“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 Historical reference, current issues and literary device all play nicely in his piece.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)


10 Reasons Educators Must See Sister Act 2

28 Jan

Those of you who follow my tweets learned this week that I have a great and abiding love for one of the best teachers’ movies of all time… “Sister Act 2”. Oh yes, you read that correctly, and yes, I’m talking about Whoopie Goldberg, in a nun’s habit, teaching music in an urban Catholic school.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Sister Act 2. In fact, I’m such a devoted fan that a couple of nights ago, I stayed on the Life Cycle at the gym for the entire movie, unabashedly grinning from ear to ear. Because I anticipate scoffing and eye-rolling from those readers drawn to more cerebral films, I’ve decided to defend my position on this, and so I give you:

10 Reasons Educators Must See Sister Act 2

1. Whoopie Goldberg as Sister Mary Clarence conveys the unique blend of confidence, commitment and creativity that so many terrific teachers possess. Her simultaneous wooing and setting limits with the students is strategically spot-on.

I recently recommended this movie, among others, to a member of my PLN who is looking for ways to support a new teacher in her efforts to overcome a struggle with classroom management. Watch the following clip and you’ll begin to understand why.

Some of you may have been thrown off because I used the phrase “classroom management”, a term so often erroneously interchanged with “discipline”. But there is a lot to be learned about managing young people (and all people) from this clip.

A good teacher believes in students and draws them out, inspires their trust and can get them to go where they are afraid to go. A good teacher holds them accountable for pulling their own weight, makes the toughest journey seem like more fun than they could even imagine “Let’s party!”… and celebrates with them when they reach their destination. Sister Mary Clarence does all of those things brilliantly in this short clip.

2. There is a scene in the movie where Sister Mary Clarence “lays down the law”. Every new teacher should watch this scene before the first week of school. Although her style may not be right for every situation, her methodology is sound. She lays out her expectations in no uncertain terms, states the consequence for refusing to meet them and holds her ground firmly. She does not take the students’ behavior personally but makes it clear that she is going to hold them accountable for it.

3. Albeit lightly, the movie addresses the critical role neighborhood schools can play in urban communities.

4. Although many of the characters are practically archetypes, their interactions, quirks and qualities are each rooted in a grain of truth. From young men struggling to define themselves, to mother and daughter struggles, and from Lauren Hill’s tough girl with a ‘tude to the young teacher with a kind heart, if you look, you will find people and experiences that you recognize.

5. The dynamic of “Us versus them”/”Students versus adults” is nicely portrayed. More importantly, the redirecting of this dynamic into one of mutual trust, commitment and respect is handled effectively.

Like all good teachers, those in the movie are willing to be the adults. They don’t personalize. Instead, they make a genuine effort to find and delight in the good in their students, and to understand and support them, sometimes in spite of themselves.

They also deliver value – they offer something that students want and need. As a result, the students eventually overcome their distrust, open up and allow their teachers to help them to grow.

6. The teachers in this movie are not whiners and are not victims. They are creative problem solvers. They are flexible and resourceful. They counsel. They support each other and their students and make doing so look like it feels really good. They raise funds. They do community service, take field trips and do home visits. They roll up their sleeves and clean house. They take ownership in their students, their school and their community.

7. The Priest/Principal is both terrifically flawed and wonderfully redeemable. Through him we see the exasperating struggle between old and new, and that in schools, as in life, there can be value in both. We see a burnt out and overwhelmed leader brought back to life by his students and staff. We also see an administrator who is willing to revise his course when he realizes that it’s in the best interest of his students.

8. The movie shows both teachers and students rising to an occasion and that is incredibly motivating and a lot of fun to watch… which leads me to reason #9.

9. In cartoons, corny old movies and the 70s sitcom “Love American Style”, rockets go off and bells ring when people fall in love. For me the sparks fly when I witness anyone joyfully embracing or sharing a talent… doing what they were literally born to do… For example, I saw Wayne Gretzky skating once, years ago, just for fun, and I literally couldn’t look away.

I’ve come to realize, I am a talent junkie. As much as I love to serve, I have to admit that my reasons for teaching are not entirely altruistic… my motives are not entirely unselfish. You see, I literally live to see the light go on in my students’ eyes, to hear the excitement in their voices…

When you are a teacher, if you are open to it, you get to bear witness to more than your fair share of talent coming to life and that is an amazing, beautiful, goose-bump-giving thing. Whether they are mastering a new skill, creating a masterpiece, overcoming a personal challenge, excelling at a sport, standing up for a friend, demonstrating courage under fire, singing like angels or achieving perfect scores, I am constantly inspired and humbled by my students.

Watch Lauren Hill in this next clip and imagine if we could make all of our students feel that way…be that lit up, that joyful about SOME part of their school experience. All teachers should at least aspire to that goal.

10. And for the grand finale?  There is a scene in the movie where Sister Mary Clarence (Whoopie) is talking to Rita (Lauren Hill). She tells her that if when she wakes up in the morning all she can think about is singing, then she’s a singer. Years ago, the very first time I saw this movie, I heard that line and it hit me like a ton of bricks, because that is exactly how I feel…how I have always felt… about teaching.

Please share your thoughts about this and other great movies and books for teachers. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!

11 Jan

Locations of visitors to this page

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!

About the New Tag

5 Dec

Remember the heart-thumping, mind-racing, breath-taking days of playing tag? The grassy-sunny-sweaty sweetness, the laughing till it almost hurt, arms reaching, legs pumping, with everything you had, and all of your senses turned all the way up as if your very life depended on it?

Half dreading being “caught” and half hoping to be “it” and wholly, wildly, madly, even desperately caring either way? Making the most of every moment, hating to stop even for dinner and hoping against hope that this might be one of those nights when mom lets you stay out for just a little while longer?

If only the adults in our lives could have found a way to capture that feeling and infuse it into all of the most important lessons, experiences, and stages of “growing up”!  Can you imagine the fun? The excitement? The ENERGY we might have put into learning, about… well, everything that it takes to make it in this world?

Just imagine…  Self-consciousness, rigidity, self-absorption, inflexibility? Not so much. There’s no sulking in Tag, no ball to take and go home.

Tag is not a game for the faint of heart and it’s not a game for quitters. It’s a game for kids.

The New Tag is about finding and sharing new ways to engage, motivate, reach and teach the young people in our lives. Everyone’s invited, and everyone can play.

It’s a fast paced game – kids grow up quickly and we can’t afford to waste a moment. It’s as heart-racing and breath-taking as the original, often even more so and every bit as sunny and funny and sweet.

But The New  Tag is not a game for the faint of heart and it’s not a game for quitters.  It’s a game for people who love, care for and are responsible for parenting, teaching and mentoring kids.

I’d love to hear a memory of one of your favorite childhood games and the ways you’re building happy memories with the kids in your life! Tag- you’re it.

Melissa Tran

5 Dec

For the past twenty years I’ve counseled, coached, trained, taught, laughed with, learned from and loved thousands of children and young adults and those entrusted with their learning and their care. I hope this blog will provide some helpful insight, tools (and sometimes tricks!) for parents, teachers and all of the others that share their lives with young people.

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