Be the change, being a teacher

It’s On Us


We know we set the mood of our classrooms.

We know that the power we have to make a day better or worse is immense.

We know that what we think about a kid, or a class, sometimes matters more than what we actually do.  After all, kids can read us in ways we have yet to fathom.

So when I had gotten stuck on a class being negative.  When I had formed a narrative in my mind that a class was never excited to come to English.  When I had decided that this was my least engaged class, I was right.  Because the moment I decided it, it became true.

Kids will gladly live up to what we believe they are.

And every day I would think of ways I could get the kids to change.

Every day I would think of ways to re-engage them.  To discuss with them what the room felt like.  To ask them how we could get better.

This went on for months.  Wrack my brain to come up with ways to make it a “better” class, yet dreading the energy of the room.  I even told others that I didn’t know what to do.

One day, after I had asked the class what else we could try, a child asked me this, “Is it all of us, Mrs. Ripp?  Is it me…”

For some reason, I didn’t know what to say.  It took me a while at least and finally, I realized that when I told him “It was the energy of the class…” I had lied.

It wasn’t them.

It was me.

I was the one that had determined the fate of this class.

I was the one that had shaped the narrative of our community and the kids, while responsible too, could not do anything to change my mind.

And so I took a moment at home and realized that what I had pegged as negative energy, was just 7th graders being calm.

That what I had taken as disengagement was instead a quiet pondering of facts.

That what I had taken as hating English, instead was an investment, albeit a quiet one, into learning deeply.

My class wasn’t a negative class, it was a chill class, and as a 7th-grade teacher, I was not used to that.  I created a problem, breathed in the narrative, and then looked for evidence to back it up.  It wasn’t the kids, it was me.

So before we blame the kids.

Before we blame the class.

Before we assume there is nothing we can do because we have tried everything.  Stop.  Look at yourself.  Look at what you have determined to be true and then what you are doing to make it true.

We hold more power than we can ever imagine, let us never forget that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.





9 thoughts on “It’s On Us”

  1. So what did you do? How did YOU change? I find myself in the same situation with my 5th-grade class. I know part of this environment is me but what do you do when students act like this in other classes? Is that YOU too? When does it become their choice to respond or behave in a certain way? How do you set up an environment that does not allow this type of attitude? I have told them all several times that I believe in them, that they are amazing, wonderful, caring, special people. That I love them. But we still have this negative environment. I still have students making poor choices. Maybe I have just failed. Not sure anymore.

    1. No you have not, this is a yearlong process. And it doesn’t always work until the very end. I wrote about all of the things I do to create a better classroom environment in my book Passionate Learners, but a lot of it comes down to providing more choices, sharing control with students, removing rewards and behaviors charts, and continually reflecting, as well as having the students reflect. It can be exhausting, there are still days where I wonder what I am doing wrong as well. But know that you have not failed, the fact that you care is proof.

      1. Thank you for your reply. It has been hard. I often leave school feeling like a failure. I am willing to admit I am not the strongest of teachers in the area of management. It is one I am trying to continually develop and learn about. Some of my students come from situations that I couldn’t handle as an adult. I think my empathy often overrides the correct discipline choice for some students. Some students have exhibited this behavior forever. I can see small changes. I also do not believe in rewards or behavior charts–they are not a part of my practice but what do you do when that is possibly how others before you did things? Students come to expect it. I am not sure if I will continue in education. But I plan on checking out your book, maybe it will convince me to stay.

  2. Your post reminds me so much of this video: We watched this in one of my leadership classes about 6 months ago and….wow. It was truly life-changing. I never realized before how much we shape the people around us by own own perspective. Thank you so much for your honesty, your reflection, and your inspiration. I love reading your blog and books!

  3. I agree! The classroom atmosphere depends on us! I have a class of 25 juniors. Sometimes I feel I am not in control because I focus on “what doesn’t work in the classroom” and I become negative. The kids are very sensitive to our emotional state and they respond accordingly which makes the classroom atmosphere even worse. So, we think they are the cause for the unwanted effect….Actually WE are the cause.
    Last week, we had a classroom discussion about what being positive means and we supported our idea of positivity by a sentence from “Fish In A Tree”. It was the part from the book where Mr. Daniels says that “we need to focus on what we do well”, so we stay positive and happy about ourselves. Then, we listen, like, and help others.
    I have students with special behaviours and dyslexia. I noticed that the way I behave toward them dictates the way they behave toward me and the whole class. Every morning, I think of their struggles and how hard life is for them. When I approach them showing them that I understand their struggles, they act as my best friends and expect me to be their best friend at any time of the day. It takes lots of energy, but it’s worth it. It is up to us to BE WITH our kids, their successes, and struggles from the beginning to the end of each day. No excuses!
    I love your books Pernille, and I always read your posts. Thank you for sharing your great ideas!

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