Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

August 16, 2013

Pleasantville teachers take safety training

Steve Woodhouse
Journal-Express

Pleasantville — To best serve their students and the community, school staff members need to first take care of themselves, and that includes bringing the right attitude to the classroom, a guest speaker told Pleasantville Schools' staff members this morning. 

Roseanne Torpey is a well-known safety training speaker and crisis counselor from the East Coast. She was invited to come back to Pleasantville to offer some assistance to school staff from retired teacher Dennis Oliver. Oliver has known Torpey for years, and, according to Torpey, was the first person to call her after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

"Roseanne agreed to come here for free," Oliver told the faculty and staff. His goal by inviting her is to enable Pleasantville to be proactive in providing a safe environment for everyone. 

Torpey said she was going to focus on teaching the educators how to diffuse situations and how to foster reslience in children. Having these skills will make schools safer. 

One of her first lessons focused on the need for the educators, who are ultimately caregivers for their students, to ensure that they take care of themselves. 

"None of us are immune (to stress)," Torpey said. "None of us have a 100 percent answer."

While everyone has stress, Torpey said awareness of it is important. Taking steps to reduce stress upon one's self, as well as the entire group, can go a long way. One way to do this is by displaying the correct attitude. 

"(Students) can sense who doesn't want to be there," Torpey said of teachers in a classroom. If a teacher has the wrong attitude or is not enjoying his job, the children will be unable to find joy in learning and will lose interest. 

Caring for the students and displaying a positive attitude is important, but Torpey advised the staff against over-inflating a child's self-esteem. Telling them they are great at everything, even when they are not, will lead to an even more harsh blow to them when they learn the truth about their shortcomings. She encouraged staff members to be supportive of students, compliment them on the areas in which they do excel, but be honest about the rest. 

"Help them become resilient," Torpey said. No one is good at everything, but these students are still great. 

She provided an example of a young man who wanted to coach one day. He tried out for a team, but due to his physical characteristics, he was not going to be able to play for the team. The coach was honest, but offered the man an opportunity to manage, which allowed him to help, to contribute and be part of the team. The young man was ecstatic because he could still achieve his dream. 

"Their strength comes from you," Torpey said. If a student cannot fill the role he or she is aspiring to, find one that he or she can. 

Not knowing the home lives of students, Torpey advised staff members that some of the children may be looking for encouragement they don't receive elsewhere. Random acts of kindness and providing examples will also be helpful. 

"The impact that you have on these kids is indelible on their lives," Torpey said. 

The stress in a teacher's life can impact his or her ability to be effective in the classroom. Torpey recognizes that today's stress level is higher than in the past. Technology receives part of the blame for that, as she believes people do not take enough time to relax and do what they enjoy anymore. 

"We're spending so much time on these machines," Torpey said. "Your not making any connections." 

According to her figures, 80 percent of today's illnesses can be tied to stress. It increases the hormone cortisol in the body and can affect many organs. Torpey asked the staff if they don't have time for themselves to refresh, how can they help students do the same.

She advised everyone to take a 30-minute walk every day. This will improve your health in many ways, she added. In addition, this will provide the staff members time to consider the "what if" situations they may face at school. They could take the time to think about how they can react to potential dangerous and emotional situations to save lives.

"It doesn't prevent the damage," Torpey said. "What it does is minimize it." She shared a story about a run-in Oliver had with a suicidal student. That student is still alive and well.

The message Torpey conveyed had serious consequences, but her presentation included fun. For instance, a group of staff members volunteered to pass tennis balls among each other. After a while, she altered the game, by asking them to pass eggs among each other (video of this accompanies this article).

The group worked solely with eggs for a moment, before she added the balls back in. The lesson she was trying to convey is that the balls represent the everyday responsibilities and situations that teachers face. The eggs represent the more tenuous situations that require more care, time and concentration. If they don't take the time to carefully handle the eggs, much like sensitive situations involving students, they could create a mess they would later have to clean up. By juggling the eggs and the balls at the same time, Torpey was trying to symbolize the fact that when sensitive situations arise, the everyday issues will still be there. 

Torpey stressed the need for teachers to listen. Not only to each other, but parents and students as well. Every issue with a student should be handled like the child is "bleeding" and, instead of scolding, the teacher should ask the student what he or she can do to help the student.