In 2017, I collaborated with Dr. Charles Palmer and Daniel Salois (now Dr. Daniel Salois) on a creative, one-of-a-kind research study evaluating and comparing the effectiveness of an educational intervention vs. a hypnotic induction transporting people to the future in for improving the accuracy of March Madness NCAA Basketball Tournament bracket picks. The results were stunning (but I can’t share them right now because I want to recruit anyone and everyone in the Missoula area to participate in our planned replication of this amazing study). The study has been approved by the University of Montana IRB.To participate, follow these instructions:1. Email Marchmadnessresearch2023@gmail.com and say “Yes, I’m in!”2. We will email you back a confirmation.3. Upon arrival at the study location, you will be randomly assigned to one of two “March Madness Bracket Training” groups:a. Hypnosis to enhance your natural intuitive powersb. Educational information from a UM professor4. All participants will meet in room 123 of the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education building at 7pm on Tuesday, 3/14/23. Enter on the East end of the building. From there, we’ll send you to a room for either the education or hypnosis intervention.5. When you arrive in your room, you will fill out an informed consent form, a March Madness bracket, and complete a short questionnaire. 6. Then you will participate in either they educational or hypnosis training.7. After the training, you will complete another bracket and short questionnaire8. You will leave your completed packet and your brackets with the researchers; they will be uploaded into the ESPN Tournament Challenge website using the “Team Name” you provide. If you bring a device, we will provide a password so you can upload your own selections into the ESPN system.9. You will receive information at the “Training” on how to login and track your bracket. On or around April 15, we will post a summary of the research results at: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/ Once again, to sign up for this research project, email: Marchmadnessresearch2023@gmail.com I’m posting this because we’re trying to recruit as many participants as possible. If you live near Missoula, please consider participating. If you know someone who might be interested, please share this with them. Thanks for reading and have a fabulous day.John S-F
Tag Archives: education
My Political Platform . . . and Tomorrow’s 1st Annual Education Summit in Missoula
I have a political platform. I’m not running for public office, but I still share my platform when it seems appropriate and the time is right.
Tomorrow will be an appropriate and right time for me to share my platform.
The nice thing about having your own personal political platform is that it never involves committee meetings. I don’t have to vote or risk rejection of my excellent ideas. I am solely responsible for my personal political platform.
A while back, I got into trouble for expressing my political views in a newspaper Op-Ed piece. The Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education contacted the University of Montana Legal Counsel asking her to issue me a stern warning. Apparently, I was supposed to have a line along with my Op-Ed byline saying something like, “The views expressed herein are solely the views of John Sommers-Flanagan, and not representative of the University of Montana.”
Clearly, I was in the wrong and admitted so. Not having the UM disclaimer statement was an oversight for which I was, as usual, solely responsible.
But I was still annoyed, and so I wrote the UM Legal Counsel and asked her if I should include similar comments the next week when keynoting the Montana statewide “Prevent Child Abuse” conference. I explained that I was going to “come out” against child abuse. Would OCHE be okay with that? I was also going to recommend one (among many) evidence-based solution for child abuse that involves increased government provision of financial and material support to low income families. I went on to note that I’m pro-mental health and against violence. Should I disclaim the University of Montana in all my books, articles, speeches, and conversations? I told her she could share my questions with OCHE. Fortunately, her judgment is better than mine and she just emailed me back with a calming, soothing, and understanding tone.
All this is a lead-up to tomorrow.
Tomorrow is the First Annual Missoula Summit on Education. Luckily, Dr. Erica Zins, the 2017 Montana School Counselor of the Year and current MCPS Student Services Coordinator, asked if I would be willing to provide a presentation for the Summit. I eagerly said yes, yes, yes, choose me! Now I have the good fortune of getting to do three separate talks tomorrow.
My talks are titled, “Weaving Evidence-Based Happiness into the Lives of Students and Educators” at 9am and repeated at 12:15pm and then “Engaging and Working Effectively with Parents” at 2:15pm. They’re all in the Sentinel H.S. auditorium. I’ve got about 210, 175, and 100 MCPS staff signed up for my talks. . . which is humbling because many MCPS staff have already heard most of my stories and jokes.
I never told Erica that my true motive for being so eager to talk at the Summit was related to my personal political platform. Tomorrow, I will have three chances to begin workshops with my short stump speech. I’m stoked about this. Just in case you’ll be missing tomorrow’s event, here’s a written version of the highly anticipated stump speech.
Nothing is more important for American prosperity and success than teachers and other public-school employees. Everything runs through education. Think about it. Economic vitality? We need people with knowledge, skills, and business acumen. Healthcare? Who wants uneducated healthcare personnel? As far as I’m concerned, the smarter and more well-educated my doctor is, the better. How about the environment? Only through education can we learn to be great stewards of the earth. And relationships? We need awareness, knowledge, and skills to create better marriages and families, be better parents, and have healthier, empathic, and equitable relationships with all people—including the full range of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and identities.
To summarize, my platform is EDUCATION. EDUCATION in general, and PUBLIC EDUCATION in particular . . . along with all the school personnel that make education happen. They need and deserve support, appreciation, and pay raises.
And . . . to make the OCHE people happy, I will also be emphasizing: Although I am a proud University of Montana faculty member and huge supporter of, and believer in, the University of Montana, I am solely responsible for the views on education expressed in this blog, as well as the views I will express tomorrow at the Summit.
For anyone interested, here’s a draft version of the Weaving Happiness . . . ppts:
Evidence-Based Happiness for Belgrade Schools: Advice is Cheap, but Knowledge is Power
Tomorrow I’ll be in Belgrade, Montana.
Back in May I received an email from a Belgrade High School AP Biology teacher asking if I could present to Belgrade teachers on mental health. The details have worked out. I’m super-excited to do this for several reasons:
- I’m very passionate about supporting teacher mental health and well-being. For as long as I can remember (but especially during these past three years), teachers have been over-stressed, over-worked, under-paid, and under-appreciated. I even happen to have a grant proposal submitted that would give teachers access to very low-cost graduate credit on an Evidence-Based Happiness course. Happiness knowledge and mental health support for teachers is essential.
- Education is the central “plank” on my personal political platform. IMHO, to quote myself, “The road to economic vitality, the road to environmental sustainability, the road to excellence in health care and social programs, and the road to good government always has and always will run through education.” We need excellent teachers and we need excellent public education. We need it now more than ever.
- Belgrade is conveniently located just off I-90, a freeway that I regularly drive on my way from Missoula to Absarokee and back again.
- And best of all, I’ll get to see the famous Nick Jones. Nick is a cool Aussie transplant, a former Carroll College basketball player, and a graduate of our M.A. program at the University of Montana. He also happens to be a school counselor at Belgrade High School.
The ppts for tomorrow’s presentation are here:
And here’s a one-page handout/summary:
My big theme will be that although advice is cheap, knowledge is power. We all benefit from knowing more about mental health and happiness. One of my main topics will involve information on understanding sleep. . . because we all have better mental health when we sleep well.
See you in Belgrade tomorrow!
Goodnight, South Carolina
Some days . . . the news is discouraging. Some days . . . evidence piles up suggesting that nearly everyone on the planet is far too greedy and selfish. On those days, I can’t help but wonder how our local, national, and worldwide communities survive. It feels like we’re a hopeless species heading for a cataclysmic end.
But then I have a day like yesterday. A day where I had the honor and privilege to spend time hanging out with people who are professional, smart, compassionate, and dedicated to helping children learn, thrive, and get closer to reaching their potentials. I’m sure you know what I mean. If you turn off the media and peek under the surface, you’ll find tons of people “out there” who wake up every day and work tremendously hard to make the world just a little bit better, for everyone.
For me, yesterday’s group was the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists. They were amazing. They were kind. About 110 of them listened to me drone on about doing counseling with students who, due, in part, to the quirky nature of universe, just happen to be living lives in challenging life and school situations. The school psychologists barely blinked. They rarely checked their social media. They asked great questions and made illuminating comments. They were committed to learning, to counseling, to helping the next generation become a better generation.
All day yesterday and into the night I had an interesting question periodically popping up in the back of my mind. Maybe it was because while on my flight to South Carolina, I sat next to a Dean of Students from a small public and rural high school in Wisconsin. Maybe it was because of the SCASP’s members unwavering focus and commitment to education. The question kept nipping at my psyche. It emerged at my lunch with the Chair of the Psychology Department at Winthrop University. It came up again after my dinner with four exceptionally cool women.
The question: “How did we end up with so many people in government who are anti-education?”
Yesterday, I couldn’t focus in on the answer. I told someone that–even though I’m a psychologist–I don’t understand why people do the things they do. But that was silly. This morning the answer came flowing into my brain like fresh spring Mountain run-off. Of course, of course, of course . . . the answer is the same as it always has been.
The question is about motivation. Lots of people before me figured this out. I even had it figured out before, but, silly me, I forgot. Why do people oppose education when, as John Adams (our second President) said, “Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”
The answer is all about money and power and control and greed and revenge and ignorance. Without these motivations, nearly everyone has a “humane and generous mind” and believes deeply in funding public education.
Thanks to all the members of the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists, for giving me hope that more people can be like you, moving past greed and ignorance and toward a more educated and better world.
Good night, South Carolina. It’s been a good day.
State Leadership in Education: A Missoulian Op-Ed Piece
I just had another op-ed piece published in the Missoulian Newspaper this morning. It’s about early childhood education. It may come as a surprise to you, but, along with John Adams, our second president, I’m a supporter of early childhood education.
If you’re interested in what John Adams and I think (we’re time-traveling buddies) about education, here’s the link: http://missoulian.com/news/opinion/columnists/state-leadership-in-education-our-children-deserve-better/article_fc8aeea4-7670-5a39-a7f5-bbb1c0875043.html
If you read it and like it, please pass on the link, especially to others in Montana and on Facebook and Twitter and all that.
Thanks . . . I’ll be getting back to the more normal counseling and psychology stuff soon.
How to Talk so Parents will Listen: Strategies for Influencing Parents
Last June I had a chance to go to Chicago to be filmed doing three professional THERAPY TALKS. It was a challenging situation; just me and a camera and a few production folks. One of the TALK topics focused on how to work effectively with parents. As it turns out, this video and others I’ve done with Microtraining are now available at their website: https://www.academicvideostore.com/publishers/microtraining (you have to search for Sommers-Flanagan).
Here’s the text, more or less, from the “How to Talk so Parents will Listen” TALK.
When I talk with large groups about parenting, I like to begin with a survey. I ask: “How many of you ARE parents?” Of course, nearly everyone raises his or her hand. Then I ask a follow up: “How many of you WERE children.” At this question some participants laugh and a few raise their hands and others joke that they’re still immature.
This reason I start with this survey is because if you’re a parent, you know that being a parent is an amazing and gratifying challenge. You also know that it’s 24-7; and you know it doesn’t end when your child turns 18. You’re a parent for life. And if you WERE a child, and all of you were, then you know how important it is to have a parent or caretaker who makes it perfectly clear that YOU ARE LOVED. But there’s more. If you were a child, then you also know how important it is to have a parent who not only loves you, but who is skillful . . . a parent who is dedicated to being the best parent possible.
Plain and simple: PARENTS NEED SKILLS FOR DEALING WITH THEIR CHILDREN IN THE 21ST CENTURY. And learning to be a better parent never stops.
Once upon a time I had a mom come consult with me about her five year old son. She said: “I have a strong-willed son.” My response was to acknowledge that lots of parents have strong-willed children. She said, “No, no, you don’t get it. I have a very strong-willed son, let me tell you about it. Just the other night, I asked him to go upstairs and clean his room and he put his hands on his hips and said, “NO.” So I said in response, “Yeah, yeah. He sounds very strong willed.” And she said, “Wait. There’s more. I asked him to clean his room a second time and he glared and me, and said “NO. YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME?” Then she told me the real problem. The problem was that, in fact, she did want a piece of him at that particular point in time and so she grabbed him and hauled him up the stairs in a way that was inconsistent with the kind of parent she wanted to be.
This is one of the mysteries of parenting. How can you get so angry at a small child whom you love more than anything else in the world?
Parents are a unique population and deserve an approach to counseling that’s designed to address their particular needs. In this talk I’ll mostly be using stories to talk about:
a. what parents want for their children
b. what parents need in counseling
c. and how professionals can be effective helpers.
Most parents want some version of the same thing: To raise healthy and happy children who are relatively well-adjusted. But what do parents need in counseling. WHAT WILL HELP THEM GET WHAT THEY WANT?
First, parents need empathic listening. They need this big time. Our American culture puts lots of social pressure on parents . . . It’s implied that parenting should be easy and all parents should want to spend 24-7 with their child in an altered state of parental bliss. But this isn’t reality and so we need empathy for the general scrutiny parents feel in the grocery store, at church, on the playground, and everywhere else.
But they also need listening and specific empathy: like in the situation where the mom wanted to tell me about her 5-year-old son. She had specific information to share and it was really important for me to take time to listen to her unique story about her son who, unfortunately, may have seen too many Clint Eastwood movies.
Parents come to counseling or parent education feeling simultaneously insecure and indignant. They feel insecure because of the scrutiny they feel from their parents and in-laws and society, but they also feel indignant over the possibility that anyone might have the audacity to tell them how to parent their children. As professionals, we need to be ready to handle both sides of this complex equation.
Another thing parents have taught me over the years is to never start a parenting session by sharing educational information. You should always wait to offer educational advice, even when parents ask you directly for it. When they do ask, let them know that your ideas will be more helpful later once you get to know what’s happening in their family.
This leads us to the second crucial part of what parents need in counseling. They need collaboration. We can’t be experts who tell parents what to do, instead we have to recognize that parents are the experts in the room. They’re the experts on their children, on their family dynamics, and on themselves. If we don’t engage and collaborate with parents, very little of what we offer has any chance of being helpful.
Parents also need validation to counter their possible insecurity. We call this radical acceptance or validation and it involves explicitly and specifically giving parents positive feedback. We do this by affirming, “You sure seem to know your daughter well.” And by saying, “When I listen to how committed you are to helping your son be successful in life, I can’t help but think that he’s lucky to have you as a parent.”
And so we begin with empathic listening and we move to collaboration and we make sure that we offer radical acceptance or validation and we do all this so we can get to the main point: providing parents with specific parenting tips or guidance.
And there are literally TONS of specific parenting tips that professionals can offer parents. Most of the good ones include four basic principles:
First, getting a new attitude – because developing parenting skills requires a courageous attitude to try things out.
The second one involves making a new and improved plan. Because a courageous attitude combined with a poor plan won’t get you much.
Third is to get support when you need it. Parenting in isolation is almost always a bad idea.
Fourth, underlying all tips there should be the foundation of being consistently loving.
I’d like to tell two parenting stories to illustrate all of the preceding ideas.
This first story is about a parenting struggle I had. I share it for two reasons: One is that it’s a great example of the need for parents to make a new plan to handle an old problem. And two, often it’s good to self-disclose—but not too much—when working with parents.
When my youngest child was 5-years-old, she ALSO was a strong-willed child. I vividly recall one particular ugly scene on the porch. It was time for us to leave the house. But we lived in Montana and there was snow and my daughter needed to put her boots on. Funny thing, she was on a different schedule than I was. This created tension and anger in me. And so I got down into her face and I yelled GET YOUR BOOTS ON! And her eyes got big and she did. Later that evening I was talking with my wife and she saw the scene and she said to me, “I know John, that’s not the kind of parent you want to be.” And even though it’s not easy to take feedback from our romantic partners, she was right and so obviously so, that I had no argument” which led me to tell her, “I’m not going to yell at our daughter any more. I am, instead going to whisper, because I learned in a parenting book, that sometimes when you’re angry it’s more effective to whisper than it is to yell. That was my new plan. Of course, like new plans everywhere, it needed tweaking. But it didn’t take long for me to have an opportunity to test it because if there’s anything on the planet that’s predictable, it’s that we’ll all soon have another chance to manage our anger toward our children more constructively.
It was the next day or week and my daughter did not get her boots on and she was not on the same schedule as me and I got down in her face, once again, but I remembered the plan to whisper and I did my best to transform my anger from the historical yell to the contemporary whisper and what happened was that what came out was sort of like the exorcist and I said to my daughter: “GET YOUR BOOTS ON!”
Now. I wasn’t especially proud of that, but she got her boots on.
It was the beginning of a big change for me because I learned I could play the exorcist instead of yelling; then I learned to growl and then I learned to count to three and then I learned a cool technique called Grandma’s rule where you use the formula, WHEN YOU, THEN YOU to set a limit and build in a positive outcome. Like . . . “Honey, when you get your boots on, then you can have your cell phone back.” Very cool.
What I learned from this experience is that I could be more than a one-trick parenting pony. I became the kind of parent who, although far from perfect, was able to set limits that were in my daughter’s best interest.
And what I like the best about this particular story is that daughter is now 26 years-old and she still says the same thing she used to say to me when she was 15 . . . that is, “Dad, one thing I really love about you is you never yell.” What’s cool is that I did yell, but I worked on it, I made a new plan, and now she doesn’t even remember the yelling.
I’d like to finish with one last story about how much parents need people like you to have empathy, collaborate, validate, and offer concrete parenting ideas.
I was working with a 15-year-old boy. His mom was bringing him to counseling because he and his dad weren’t speaking anymore. I hadn’t met the dad, but one day, when I went to the boy’s IEP meeting at school the dad was there. I saw this as a chance to make a connection and get him to come to counseling.
I did a little chit-chatting and sat next to him in the group meeting. Then, at one point, I asked the boy a question: “If you got an A on a test, who would you show first?” He answered, “I’d show my dad, my mom, and my special ed teacher.” This inspired me to turn to his dad and say, “It’s obvious that you’re very important to your son and so I’d like to invite you to come join him and me in counseling.” Dad gave me a glare and pushed my shoulder and began a 2-minute rant about how the school had failed his son. Everyone was stunned and then he turned back to me and said, “I’ll come to counseling. I been to counseling before and I can do it again.”
At that point I wondered if I could take back my offer.
The day the dad drove to counseling he and his son weren’t speaking, so I met with them separately. The son was clear that he would never speak to the dad again, but the dad was open. When I asked if I could offer him some ideas, he said, “Well I tried MY best and that dog don’t hunt, so I can try something else.” I was wishing for subtitles.
I told the dad I wanted him to keep his high standards for his son, but to add three things. First, I asked, do you love your son? The dad said “Yes” and so I told him, “Okay then. I want you to tell him ‘I love you’ every day.” He said, “Usually I leave that to the wife, but I can do that.” Second, I said, “Everyday, I want you to touch your son in a kind and loving way.” He asked, “You mean like give him a hug?” I said, “that would be great” and he responded, “Usually I leave that to the wife too, but I’ll give it a shot.” Third, I said, “Once a week, you should do something fun with your son, but it has to be something that he thinks is fun.” He said back: “That’s no problem. We both like to go four-wheeling, so we’ll do that.”
And they left my office for an hour-long of what I imagine was a silent trip home.
The next afternoon, I got a call from the mom. She was ecstatic. She said, “I don’t know what you did or what you said, but they’re talking again.” And then she added, “This morning, when they were in the kitchen, I was in the other room and I thought I heard them hug and when I saw my son walking down the driveway to head to school, there were tears running down his cheeks.”
This was obviously a mom who was listening and watching very closely.
Things got much better for the 15-year-old after that. He didn’t get straight As, but he stopped getting straight Fs. And I learned two things: First, I learned just how much that boy needed to get reconnected with his father. And second, I learned that sometimes, no matter how gruff parents may seem, what they need is some clear and straightforward advice about how to reconnect with their son or daughter.
My final thoughts about this topic are very simple. I hope you’re inspired enough to acquire the knowledge and skills it takes to work effectively with parents. I know their children will deeply appreciate it.
Thanks for listening.
Hanging Out at Big Sky High School
This morning I had the fabulous opportunity to hang out with the staff at Big Sky High School. What I like best about this is that it gives me a chance to be in the presence of teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, and other great people without whom our entire civilized culture in the U.S. would devolve. It reminds me of my political platform (should I ever run for public office). Here it is:
If we want a clean and sustainable environment and if we want a functional economy and if we want an excellent health care system and if we want a country where we have justice for all, then we all better remember that the road to all those things runs right through EDUCATION!
Okay. That being said, I told the wonderful staff at Big Sky that I’d post my powerpoint here and so here it is:
And here’s a photo of my daughter just before or after my exorcism:)
Hey — We just got a grant to help prevent student assault at the University of Montana — Very cool.
I’m just writing a note here with a link to a news story with video about a new grant we just got in the Department of Counselor Education. Although it means more work, it also means more work for the good of the campus and for the good of women and men who suffer from assault. Yeah. I guess I’m saying this is a difficult topic, but it’s a place where there’s room to do lots of good stuff.
Here’s the link: