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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.

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!

“What if someone gets DRUNK?”

1 Feb

I just read Tom Whitby’s newest post on “My Island View” and had started to leave a comment when something hit me and I realized I needed to get out of there-fast. You know that feeling, right?

It’s kind of like when your two year old is about to have a melt-down in the check-out line and you know that the count down is on? 10-9-8-“Paper or plastic?” “Paper”-7-6 -“Cash or charge?” “Debit-sh-sh-we’re almost done”- 5-4-3- “I know, I know, sh-sh-sh” -2-1… And you don’t even stick around to hear the “Thank you, have a nice day” because there’s not a second to spare before the meltdown? Well, this wasn’t quite that bad, but it was close.

There’s a lot going on in Tom’s “The Old West and I encourage you to read it for some interesting perspectives that I’m not going to touch on here. Historical reference, current issues and literary device all play nicely in his piece. But there was a specific-some-thing in the article really struck a nerve for me.

There has been a thought playing around in the back of my mind for some time now that came screaming front and center as I started to reply. While Tom may not have minded, some may have considered it bad form to write a comment that is nearly as long as his original post!

Here’s what got me: Tom compares the school policy of taking students’ cell phones to Wyatt Earp’s taking men’s guns before allowing them into town. Can you smell the gun smoke?

The conversation about what is technologically blocked or “forbidden” in schools almost always focuses on the value of the material or tool versus the risk of abuse or possible threat to safety. Tom touched on something that is every bit as important, yet rarely discussed: the message that both students and staff internalize when faced with these blocks and restrictions. That message is, “You can’t be trusted”.

All policies that aim to control behaviors rather than teach and enlist them give the message that the powers that be don’t trust people to make the right choices… that the risk of trusting is too great. In some cases, that may be a valid position for leaders to take. Certainly Wyatt Earp had some pretty valid reasons for mandating a “gun-free zone”. I do not believe that the case for blocking, restricting or confiscating technology could pass the same test.

But in order to either enlist or teach a behavior, there has to be something valid to understand – something that makes sense, that people will buy into and support. By this definition, enlisting the voluntary surrender of cell phones and other technology would be an awfully tough feat.  Who are the “real” people who actually support these restrictions on the grounds that letting kids have access to a broader range of materials (and especially streaming video and social networks) poses too big of a risk to be worth the potential gain? Who honestly believes that promoting coercion and teaching compliance is more beneficial than promoting accountability and teaching good citizenship? No one who really understands the issues would even try to make that case.

Meanwhile, in schools across the country, students and teachers are receiving a relentless, high-profile message that “you can’t be trusted” and “we aren’t willing to take the risk”. Lock it up and shut it down. Intentional or not, that is what’s real and no explanations related to prioritizing student safety can undo the damage that does to the way students see themselves, each other and the adults in their lives.

In my role, I am constantly challenging staff to find ways to entrust students with more freedom and responsibility, and some staff really struggle with that. I work with Teachers and Youth Development Professionals who are tasked with sending kids out into the “real world”, ready to work. These staff are incredibly dedicated. They will happily cheer at graduations and often write students glowing recommendations so they can secure those jobs…But let them run the school store? By themselves? Are you CRAZY?

The truth is that wether we are talking about running a project, keeping a cellphone in class, or accessing media-rich websites, the restrictions aren’t really about risk and safety. They are in large part, about things that are much more basic- trust and resource management.

Here’s a related example. Administrators are going to have more anxiety about a cross-country field trip than the trip to the local park. “Will the staff be able to handle the group? What if someone gets sick? What if someone gets DRUNK? I don’t think so… maybe next year.” And so another group of students from somewhere in Arkansas graduates from high school having never seen the ocean.

The same concept applies to use of technology and for many school leaders, there are far more “unknowns” in the computer lab than on a field trip, however far reaching. The richer the online platform, the more bogged down the network becomes when everyone uses it at once. Downloads can create problems on shared networks and computers when users don’t know what they are doing.”Will the IT staff be able to handle all the questions that will come up? Will teachers be able to monitor the group? What if someone gets stuck? What if someone gets DRUNK? I don’t think so… maybe next year.” And so another group graduates from a high school in New York City having never gotten to podcast, blog or video chat with kids from India, China, Africa or Arkansas.

Most schools aren’t in a position to send their students on a cross country trip right now. Such a trip has never been planned or budgeted and there are a lot of variables to consider, including whether students and staff are ready for that level of responsibility. Likewise, in most schools, the infrastructure (wiring, budgeting, equipment, memory space etc) wasn’t planned to support the use of technology that is now possible in classrooms.

The more complicated the student engagement, online and in life, the greater the responsibility adults have to prepare and guide them through it. But we live in a complicated world and it’s not going to get any easier. Shouldn’t we be exposing our students to every experience, every tool, every opportunity that we can imagine to better prepare them to live, or better yet, to thrive in it?

Let’s stop “regulating”, stop moaning about “regulations” and start including students and staff in intelligent discourse about how to garner ALL of our resources and get to the “yes”. Let’s engage them in projects to generate and manage resources responsibly, let’s help them plan BIG adventures on their wikis, and use their Wall Wishers and Twitter feeds to keep us posted along the way, let’s let them know we trust and expect them to make good choices, and for goodness sake, let’s let them see the ocean… and blog about it.

Thanks to Tom, for making me think, and thanks too, for reading:o)

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

7 Jan

I am betting that I’ll write on variations of this topic over and over again but today I just want to say “Thank you”…”and you’re welcome!”

Like so many of you, I have recently stumbled upon the most amazing professional resource I’ve ever found. Actually, it’s a series of resources that seems to continually expand – ripple, domino, pick your own cliche’ but this thing has got legs! I’m sure some of you have guessed that I’m talking about Twitter, #edchat, Tom Whitby’s The Educator’s PLN and the never-ending extensions that seem to be sprouting from each of them everyday.

Here’s an example. Recently, @ShellTerrell, who is a true phenomena in my book, (but that’s another entry), sent a tweet asking all new bloggers to retweet and give their web address with the hashtag #edchat. I complied, not knowing why, because… well, it was Shelly and in a few short weeks of following her on Twitter, I’ve learned that she is constantly up to something good.

Shortly thereafter, I got a message from @cybraryman1 who is truly a super hero with a link saying he had put my blog on his blog‘s page for parents. WOW. Amazing. He had ME feeling a little like a superhero too! But that’s not all.

You see, Shelly has been issuing challenges for educators through her tweets and blog, Teacher Reboot Camp, and it seems that one of the challenges was to support a new blogger. She listed my site, along with those of all of the others who answered her call and that leads me to Marti and Wildcat Teacher.

But first things first. I could see from my stats that loads of people visited from Cybraryman‘s and Shelly‘s sites and that was really exciting and motivating. But a couple of people actually posted comments, and Oh-my-GOODNESS what fun! After reading Wildcat Teacher’s post I was all kinds of jazzed and motivated to finish several of the half-finished pieces I’ve been not working on… and then I read Marti’s comment.

Marti posted on my piece about “Teaching Gratitude” and shared that it had prompted her to take an activity that she uses in the classroom home to her own kids. She called it a “Rubbing It In” board and it’s a great idea that reminded me of  and prompted me to share one of my favorite strategies for teaching gratitude with you. You will find instructions at the end of this article. It will work like a charm, and you’ll love it – I promise.

But before I started writing about that, I did one more thing – I followed the link to Marti’s blog. You should follow it too: The Techno Tiger. Her “Goal #4, Starting a Blog” is not only fantastic, but it is what inspired me to write down what I’ve been thinking – about how reciprocal this whole process is – the tweeting, and chatting, the blogging, and reading, the thinking. commenting, sharing, acting on it all and passing it on to our students. WOW.

I’m feeling pretty fortunate and… grateful right now,  and so to Marti, Wildcat Teacher, Kim,  Shelly, Cybraryman, Tom Whitby, and all of the other PLN-ed-chattering-tweet-and-blogging-educational-inspirations out there – you’ve got my mind spinning, I’m stretching and growing more than I have in ages (and I already stretch and grow more often than the average bear!), and it is all just so exciting and SO MUCH FUN! So thank you, thank you so very much.

And… you’re welcome too. Because I’m going to do my very best to contribute and give back in every way that I can. You can thank me later. ;o)

The “Above and Beyond” (Or “Rub It In”) Board

To quote Marti, “If receiving comments on my blog inspires me, as an adult, to continue to write, what might it do for our students?” Feedback is a gift, online and in life. Giving that gift consciously can inspire our students’ interest and willingness to engage in all kinds of positive things.

The “Above and Beyond” board is about consciously, deliberately, strategically providing both a model and a way for students to experience being both giver and recipient of positive feedback. If you use this technique, students will appreciate and remember you for it. More importantly, it  will  help them become more conscious, more grateful, and sometimes, even more gracious human beings.

Here’s how it works:

  1. I write the student’s name in big bright letters on index cards, and write what they did in smaller letters underneath.
  2. I stack and tack or staple the cards on top of each other by name. When students come in the room, the 1st thing they do is check those cards… and my students are 16-24 years old!
  3. At the end of the month or workshop (depending on the format), I take all of the cards down and use them as raffle tickets – so the more good deeds, the more chances a student has to win.
  4. Students can also earn raffle chances by writing cards for their peers; a card written by a student is a chance for both the writer and the student being commended to win.
  5. After the raffle, the students get to keep their cards and we start all over again.

A few notes on implementation:

  1. I don’t announce or explain the board- I just start doing it. I post the words “Above and Beyond” and start putting up cards. This leads to questions and the students always notice and get drawn in. This sneaky technique also eliminates the possibility of “we’re-too-cool-for-this” sabotage. Teeth are not sucked and eyes are not rolled. There are no moans, groans or disparaging comments to discourage students from going “above and beyond”. The board simply appears and then “is”.
  2. I leave extra cards and markers right by the board and every single time I’ve done this, students have asked if they can write cards to each other too. You know your students – always provide guidelines; set limits and screen the cards if you have to… it won’t usually be necessary but better safe than sorry. Writing cards catches on and goes viral in no time.
  3. The stacking is intentional, for a number of reasons. Stacking is an essential move in this strategy. Do not worry about the board looking bare for a day or two; I promise it will fill up quickly and that is part of the fun. Stacking ensures there is enough space for everyone’s name (and you will need to find at least one positive thing to say about each student).
  4. Stacking also increases the interactivity of the board. Students will physically go up, flip through their pile and put it back where they found it, usually at least once a day.
  5. They won’t be able to resist finding out what their cards say, and will be forced to go the board to find out. This makes it cool to care and be proud of receiving positive recognition.
  6. Stacking also allows students who are shy about giving each other feedback to do so comfortably by inserting their cards into the stack.
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Want kids to be happy? Teach gratitude.

14 Dec

Having spent much of the first half of my life being a kid, and the entire second half surrounded by them, there is one thing I know for sure. Nothing is more crippling to the growth and development of young people than the inability to recognize what is good in their lives.

The biggest difference between people who are generally happy and people who are generally not, is this: Happy people recognize, focus on, think about, talk about and attribute value to what is good in their lives most of the time. Unhappy people don’t. It really is that simple.

Understanding this is critical for educators, counselors and parents who aim to raise happy, well adjusted children and young adults. I can’t count the number of times through the years that I’ve heard parents and teachers complain about how much young people take for granted. Comments like, “She’s never satisfied”, “It’s never enough,”He doesn’t know how good he’s got it” and “They don’t appreciate anything” are all too common and express adults’ frustration in dealing with a young mindset that is too often accepted as inevitable.

Our frustration with the ungrateful or entitled behavior kids sometimes bring into our classrooms or homes sometimes brings us to try and “force it out of ’em!”. We nag and lecture, and sometimes, even sulk. We use disabling prompts, like “What do you say?”, or outright instruction: “Say ‘thank you'” or even a sarcastic “You’re welcome” unprecedented by thanks.

But these strategies disempower young people and undermine our true objective: to help them become gracious, considerate and thoughtful human beings. We want our kids to genuinely feel and express appreciation for the happy moments, meaningful experiences and the kindnesses shown to them by others. We want them to experience the peace and joy that comes with being truly thankful.

The following list offers my favorite strategies for teaching gratitude. I’ve put each of these into practice with kids of all ages (and even the occasional adult), always with great success and am so very thankful to be able to share them with you!

Top Ten for Teaching Gratitude

  1. Model the behavior you wish to see. Challenge yourself to express your sincere appreciation for everything from good customer service, to courteous or helpful behavior, from good quality of work, to “the beautiful weather we’re having”. Express YOUR feelings and appreciation to allow young people to see the world through your grateful eyes.
  2. Make children and young people the receiver of appreciation. Find things they’ve done to appreciate and offer thanks sincerely. Make eye contact. Let them hear the pleasure in your voice, let them see the smile on your face and warmth in your eyes. Shake their hands or give a hug (whichever is appropriate to your role). Let them bask in the feeling of being appreciated.
  3. Involve them in activities where they can earn the appreciation of others. We sometimes forget that making kids the “helper” makes them feel strong, and strong is good. Engage them in service activities. Even very small children can be enlisted to help in some way. Be sure to process these experiences with them. Ask if they feel their efforts were appreciated and encourage them to talk about what made them feel that way.
  4. Get them to co-sign. “Wasn’t that fun!”, “What a treat! Aren’t we lucky?”, “That was so kind of her, don’t you think?”. Your enthusiasm will be catching and this practice takes modeling a step further and gets them engaged. You are also asking for their opinion, which young people love.
  5. Ask, don’t tell. When young people are clearly enjoying their meal, ask if it’s good. Then ask who made it for them. Follow with “Did you remember to (or should we) thank mom for making you such a terrific dinner?”
  6. Create routines that promote appreciation. Ask “What is the best thing that happened today?”, create a community appreciation bulletin board or newsletter or set aside time in the classroom or assembly when students can publicly express appreciation for each other and the adults in their lives.
  7. Provide a context that helps them see that they are fortunate without having to be told.  Then challenge them to share their thoughts. This link: http://www.kanji.org/kanji/jack/personal/100peop.htm takes you to a piece of writing that I remember hearing at an assembly when I was 14 years old. It describes the state of the world if we were to reduce it to a Global Village of just 100 people. I recently shared it with a friend who grew up in another part of the country and she too remembered reading this when she was very young. Sharing literature, movies, songs, and photographs are all great ways to help young people to broaden their context and adjust their priorities.
  8. Point out how happy someone looks when being thanked and talk about how much more people enjoy being around people who are gracious and grateful.
  9. Thank them when they thank you! Explain how much it means to you and to others when someone expresses appreciation.
  10. Share your efforts! Enlist the support of others in teaching gratitude and express your appreciation for it! Remember that gratitude is contagious and pass it on.

Thanks for reading!

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