attention, choices, Student-centered

How Do You Get Kids to Pay Attention?

I see a lot of articles discussing how to get the attention of students and am continually amazed at what these advice pieces seem to miss.  Often the advice includes asking questions, which I agree with if they are the right kind of questions; please don’t ask them what page you are on, that does not count as a great question.  It also includes giving students an incentive “The first 5 kids to buckle down will get to pick what we do next!” Or even to have a vote on something totally irrelevant to snap them out of their boredom; “Raise your hand if you like Christmas!’ 

It is not that I am better knowing, but I shake my hand at all that is missed through these suggestions.  How about instead of bribing or tricking students into pay attention, we offer them learning opportunities that they actually want to pay attention to!

I know most of us are under guidelines for what we need to teach, but, a lot of us also have a choice in how we teach that.  How about we transfer the choice to the students?  How about rather than telling them what to do, we explore it with them, thus creating natural buy-in.  Now I am part of a scripted math program as well and there the rigidity is more noticeable.  Instead of bribing the kids, we work hard and then we get to do more in-depth explorations.  I change it up often, even if it just means having the students move around and we do a lot of $2 whiteboard activities that involves all of the students rather than me standing up in front talking.

The point is; if we want students to pay attention, make it worth their time.  We cannot keep expecting them to pay attention just because we want them to.  Just because we were forced to pay attention in class doesn’t mean we should do the same thing to our students.  It is our chance to not do school to them as it was done to us.  Take it.

attention, principal, school staff, talking

Dear Administrators – Will You Write to Me Instead?

Dear Administrators and Administrators To Be,
I know that some of you out there read this blog and for that I am very grateful.  I don’t often address you directly because I don’t feel it is my place but I have a simple plea as some of you embark on a new year.  An idea to plant, to spread and hopefully that can grow into a movement.  Something so simple, yet powerful, that we all should have realized a long time ago.

Many of us are in the midst of the back to school hustle in North America.  As excitement builds, time grows sparse and meetings pile up.  The other day I read a post from Lyn Hilt, a principal you should connect with if you don’t already know her, and something she stated rung so true to me that I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.  She writes in her post about her in-service day “It’s Kind of Magical”

“Wait, Lyn, what about the laundry list of informational items you have to share with teachers on Day 1? Schedules, lunch and recess routines, important dates, blah, blah, blah?” I’m blessed with a faculty full of teachers who are capable of reading print.

See Lyn discovered something powerful.  We teachers can read, in fact, many of us are quite proficient readers and pay better attention to written information than to spoken words.  Many of us even tell our students’ parents that we prefer to communicate via email because it gives us time to digest, to process, and to reflect, while also providing a paper trail for all of our communication.  So what Lyn did, when she placed all of that important information for her teachers into a Google document was a huge step in the right direction; cutting out the time to tell teachers things that they can just as easily read on their own.

You see, people in education seem to be talkers, not all, but many, and so what happens at some of these meetings is that they drown in stories or longwinded explanations where really an email could have sufficed.

So dear administrators, as you plan for a new year or continue the one you are in, ask yourself whether what you need to say can be communicated in writing?  Can it be shared in a blog post for your school?  Can it be sent in an email?  A newsletter?  Or a Google doc for continued collaboration?  Can you spare your words and leave us time to collaborate instead?  Will you give your staff the gift of time to solve problems, share learning or even just cut out staff meetings (it has been done successfully)?  Will you go away from being the sage on the stage at meetings and welcome in more time for learning opportunities instead?

Lyn did it and so can you.   I wish you good luck and remember to keep it brief.



attention, being a teacher, choices, power

A Thought on Shutting Doors

When that door shuts, I come alive, not because I am afraid to show my true colors with an open door, or because I am worried what strangers might think, but instead because then I can truly focus on what is the most important; the here, the now, the kids. So when I lose my focus and worry too much about what others think it shows up in my teaching, sneaks right in and settles in the back of my mind. I must forget to take my own advice at times; choose who you give your attention to. Choose who you give power to. Choose who you let lift you up or bring you down. Because those choices also influence your students, those choices we seemingly make separately from our classrooms are never quite separate. We carry it all with us, whether we want to or not. Or at least I do.

So I choose happiness. I choose to focus on everything that is astounding in my life. The incredible deep love from my husband, the unmistakable faith from my mother, and my daughter’s incredible joy for life. The student who finally gets it, or cracks me up with a new joke. The coworker that shares yet another success in their teaching or brings up a new idea. I choose to focus on my own mistakes and weaknesses because those I can do something about. And I choose my own words more carefully so to not bring others down.

So now when I shut that door I also make a conscious effort to make myself open it again. To let the world back in, to show those kids that I am there wholeheartedly no matter what passes by our door. To remind myself that my choices are their choices, and that’s the way it should be.

attention, being me, control, education, power

May I Have Your Attention

Attention; one of the most powerful gifts you can offer someone. When we care about a person, we give them our attention as the main way of showing it. Attention when doled out can make someone experience deep emotions whether in a great way or not. Attention when handled carelessly can inspire someone to believe misplaced intentions or that we care less than we do. Paying attention is a way of transferring power to the person we are paying attention to, and that power is, well, more powerful than we can even fathom.

As a society we strive to categorize and be categorized. Through our labels we determine our social circles, our place in the community, and certainly our own self-worth. Every label we either bestow upon ourselves or are given comes with a set amount of societal power. Through our profesion we receive a certain amount of power societally predetermined, as a woman I may receive less power than if I were male, and don’t even get my started on the power determined by our skin color. In a perfect world we wouldn’t be prejudged, or categorized, before someone knows us well but it appears we are all either too busy or wired in such a way that it happens despite our best intentions. So every day we choose to give power to other people through our attention to them and that power shift can either benefit us or harm us. How much time have I spent worrying about someone’s impression of me; more power to them. How much time have I spent about how people will view me; more power relinquished. How much time have I spent paying attention to empty celebrities, politicians, or people I will never ever interact with in any positive manner? Way too much.

So how do we change the way we offer up power to people who do not matter? How can we stop being sucked in by those that mostly do harm? In this politically charged America, it seems we need to dust off the civility but where? So from now on, I want to be sparser with my attention. I want to give it fully every day to those that mean the most; family, friends, my school community. I will strive to remove my share of given power to people who spew negativity, to people who only thrive when there is misery to be discussed, to those who do not mean well. We may not be able to change society and the uneven power held by people, but we can change the share we control. Attention is an incredible gift; give it to those that matter.

attention, authentic learning, being me, questions

A Lesson from Dora the Explorer

Image taken from Nickelodeon

It appears that when colleges panic or run out of ideas of how to teach, they take their cue straight from Dora the Explorer when it comes to teaching people how to teach.  I reached this conclusion at about 5:30 AM this morning as my daughter insisted on watching another episode.  You see, bear with me here, but Dora asks her audience for participation – my daughter does not participate, so silence fills the void.  Dora then asks for affirmation in her answer, still silence, sometimes “right” squeaks from my two-year old.  Classic call and response.  Isn’t this the same approach we are first taught in college when we learn how to be effective teachers; ask a  question, then reaffirm the answer?  So what’s the problem, after all, Dora is successful?  Well, when you ask a very simple question, you receive simple answers.  And sure many colleges flaunt Blooms Taxonomy and points to it for inspiration, but day-to-day how many of us really reach deeper level thinking?

Instead we ask the simple questions, not quite yes or no, but close, and then when we perhaps do receive an answer we reaffirm by restating, and then we feel great.  Look at how much they are learning!  Now Dora can be excused in this matter, after all her target audience is 2 to 3 year olds who are just learning the language.  We cannot.  We are meant to ask questions that do not always appear straightforward; clear yes, but not always with an easy answer.  One of my biggest challenges has been to kick myself out of easy question land and and instead answer most questions with another question.  Dora never does that, she waits patiently the appropriate wait time (2 seconds roughly) and then squeaks “right?”  My daughter patiently waits for the action to continue, she is trained to know that at some point Dora will speak again.  Our students know that we too will fill the silence, if they stay quiet or passive long enough, we will take over and give them all of the answers.

If we do not heighten our questioning skills in the classroom, we create an audience of learners.  One child may be brave enough to answer our question, yet the others remain passive, knowing that either way, the answer will be given to them.  What if we didn’t provide the answer?  What if we stopped talking?  Instead offering up deeper-level questions and when we don’t have any, turn the table.  Which questions do the students have?  Could we move our classrooms away from call-and-response, reaffirmation, or even just mere audience participation?  Could we make our students engage by simply changing our own engagement?

Who knew, Dora had such deep lessons embedded. 

attention, being a teacher, new teacher, Student-centered, talking

Your Lips May be Moving But I Stopped Listening a Long Time Ago

A question I kept asking myself last summer was, “Would I like being my own student?”  Beside bringing back a flood of unfortunate memories of my own schooling, it also stopped me in my prep tracks.  The answer was a resounding “No.”  I would have been that kid rolling their eyes at the teacher (yes, that happened daily), groaning every time a new group project was introduced (I hated group work),  and refusing to do homework out of sheer principle of boredom (and then argue with the teacher as to why it was pointless). Yikes, I am still that kid.  And so when a tweet by Jeremy MacDonald asked

“How do we get teachers past the teacher-centric use of tech? Modeling? Should I make them let me teach 30 mins in their classroom?” 

my mind started to spin.  Would simply asking teachers to sit through their own type of teaching, stop them in their tracks?  Or would the response be a more nuanced reflection discussing the need for various learning styles and types?  Or would we hear the stagnant adult claiming that, “they went through it so that is just how things are and to suck it up?”  I love that “suck it up” like school is just meant to be survived and not lived.

So how do we get teachers to rethink the traditional classroom setting?  Why is it we tend to forget our own school experience and then repeat it as teachers?  Why do most teachers come to teach prepared to speak most of the time?  I have been actively trying to stop talking and let me tell you, it is hard! Our curriculum is not set up for a lot of exploration, but rather mini activities packaged with a lot of careful monologue.  What is it about our way of educating that makes question-answer seem like the best fit?

So I start my own quiet revolution, using less words and still getting to the point.  Using less teacher-focused and more student-directed learning.  I even started thinking about it all as a learning process rather than how I am going to teach something.  In the end, we have to realize that if we want just test-taking students, then yes, talking at students will get us there.  If we want independent thinkers who are also creative and confident, then we have to stop talking.  So how do we stop talking?