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‘Tis the Season… Share Your Stuff and Pass It On

12 Sep

“Student Management”, “Classroom Management”, “Positive School Culture” etc… After years of “doing it myself”, a big part of my current role is to teach this stuff to other people. For the past 16 years, I’ve worked for a company that operates alternative schools all over the country (impacting literally thousands of students and staff each year).

We work with young adults (16-24) who have frequently experienced extensive school failure. They come to us with all kinds of goals, for all kinds of reasons… to get started, to start over, to catch up, to get by, to grow up… Some are really driven to finish their high school education or start a career path. Others just want to get their parents off their backs. Most don’t have the education or life skills to do any of those things when they enter our program. It’s our job to change that.

So we remediate. We redirect. Sometimes, we even rebuild. But we wouldn’t be able to do anything at all with the students that I work with, if we weren’t first able to provide the framework… the parameters, the rules of the game.

I understood that early on; I couldn’t help but understand… the importance of being able to manage behavior becomes impossible to ignore when you are really, really bad at it, and I really, really was. Luckily, I’m also really bad at being bad at things… it doesn’t sit well with me, and more than anything else, more than I wanted to be “right”, more than I wanted to look good, or smart or be in control, more than I wanted to BREATHE, I desperately wanted to make a difference.

So from my very first experience working with kids, learning to set limits, define expectations, create relationships, and shape the environment and conditions that were most likely to make a difference became my mission in life. Eventually, I got to be really good at it, and that skill set ultimately blazed the trails of my professional journey.

My own drive to read, study, self-assess and self-correct and the mentoring I received early in my career had everything to do with my success. There were definitely times when I was “on my own”, and developing professionally was up to me. There were other times when others really pushed and helped me to grow. I’m not sure I would have made it to this point if either piece had been missing for very long.

Maybe that’s why I always feel the “call to action” when I see an article or blog documenting the trials or lamenting the struggles of “new” teachers… and there are SO many of them out there, together, but feeling so alone. It kills me to know that good, smart people, who really want to make a difference are so often, so QUICKLY driven to despair because they lack the skills or support they need to effectively manage student behavior and classroom logistics. After all these years, I still remember how that feels, and it’s nothing nice.

Perceived “failure” can be especially traumatic for new teachers, who are so often used to being “good” at things. They’ve been great students or have already established themselves in successful careers. They aren’t used to fully investing without getting results. These frequently idealistic, overachievers don’t view the challenge of building their classroom management style as a “process”; they feel every failed lesson or rowdy period of every hectic day as it’s own, unique failure.

Teaching can be a lonely “gig” once the classroom door closes, especially when things aren’t going as planned and you don’t have years of experience and networking to fall back on. Most of us “veterans” know that the toughest part of the struggle is to find your own, most effect management style and stick to it.

The reason that’s so tough is that once you’ve “lost it”, you are already in the hole and that’s where many new teachers quickly find themselves with no one to lead them out. Sometimes it takes a herculean effort just to stop digging, and sadly, many new teachers never fully recover in their early years, and some of them just give up.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not justifying quitting. But does it really have to be SO hard, SO lonely, so…tragic? Wouldn’t more teachers stay under different circumstances? And isn’t this a problem that we (educators, leaders, business owners, people who CARE) can solve or at least begin to address? Shouldn’t we try?

In this job market, we’re talking about smart people who really want to teach… they have often gone through a grueling and frustrating hiring process, they go in knowing they are going to work really hard, and aren’t going to make a lot of money, and they aren’t expecting it to be easy. Lots of them have significant debt from the student loans they took to prepare for a career that will never pay them what they would have made in another field. We are talking about people who just really want to teach and go in believing they can be great at it.

Clearly, our kids, ALL of our kids, need great teachers and clearly, we aren’t there yet. There is no avoiding the fact that many of the students I’ve served for my entire adult life wouldn’t NEED an alternative program if they would have or could have succeeded in their original schools. Can we really afford not to support our teachers from the very beginning?

On August 24th, Shelly Terrell, who has been a driving force in my own professional development this year, tweeted out the following challenge, “Can we set a goal to provide PD (Professional Development), support, or resources to at least 1 teacher who seems lost? #edchat” . I responded by re-tweeting her post and adding ” Love This & YES. I’m all in.”

Since then, I’ve been playing around with a number of ideas for ways that I can help. Then tonight, I read several articles and ANOTHER new teacher’s blog and realized that the time is right now. Before another week goes by, before another week even starts.

For starters, I’ve revised an older post full of Classroom Management and other resources for new teachers. You can find it here. Please add additional resources in the comments section and pass it on to anyone you think might find it helpful.

Here are some additional thoughts, ideas and suggestions:

  1. Let’s make a point to reach out to “new” teachers every day. Speak to them. Stop by and say “hi”. Give them a minute. I have vivid memories of a Professional Development Retreat a couple of months after starting my 1st teaching job. It was there that the other teachers apologized for barely speaking to me for my 1st two months on the job and explained that it was because they were sure I wasn’t going to make it, so why bother. WOW. I was 23 years old. Let’s not be “that” veteran teacher.
  2. Let’s plan something. A happy hour. A pot luck… something that welcomes and includes “everyone” and especially the new kid on the block.
  3. Let’s remember. I know some of us have blocked them out, but we’ve all had those moments (hours, days, weeks…) when we were filled with doubt… scared… unsure. Let’s not scare and further discourage new teachers with our “war stories” but let’s share our experiences in a way that helps them see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  4. Let’s use our relationships with students to facilitate a new teacher’s progress. When we share students in common with a new or struggling teacher, let’s be especially sure to focus on developing self-management skills and good character in kids instead of simple compliance. Let’s look for ways to develop constructive behaviors that students can transfer to other areas. We can invite the new teacher to collaborate with us on this to create a win for everyone, especially the students.
  5. Let’s share resources and offer help. So often, one person’s smallest effort might save someone else hours of work or frustration.
  6. Let’s follow New Teacher Blogs and offer support for the challenges they face by commenting and offering resources. If you know of any New Teacher Blogs, add them to the comments of this post as I am going to compile a list.
  7. Let’s ask rather than assume, coach rather than criticize and give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. So many new teachers share the feeling that they “can’t do anything right.” Let’s help them reframe that and lead them out of the “hole.”
  8. Let’s help connect new staff with resources from our PLN… I live outside of DC and am open to connecting with and supporting new teachers through Twitter, my blog, and other tech mediums and am exploring the possibility/interest in starting a “Meetup Group” for new teachers in and around DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia. There is also a new teacher whose blog I’ve just stumbled on who I am going to refer to several Math teachers in my PLN for support.
  9. Let’s keep this discussion going… tweet about it, blog about it, TALK about it… let’s get our Twitter and “real life” PLNs engaged in reaching out.
  10. Let’s be part of developing a culture that embraces and welcomes new teachers into the profession, while still valuing the experience and contributions of veterans.
  11. Let’s keep this issue on our radar… permanently.

Thanks so much for reading! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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Resources for New Teachers… and the Rest of Us.

12 Sep

When I was a new teacher I read a TON and watched every movie I could find about education and teaching. Lean on Me, Sister Act Two, Dangerous Minds, Stand and Deliver, To Sir With Love… if I could find it on VHS (And yes, I know how that dates me), I watched it. I even watched the silly one where Mark Harmon teaches summer school.

It may sound corny but these movies helped me realize that some very successful teachers, first had to get through their early years. I also really paid attention to how the “movie” teachers  spoke to and treated the kids. Even the completely fictional movies helped… there is something to be said for observing charismatic personalities in action. Charisma is a fantastic management tool and Hollywood teachers are usually charismatic!

I also read… a LOT. Here are a few of the books I remember most vividly from my “early” years:

ALL of the William Glasser Books – The Quality SchoolThe Quality School TeacherChoice Theory in the Classroom etc. They are easy to read, and gave me great, practical direction for creating the climate, relationships and accountability that I wanted to establish with my students. I found Glasser’s model to be a great fit for my beliefs and style and they truly shaped my early practice. More importantly, they worked!

Several books by Torey Hayden about her experiences as a special ed teacher… the one that I remember the most clearly was called One Child. Torey worked in heartbreaking circumstances, and didn’t do everything “right”, but she also didn’t QUIT, and no matter how tough things got, she persisted. That made all the difference with her kids and left a lasting impression on me.

My Posse Don’t Do Homework by Luanne Johnson. The movie “Dangerous Minds” is based on this book, but the book is somuch better, and I read it years before the movie. I didn’t realize how much of an impact this one had on me until years later when the movie actually came out. My students saw it before I did and I didn’t know anything about it. After seeing it they all kept saying “Dangerous Minds” to me and smiling, shaking their heads and saying, you’ve got to see it, Miss.”

This made me pretty uncomfortable. I didn’t know anything about the movie or why my students were associating it with me. Let me assure you, I look NOTHING like Michelle Pfeifer.

When I finally went to see the movie, I was touched and pleased to see that they had picked up on and recognized that, like me, the main character was a strong proponent of the idea that “You always have a choice”. I didn’t realize until the final credits that the movie is based on the book I had read during my 1st year as a teacher.

There are also many, many excellent resources I’ve discovered more recently. They include:

Books

Wake Up Calls by Doctor Eric Allenbaugh – Great for framing an accountable relationship with students/classes. I’ve had great success using this to create mini-lessons about what I expect from students, what they should expect from me and why. I’ve also passed it on countless times and always gotten terrific feedback from others who have tried it. Check out chapter 5 – “The Dirty Dozen” (12 Ways People Attempt to Escape Accountability) to help minimize excuse making in your classroom.

The Speed of Trust by Steven M. Covey – Trust matters.  Building it is the most efficient way to maximize the efficiency and efficacy of a group. I found the concepts in this book really relevant to the struggles teachers experience related to classroom management; ie- “How can I teach/how can they learn when I spend the whole class “managing” behavior?” Relationship, mutual accountability and trust are powerful stuff, in businesses and in the classroom.

Links

The Motherlode of Classroom Management Resources

Principal and PLN Force, Eric Sheninger’s Site –  Phenomenal Resources – also check out his Del.icio.us Bookmarks and follow him on Twitter @NMHS_Principal

A New Project to Help Teachers Integrate Tech – Ed Tech Specialist Andy Cinek is providing terrific resources and support for teachers who want to learn to use technology to improve their practice. You can also follow him @andycinek

Coach G’s Teaching Tips

I need my teachers to learn

Cowpernicus’ Beliefs in Schools

Todd Whitaker on “What Great Teachers DO Differently”

The Power of Positivity: Effective Classroom Management Tips

Edutopia’s tips for an engaged classroom

Tips for New Teachers via Steve Bossenberger

You may also find some of the other articles on this blog helpful. They include:

10 Reasons Educators Must See Sister Act 2

Feedback is a Gift. Thank You! (and you’re welcome;o))

Want kids to be happy? Teach gratitude.

“What if someone gets DRUNK?”

Additional Suggestions

Start a Twitter account to use for professional development – I don’t recommend using your personal account. You’ll find loads and loads of resources and people to help you on Twitter. People have written a bunch of blog posts about how to use Twitter as a Professional Development resource and I will compile a few in another post shortly. In the mean time, you can follow me @thenewtag and check out my lists and people I follow.

I also recommend that you get started by following @Shellterrell , (Coordinates #edchat , a phenomenal resource and gateway to support; she’s also an amazing Blogger, Organizer, and Leader) @ktenkely (Terrific Blogger, Leader, Organizer), and @teachingwithsoul (She is incredibly helpful and supportive, blogs @ Teaching With Soul and created and moderates #ntchat , an online chat for new teachers every week!) These three tweet terrific resources and, will quickly lead you to other terrific resources and people to follow. Their tweets are a great place to start building your PLN.

You should, you MUST also follow @cybraryman1 on Twitter. Not only has he compiled an amazing “Education Catalogue” packed with resources for just about EVERYTHING, but he’s put together a New Teacher Page just for you!

Find great blogs and subscribe. Kelly and Shelly’s (@Shellterrell @ktenkely) are a great place to start. Also check out my blog roll.

Lastly, and most importantly, take advantage of every professional development experience and look for opportunities for peer-to-peer observation and collaboration. Coaching and mentoring are critical to improving professional practice and if we aren’t getting this from our supervisors, we can create it among our peers.

These activities will deliver enormous return on investment and result in stronger, more confident and effective staff teams. They should be guided and include some form of accountability to secure the greatest outcome. If anyone is interested, I can recommend some resources to get you started.

Please comment to share your favorite resources, ask questions, ASK FOR HELP, offer help, leave feedback or just say “Hi”.

Thanks for reading!

Resources for Improving Classroom Management and School Culture

23 May

I am often challenged to provide assistance to members of my professional network. Usually these requests come from friends and colleagues I have worked with for years. But more and more frequently, I’ve been answering the calls of members of my fantastic Peer/Personal/Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter.

My PLN includes educators at all levels, from 1st year teachers to Principals, Superintendents and other administrators who are interested in supporting their staff. The common thread is that they are all interested in developing more effective ways to engage students and build positive classroom and school cultures.

In this post I’ll share a few of the strategies and resources that have had a huge impact on my professional practice and resulted in student management, engagement and development becoming my area of expertise. For the past 16 years, I’ve worked for a company that operates alternative schools all over the country (impacting literally thousands of students and staff) and a big part of my role is to teach this stuff… I credit my success in this area largely to the reading and studying I have always done and continue to do and the mentoring I received early in my career.

When I was a new teacher I read a TON and watched every movie I could find about education and teaching. Lean on Me, Sister Act Two, Dangerous Minds, Stand and Deliver, To Sir With Love… if I could find it on VHS (And yes, I know how that dates me), I watched it. I even watched the silly one where Mark Harmon teaches summer school.

I know this sounds corny but these movies helped me realize that some very successful teachers had gotten through their early years. I also really paid attention to how they spoke to and treated the kids. Even the completely fictional movies helped… there is something to be said for observing charismatic personalities in action. Charisma is a fantastic management tool and Hollywood teachers are usually charismatic!

I also read… a LOT Here are a few of the books I remember most vividly from my “early” years:

ALL of the William Glasser Books – The Quality School, The Quality School Teacher, Choice Theory in the Classroom etc. They are easy to read, and gave me great, practical direction for creating the climate, relationships and accountability that I wanted to establish with my students. I found Glasser’s model to be a great fit for my beliefs and style and they truly shaped my early practice. More importantly, they worked!

Several books by Torey Hayden about her experiences as a special ed teacher… the one that I remember the most clearly was called One Child. Torey worked in heartbreaking circumstances, and didn’t do everything right, but she also didn’t QUIT, and no matter how tough things got, she persisted. That made all the difference with her kids and left a lasting impression on me.

My Posse Don’t Do Homework by Luanne Johnson. The movie “Dangerous Minds” is based on this book, but the book is so much better, and I read it years before the movie. I didn’t realize how much of an impact this one had on me until years later when the movie actually came out. My students saw it before I did and I didn’t know anything about it. After seeing it they all kept saying “Dangerous Minds” to me and smiling, shaking their heads and saying, you’ve got to see it, Miss”.

This made me pretty uncomfortable. I didn’t know anything about the movie or why my students were associating it with me. Let me assure you, I look NOTHING like Michelle Pfeifer.

When I finally went to see the movie, I was touched and pleased to see that they had picked up on and recognized that, like me, the main character was a strong proponent of the idea that “You always have a choice”. I didn’t realize until the final credits that the movie is based on the book I had read during my 1st year as a teacher.

There are also many, many excellent resources I’ve discovered more recently. They include:

Books

Wake Up Calls by Doctor Eric Allenbaugh – Great for framing an accountable relationship with students/classes. I have used this content to create short mini-lessons to provide a context for what I expect from students, what they should expect from me and why. I’ve had great success with this and have passed it on countless times and always gotten terrific feedback from others who have used it. Check out chapter 5 – “The Dirty Dozen” (12 Ways People Attempt to Escape Accountability) to help eliminate excuse making in your classroom.

The Speed of Trust by Steven M. Covey – Trust matters.  Building it is the most efficient way to maximize the efficiency and efficacy of a group. I found the concepts in this book really relevant to the struggles teachers experience related to classroom management; ie- “How can I teach/how can they learn when I spend the whole class “managing” behavior?” Relationship, mutual accountability and trust are powerful stuff, in businesses and in the classroom.

Links

The Motherlode of Classroom Management Resources

I need my teachers to learn

Cowpernicus’ Beliefs in Schools

Todd Whitaker on “What Great Teachers DO Differently”

The Power of Positivity: Effective Classroom Management Tips

Edutopia’s tips for an engaged classroom

Tips for New Teachers via Steve Bossenberger

You may also find some of the other articles on this blog helpful. They include:

10 Reasons Educators Must See Sister Act 2

Feedback is a Gift. Thank You! (and you’re welcome;o))

Want kids to be happy? Teach gratitude.

“What if someone gets DRUNK?”

Lastly, and most importantly, providing/participating in opportunities for peer-to-peer observation, coaching and mentoring is critical. These activities will deliver enormous return on investment and result in stronger, more confident and effective staff teams. Such experiences should be guided and include some form of accountability to secure the greatest outcome.

Please comment to share your favorite resources, ask questions, leave feedback or just say “Hi”. Thanks for reading!

Hope this helps!

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