Balancing Reading Challenge With Choice

It was another day of library time in fourth grade. Most of my classmates headed to the fiction section. A few dared the dark musty nonfiction corner (I still have no idea why it was always so poorly lit in that corner!). And I went for the picture books. I just couldn’t get enough of the pictures, and I certainly didn’t have the patience to spend 20 minutes reading just one page.

So it had gone week in and week out — until that momentous day that my sweet librarian, Mrs. Lutz, chose to intervene. She had apparently noticed my quiet reading habits, and chose to step in to offer a challenge. And what could easily have turned me off from reading instead launched me into the world of children’s fiction and deepened my self-identity as a reader.

How did she strike that careful balance of providing challenge without judgement?

Here’s what she did not do:

  • Tell me the books I was reading were babyish or below my level.
  • Prevent me from reading books of my choice.

Here’s what she did do:

  • Listened to what kept me coming back to the picture books (the pictures, of course).
  • Shared some books that she loved (that conveniently included some pictures).
  • Encouraged me to keep stretching my reading muscles.

It can seem an impossible task to help our students stretch themselves while simultaneously honoring their choices. And while choice should ultimately take precedence for their personal reading, finding this balance can help students expand their view of literary possibilities.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

5 What If’s to Finish Friday Strong

What if…

…today, we increased our efforts in helping students see that they matter?

…what if, today, we found ways to help them see themselves as mathematicians, readers, writers, scientists (rather than kids who do all those things)?

…what if, today, we found ways to let them know we trust them with choice?

…what if, today, we shared with our students some aspect of our personal, authentic learning experience?

…what if, today, we talked less and listened more?

…what if?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“Watch Me” (An Extra Provocation Into “Can”) #TeacherMom

At long last, my youngest has started walking. Really, he seems to have started more in spite of his parents’ encouragement rather than because of it. But now that he’s at it, he simply radiates delight in this new ability.

There’s nothing quite like a newly-walking baby to get you pondering the concept of “CAN.” So in his honor, and for teachers and students everywhere whose sense of CAN might have become somewhat diminished, I’d like to share this provocation.

Resource #1: Casey Neistat Samsung Commercial: The Rest of Us

Resource #2: Ode to CAN 

Resource #3: This Could Fail by John Spencer

Provocation Questions: 

  • What are the different perspectives people hold when it comes to trying new things?
  • Why does discouragement happen?
  • What perspectives help people try again even when they fail?
  • What is our responsibility to tell ourselves and others “you can?”

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry Into Bullying

Our family’s move from southern California to the mountains of central Idaho took place the night before a December blizzard. Going from sandals to snow boots was entirely foreign for me, but I bundled up in what I thought was “When in Rome” apparel and headed to my new middle school.

It didn’t take long before I heard the not-so-quiet snort of sarcasm as I walked by: “Nice vest!”

I tried not to take it too hard, but when you’re 13 years old and in a new state that may as well be a new country, let’s just say that I didn’t exactly let it roll off my back. I certainly never wore that vest again.

As teachers, we work to teach our students what bullying is and what it is not. But often, misunderstandings persist, and bullying evolves in sneaky ways not necessarily identified during our group discussions.

Resource #1: How To Top a Bully by Brooks Gibbs (stop at 2:10 to discuss what the students notice–the rest of the video is excellent as well but does more explaining).

How To Stop A Bully

This video just might fix your kid's bullying problem!More resources at BrooksGibbs.com.

Posted by Brooks Gibbs on Monday, October 16, 2017

Resource #2: A Sincere Compliment by HooplaHa

Resource #3: Picture Books

Each Kindness by Jacquelin Woodson
One by Kathryn Otoshi

Provocation Questions:

  • How does the way we treat one another impact our schools? Communities? World?
  • What is bullying like?
  • What is bullying not like?
  • How does the way a person is treated affect the way they treat others?
  • In the face of bullying, what responsibility do resilience people have for people who are not yet as resilient?
  • What is the power of our words?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Love & Logic Limits: Is It Always a Choice? #TeacherMom

The lack of a school-bell telling me where to be at all times is probably my Achilles heel of stay-at-home parenthood. So a couple mornings ago — having gotten sidetracked by my newest flea-bitten idea for making our small space function more efficiently — by the time I got showered and ready for the day, my preschooler had stealthily pilfered the refrigerator and my one year old had had a fabulous time with a contraband stick of gum.

What’s more, having had a late bedtime the night before, my three year-old was also clearly ready for an early nap — evidenced by the fact when I asked him if he was ready to choose his clothes to go buy groceries, he dissolved into melt-down mode because he wanted a snack first. To top it off, the entire episode devolved to him irrationally stomping on his baby brother’s hands.

Now, if I were to focus on a strictly Love and Logic approach here, I might have told my 3 year year-old something like this: “Son, what sad choices to refuse to wear your clothes and to hurt your brother! I’m going to do something about this. We’ll talk later.”

Limitation #1: When we mistakenly assume that this is just about a poor choice. Such a response may help to temporarily and even effectively diffuse the situation, but it ultimately tends to puts the blame squarely on his shoulders when, in fact, there were factors so far beyond his control at work here (late bedtime, off-schedule morning, etc) that he was now operating in fight/flight mode.

Enter the discussion on “stress behavior.”

I’m fascinated by the concept of misbehavior vs stress behavior in Stuart Shanker’s Self-Reg. He writes:

“The concept of misbehavior is fundamentally tied to those of volitionchoice, and awareness. It assumes that the child willingly chose to act the way he did. He could have acted differently, was even aware that he should have acted differently. But stress behavior is physiologically based. When this happens, the child is not deliberately choosing his actions or aware in a rational way of what he’s doing…because his nervous system, triggered by a sense of threat, shifts to fight or flight. There are some simple ways to gauge when we’re dealing with misbehavior. Ask the child why he did such and such, and if he answers with any explanation — no matter what his rationale — there’s a pretty good chance he knew what he was doing. Or ask him to tell you with a straight face that he didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong. Stress behavior also reveals itself quickly. If you see confusion, fear, anger, or deep distress in that face, if your child averts his eyes or finds it hard to even just look at you, those are often signs of hyperarousal and of stress behavior.”

Older students aren’t going to have the same self-regulatory issues as the little ones, but we should still be on the look-out for when they arise, and cultivate their ability to self-regulate in the meantime.

Limitation #2: When we mistakenly assume that this is just about defiance. This is closely linked with the first. For our discussion on this limitation, we’ll take a look at this “nobody loses” approach on the Love & Logic blog below:

First, a disclaimer. Maybe Jessie was causing serious trouble and disturbing Brittany by moving her chair to work with her. If that’s the case, then I think this is an absolutely fitting Love & Logic response. However, if Jessie was simply trying to solve her problem of needing help by seeking it from a peer (as per the Love & Logic rule that we can do anything to solve our problems as long as it does not cause a problem for you or anyone else), it begs the question of whether the Love & Logic response here was necessary to begin with.

If our goal is control, then we will reap defiance in abundance.

I appreciate another passage from Self-Reg here:

“As parents [and teachers] it’s natural to assume that when our child’s behavior or our reactions feel “out of control,” then control is what’s missing. But to focus on control is also to shut down opportunity: end of discussion, end of a potentially constructive interaction, end of a teachable moment of lasting value. Self-Reg instantly opens the moment to opportunity. That begins with the simple act of asking, “Why now?””

And if the teacher in this hypothetical focuses more on control than on Jessie’s need for help, then an opportunity is missed indeed.

Naturally, angry, rude, and disrespectful outbursts are never acceptable, and require correction. But I wonder if we might find ourselves doing less correcting if we instead adopt what’s found in Brene Brown’s “Engaged Feedback Checklist” (esp #1, 2, and 7 for our context here):

Failure to recognize these limitations — to treat all poor behavior as deliberate and disrespectful decisions — can ultimately damage relationships with those who most need our help.

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