behavior, being a teacher, community, new year

We Should Act Like Our Students

image from icanread

You can feel it when you enter.  It hangs around you like a fog, enveloping you wherever you go, emphasizing the true nature of the school from your eyes.  Climate, and particularly a bad one, surrounds you when you enter into a school and can quickly soak its way into any perception otherwise presented. It doesn’t matter how many smiles you get, if a school is suffering from a lack of community, those smiles will not be able to mask it.

We spend so much time and thought in how we will build the community in our classrooms, perhaps even in our grade level, and yet where is our thought to how we will build community in our school for the staff?  At my school, we have new staff every year, and sometimes quite a bit, yet we assume that the community we have created in years past will just flow into the new year and welcome the new staff. What a strange notion!  We know as professionals that community must be nourished and preserved throughout the year and that every year we start anew.  So why does this not carry over into our staff development?  In fact, often in schools we act the opposite of how we expect our students to act.

We ask our students to work in groups, yet often close our own doors during collaboration time.

We ask our students to branch out and meet new people, yet we often stick to the same familiar faces, making it hard for anyone new to feel like they belong.

 We ask our students to discuss problems face-to-face, dialogue about issues, and come to an amicable agreement, yet we often speak ill of one another and shy away from conflict or confrontation.

We ask our students to work with new people and not always pick their best friends, yet we sit with those we know at our staff meetings and try to get into each others groups.

We ask our students to trust us as professionals, yet we don’t extend that trust to all of those we work with.

We ask our students to actively listen when we speak, yet we often bring work into meetings or have side conversations when someone speaks.

We ask our students to be up for the challenge, to embrace change, yet we roll our eyes and fight change whenever we can unless we are the ones wanting to do it.

We say this is a bully free zone, yet sometimes the bullies can be found amongst the teachers.

So we must focus on community and not just within our rooms.  We must act more like our students.

aha moment, Be the change, behavior

Why Don’t You Look Me in the Eyes?

Thea, my 3 year old, doesn’t look you in the eye.  In fact, she hardly ever stands still enough for her to  glance your way as you speak to her and very rarely does she look at you even if she is the one initiating the conversation.  At first I thought  it was just the way toddlers function, they haven’t learned conversational rules and etiquette and it falls once again upon the parents to teach it.  But once noticed, I noticed something else as well; how often I speak to her without looking at her.  How often is my back to her because my eyes are on my phone, my iPad, my computer and what she gets is an answer over my shoulder?  Too often…

And I am not alone.  My husband, Brandon, is the same way.  It drives me crazy when I try to speak to him and his eyes are on a gadget and he doesn’t even respond.  Yes, he may be busy, but still, the lack of conversational etiquette is annoying at best, infuriating at its worst.  Yet, this is our life, this is how we proceed through the day; constantly sacrificing the here and now for whatever is on the screen.  We are raising a generation of children that are not looked at when spoken to and then wonder why they do not look at us when we speak to them.

When will we make the connection between our own poor behaviors and those of our children?

So I have become very cognizant of how I speak to Thea, of how I look at the babies while I feed them rather than check Twitter or email.  I leave my phone in the car when visiting others, don’t bring my iPad unless we are spending the night, and my home computer does not stay open to the internet when I am not on it.  The less temptation there is to just check one more time, the more I focus on those that are important.  A small step indeed to togetherness and proper behavior, but a large one still since these skills will carry my children into the world, will open or close doors to them.  So if I do not model how to be in the now, how to be a respectful conversationalists, my children will bear the burden.  My children will be the ones to suffer from my own disengagement.  It does not matter that I may be learning something or working on something important, they should always take precedent and they do that by me looking them right in the eye.  Starting now.

behavior, classroom expectations, punishment, students

No School For You, Bully! But Did We Fix Anything?

The news broke last night that the 4 middle schoolers who were caught on tape tormenting their bus monitor received a year’s suspension from riding the bus as well as school.  A whole school year! (I should add they get to go to the district reengagement center, not just sit at home).  So while many cheered at the justice being served, I shook my head and once again thought about how we dole out punishment in the American educational system.

I am not here to argue that what they did was in any way justifiable.  I am not here to argue that they should not be punished.  But a year’s suspension?  Since when does any bullying incident result in a whole year away from school?  This seems to be another case of media sensationalism leading to excessive punishment, without actually thinking about how these kids could be helped instead.  Where is the repair?  The discussion of what led to all of this?  The plan for something like this to not happen again?

The sad thing is, we only know about this case because one kid foolishly published the video to Youtube, apparently proud of their achievement as bullies.  The bus monitor didn’t report it, or at least we don’t know that she did.  She also barely spoke up for herself throughout the ordeal, instead sitting their stoically taking whatever evil words they could fling at her.  How often does that happen, those untold stories of bullying that we only discover after it is too late?  How do school react to those stories where young children commit suicide due to the cruel nature of others?  What about the every day bullying that happens in our hallways, in our lunch rooms, at our recesses, right underneath our noses?  What punishment do those kids get?  How often do we say it is just a part of growing up, it is just a  part of school, it is just a part of life?  How often do we come up with a repair plan but then don’t follow through?  How often do we not believe the children that report the bullying?  So when a case like this one, that seems so cut and dry, we jump on it, flaunt our muscles, blame the parents and then punish those kids with every thing we have.  Those kids are going to pay.  Those kids will be an example.  Those kids will learn.  And yet, we don’t actually fix the problem.

So I wonder what can we as a society do to prevent these situations from happening?  And how can we serve justice in a way that makes sense, that makes children change their behaviors?  How do we focus in on all bullying and not just those cases that make it into the media, that start an outcry?  How do we teach children and adults, because adults are as much of a part of this as children, that bullying is vile and inhumane?  They say kids learn best from examples set, well, how are we setting the example?  What responsibility are we taking for all of this?  And how do we truly show kids that bullying is not just “not ok” it is deplorable?

behavior, being a teacher, punishment, Student

"Why Do You Only See the Bad, Mrs. Ripp?"

“Why do you always notice me when I am bad, Mrs. Ripp?…”

I stand there, stopped in my tracks.  Is that what I do?  Only notice this child when they have done something I didn’t want, when they have done something “bad?”  Do I ever praise them for when they are on task, not poking their neighbor, or just simply working really well?  I think I do, at least I hope I do and yet, this child is on my radar more frequently than others.  The level of distraction is just so high and the level of interference with others a constant.  Do I ever just say, “Nice work…” or just bite my tongue altogether?  I am not sure.

Perceived negative behavior zeroes us in wherever we are.  The people that speak the loudest.  The child that moves the most.  The student that just cannot get to work because they just have to do that one more annoying thing that you swear they know annoys you the very most out of all annoying things.  So if we let it, soon, that behavior is all we ever see.  We only see them moving when they shouldn’t, we only see them messing about, we only see them breaking all of the unwritten rules we have worked so hard to establish.  We only see the bad.

Why not give them a break?  Why not let them move about if that is what they need?  Why not smile or even just hold our words and let them shine for a little bit?  Fill them up rather than tear them apart?  Focus our energies elsewhere?  Just for a moment at least.  They know they are moving, they know they are poking, they know they are not working, and yet, let them figure it out.  Let them feel that we don’t just see the bad, we see the whole, and that whole is good enough.

image from icanread

attention, behavior, being a teacher, punishment, students

A Student Gives Up And I Get Even

His head was down, hoodie pulled over his eyes.  The frustration radiating out of him, the dry erase board lay there untouched, unwritten, and I thought to myself, “again?  Seriously…”  And the irritation in me kept growing.  This kid who obviously didn’t get what I was teaching had just given up, how dare he.  So I coaxed, I goaded, I even raised my voice a little trying to let him know that the choices he was making was not going to help him learn anything.  That I needed to be the center of his universe for him to understand it.  That we were not going down this road again today.

In my mind I knew I was going to have “the talk” with him once class was done.  I was going to tell him how unacceptable his behavior was, how disrespectful, how I would be emailing mom and speaking to his homeroom teacher.  I was going to give it to him good too because all I could see when I was teaching was that head down, hoodie up and that just wasn’t acceptable.

When class ended, he approached the table and I looked up and saw his look of sheer resignation, the, “Uh oh I am going to get it now and I don’t care because I just don’t get it”  attitude streaming from him.   So I said, “I noticed how tough math was for you today, how you had given up…” and I hesitated, noticed his downward glance.  “So I want  to thank you for continuing to try, for not thinking I was crazy in my explanations.  Please keep reaching out for help and I will try to get to you as soon as I can.  I know you can learn this, don’t forget that.”

Eyes up, shoulders back, and out he walked from my room.  Who knows what Monday will bring.

alfie kohn, behavior, Classroom, punishment, Teacher

So I Gave Up Punishment and the Kids Still Behaved

This year I gave up my inane punishment plans.  Out went the sticks, the cups, the posters, the pointed fingers and definitely the lost recesses.  No more check-marks, or charts to explain what that check-mark meant, no more raised voice telling a child they better behave or else.  Some thought I was crazy, I thought I was crazy, and yet, here I am ready to do it again next year.  So what happened?

Well, a lot of conversations.  If just one child was off that day, disruptive, disrespectful and so on, it was usually handled through a quiet conversation off to the side or in their ear.  Sometimes we went in the hallway.  I tried to limit the times I called out their names and I spoke to them as human beings.  No more teacher from the top, I am going to get you if you don’t listen, but rather, “Do you see what your behavior is doing for your learning?”  Believe it or not, framed in a way where they understood what the loss was = the learning, there was better behavior or at least an attempt to behave.  And that was a central part of my plan; make the learning something they don’t want to miss.  Most kids do not want to miss recess because they have a lot of fun and hang out with their friends, which is why it is such a favored punishment.  Hit them where it hurst kind of thing.  So I decided to make my classroom fun, exciting, and collaborative.  That meant that students actually wanted to participate and not miss out.

Sometimes my whole class was off; jumpy, jiggly, or falling asleep.  In the past I would have yelled, droned on, and probably lectured about the importance of school.  No surprise there that usually didn’t work at all.  So then I would just get mad, tighten the reins and exert my control.  After all, I was the adult here and the one that should decide everything.  Yeah, didn’t work so well.  This year I instead changed my teaching and learning.  While we may have had certain activities planned for that day they would be modified to require movement and discussion or totally changed if I could.  The learning goals usually stayed the same, the method didn’t.  Often this took care of a lot of behavior that would have led to a check-mark before.  And I think that is central to this whole thing; bad behavior often comes from disengagement and boredom.  So when we change our classrooms to give students more outlet for their energy, bad behavior reduces.  My worst days were the days that I hadn’t considered my students needs enough, the days were there was too much sitting down and not enough choice.

In the beginning it was hard.  I so instinctually wanted to say “Move your stick!” that I actually had to grind my teeth.  With time it got easier.  The students knew when they were misbehaving because we discussed it.  If the whole class or a majority of students were off we had a class meeting.  Sounds like a lot of time spent on talking?  Yes, but I would have been spending the same time yelling at the kids and doling out punishment.  The kids got used to it and many of them relished the fact that they were given a voice in their behavior and how to fix it, rather than a dictation from me.  Kids started keeping each other in line as well, asking others to be quiet when need be or to work more focused.  They knew what the expectations were for the different learning settings because we had set them together.  This was our classroom, not mine.

So did it work?  Absolutely, I would never go back.  I didn’t take away recess but had it reserved to work with the kids that needed it, I made fewer phone calls home, and I sent a kid to the office twice the whole year for recess related stuff.  I am sure there are tougher classes out there than mine, but this was your every day average American elementary class.  We had the talkers, the interrupters, the disrespectful, the fighters, and the sleepers.  And it worked for them as well.  The kids felt part of something, something big, and they let me know on the last day of school just how much it meant to them.  They relished the voice they had, even when it came to their own consequences.  They relished that rewards were no longer personal but rather classroom-wide whenever I felt like it.  Kids were not singled out for horrible behavior and so I didn’t have “that kid” that everyone knew would get in trouble.  Instead we were all there as learners being rewarded through our community rather than punished.  Yesterday while preparing form y switch from 4th to 5th, I put my old punishment cups to move your stick in into the lounge.  I hope no one picks them up.

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