Attendance matters!

Attendance matters! Did you know that...
    1. Good attendance helps children do well in school and eventually in the workplace. Good attendance matters for school success, starting as early prekindergarten and throughout elementary school. By middle and high school, poor attendance is a leading indicator of dropout. Developing the habit of attendance prepares students for success on the job and in life.
    2. Excused and unexcused absences quickly add up to too much time lost in the classroom, starting in kindergarten and even pre-k, especially for the most vulnerable populations.
    3. Students are at risk academically if they miss 10 percent of the school year, or about 18 days. Once too many absences occur, they can affect learning, regardless of whether absences are excused or unexcused.
      • Sporadic, not just consecutive, absences matter. Before you know it – just one or two days a month can add up to nearly 10 percent of the school year.
      • Avoid unnecessary absences. Some absences are unavoidable. Occasionally, children get sick and need to stay home. What is important is getting children to school as often as possible.
    1. Chronic absence, missing 10 percent or more of the school year does not just affect the students who miss school. If too many students are chronically absent, it slows down instruction for other students, who must wait while the teacher repeats material for absentee students. This makes it harder for students to learn and teachers to teach.
    2. Educators and families need to monitor how many days each student misses school for any reason – excused, unexcused or suspensions – so we can intervene early. Districts and schools should use data to identify how many and which students are chronically absent to provide extra support where it is needed. Families should track how many days their children have missed so they are aware of when they should be concerned and take action. We can’t afford to think of absenteeism as merely a lack of compliance with school rules or a loss of funding. Absences represent lost opportunities to learn in the classroom.
    3. Chronic absence is a problem we can solve when the whole community works with, families and schools. All of us can make a difference by helping create a positive school climate that engages students and families in learning and sets the expectation that attendance matters. Community partners are especially important for helping schools and families address and overcome tough barriers such as limited access to health care, hunger, unstable housing, and poor transportation or neighborhood violence.
    4. Relationship building is fundamental to any strategy for improving student attendance. Students are more likely to go to school if they know someone cares whether they show up. Trusting relationships – whether with teachers, mentors, coaches or other caring adults – are critical to encouraging families and students to seek out help to overcome barriers to attendance.
    5. Reducing chronic absence can help close the achievement gap. Chronic absence especially affects achievement for low-income students who depend more on school for opportunities to learn. Because they are more likely to face systemic barriers to getting to school, low-income children, many of whom are children of color, have higher levels of chronic absence starting as early as prekindergarten. Chronic absence data can be used to trigger interventions so high-risk student populations receive the supports they need, ideally before they fall behind academically.
    6. Map and address the attendance gap. Data can show up us where absenteeism is most concentrated (by school, grade, ethnicity, geography, income, etc.) and help us unpack the major causes and identify potential causes. This information can then be used to ensure resources are targeted to improve outcomes, especially for the students who currently have the least access to an opportunity to do well in school.

From "Consequence" to "Prevention" - Redefining what we mean by bullying to better understand and prevent it

Here is a great article from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Gretchen Brion-Meisels and Bernice Raveche Garnett explain that "A critical aspect of preventing bullying is building a positive school climate. It's important to focus on building community and strengthening relationships, as well as helping students and adults build understanding across differences of identity and life experiences."

All of us at Mitchell School work hard with this goal in mind. Please join us in this journey. We welcome your input and feedback.

Link to the article posted below

From “Consequence” to “Prevention”


From “Consequence” to “Prevention”: Redefining what we mean by bullying to better understand and prevent it #hgse #usableknowledge @harvarded
Despite the attention bullying has received over the past decade, there’s still too often a gap between what schools consider to be bullying — officially — and what children experience as bullying on a day-to-day basis. For many specialists, it’s time to reexamine what we mean by bullying, in order to better understand and prevent it.
Policymakers and educators often rely on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definition of bullying to determine legal, preventative, and intervention efforts in schools. In that definition, bullying is “unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners,” involving power imbalance and the likelihood of repetition. But this interpretation doesn’t fully capture the experiences of young people, according to a new article by Gretchen Brion-Meisels and Bernice Raveche Garnett.
Brion-Meisels and Garnett propose a broader definition, one that asks educators to think more holistically about the wide-ranging factors influencing students’ experiences of safety and harm at school. Their framework is founded on the idea of relational youth violence — “behaviors (physical, relational, sexual, verbal, or psychological) and policies (formal or informal) that are intentionally or unintentionally harmful . . . based on real or perceived power imbalances.” The shift reflects the complexity of students’ lived experiences and pushes back against simple categorization. It calls on researchers to better explore connections among acts of bullying, discrimination, and harassment, and it attempts to nudge schools to move beyond classification and consequences and toward the kind of understanding, communication, and support that can change a culture.
Why do we need to better define and understand the word “bullying”?We asked Brion-Meisels to tell us more why we need to shift thinking about bullying:
When I talk with young people about their experience in school, they describe a number of factors that cause them to feel sad, scared, undervalued, and disrespected. Adults often lump these different types of behaviors into one category and call it “bullying.” Unfortunately, adults and institutions are perpetrating some of these behaviors; institutions are often set up in ways that privilege certain students over others, and this can both lead to (and stem from) adults who are using their power in ways that cause young folks harm. Schools are asked to measure and report bullying, and in many states, like Massachusetts, they are required to have a policy and plan on how to prevent it; but because certain types of relational harm are not included in our definition of “bullying,” young peoples’ experiences with these forms of discrimination and harassment are more likely to get overlooked. 
In addition, the current system puts pressure on schools to ensure that they are categorizing and recording instances of bullying. When we focus on categorizing harmful behaviors, we can create a punitive and reactive culture, which shifts the focus away from effective prevention and intervention efforts — typically whole-school efforts that support the development of a positive climate by strengthening relationships and fostering social-emotional learning. Effective bullying prevention efforts include the existence of antibullying policies, and the explicit protection of young people whose identities are marginalized; but they also use formative, restorative consequences when harm occurs. To do this requires that educators build community on multiple levels — across the school, in the classroom, and on an individual level — before a harmful interaction occurs.
What do you want educators to be thinking about, when it comes to relational harm?
In order to effectively prevent bullying and discrimination in schools, educators need to understand not just the moment of a harmful interaction, but what has led to it. Why might an individual feel as though the only way to have his/her/their needs met is to hurt someone else? When educators spend too much time worrying about how to classify or categorize harmful behaviors, there is a tendency to lose sight of the environment that fostered these behaviors. I want people to worry about what exists in the culture of a school or community that may be causing adults and youth to act in these ways, and to consider the needs of young people that aren’t being met.
To some degree, what we call this harmful behavior matters — particularly in terms of the consequences that a school might enact. But regardless of what we call it, our response should be multi-tiered. We need to bolster the young woman’s self-esteem, helping her feel like she can be who she is and wear what she wants within the confines of school rules. We need to address issues of weight-based bias, and/or racism, and/or homophobia in our school community. And we need to make sure that students find better ways to express their frustration, anger, or needs.Here is an example: Imagine a situation where a group of students are teasing an overweight, female peer who is walking down the hall wearing short-shorts. One educator might call this “sexual harassment,” because the students are talking about their peer’s body; this might be particularly true if the students were male. Another educator might call it bullying because the group is more powerful than the individual, and is using its power to tease her about her weight. If the young woman felt uncomfortable enough that she skipped class or left school, an educator might call the behavior harassment. So, there are at least three different ways to classify the same behavior. Then imagine if the young woman in question was a woman of color or identified as a lesbian; we might call the behavior racism or homophobia.
Too often, our focus is the bottom line — labeling the behavior in order to attach a consequence to it. I want educators to say, “Why did this happen at our school?” The answer might be that it happened because we are not educating students enough about how to talk to people whose identities or ideas are different from their own. Or we might discover that the media is influencing what our students think about bodies and clothes. Or we might discover that our students are frustrated and stressed by something happening in our school or community, and they are taking this frustration out on each other. Those are the things I want educators to be having conversations about.
How can a school leader think more holistically about preventing and responding to bullying?
Research suggests that prevention and intervention efforts are most effective when they respond to local needs. School-based teams can collect data around young peoples’ experiences at school and use it to drive their efforts. It’s important that the language schools use to talk about relational harm reflects the ways that students talk about their experiences. Data will help educators to understand young people’s experiences.A critical aspect of preventing bullying is building a positive school climate. It’s important to focus on building community and strengthening relationships, as well as helping students and adults build understanding across differences of identity and life experiences. One way to begin this work is to convene a team of stakeholders who represent different parts of your school community — families, community members, teachers, support staff, and youth. This team can begin by articulating a vision for what a positive climate will look like at their school, whether (and which) young people are feeling safe, and why or why not they are feeling this way. The team can define bullying, discrimination, and harassment together, can think about how to articulate a policy that protects students from relational harm, and can consider formative consequences when harm occurs.
The key is to act on multiple levels at once — not just react. Have a plan about how to build positive culture schoolwide, how to support teachers in building a positive classroom climate, and how to provide targeted supports for students in need. Then, when an incident happens, educators can ask questions not just about the individual interaction, but about what is happening within the school that may be facilitating these types of issues, what exists in the school to support both parties, and how the discourse in the wider community is filtering into our schools.
We need to think carefully about what we are teaching, how the curriculum is supporting students’ understanding of difference, and how we are providing students will social and emotional skills. It can’t just be about the bullying. It needs to be about the environment that is shaping our harmful interactions, or helping to prevent them.


  • Child Trends provides a rich summary of the data on bullying, looking at demographic incidence and research on prevention. Read the comprehensive report here.
  • Child Trends’ Deborah Temkin summarizes conclusions from the release of the 2015 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which offers the most up-to-date look at the state of bullying in the United States. Read her overview here.
  • bully-free culture: Three actions that make a difference.
We Want to Hear from You
Our country is polarized: How is that showing up in your school? What are you doing to protect students, confront discrimination, prevent bullying, and foster inclusion? Usable Knowledge would like to hear from you. Join us on Facebook and Twitter, using #OneAllHGSE. Send your advice and resources to, and we’ll share as much as we can. Read more at One and All.

Introducing Maeghen Howe, school-based Sweetser clinician

Hi! My name is Maeghen Howe and this is my first year at Mitchell School as the school-based Sweetser clinician. Sweetser is a Maine behavioral healthcare organization for children, adults and families and school-based therapy is one of the many services that Sweetser offers. While I work out of the school and am able to collaborate with Mitchell School staff, I am not employed by the Kittery School Department. My services are billed through insurance.

I recently graduated from the University of New England with my Master’s in Social Work and completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Maine Orono with a Bachelor’s in Social Work. Working with children and their families has been something I have aspired to do since graduating high school and I am overjoyed that it is now my reality. I am a mental health clinician, so I am able to work with your children to develop strategies and skills to improve their behavior, as well as their overall quality of life. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Play Therapy are the two modalities I utilize the most, as I believe play is an important gateway to accessing a children’s learning capabilities. 

There are two ways to access the services I provide in the school. The first way is to consult with Emma Kilgore or Dana Rickerich to fill out a referral, which in turn will be passed along to me. The other way is to contact me directly and we can talk about any struggles your child may be experiencing. 

Please contact me if you have any questions.
Contact: or (207) 468-4293. My office is in the kindergarten wing. 
Hours at Mitchell School: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 8-3. 

Sweetser Information
PromiseLine: 1-800-434-3000
The PromiseLine can be used to find out information about all Sweetser services and gain access to these services.

Crisis Hotline: 1-888-568-1112 available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

The Great Kindness Challenge - January 23-27, 2017

The Mitchell School is participating in The Great Kindness Challenge again this year.  It is one school week (January 23-27) devoted to performing as many acts of kindness as possible, choosing from one of the checklists below. Help us create a culture of kindness in our school and community. It is free, is easy to implement and has the power to increase tolerance, unity and respect for all.  Our school is proudly participating in this proactive, positive, nation-wide bully prevention program.

You will see one of the checklists below in your child's red folder on January 23.  We have many fun activities planned for the week.  Keep scrolling down -- links to videos and songs and a booklist are shared below. Thank you for supporting this initiative in our community.

                    (YouTube videos -- be ready to close out of the advertising pop-ups)

Kind-Hearted Hand - The Great Kindness Challenge Theme Song  

Kind-hearted Hand song WITH lyrics 

Kindness Matters! Easy Ways YOU Can Make Your School a Kinder Place!  (This is a good way to introduce the Great Kindness Challenge to your students)  
Advertisement from an insurance agency in Thailand --  Thai Good Stories by Linaloved 


Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch - Eileen Spinelli
John’s Whistle  - Lili Ferreiros and Sonja Wimmer
The Lion and the Mouse - Bernadette Watts
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters - John Steptoe
Because Amelia Smiled - David Ezra Stein
Each Kindness - Jacqueline Woodson
The Invisible Boy - Trudy Ludwig
The Kindness Quilt - Nancy Elizabeth Wallace
Have You Filled a Bucket Today - Carol McCLoud
The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein
The Golden Rule  - Ilene Cooper

Take the Device-Free Dinner Challenge!

Take the challenge -- Go to Common Sense Media at  and download your family starter kit.

Why Device-Free Dinners Are a Healthy Choice

Technology offers plenty of benefits and opportunities for families, but nothing replaces face-to-face time with the ones we love. By Michael Robb 
Why Device-Free Dinners Are a Healthy Choice
It may seem obvious that eating dinner with your family is a good thing. Research provides plenty of support for the importance of family dinner for kids: Learning vocabularyfewer behavior problemsless substance abuse, and healthier eating are some of the positive outcomes.
But how is family dinner changing in response to the massive technological changes in American society? To find out more about how families are managing devices during family dinner, Common Sense Media commissioned a poll of nearly 900 families with children between the ages of 2 and 17 years old. Here’s what we found:
  • Family dinner is an institution. Seventy percent of families eat dinner together five or more times a week.
  • Dinner is a time for sharing. Almost all (93 percent of) parents think conversations at family dinners are important for talking about things happening in their children's lives.
  • Devices aren't welcome but often have a seat at the table anyway. Even though previous research has found that 88 percent of adults don't think it's OK to use a phone at a family dinner, 47 percent of parents said they or a family member used a mobile device at dinner in the last week. Thirty-four percent said they had the TV on for all or most dinners.
For families whose dinners involved a device, parents felt conflicted:
  • A majority (51 percent) of parents said mobile devices made them feel disconnected from their families.
  • Over half (58 percent) were concerned that devices were hurting their conversations.
  • A third (35 percent) said mobile devices at dinner caused arguments.
  • And yet, 61 percent of parents thought mobile devices helped bring families together through sharing content, such as pictures, videos, or posts.
No one is arguing that occasionally sharing a YouTube video or showing off pictures from the day is harmful. And yet, in the digital age, it's easy to let devices occupy more and more of our family time. As more kids and parents bring their devices to the table, we wonder if a prime opportunity to connect with family without distractions is getting lost. Past research suggests caution. One study found that parents in a fast food restaurant who were using devices spoke less to their children and their children were more likely to act out to get attention. Other research has found that even the presence of a phone on the table can hurt the quality of conversation.
Common Sense Media promotes technology use for learning, fun, and bringing people together, but we also see a need to balance media and tech with undistracted face-to-face time. There are still times when it's good to focus just on the people in front of you.
So, when you have a family dinner, commit to putting devices away for those 30 minutes (or, if you have small children, the six minutes of dinner!). Turn your devices on silent. Better yet, put them somewhere where you can't see them and where a notification won’t tempt you to check it. Enjoy a device-free dinner as part of a healthy digital lifestyle, and make the most of family time.

About Michael Robb

Michael Robb is director of research at Common Sense, overseeing our research program, evaluation of organization impact, and program development research. Michael has been involved in issues involving media and... Read more
We continue to focus on teaching students social and emotional skills, also known as soft skills.  The staff at Mitchell School works hard to create a healthy school culture by helping students develop skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflicts, and make responsible decisions.  You can learn more about the research on social emotional learning at

Why Social and Emotional Skills Are Vital to Keep At-Risk Students on Track

Academic learning is usually in the spotlight at school, but teaching elementary-age students “soft” skills like self-control and social skills might help in keeping at-risk kids out of criminal trouble in the future, a study finds.
Duke University researchers looked at a program called Fast Track, which was started in the early 1990s for children who were identified by their teachers and parents to be at high risk for developing aggressive behavioral problems.
The students were randomized into two groups; half took part in the intervention, which included a teacher-led curriculum, parent training groups, academic tutoring and lessons in self-control and social skills. The program, which lasted from first grade through 10th grade, reduced delinquency, arrests and use of health and mental health services as the students aged through adolescence and young adulthood, as researchers explained in a separate study published earlier this year.
In the latest study, researchers looked at the “why” behind those earlier findings. In looking at the data from nearly 900 students, the researchers found that about a third of the impact on future crime outcomes was due to the social and self-regulation skills the students learned from ages 6 to 11.
The academic skills that were taught as part of Fast Track turned out to have less of an impact on crime and delinquency rates than soft skills, which are associated with emotional intelligence. Soft skills might include teaching kids to work cooperatively in a group or teaching them how to think about the long-term consequences when they make a decision, whereas teaching physics is an example of a hard skill.
“The conclusion that we would make is that these [soft] skills should be emphasized even more in our education system and in our system of socializing children,” says Kenneth Dodge, a professor of public policy and of psychology and neuroscience at Duke who was a principal investigator in this study as well as in the original Fast Track project. Parents should do all they can to promote these skills with their children, Dodge says, as should education policymakers.
“To the extent we can improve those skills, we can improve outcomes in delinquency and juvenile crime,” says Dodge, who is also director of Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Child Development.
To Neil Bernstein, a psychologist in Washington, D.C., who specializes in child and adolescent behavior disorders, the researchers’ findings seem consistent with he’s seen on the ground in working with children for more than 30 years. And while he says agrees with the importance of teaching self-control and social skills, he would add empathy to the list, too.
“Empathy is what makes us aware of the feelings of others and when you’re empathic, you’re much less likely to hurt someone else’s feelings,” says Bernstein, who serves on the advisory board for the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and is the author of multiple books, including How to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do if You Can’t.
Being in tune with how someone else feels might also make adolescents steer clear of bullying and other “behaviors of concern,” Bernstein says.
Empathy was not one of the skills that were directly measured in this study, according to Lucy Sorensen, a Ph.D. student at Duke and lead author of the study. But there were several measures of “prosocial behavior,” Sorensen says, defined as voluntary behavior intended to benefit others.
While Bernstein thinks the study’s findings are meaningful and could potentially serve as a model for schools, he says that collectively getting a school system, teachers, parents and students all motivated enough to take part in an intervention like Fast Track is challenging.
Several parts of the Fast Track study have been picked up successfully in other school settings, Sorensen says, such as a social-emotional learning curriculum called Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, or PATHS. Programs like Fast Track need buy-in from school systems, teachers and parents, she says, and that can be a tough sell. But she adds that it’s a strength of Fast Track that the students get support both at school and at home.
“There’s a growing and new understanding of what it takes to be successful as an adolescent and an adult,” Dodge says. “It used to be that what we thought all it took was academic skills. Reading and math are very important for tasks that require reading and math. Self-control is important for life tasks that require self-control – that’s what avoiding arrest and violent crime is all about.”

Link to article at -

Research-based Strategies to Help Children Develop Self-Control

The first unit of Second Step lessons that we teach at Mitchell School is entitled "Skills for Learning." The homelinks that you do with your children help them explain to you and then practice the skills of focusing attention, listening, using self-talk, and being assertive. We stress during our lessons that their ability to "boss their own brains and their own bodies" is crucial to their success in life.  First graders saw the two video clips -- the Mischel marshmallow test and the Sesame Street version featuring Cookie Monster.  To see the videos and to let your children see the videos again please scroll down.

This article is from MindShift -- you can read the original article and learn more at

Research-based Strategies to Help Children 

Develop Self-Control

It all started when psychology professor Walter Mischel was watching his four closely-spaced daughters growing up. He realized he had no idea what was going on in their brains that made it possible for a child who at one moment had no impulse control and just a few months later could inhibit her emotions, wait for things and have conversations. He became curious about how children develop these skills, which led to the famous marshmallow experiment conducted at the Bing Nursery School on Stanford’s campus, where Mischel was a professor.
That study has become famous over the last 50 years, leading to many hilarious YouTube videos (none of which are the original test subjects) and a lifetime’s work examining how various strategies can help both adults and children learn to delay gratification.
In the original marshmallow study, researchers spent time building up trust and rapport with their 4-year-old subjects before starting the experiment. The researcher then told the child that she was going to leave him in the room with a treat (cookie, pretzel or marshmallow) and if he waited to eat it until she returned, she would give him two marshmallows. Alternatively, the child could put an end to his misery by ringing the bell, at which point the researcher would return, but the child would get only the one treat. Mischel and his colleagues followed the test subjects over the next 50 years and found that those who were able to wait fared better on a variety of indices, including higher SAT scores, better ability to cope with stress and a lower body mass index.
“One of the biggest determinators of choices of that kind is trust,” Mischel said at a Learning and the Brain conference in Boston.
He is now a psychology professor at Columbia University. Critics of his work often point out that children living in low-income communities, many of whom have experienced discrimination or disrespect from society, have no reason to trust those in positions of authority. Those kids might scarf down the marshmallow, not because they have no self-control but because they have no reason to believe the researcher is telling the truth about a second marshmallow.
Mischel agrees that the importance of a trusting relationship between the adult and child is often overlooked in reporting about his research. He began studying that aspect at the very beginning of this work.
“To even want to delay gratification requires a trust expectation that’s often not there for kids for whom self-control and delayed gratification is most difficult,” Mischel said. For children whose worlds are unstable and unpredictable, the marshmallow test may be testing belief in authority as much as self-control.

But aside from the specifics of the marshmallow test, lots of research has shown the value of self-control to positive life outcomes. That’s why Mischel is trying to focus the conversation on strategies educators and parents can use to help kids build self-control.
“The value of self-control has been measured in lots of longitudinal studies,” said Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University who studies self-control and helped debunk an earlier theory that self-esteem was the foundation of academic success.
Self-control is the ability to override thoughts, impulses and emotions, and people who have it tend to do better in school and work. Baumeister said studies have shown people with high levels of self-control have better relationships, are happier, have less stress, are in better physical health, have better mental health and live longer.
Baumeister’s work has also helped demonstrate that self-control is like a muscle — it can be strengthened with exercise, but it also tires. “You have one resource, willpower, and you can expend it on different things,” Baumeister said at a Learning and the Brain conference.
So if a child uses up all his willpower controlling his emotions, he may be too depleted to show a lot of self-control at performing tasks. Additionally, making decisions and compromising use the same reserves of willpower. When people are depleted, they are more likely to default to old behaviors, less likely to compromise, more likely to follow impulses and less likely to trust others.
Knowing how important self-control is for positive outcomes, but recognizing that many children are experiencing several demands for their self-control at all times, how can educators help students build up their self-control muscles so they don’t tire as quickly?

Mischel says that his studies of tactics used by 4- and 5-year-olds hold true for older people as well. One of the biggest ones is self-distraction. During the marshmallow test, kids sit in that room by themselves with the coveted marshmallow in front of them, and they sing to themselves or imagine they are somewhere else.
“It’s purposeful self-distraction with executive function,” Mischel said. “They have the goal in mind. They are actively inhibiting the responses. They are preventing hands from reaching out to take it.”
Another common strategy kids use is self-distancing. Mischel described one boy who picked up the bell he would use to call the researcher back into the room and slowly, very carefully, moved it to the edge of the table as far from him as possible. Other kids pretended the marshmallow was a picture, instead of real food, making it seem less attractive. Mischel even worked with “Sesame Street” on a Cookie Monster skit that would show young kids that it pays to wait.

While the original marshmallow test has come under fire for its small size and homogenous makeup (all the kids were either children of Stanford faculty or graduate students), Mischel has continued delayed gratification studies with students in the South Bronx with similar results. He said the keys are to keep the goal in mind, to suppress responses and to monitor progress toward the goal.
All humans have what Mischel calls a “hot system” and a “cool system,” both of which are crucially important. The hot system is where the fight-or-flight syndrome comes from. It is emotional, simple, stress-induced, reflexive, fast, centered in the amygdala and draws on the limbic system. It’s fundamental to survival and it develops early. When the hot system goes up, the cool system goes down. Mischel said most kids living in difficult situations are forced into using their “hot system” most of the time.
The cool system is cognitive, complex, reflective and slow. It is based in the frontal lobe and hippocampus and develops later. It is attenuated by stress and is crucial to self-control. The two systems work at opposite purposes, but both are important to survival and success.
When it comes to helping students delay gratification and thus work on self-control, Mischel said his experiments show “you have to cool the now and heat the later.” In other words, things that are immediate stimulate the hot system, but delayed gratification requires the cool system. So, when trying to get a student to see the benefit of working hard all the way through school so he or she can get into college, educators have to help students see that delayed reward as “hot.”
“The critical thing is to make delayed consequences more visible, more complete, more consequential and to make the immediate rewards less hot,” Mischel said. When kids are stressed out, it’s much more difficult for them to keep long-term goals in mind because they are constantly activating their “hot” or stress-induced system.
Mischel has personal experience with the strategies he recommends. He used to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day and often a pipe at night. He knew that smoking was bad for him, but that wasn’t enough to make the consequences feel real. One day he saw a man in the Stanford hospital getting ready for radiation. “That image is what allowed me to make the delayed consequences hot,” Mischel said. “Every time I reached for the cigarette, I remembered that image.” And he was able to quit smoking using that very personal image to help him delay gratification.
Mischel suggests that to help students develop self-control, educators could spend a little time helping kids identify their own hot spots and developing strategies to mediate them. For example, if a student knows that texts from friends distract him from homework, then he’ll turn off his phone when he’s trying to focus. It’s a pre-determined “if/then” plan based on specific trigger points. But to make that plan, students have to know what the “if” is.
“The research makes it very clear that the human brain is far more educable than previously thought,” Mischel said. He sees this kind of individual mapping as a key to developing emotional intelligence and ultimately as a route to much more freedom, choice and agency. Rather than having instinct drive decisions, kids can learn to make the decisions they believe will benefit them in the long term.
“We don’t want to train our children to be without hot emotionality, we just want them to be in control,” Mischel said.
Young people are actually getting better at delaying gratification and self-control, Mischel said. He points out that just as intelligence has been increasing over the past 60 years, so, too, have these other characteristics. He attributes the change to technology, and is particularly excited about video games, which he says require setting a goal, inhibiting interfering responses and using attention-control mechanisms to reach that goal.
“It may be a distraction from doing their arithmetic, but the games themselves can be enormously useful tools in enhancing executive function,” Mischel said.
Ultimately, he believes if educators can find productive ways to use his research in classrooms, they will also improve student motivation, which can’t be detached from the idea of student efficacy in meeting goals.