed out that typically what we see when a child suicides is that they’re in a transition or they are under or going through some kind of relationship disruption or both. So by transition, it can mean middle school to high school, high school to college, college to real life.
ROGERS: Those are the big ones, moving from one state to another, one school district to another. Also, those mini transitions from school to Christmas break, from Christmas break back to school.
ROGERS: We find that a lot of kids die by suicide or the break for the summer. So those mini transitions are key times as well.
ROGERS: Relationship disruption can mean breakups. That’s romantic breakups, fights with siblings, parents, a best friend, a boyfriend, a parent divorce, being bullied, grief over a loss of a loved one. Those are all what we define as relationship disruption, and kids, because of how they’ve grown up in the environment, seem to have underdeveloped coping skills, and it’s not that they’re weaker than the previous generation, they just haven’t gotten the benefit of developing those skills.
GONZALEZ: Okay. I also wanted to mention or to have a quick conversation about language use because you and I had talked ahead of time about not using the phrase “commit suicide.” Instead that you prefer the phrase “die by suicide” or using suicide as a verb. Can you sort of explain why the shift? Because I think we are probably going to have a lot of people listening who are school guidance counselors or, you know, people who are right on that forefront of mental health services for students. Whether or not they’ve gotten the memo on this, I think it would be good to sort of get everybody on the same page with this shift in language. So tell me a little about that.
ROGERS: So we are trying to phase out “commit suicide,” and the reason is that it used to be a crime in 1400’s England, and it’s been part of our lexicon for, like, hundreds of years. And what they would do is they would fine the family and they would deny the loved one a burial in the cemetery.
ROGERS: And that was kind of their crime. Well we know now that it’s a public health crisis, and that’s recognized as such by the World Health Organization, the Department of Defense, the National Institute of Mental Health. So we understand it as a public health crisis, so we’d say, “died by suicide” or “she suicided.” We want to avoid “commit” because it’s not a crime.
ROGERS: It’s a mental health issue.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So there’s just that connotation of a crime being committed with the word “commit.”
ROGERS: It is. It already has a lot of stigma and shame, and we can start to take away or erode that stigma and shame by using the right language.
GONZALEZ: Okay, okay. So one of the things that probably most people listening are waiting for us to get to is, what are the signs? What should they be looking for among their groups of, you know, maybe older kids and young adolescents and teens? What am I looking for that might set a student apart from your average adolescent who is just going through adolescence and struggling with all of those things? What are some of the signs?
ROGERS: Well, reckless behavior is one. Another is that kids will say things like, “I just want to die,” “I can’t do this anymore,” or “I’m such a burden.” And it’s not always what they say but what they say and how it makes you feel, like you feel this sense of despair when they say something. And I want you, teachers, to act on that instead of, you’re going to feel like, oh my gosh, I’m not qualified, and it’s very uncomfortable, and I want teachers to override that discomfort.
ROGERS: So there are frequent flyers to the school clinic, and those kids, you know, like my son Charles. Knew the first name of every nurse at every school that he ever attended, and he was, you know, back aches, headaches, sore muscles, accidents.
GONZALEZ: Oh, okay.
ROGERS: So the kids that are always in the clinic, for one thing or another.
GONZALEZ: And how does that connect to suicide? Is it that they’re not actually experiencing all of these? Are these psychosomatic things that they’re feeling? Are they just trying to get out of social settings?
ROGERS: They’re real. It’s almost like, so your brain doesn’t separate mental health and physical health. It’s all cake batter.
ROGERS: So they’re really, these things are very real.
ROGERS: And, you know, their muscles are sore because they’re tensing up a lot.
ROGERS: And they want to tell someone, and I think that for some kids, they just want to be around somebody that makes them feel safe.
ROGERS: So that’s also part of it, but they just tend to be more accident prone. That’s why they just a suicide screening tool in emergency rooms now, pediatric screening tool.
GONZALEZ: Okay, interesting. Okay. What else? What are some other signs?
ROGERS: Kids who are falling asleep a lot, showing a significant drop in grades, like a kid that was an A student two weeks ago now suddenly just making C’s and barely getting by. Something’s going on in their life that needs to be addressed.
ROGERS: Kids who are ghosting, and that means isolating. Those are the ones that you want to continually reach out to, and they’re the ones that maybe throughout the whole pandemic had their video monitors off. They’re the ones that maybe didn’t show up for class as often.
GONZALEZ: It seems like it’s going to be also a challenge this coming year for teachers to actually filter through because I think lots of kids did that and now it’s going to be to determine now as we come back, who was doing that for other reasons and who was doing that as a cry for help or a sign that something more serious was going on?
ROGERS: It will be.
ROGERS: And that’s where that collaboration comes in handy and, you know, having mental health presentations about anxiety and depression openly. And if the teacher’s not doing it, counselors will often go in and give those to various classes.
ROGERS: So kids who I’ve mentioned, ones taking too many risks, ones who are drinking, drugging, self-harming too much or an escalation in that behavior. It can be the perfectionist who’s gotten to be even more sensitive about mistakes. It can be the popular student athlete that you would never expect would die by suicide because he has the perfect girlfriend and everything from outside looks ideal.
ROGERS: So where can teachers look for other cries for help might be in the papers they write, the art they make, the doodles they draw. And when you run across these things, it’s important to turn that into the school counselor or social worker. So, for example, there was a young lady who when she was in middle school, she drew a picture of a girl drowning, and it was just a doodle on the back of her notebook, but she tore the back of that notebook off, and she threw it in the garbage.
GONZALEZ: With the art on it? She threw it —
ROGERS: With the art on it.
ROGERS: And the teacher picked, drew it out of the trash can and at first, she just, she started to dismiss it, and then she was like, you know, this is really alarming. And she asked the student about it and the student admitted that she was thinking of suicide.
ROGERS: And then that teacher connected her with the school social worker. They walked down there together, and the child got the help she needed.
ROGERS: But the plan was imminent. She had purchased all the things to drown herself.
GONZALEZ: Oh my gosh.
ROGERS: It’s scary.
GONZALEZ: That’s scary. And this is, and for all we know, it came down to that teacher pulling that notebook.
ROGERS: She trusted her instincts.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
ROGERS: And that’s what it really comes down to is you feel that despair of that student. You know something’s going on, and it might not be suicide.
ROGERS: But default to thinking that it might be and to connecting with that child in some way.
ROGERS: Or connecting them, telling the school counseling team what your feelings are.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So when it comes to actually preventing suicide as part of a school culture, what are some proactive things that can be done to prevent suicide?
ROGERS: So there’s a list, and we’re not going to go through all of those today, but I’m going to mention the ones that probably have more to do with teachers, and that is, I think the big one is mental health education, it’s having those conversations and normalizing them within the school culture.
ROGERS: I think that strong social emotional initiatives embedded in the pedagogy. So you had an episode not long ago about teachers just kind of making it part of their teaching, so you’re not switching your whole curriculum, you’re just making shifts into kind of integrating that kind of pedagogy into your classroom learning.
GONZALEZ: Right, yeah. That was with Wendy Turner, and she was saying you don’t have to have, now it’s SEL time. It’s just, it’s woven in, yeah.
ROGERS: Exactly. And I totally agree with that because even when I go speak to students at school, I’m weaving in those lessons in my presentation at every point. And they’re learning by my telling a story.
ROGERS: And that way it sticks, right?
GONZALEZ: Mhmm. And when you say, when you say mental health education, because you had mentioned earlier bullying, and I know that especially about five years ago, it seemed like it was really rising in popularity in schools to have anti-bullying education. And that’s not what you’re talking about. You’re not talking about these campaigns about bullying. You’re talking about teaching kids about depression, anxiety, suicide, those types of things. Making that conversation a normal part of school, not just saying, “don’t be a bully.”
ROGERS: So I think, well, one thing that was really popular that my niece did at her school is that she had a body image panel come in, and different people address, because, and what I’ve seen lately as well is more eating disorders and more restricted eating. And that is a mental health issue all of its own. And 200 people came to this panel in the middle of the school day. I mean, they all got a pass, and they went, and they joined in. So events like that, to educate, it doesn’t have to be a whole panel event, but it can be just bulletin boards of how have these movie stars dealt with their anxiety.
ROGERS: And just different methods of coping.
GONZALEZ: Right, right. Okay. I just, I wanted to circle back to that to make sure it was clear that you’re not necessarily talking about something like an anti-bullying campaign but more broader mental health education.
ROGERS: Right. I mean the schools seem to get kind of stuck on one particular thing, and really what we address in the book, will reduce a lot of the bullying. It will reduce a lot of the self-harm; it will reduce a lot of the unhealthy coping strategies like substance misuse.
GONZALEZ: Right. So we’ve talked about mental health education, access to resources for students to actually get help, SEL initiatives. What else? What other things can schools, and educators in general, even in their own classrooms, do to prevent?
ROGERS: So I think an overall focus on student wellness, but I also think that a couple, we need to focus on a couple of protective factors. So we know that kids that die by suicide often feel like they’re not connected or they don’t belong. So any kind of way you can get students to collaborate more and get to know each other better and create that sense of belonging and connectedness in your classroom, family, community, I think that is one of the biggest things you can interject in your classroom. Also, coping ability, life skills and adapting to change. Any time you can integrate lessons that help kids with critical thinking and developing coping strategies and life skills, those are what are going to help them through those difficult times and those adverse circumstances is once they practice them, they will remember them when they need to later on.
GONZALEZ: Right, right. And then you had also talked about collaboration between faculty members, so let’s really emphasize that now and talk a little bit more about the importance of doing that.
ROGERS: So I believe every school needs some kind of protocol. So, you know, teachers need to know, I’ve identified this student. What happens next? Who do I go to? What does that process look like? Because if the teacher is sitting down with that student and says, let’s go speak to the counselor, she needs to be able to have some kind of transparency of what the rest of that process might look like or be able to say, I’m really not sure of the next step and since neither of us is exactly sure, let’s go together to talk to Mr. Or Mrs. So-and-So and figure out how we can get you the support that you need. Because you don’t need to be struggling with this by yourself. So it’s mainly showing partnership but also giving that child the agency and not doing this like behind their back but doing it in their presence because when you’re doing it that way, again, you’re giving them agency and you’re saying, by the way, you know, I’m confident in your ability to help yourself through this crisis.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, now I’m remembering something you said a little earlier, and it struck me. You talked about going together with the child to the guidance counselor, the counselor at school. My reaction was that’s not how I would have handled it had I not heard you just now say how important that is. My gut would have been to pick up on the signs, and then privately go and talk to the guidance counselor and say, I think we need to check up on this kid. And so I think that’s such an interesting different approach to make it all very transparent and out in the open.
ROGERS: Because they also are fearful of what you’re saying, because if they don’t know what it is you’re saying, they’re going to fill those gaps with much scarier, you know, scenarios of what you’re saying.
ROGERS: And then like you go talk to the counselor, well Lizzy has told me that she is, her parents are divorcing, and she’s been struggling with thoughts of suicide. And you give other details, and you say, Lizzy, do I have that right? So give her the chance to speak up and kind of introduce her so that she starts to advocate for herself because that’s ultimately who’s going to save somebody’s life is that person, right?
GONZALEZ: Right. Right, yeah. Are there ever kids that in that situation start to feel like, oh my gosh, am I in trouble? Like, are you taking me?
GONZALEZ: Because I’m thinking, for a lot of different personality types, there’s that, and then there’s also maybe the concern of I don’t want to be a burden on anybody. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. You guys can, you know, leave it be. Have you heard about those types of reactions?
ROGERS: They’re actually quite common. So yeah.
ROGERS: They get this instant fear because they don’t, you know, are they going to put me in the back of an ambulance? You know?
ROGERS: Are they going to put me in a psych hospital right now? And that’s usually kind of the last resort. So basically, you just want to reassure this child that you’re in this to help them and that, you know, you want to make sure, and you want to try to protect them as best you can, and that their health and wellness is your primary concern. Lots of times they fear telling the parent. Sometimes there are ethnic reasons because a child that’s suicidal bringing shame to the family, or it’s an LGBTQ student who is struggling with coming out. And in those cases, the counselor needs to know how to handle that, and then they’ll come up with protocol and a way to approach that family.
ROGERS: And they have some interesting ways of managing that to protect the child and get the child the help that they deserve and that they need.
GONZALEZ: Oh good. That’s good to know. So you actually have, because we’ve gone over kind of a list of various things, but you’ve got a four-step suicide prevention, intervention that you recommend for teachers, coaches, and other school staff. So what are those four steps?
ROGERS: So ideally, you’d want to be trained.
ROGERS: But I know not everybody’s trained.
ROGERS: So first of all is to engage that student in private conversation once you suspect something in their life is going gravely wrong, whether you think it’s suicide or something else. You listen with empathy without fixing. So you don’t want to say, you have so much to live for. You want to say, tell me more. How long has this been going on?
ROGERS: The hardest part will be, are you thinking of suicide?
GONZALEZ: Okay. It’s that direct question.
GONZALEZ: And we don’t want to be beating around the bush or using some other substitute phrase or something where we kind of hope they get our meaning.
GONZALEZ: You want to say, are you thinking of, okay.
ROGERS: And then connecting the student with help. Now, if it’s a new teacher and they are frightened of all these steps, then go to the last one and connect that student directly with help.
GONZALEZ: Okay. Go to another teacher, basically?
ROGERS: Well, go to the school counselor.
GONZALEZ: Okay, got it. Got it.
ROGERS: So, you know, if, it’s just a conversation, really.
ROGERS: And one, and teachers are actually very good at it once they get over that initial fear because the child will end up telling you so many things that they, that they wouldn’t tell other people, so that part is very valuable. But if you’re a new teacher in a new school and it’s all you can do to just get control of the classroom, then if you have a reservation about what’s going on with students, tell the school counselor or connect that student, one way or another. You can’t wait, like, next week or until the next thing happens. You’ve got to go ahead and express your concern.
GONZALEZ: Okay, okay. So some of the stuff that we’ve talked about has had to do with sort of responding when we actually see the signs, but what are some other things that we can do upstream of that crisis to prevent even students getting to that point?
ROGERS: So it’s a lot easier to kind of pull a kid out when the waters are nice and calm before they hit the rapids and crisis moment. So ideally that’s what we want to establish in this book. And part of that is embedding the social and emotional learning and coping strategies into the pedagogy that prevents students from getting to crisis. And we do this by making some shifts in how we teach already. And before we do any of this, we need to routinely ask kids to think of two trusted adults, one inside school, one outside school, that they talk to if they were struggling with anything. And that may be whether they should go to college or not. Also, promoting help seeking as a sign of courage and not weakness. So making yourself an example when you seek outside help or outside counsel and students kind of seeing that. And we have a lot of case studies in the book with teachers who’ve been through a student suicide and how they’ve adapted their teaching curriculum and pedagogy to embed some of those strategies into their teaching because, you know, I’ve got to teach the subject anyway. Might as well make it worthwhile and teach kind of multiple modalities.
ROGERS: And probably one of the most simple things that I encourage people to do is put up a poster of the Crisis Text Line in your classroom. And you go to Crisis Text Line, Spread the Word, and there’s a little poster you download, and it just has the Crisis Text Line and an 8.5 by 11 that you print out on a printer and stick it on your bulletin board.
ROGERS: And have other resources in the classroom, Alateen, Al-Anon, things about human trafficking and body image and things like that.
GONZALEZ: Okay. And we’re going to actually, on this site I’m going to, we’ve got a list of sort of, some resources that teachers can access online so that they can find that if they’re hearing us now and wondering where they can go to get those.
ROGERS: And with the download in the book, I’ll also have links to all of that as well.
ROGERS: One thing that Leigh Rysko did really well, she’s a Spanish teacher in Kansas, is that now she sets expectations for failure at the beginning of the year. She says, we’re going to make lots of mistakes. We’re going to fail a lot, and the more we fail, the more we learn. And she said, I am not allergic to that, and when you say something that isn’t the right answer, what you’re saying is probably on the minds of everybody else, so I’m going to be real happy that you brought that up.
ROGERS: Because the student that she lost was a perfectionist.
ROGERS: And she knows how important that is. Sheila McElwee, a chemistry teacher at Noble and Greenough, an independent school in Massachusetts, does a mental health check-in on every Monday. It takes about five minutes, and she has each of the students rate from 1 to 5 how they feel, 1 being the worst, 5 being the best. And she says over time what I’ve noticed if the kids say they’re a 1 or a 2, they’ll explain briefly why, about, well, my dad got a cancer diagnosis. And she says that the kids will start to kind of bond with each other, and problem solve, and other kids will say, my mom had cancer too, if there’s anything I can help you with. And again, she says they’re far more engaged in the curriculum she teaches if she kind of lets them unload before the lesson gets started.
ROGERS: She’s got a lot of really interesting ideas in the book. Leigh Rysko again, she’s the Spanish teacher and world language department chair at the Kansas public school who did the setting expectations for failure, and she does a Dear Abby assignment, and they have to write Dear Abby about a problem, and then she’ll code them. And it’s all anonymous, and she’ll switch and have the kids answer in Spanish. So they have to ask a question, and then the kids answer it in Spanish, and then it gets redistributed back to the kids so they see the answer. Well, they’re more motivated to learn Spanish in order to present their issue and present problem-solving for that issue. That assignment has evolved over the years and become really, really popular. So at first, she allowed kids to kind of make up their own problem. Now she says, no, you have to do one you actually used.
ROGERS: Sponsor a mental wellness club, and you can freelance it. I got lots of direction in the book, or you can do that through a nonprofit called Bring Change to Mind. So you go there, and they actually have a student login, and they have “this is what we’re going to do this month,” and you can kind of follow their protocol along. A student leader can do that.
GONZALEZ: Okay, okay. So they help teachers basically create and establish a mental wellness club in their school?
ROGERS: Right. And I don’t think the teacher can actually be the sponsor but really the school psychologist or the school counselor would really be the keeper of this. And we just kind of want the teacher kind of to support it because we ask enough of our teachers.
GONZALEZ: No kidding, right. Yeah.
GONZALEZ: And they’ve got the training for that too.
ROGERS: Exactly. And then the bracelet strategy. Wendy Turner, in Episode 143, brought that up, and she uses it for elementary school kids, but I think that strategy would be really, really popular for middle and high schools as well.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, and this is where they just wear, they wear the bracelet to indicate kind of where their mood is right now, to let everybody know.
ROGERS: Yeah. It’s red, green, or yellow, green being hey, I’m wonderful, yellow, eh, and then red, I am not having the best day.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
ROGERS: So your school might have already integrated something like Signs of Suicide or Sources of Strength or the Hope Squad or any of those programs. But it is these shifts in the classroom that complement these efforts.
ROGERS: So even with or without that mental health or suicide prevention education, teachers can start building this foundation and getting kids those coping strategies with those simple teaching shifts.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So having a program put in place is definitely not enough if all of the other stuff isn’t happening more organically, kind of every day and embedded in the teaching and the relationships.
ROGERS: Exactly. So I see a lot of people kind of like, well, we’re doing this, so we’ve checked that box.
ROGERS: And it’s really recreating that whole foundation. And you, you touch on a lot of what needs to happen in the “No More Easy Button,” that episode.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, checking a box is very tempting, especially if you are a teacher who’s got way too much on their plate in the first place, and I think that’s really my point there is that all of these things that you’re saying, they sound absolutely good and right. And this is like a larger issue, which is that if teachers are in a district where they have been so overloaded with other things that they have to get done, test prep and documentation, they’re not going to have the energy to do this stuff well, and this stuff literally is life or death. So it’s another thing for leaders to think about, whether they’re setting up the conditions, even, for this to happen.
ROGERS: Well, I want, I want the leaders to know that making teacher, making it more fun for teachers to teach is big with retention, and they won’t have to constantly be looking to fill open positions. So you give teachers little freedom on how they integrate some of these things in their classroom, they’re going to overall feel more rewarded and feel better about their jobs.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. So the last thing that you are recommending that teachers do is that they get training even if it’s not mandated by their school, get some suicide prevention training.
ROGERS: Definitely. There’s something called LivingWorks Start, which is online.
ROGERS: And it’s 90 minutes, and it’s $27.
GONZALEZ: Oh wow. Okay, so that’s very doable time and money-wise, yeah.
ROGERS: Exactly. I’m a SafeTalk trainer. That is a four-hour in-person program, and most areas have a SafeTalk trainer, and typically those SafeTalk trainings will be underwritten by something like American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or some other local resource.
ROGERS: You know, nonprofit.
GONZALEZ: Okay, okay, got it. So again, we’re going to put some links to this stuff so that people can find all of these things. So Anne Moss, we have talked about some very heavy things, and I would love it if you could just kind of leave my listeners with just some final thoughts or what message you’d like to leave with them.
ROGERS: Intervention works. Listening works. And resilience and recovery are not only possible but they’re probable, and I’m going to end with a real short story. Sean Reilly, who is a Kansas school teacher, tells a story of he saw a little blip on the screen of the curriculum by the county that said he needed to do suicide prevention in the classroom. So he designed a course by going to the library and studying up on it, and he did his little class. And the girls at lunch were talking about it one day, and a student from another class overheard it. And she came into his room at 8 a.m. And threw on Sean Reilly’s desk this letter that her locker mate had put in her locker, and it was a suicide note. And she threw it on his desk, and she walked out. And it was just from that one conversation, that one classroom teaching, and it was the message that he sent that if a friend is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can’t keep that to yourself. You have to tell a trusted adult, and that’s what those kids had remembered. And this girl was connected with help, and she sent him a Christmas card for years.
GONZALEZ: This is the girl who had written that she was thinking about suicide?
ROGERS: The one who had written the note, yeah.
ROGERS: It was her friend who came and turned in that note.
ROGERS: And initially she was angry for about a few hours.
ROGERS: And then she was grateful and thankful.
GONZALEZ: So a lot of resources here. If people want to learn more from you, this is really just, you know, we’ve kind of skated over the surface of a lot of stuff and just given people the most important thing so they can find you online and learn more from you at annemossrogers.com or emotionallynaked.com. Right?
ROGERS: That’s correct.
GONZALEZ: I really appreciate the work you’re doing. I’m so sorry for the loss of your son, and just thank you for sharing this. I hope that this message gets out. My podcasts sit on podcast apps for years and years, and so even if we don’t reach someone this year, we might reach them five or six years down the line with this message. So thanks for sitting down and recording it with me.
ROGERS: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it, Jennifer.
To read a summary and transcript of this interview, or to find links to all the resources mentioned today, visit cultofpedagogy.com, click Podcast, and choose episode 176. To get a weekly email from me about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, courses and products, sign up for my mailing list at cultofpedagogy.com/subscribe. Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.