Owning That They CAN’T Always Control What We Think They Should

I used to think…students could control a lot more I do now.

Now I know…there is a whole lot more out of their control than I realized.

I used to think…part of my job as a teacher was to hold them accountable so they could learn responsibility.

Now I know…holding a child accountable for that which they have only partial or zero control is fundamentally unjust.

I used to think…self-control was all about helping them take care of themselves.

Now I know…sometimes our emphasis on control is less about their needs and more about our agenda. 

So as you view images like this “What I can/can’t control” example…

…consider these questions:

  • how might the home environment impact a student’s control homework completion (including but absolutely not limited to internet access, books in the home, library access, care for other siblings, etc.)
  • how might the way certain values are (or are NOT) emphasized and valued at home impact the way a student views them, such as education and hard work?
  • how might the stability (or lack thereof) of a students’ upbringing impact his/her ability to trust people enough to ask for help, try again, or respond to challenges in responsible ways?
  • to what degree should hold students accountable for values we have always been taught to cherish when they may have been taught that other values matter more (taking care of family over studying for a test, for example)?
  • how might chronic or toxic stress impact a student’s capacity for self-control?

I suspect the list of questions could go on for some time.

Which is why:

1) we can’t ignore the reality of compassion fatigue and why self care should be a massive emphasis for teachers everywhere. It’s incredibly draining for teachers who choose to seek understanding and responsiveness amid a myriad of difficult circumstances.

2) it’s worth considering why self-regulation > self-control.

3) I love Brene Brown’s Engaged Feedback Checklist, which I’ve shared on this blog many times. “I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you).”

4) we should step away from the stickers:

“If a child is demonstrating stress behaviours, they may be telling us that our expectations are too much for them. Reducing the stressors may mean changing our program or our routines. If we are asking young children like Michael to sit for too long, listen for too long, or complete too many worksheets, then no number of stickers is going to be enough incentive for a child who is not developmentally ready.”

How can assuming more ownership over this issue of control with a stance of curiosity impact the students in your classroom?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Creating Flexible Yet Significant Parent Volunteer Opportunities

Here’s the catch 22 of parent volunteers: you want them in your classroom, so you provide meaningful opportunities. They want to volunteer, but with other children, sicknesses, and other commitments, they don’t necessarily show up as planned. So teachers make their volunteer opportunities a bit less consequential — or even give up on providing opportunities altogether — so that no-shows won’t cause too much trouble.  And then when parents do come, they feel disappointed at the lackluster opportunity.

If this sounds familiar, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are some suggestions:

1) First, stick with meaningful opportunities. Keep those one-on-one reading slots, small group math work, and science stations. Focus instead on finding a system featuring built-in reminders for parents — with everything else going on, most teachers really don’t have time to send reminders, let alone coordinate cancellations! Keep reading to find an option that might work for you!

2) Rely on room parents. If you have a room parent, leave it up to him or her to coordinate opportunities with volunteers. This might include sending text reminders to parents who have signed up or helping to arrange subs.

3) Leverage Google appointments. Google appointments only work with school or business accounts, and they are wonderfully simple to use! You can add a single slot, or multiple slots with the duration you’ve set. You can also add a description so parents know exactly what they are signing up for! Then, simply give parents the link to your school’s “calendar appointment page” (which will be built in with your school account), and let them sign up. There are even instructions for cancellation. Full details here.

Bonus: use a URL shortener to get a short-link for your calendar appointment page and print it out on a handout to go home to reach parents that don’t check email. Do this throughout the year to remind them of opportunities you’ve added!

4) Use the Remind app. Send texts to all your students’ parents to let them know about volunteer opportunities, whatever your platform.

5) Pick a volunteer sign-up platform. I’ve seen SignUp.com and VolunteerSignUp.org. I’m especially impressed with the simplicity of VolunteerSignUp.org — it is very quick to add opportunities, and it automatically generates an email and a shortened URL to share with parents on social media or on flyers.

6) Work with your working parents. A post in Edutopia gave some great ideas here, including:

  • Scheduling reading circles and volunteer shifts at the start of the day so that parents can help before work
  • Using telecommunication platforms like Skype or Google Hangouts so that parents can read to the class or help with pre-scheduled assignments without being physically present in the classroom
  • Inviting parents to update the class website and social media
  • Preparing learning center materials from home
  • Helping in the school garden on the weekends

7) Solicit for special skills. Perhaps you have a graphics-savvy parent that might be willing to help with logos and posters. Maybe some even have connections with community members that might enhance your students’ unit of study.

8) Focus on cultivating genuine relationships with families. This goes beyond just sending an email when we need volunteers or when a child is struggling with behavior. As eloquently summarized by Larry Ferlazzo on ASCD:

“A school striving for family involvement often leads with its mouth—identifying projects, needs, and goals and then telling parents how they can contribute. A school striving for parent engagement, on the other hand, tends to lead with its ears—listening to what parents think, dream, and worry about. The goal of family engagement is not to serve clients but to gain partners.”

The above article describes possibilities like home visits and doing more listening than talking. I also wrote a few months ago about 10 ways we can partner with parents.

Above all else, we need to remember that we exist to support families, not the other way around. Volunteer work and all other aspects of the home-school relationship will be enhanced when we bear this in mind.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Where Love & Logic Comes Into “Oppositional” Interactions with Students

In just a couple of weeks, I get to run a Love and Logic workshop at my old school. This has me reflecting on the purpose of the Love and Logic approach, and how it applies during particularly difficult situations.

For example, what do we do when our students actually seem to be getting something out of the opposition with us? One of Seth Godin’s recent posts examines what to do when someone refuses all our efforts to achieve a solution. “It might be, though, that being oppositional is making them happy. It may be that the best way to satisfy their objections is to let them keep objecting.”

Now, when that someone is very young and very stuck in their frustration or poor choice, we can’t very well just say “Fine! Keep being frustrated!” Not only does that kind of response leave everyone upset, but it doesn’t help teach the child better choices. So what options are left to us (especially when we’re not exactly feeling, “Oh, goodie, a learning opportunity!”)?

One of the important rules of Love and Logic is to keep anger, threats, and lecturing out of our communication, because kids actually tend to feed off this entertaining display of adult emotion.

So when a child is being oppositional, here are some Love & Logic strategies that might come into play:

  • Treat both the symptoms and causes.
  • Don’t set yourself up to lose, which includes avoiding making requests for a change in behavior in front of the class — the opportunity to argue on display can be another source that feeds the opposition.
  • Maintain your personal energy levels and feelings of dignity, even when logical consequences aren’t available, through the Energy Drain approach.
  •  Don’t feel like you must come up with a consequence in the very moment of the poor behavior, when emotions are likely running high all the way around. Instead, try Anticipatory Consequences.
  • Rather than engaging in arguments, neutralize them with statements of empathy or “one-liners.” Return to the discussion later when you are both calm and ready to talk.

We all want and need to focus on building the relationship with each child. But if they have become accustomed to argument and defiance, we must also work to help them break habits and understand that you value dignity, both for themselves and yourself. Through it all, work to be genuine and express love and appreciation for each and every child, because that is where any good relationship starts.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Are Choices Only For the Well-Behaved? #TeacherMom

Readers here know I love a good quote. But in the swirl of the large volume of mental input/output, it’s rare one will stick around. This one from Greg McKeown definitely has taken up more longterm residence in my mind today:


Pernille Ripp also referred to it when writing about students’ reading choices. She makes an excellent case that all our students need choice in what they read — not just those who are already confident at making reading choices.

Which takes me to a closely related line of thinking when it comes to kids’ behavior. When our students misbehave, we tend to remove their choices. You’re going to be disruptive at the table during group work? You’ll be sitting by yourself now. You don’t do your work while sitting in the flexible seating area? Sorry, guess that means you need to be back at the desk. You abuse the privilege to use the bathroom when needed? Guess you’re using a limited pass from now on, my friend.

And this all makes sense, right? After all, logical consequences help our students understand cause and effect and to develop accountability for their actions. I’m certainly not one to dispute the importance of this kind of follow-through.

What I do dispute is the way these consequences tend to follow kids who struggle with school, day in and day out. Of course we need to work to minimize disruption, and sometimes that does in fact take more longterm action, such as behavior contracts to help students learn to recognize and correct their behavior.

But if we start to preempt kids’ behavior with curtailed choices, you can absolutely bet that helplessness is sure to follow. Particularly if they feel like they’re the only one who never gets a fresh start each day.

Contrast that path of helplessness with this message of hope — one that every child deserves to hear:

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

4 Questions To Help You Inventory Your Classroom Wall Space

Every day of 4th grade, I stared at the gigantic poster stretching across the top of the whiteboard: “Common sense is not so common.”

I had not the slightest clue what it meant.

Other than a back-to-school lecture, my teacher never referred to it directly (or perhaps she did, but because of the above-mentioned non-comprehension, it probably just didn’t register).

I spent the year wondering about it to the point of distraction. I sensed that it was important to my teacher, so I spent time trying to crack its cryptic riddle. “Sense. Sense that is common. I think a sense is what you use to smell and taste and stuff. And common means a lot. So smelling and tasting that happens a lot? That doesn’t seem right. Especially since it’s also not common, somehow…

Today, I look back at this memory and chuckle at the sheer bafflement I experienced that year. But as a teacher myself now, reflecting on this does provide a bit more than just a laugh. It makes look inward to examine what kind of experience [intended or not] my walls have given my students.

In my first classroom, the teacher before me had left behind all sorts of posters on the walls, including posters on 6 traits of writing or motivational quotes.

But as the months moved on, I realized that they may as well have been wallpaper for all the benefit my students were getting from them. I did not integrate them in any meaningful way, and eventually, we decided we’d rather make room for student work.

Since then, I’ve found other messages and resources worthy to go on my walls that are the few exceptions to my student-created-only rule. But now I filter them with a mindset that wall-space is valuable real estate; tenants had better pull their weight. I’m not currently in the classroom, but plan to be back in a few years, so meanwhile, here are questions I ask myself as I bookmark, download, & log away ideas for future wall content:

  • Do I find this personally and genuinely inspiring? Some of you may be thinking, wait, aren’t we trying to inspire the kids, here? True. But I’ve found that displaying personally enlightening messages to be much more valuable than any cute monkey-face “you can do it” sign. Here’s why: If it causes me to elevate my practices, and if I regularly communicate to my students how and why it does so, it ultimately inspires students because I’m modeling to them ways I’m trying to become a better teacher for them.  I shared a few examples here, but Brene Brown print-outs are always my favorite:
Via www.BreneBrown.com
  • Is there a trace of lecture involved? If looking at a quote even faintly makes me wonder, “What’s the deal with kids these days!” (ie, the “common sense is not so common” poster) most likely, a) it’s not going to help my students as much as I think it will and, b) it runs too high a risk of damaging relationships with students.
  • Is it an intentional, interactive display designed to help students see themselves as authentic readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, etc? This one is a little more abstract, but luckily, I found the perfect example last week on Nerdy Book Club. It’s bookmarked, tweeted, and had better stay in my memory for when I return to the classroom.
via NerdyBookClub by Jillian Heise
via NerdyBookClub by Jillian Heise

This particular display is meant to share progress on Donalyn Miller’s fabulous #BookADay (also see #ClassroomBookADay) challenge. To me, this isn’t just a bragging-rights kind of display–it’s also a beautiful and handy way to recall individual reads throughout the year that have been meaningful and instructive.

  • Does it bring some rapport-building humor to the mix? In the middle of a grammar unit? This kind of light-hearted and memorable fun would be a must-share.

Whatever you display, remember that there’s a reason that the physical classroom environment is called the “third teacher” — decide now what kind of teacher you want it to be!

What about you? What are your requirements for what goes on your classroom walls? Please share!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

If Teacher PD Looked Like Popular Pinterest Pins

In “An Open Letter: To Pinterest, From a Teacher,” I reflected upon why certain pins so heavily circulate around the education community despite their lack of learning value. Since then, I’ve continued to wonder on the matter, especially as debates have ensued over the subject of compliance. A recent post by PYP educator Taryn Bond Clegg further pushed my thinking, particularly when she writes:

“…there were some things that surprised me about adult learners – the very same things that used to frustrate me as a classroom teacher. I have started to wonder if these similarities might have more to do with being a human, than being a child.”

This perspective has placed a new lens on my reflections. Namely, what if those pins were applied to teachers themselves?

Drawing from some of the most popular pins I’ve seen time and again, I created 6 images to further drive the discussion.

1

As Taryn says in a comment on her post, “I wonder how I would react if the facilitator took my device away, shut my screen, flipped my device over, called me out publicly or “moved my clip” down the colour chart…”

2

Some of the items on this list might be legitimately appealing, but that’s not the point. The true pride in and intrinsic motivation for our work is degraded when it is turned into such a carrot-and-stick exercise. As Alfie Kohn recently wrote,

“When we deal with people who have less power than we do, we’re often tempted to offer them rewards for acting the way we want because we figure this will increase their level of motivation to do so.”

 

3

The playfully spirited teacher may think, what a low-key and silly way to get students’ attention when they are off-task! But when we truly consider the function of establishing true mutual respect with students, it becomes clear that such communication can only erode it. After all, no matter how playful the intent, it still reinforces your ultimate authority and their ultimate subordination.

 

4

Hand signals may seem benign, and indeed there may be specific instances where they are useful (ie, quick whole-class comprehension check, etc). However, when we outline an entire arsenal of codes for students to silently convey basic needs like going to the bathroom or grabbing a new pencil, we single-handedly undermine their ability to solve their own problems appropriately, along with our trust in their ability to do so.

 

5

At first glance, this one may not seem to be about classroom management. However, experience has taught me that these kinds of worksheets are more about control than learning; they are usually utilized in hopes to keep everyone else “busy” during guided reading or other small group times. But of course, such a sheet will no more make teachers tech-savvy than cylinder sheets will make students adept mathematicians. But if it were replaced with actually using Twitter itself…

 

6

It might not be so bad when all the other teachers start out on the low end of the spectrum, too. But as time passes, how would you feel to see the numbers moving further and further away from yours–because even without names attached, you know exactly where your scores stand? One might argue, “But it’s a great way to motivate,” but is it really? Is demoralizing someone by reminding them of everyone else’s superior performances the best way to elevate effort? As a study cited in this Washington Post article found, “many well-intentioned teachers…appeared to be using data with students in ways that theoretically may have diminished the motivation they initially sought to enhance.”

What about you? Have you seen Pins that could hinder more than help the teacher/student relationship? What are your views on the ones I’ve shared? I’d love to learn with you!

featured image: Highways England

In My Future Classroom…

Though I know stepping away from the classroom for the time being was the right decision for me, I can’t help but continually dream about my future classroom upon my return. Today, I realized I need to get it down in writing for several reasons:

  • To create a working blueprint as my PLN continues to teach and challenge my thinking.
  • To establish personal accountability One of my worst fears is that I’ll instinctively return to old habits and comfort zones despite all I’ve learned and will continue to learn in this interim!
  • To remind myself and others that meaningful change is possible no matter our location/circumstances. My last classroom was at a PYP school where student inquiry and concepts-over-content are thoroughly embraced, and I’m not sure I’ll have that same opportunity again. However, no matter my future environment, I want to plan for what will be within reach instead of worrying about what won’t.
  • To concretely reflect on and prepare for the day I interview for my next teaching job. Thanks, George Couros, for inspiring me to do so with your recent post on interview questions for innovative teachers.
  • To encourage other teachers to share their classroom visions for next year, whether they have been away from the classroom or not. Please share! I would love to collaborate and learn from your vision, too!

So here we go. In my future classroom

…my students will have choice. The default has always been teacher control unless there’s a good reason for student choice. Why not change that default to student choice unless there’s a good reason for teacher control? Daily 5 literacy centers. Student-led conferences. Conversations about metacognition to help students internalize their own learning process and needs.

…my students will have voice. In our local community, I hope to help our students search out ways to apply and extend their learning in our classroom, school, and neighborhoods. In our global community, I will be on the hunt for networking opportunities that best suit their needs and audience, from blogging to building PLNs.

…my students’ parents will have a window. Our classroom and student blogs met this purpose beautifully in the past. But I’m also open to new possibilities when I return based on what would be most accessible for parents–Facebook, email, even home visits. I’m also looking forward to watching new platforms unfold by the time I’m back in the classroom.

…process will be proudly displayed and celebrated. I used to love our publishing parties at the end of writing units, and while I don’t think I’ll necessarily abandon them, I hope to search out ways to better celebrate the process along the way. Visible Thinking Routines have particularly caught my eye in recent months as a great way to better bring that process out of obscurity.

…my students will be seen as individuals first. Blind demands for achievement and performance are not about students–they are about rigid notions of “accountability” and timetables.  And when we allow ourselves to be swept away by these demands, we risk losing sight of our students as individuals. The lyrics from Donnie Darko’s  “Mad World” recently reminded me of what this can feel like for our students:

“Went to school and I was very nervous

No one knew me, no one knew me

Hello, teacher tell me what’s my lesson

Look right through me, look right through me.”

I will make the effort to look beyond data sheets and behavior issues so that my students know that I see them. That I see their perspectives and preferences. That I see their strengths and interests. That I see their stresses and victories. After all, real learning is messier than a benchmark chart would have us believe.

…learning will be valued above “doing school.” I used to think compliance was a tool for helping students learn respect, discipline, and cooperation. Now I know that it often ends up diminishing learning–not to mention that it’s less effective at instilling the above values than I thought anyway. I’ve also learned that activities and tasks can have the appearance of learning while actually being bereft of deeper, concept-based understanding.

…assessments will be ongoing and meaningful. My heart recently sank as I read Bill Ferriter’s “Are Grades Destroying My Six Year-Old Kid?” But his final recommendation reinforced my resolve to be part of the change when I resume my teaching career:

“Students — especially those who struggle to master expected outcomes — should be gathering and recording evidence of the progress that they are making on a daily and weekly basis.  More importantly, they should be actively comparing their own progress against examples of mastery and setting individual goals for continued improvement.  Finally, they should have as strong an understanding of what they’ve mastered as they do of the skills that they are struggling with.  Evidence of learning has to mean something more than “here’s what you haven’t learned yet.”

I constantly see new tech for facilitating this kind of ongoing assessment (So far, I’ve found SeeSaw and Google Classroom particularly appealing). But I know that it will be about much more than the tech–it will be about my attitude in helping my students take authentic ownership over their learning process.

What did I miss? What’s on your list? Please share below in the comments!

Featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto