Dear Friend,

If I had to identify an underlying theme of the thousands of trainings our Top 20 team has done over the past 20 years, that theme would be our thinking governs our experiences. Although our work at Top 20 Training focuses on social-emotional learning, the biggest influence on our social life and our emotional life is our inner, personal thought life.

During a recent doctor visit, medical staff checked my temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. These are vital signs of my overall health. Similarly, a vital sign of our social, emotional, and mental health is the quality of our thinking. Just as a single cough or sneeze does not determine that we have a cold or the flu, a single negative thought does not indicate that we have a mental issue. However, just as continual coughing and sneezing indicates a health problem, a habit of negative thinking suggests a mental problem and a weakened social-emotional immune system.

At the 2019 Minnesota Nonpublic Schools Accrediting Association conference, the keynote speaker shared that 75% of the time middle school and high school students are thinking or feeling something negative. If that is so, that’s the only vital sign we need to know to indicate a major mental health problem in America. That degree of frequency of negative thoughts and feelings provides the conditions that develop negative mental habits…some of which include worry, anxiety, boredom, frustration, self-doubt, pessimism, anger, and blame. Our purpose at Top 20 is to support students, educators, and parents in mitigating the negative impact of these habits on our relationships, experiences, and lives. In order to do so, awareness of our thinking is key.

Sara Vetch, counselor at Aberdeen Catholic Schools in Aberdeen, SD, teaches Top 20 strategies to 7th and 8th graders. Her students complete a survey on Star Qualities (positive mental habits like confidence, persistence, responsibility) they want to develop and Negative Mental Habits (like self-doubt, boredom, blame) they want to conquer. Sara posts on her whiteboard the top three Star Qualities the group wants to develop and the top three NMHs they wish to conquer. They do frequent check-ins on their vital signs to see how they are doing in developing or mitigating these habits.

Although awareness is necessary, it is not sufficient. Sara has a Top 20 Tool Box next to the Star Qualities and NMHs on her whiteboard. She lists every Top 20 topic they cover under the tool box. These topics are the Top 20 strategies students can use to develop positive SQs and minimize NMHs.

Thought Circles are the incubators in which NMHs develop. Attached below is our chapter on Thought Circles from our Top 20 Teens book. You can click on the link below to watch a Top 20 eLearning that Kate Thomas, a wonderful teacher at Wayzata Middle School, sent to her students on how to use the Top 20 strategy of Name It, Claim It, Tame It to manage Thought Circles.

Thanks to Sara, Kate, and all of you on the front lines committed to the mental health and well-being of our students.

Paul Bernabei, Director
Top 20 Training

Thought Circles Video –


Click on the link here to read the Thought Circles Chapter
Thought Circles Top 20 Teens Chapter