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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aha moment, behavior, being a teacher, inspiration, Student-centered

Teach To Fit Your Students, Not You

Monday was a chatty day. One of those days where no matter what you do, the kids just cannot settle down and focus. One of those days where I would have moved a lot of sticks and gotten a lot of points. Except this day, I didn’t. There are no sticks to move, names to write or points to take in my room, and sometimes that is hard. You see, when you can punish students for a behavior they often change their demeanor for a short time. Punishment leads to submission and the day can keep moving. However, punishment also means that nothing corrective takes place or valuable for that student. So I don’t punish anymore.

And yet the kids, who are usually so on track, just had a hard time. Whether it was because of the impending blizzard, being tired, or one child starting the talk wave, I don’t know. But teaching proved difficult. In earlier years, I would have ended the day lamenting about how the students didn’t work hard or had problems focusing. Instead, this year I turned my glance inward and thought about how I could accommodate their jitteriness, their talkativeness, their seeming inability to it still too long. How could I change my teaching to make it a great day?

So Tuesday, I came prepared. We had decks of cards as manipulatives for math and the kids did most of the talking as we figured out probability. My planned lesson for literacy for our author study was switched to one about choral reading where the students had to create and perform their first ever choral read poem. We stayed focused on the day through small talk breaks discussiing the probability of a snow day. We spoke about our fifth grade friends in Egypt, we checked in on the live feed to an eagles nest, we took small body breaks stretching and then worked hard. That afternoon, we were able to feed our crayfish, clean their tanks and then have a small study hall with multitudes of choices. We ended with an exciting math game with our first grade reading buddies.

At the end of the day, I was unstressed. We had accomplished what we set out to do and we had also had a good day. The students had worked with their distractedness and made it a strength rather than, well, a distraction. I had realized that it is not my job to force my student into the learning, but instead shape my learning to accommodate my students. It is indeed not about me, but about them, and that is the most mportant thing to remember.

anger, assumptions, behavior, being a teacher, classroom expectations, classroom setup, noncompliance, students

Are We Forcing Students to be Noncompliant?

Noncompliance; just the word makes me shudder.  So many connotations, so much negativity connected to this word, particularly in a classroom setting and yet you hear it whispered in the hallways, “noncompliance…”  This word means:  The failure or refusal to comply, meaning someone who is not following directions whether intentional or not.  It is a mantra that we repeat, we must have students that comply in order to be successful.  Without compliance our classrooms would simply fall apart.  

Think about your day; you expect certain things out of the students for the classroom to work.  Perhaps these expectations are simple such as signing in, getting to work, hanging your backpack, and handing in your homework.  Or perhaps these expectations are ones that have been taught, such as raising your hand, not interrupting, working hard and trying your best.  Whatever your expectations, sometimes there are kids that do not comply.  I once had a student that didn’t comply, it was a tough year, everything was a battle.  And yet, it was not because of a refusal to do so, he simply failed in the act of complying.  He had too many demons to battle that there simply was not enough life energy left over to focus on all of my expectations and demands.   So he was, indeed, noncompliant.  

Think about the heaviness that comes with that word, though, when we label our students.  Is it really because they are truly refusing or is it because of failure in communications or expectations?  Perhaps a child becomes noncompliant because we set up perimeters in which they cannot succeed.  Think of the child that fiddles, that child will not perform as expected if we set them up with nothing to fiddle with.  Or the child that learns kinestethically rather than orally; if we continue to just talk rather than do, they might also not conform or do what we expect.

So when you set up your classroom expectations, think about what you are asking every student to do.  Does every rule need to apply to ever student?  How many rules or expectations does there really need to be?  Don’t forget about your hidden assumptions that you have to communicate as well.  What in your learning environment can you change to to give the biggest percent of kids a chance to be compliant?  We often assume that students defy us on purpose, rather than figuring out the reason.  And yet, sometimes the real reasons for students behavior may be something we would have never guessed.  Instead of battling later, don’t set your room up for battle instead set up your room for freedom so that students may have choices.  Offer them an opportunity to be successful, to be compliant, to want to learn, after all, most ids do really like school.  Let’s not take that away from them.

advice, aha moment, behavior, being a teacher, believe, choices, community, connections, hopes, inspiration, teaching

Give Them Strength to Grow – Chris’s Aha Moment

This week’s aha moment is shared by Chris Wejr, a K-6 principal in Agassiz, BC, Canada.  Chris is always quick with an understanding word, encouragement and advice even in non-school matters.  Never too busy to discuss or care, he is a wonderful person to have in your PLN.  This is his first time as a guest blogger do make sure you comment, follow him on Twitter at @mrwejr and add his blog to your must read list

“We don’t know who we can be until we know what we can do.” – Sir Ken Robinson

How can we truly see the potential of our students if we fail to provide the environment to bring out their talents?

I have always wanted to be a high school teacher and I was exactly that for 7 years. You never know where your life will lead you and, while completing my Master’s Degree, I was offered the opportunity to work with an amazing principal at an elementary school. Roxanne taught me to seek out the strengths in people and bring these talents out from within and opened my eyes to the power of strength-based, rather than deficit-based, teaching and leadership. My aha moment came in my first few months of being an elementary school teacher and a new vice principal.

When I did the tour of the school I was to be a teacher/vice principal, I met Daniel (pseudonym). Daniel had a smile that was contagious but was disengaged and struggled in school; the reason I met him that day was that he was in the hall after being asked to leave class. I never asked him why he was in the hall, I just started asking him about his life outside of school; we talked about music and friendships in the few moments we shared together on that day.

The next year, I was to teach a 5/6 class (in addition to the vice principal duties) so when we were creating the classes, I requested that Daniel be placed in my class. To be honest, in the first month, I really struggled with the transition from teaching 17 year-olds to teaching 11 year-olds. Many of the students had behaviour, social, emotional, and academic challenges so I spent many hours bouncing ideas off Roxanne and other teachers trying to find out how to reach these kids. I specifically started to talk about Daniel as he was so withdrawn in class – always refusing to take part in any learning activities and that smile that drew me to him seemed to have disappeared. She asked me what I knew about him; the truth was that I knew very little about him other than he struggled in class and liked music. She encouraged me to find out more about him; find out what he loved, what he was good at and try to bring that out in him.

During the next week, I spent a recess having a snack with Dan. I found out that he lived in a nearby community in which he spent two hours on the bus each day, lived with his Grandmother because his mother was far too young, and we shared a common interest in Johnny Cash. We spent much of the recess singing a variety of Cash songs and just laughing. Later that day, I was speaking with the First Nation Support Worker (Nelson), sharing with him about the moment that had occurred, and he let me in on another strength of Daniel: First Nation drumming and singing. He said this was something that he recently witnessed in his community but maybe something that we could support. The FNSW asked me if he could take Daniel and a few others to work on this interest; I believed this was a great opportunity so for 2 weeks, Nelson spent a few mornings a week drumming with Daniel and two others. What progressed after this changed the way I teach and live my life.

I asked Daniel if I could come watch one recess. I was blown away. Daniel was so into the drumming and singing that he would actually be sweating with pride as he was doing this. A few weeks later, I asked him if he could perform for our class – he unfortunately declined. Nelson encouraged him to sing and drum with him in front of our class. He nervously agreed and blew us all away when he performed; other students cheered when he finished and then asked if they could be part of “his group”. Daniel was now not only working with his strengths but also leading others to do the same. His group added girls and grew from 3 to 6 and then 8, including 2 students from another class. They played for our class every Monday morning, to start our week, and every Friday afternoon, to finish our week. They even gave themselves a name, Sacred Connections, and began to play for other schools and community events.

The moment that brought me almost to tears was right before Christmas. Each week, 1-2 new students would join up front in the singing and drumming. We often don’t see the impact of small changes but right before Christmas, the group actually had no people to play for, because every single student was up there singing with Daniel! To create an audience, I invited Roxanne and a grade 4 class to come and see the performance. We all sat there in awe of what Daniel had done not only as a performer, but also as a leader.

The other parts of Daniel’s school and life were drastically changing too. His friendships grew, his efforts in school improved and he became very engaged in learning activities. His reputation grew as a leader in the school and community and his group was asked to play at a local pre-Olympic Games (2010) event and in the spring he was asked to perform with Pow Wow drummers at a huge event in front of our entire school and community! Daniel had gone from a disengaged, quiet student who refused to take part in the learning to a proud leader and confident learner in our school.

That year was one that changed my life. It was not just one aha moment but a series of moments that shaped me as a person. I want to thank Roxanne, Nelson, and most importantly Daniel for teaching me that, as educators, the most important thing we can do is provide the optimal conditions for people to grow, bring out their strengths, and truly flourish.

advice, behavior, being a teacher, believe, blogging, never give up, New Category, students

But Mrs. Ripp, Blogging is Boring

My students are now seasoned bloggers, or so they would like to think anyway. So as I was congratulating myself on a job well done, noting how much they were loving it, imagine my surprise when one student exclaimed just the opposite, “Do we have to blog, Mrs. Ripp, it is soooo boring.” For anyone that has taught 4th graders you know exactly what this sounds like coming from a 9 year old boy that would rather fight jedis than listen to me teach.

Ahh, but aren’t you the fun teacher, some people may think. Well, I like to think I am, sometimes, or as my husband would say, I lull myself with delusions of funniness, but anyone who has ever tried to play the funny teacher when the curriculum gets tough, knows how difficult it can be. So there I stand with my blogging pride in my hands, racking my brain over what I did wrong. I get it; this kid is not a big fan of school to say it mildly, in fact, he told me I was the perfect teacher when I stated there would be little homework in my classroom if students worked hard in school. Much to his surprise, he doesn’t understand that if he doesn’t work during class, then there is work to be completed at home. Strike one against me; I went back on my promise. I also promised him that blogging would be fun; strike two, blogging is only fun when you can write about whatever you want and get lots of comments from people all over the world. However, people don’t leave comments if you don’t blog.

So what do you do when students hate that spectacular idea that you love so much? Well, my initial reaction was to put on my big girl pants, along with my teacher voice, and tell him it’s his own fault for not writing blogs that people want to comment on. Glad I stopped that train-wreck. I then thought about it some more and realized that I don’t know what to do. Sure I have some minor ideas such as asking him how I can make it fun, giving him free time to write, promoting his blog on #comments4kids and so forth. But how do you reach a kid that already has decided by 4th grade that school is not the place he wants to put in his energy, his dreams, his wishes or his time? I leave that question up to you, my fantastic PLN, what would you say to this child if you were me? How would you help him realize what excitement he can gain from learning? And most of all, how would you reach him before it really is too late?