aha moment, assumptions, being a teacher, control, student voice

When I Finally Stopped Speaking


It struck me as hard as a hammer.  6th period Friday.  The fourth time I was teaching this lesson.  The fourth time I had students go through the discussion questions, do the turn and talk, and then come back together.  It hit me so hard that I instantly cringed a little bit, because why in the world I hadn’t thought of this sooner?  If only I had listened to that little nagging voice we all have inside, if only I had tuned in as it screamed,  “Stop talking, Pernille.  Stop interrupting their conversations.  Stop rushing them through what you think they need to get through and let them speak to each other.”

And yet, after only a minute of talking, I felt the ticking time.  I saw the hands moving as class slowly trailed away and so I kept interrupting them.  Guiding them to the next thing that we had to do.  Telling them to finish up So that we had the entire foundation laid.  So that I could place a check mark in my planner and move on to the next thing, knowing that we had done everything we were supposed to and gotten to the end of the text.   Yet, this is exactly what we should not be doing in our classrooms.

Too often, we rush.  Too often, we hurry so that we can cover things.  Too often we get through a lesson rather than realize that what we are doing in that moment is the lesson; is the point of school.  We say we want students who speak up and exhibit deep thinking, yet then limit this very thing as we teach.  We must slow down.  We must stop our incessant teacher talk, our incessant interruptions as we guide and mold and let students think, then let them speak.  And when they are done speaking let them sit in the silence for just a moment so they can be sure they are completely done speaking.

Teaching is not about getting through.  Teaching is not about getting things done.  Teaching is not about completing every single lesson we had planned so we can say that we did it, we followed the path and now we have taught.  Now our students have learned.  It is about the path we take to get there.  The exploration we have along the way.  The time we give to our students to speak so that we may listen.

So in that 6th hour on Friday, I finally stopped speaking. I finally stopped interrupting them and just let them speak.  Those who ran out of words looked at me expectantly waiting for me to start again, but then saw how others were still going in their conversations and that spurred them on to keep speaking.  I bounced from group to group, not interjecting, but listening instead.  Nodding and smiling as I saw them start to become what I hope they will be; kids that have an opinion, kids that have a voice.  After a few more minutes, a child asked a question so good that I knew we could discuss this as a class.  And so we did.  And I didn’t interrupt.  I didn’t shape the conversation.  I let them speak and they loved it.  Because it was about them and not me.  Their learning and not just my teaching.  Just the way it is supposed to be.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

Be the change, being a teacher, connect, control, principals, trust

Dear Administrators, Can We Tear Down the Great Divide?

Dear Administrators,

I am not sure I am the right one to bring this up,in fact,  I am not sure it is my place to start this conversation.  Yet, this blog has offered me a voice that not all teachers have, a place to start a public discussion that is needed.  That doesn’t mean I am the best one to bring it up, but here goes nothing.

There has always been a divide between administration and teachers it seems.  From the poor jokes about going to the dark side to the hushed conversations behind closed doors discussing the latest admin “screw up,” it seems that there is an invisible mountain between teachers and administration that both sides don’t understand the origin of.  It is not that anyone wants to think of the other as being on another side and yet it crops up in conversation time and time again.  But I am starting to wonder why we all seem to be okay with it.  It seems to just be an accepted fact when I don’t think it should be.  After all, are we not all trying to educate the same children?

So what is it that is creating it, and more importantly what can we do?  Because I hear over and over that teachers don’t think their administration will believe in whatever idea they have, or their administration won’t give them permission, and I am always left wondering if this really is true.  Do they really know that or is it just an assumption?  In fact, how often do we assume what someone else may say or think and thus feel defeated?  How often do we blame our administrators for something when we don’t know if it is really their fault?  How often does our own fear of having a courageous conversation create unintended barriers?

Perhaps the divide has to to do with trust.  While I believe almost all administrators trust their staff, I wonder how often that is explicitly communicated.  Not just in words but in actions. I wonder how many times trust is assumed rather than discussed, how many times both sides assume that the other know their intentions.  What if we decided that the other side couldn’t read our minds and instead started asking questions?  What if we were told that administration trusted us in both words and action, would that break the divide?  What if teachers started to tell their administrators that they trusted them, what would that do?

What if we gave second chances?  What if we, every day, gave each other a new chance at doing what is best?  What if we actively tried to create a community of educators just like we work on it with our students?  What then?

I don’t know what the answer is.  I am not an administrator, just a teacher who wants to find a solution. So dear administrators and other educators reading this, what do you think?  How do we tear down the great divide?  What can I tell all those teachers who feel like their administration will never trust them?  Who feel like their administration will never understand what they do, what they are trying to do, and who feel no one has their back?  Because I don’t think it’s true but maybe I am wrong, I have been wrong so many times before.

Thank you,


PS:  I am absolutely loving all of the great conversations that are happening due to this post.  Here are a few responses to the post on other blogs.

John Bernia wrote a great response 
So did Melissa Emler here 

And Brandon Blom here

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

aha moment, Be the change, behavior, being me, classroom management, control, punishment, student voice

The Story of A Poster – How Hanging a Consequence Poster Changed the Way I Taught

I remember the poster well,  I had spent more than an hour on it, I had really taken my time to make sure each letter was meticulously printed, outlined, and filled in with sharpie.  In fact, I had started over several times when the result was not quite as eye catching as I wanted it to be.  I remember sending the poster through the laminator holding my breath a bit, after all, sometimes that pesky laminator ate all of my hard work.  Not this time though; this poster made it through and now graced the best location on my wall; right above the sink so that every single time a student washed their hands or threw something out, this poster would catch their eye.   In fact, it hung in the one spot that you could see all the way from the hallway; any person who walked by the classroom would know what mattered most to us.  What was this magical poster that I was so proud of, you may ask?  My consequences for breaking the rules.

Yup, my first two years of teaching the one thing I was most proud off was the poster that stated what would happen if you misbehaved in my classroom.  I loved it.  I thought it sent a clear message to the students about the type of classroom they were in, who held the power, and just what the expectations would be every single day.  I loved that it was the first thing people noticed, after all, that must have meant that others knew how serious I was about classroom management.  That although I was a new teacher, I knew how to control these 4th graders.

I loved the message it sent because it certainly sent one loud and clear; every day my students knew that they could be punished.  That if they screwed up there would be consequences.  That the whole class would know if they had done something wrong, because the very first consequence was to write your name on the board.  If you broke the rules again a check mark got added, and if you broke the rules one more time then it was an automatic phone call home, in front of the class.  Infractions included talking during class, leaving the class without permission, and any kind of rude behavior.  If you were a kid who had trouble sitting still, your name was almost always on the board by the end of the day.  The poster ruled the day.

After two years, when I changed the way I taught, I pulled down that poster.  Terrified of the future and breaking the rules, yet I knew there had to be a better way to handle misbehaviors than what the poster said.  That check-marks and names on the board was not a way to build community, but instead splintered it every single day.  My students didn’t need the constant reminder, they already knew that there were behavior expectations.  They already knew who the teacher was.  They already knew how to behave in school.  What they needed to know instead was that there was also flexibility.  That I saw them as a whole person and not as a person to be controlled or punished into behaving.

When I first hung the consequence poster on my wall, I thought it signaled strength, management, and someone who was on top of their teaching game.  What I didn’t realize was all of the other things it signaled as well.  That this was my classroom, my rules, and that they didn’t have a say in how situations would be handled because the rules were clear.  It told them that every situation, no matter the back-story, would be given the same consequences no matter what.    By hanging that poser on the wall, I could never make my students believe that this was our classroom because the poster would always signal otherwise. It made a liar out of me.

Five years without a consequence poster on my wall and I have no regrets.  My students have shown me that they know who the teacher is, what the expectations are, and that this is a community of learners.   They know if they make poor decisions there will be consequences, but more than likely those consequences will be figured out with them, not thrust upon them without hesitation.  They know that the rest of the class no longer needs to know who is in trouble, because it is a private matter.  I pulled down a poster so that my students would finally believe that within these four walls, we share the control.  Are you able to pull down yours?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

assumptions, being me, control, punishment

When a Child Gets Angry – We Punish

It has been two days since a black unarmed teenager was shot and killed by a police officer here in Madison.  15 minutes from my house.  He went to the high school across my street.  For the past two days, we have checked the news, watched the protests unfold, and searched for answers much like the rest of the country.  This is not a post on what happened, because I do not know.  But in the past two days I have been inherently aware that we live in a country that solves its problems with force.  That we keep ending up in situations where unarmed children are being killed because that is the resort we go to.  As the teen’s grandmother shouted to the police, “Why not just tase him?”

We see it in our schools as well; the escalation of punishment and force when a child, according to us, gets angrier.  When a child loses control and reacts in a negative way, we take away the rest of their control to show them that we mean business.  They lose all power over their day and then we wonder why they get angrier rather than just give in.  When a child comes to us angry, we assume more will follow and we prepare plans for what to do when that anger comes, not plans for how to keep it at bay.  We live in a society that punishes rather than investigates.

I have had the angry children in my classroom.  I have had the kids with the file, with the police records.  With the outbursts that scared me.  I have had the child who threw a table across the room when another child called him a name.  I have had the child where parents didn’t want their child in the same room, afraid of what would happen.  I get it; fear is a powerful emotion, and when it comes to being fearful for our own safety or that of others, it becomes critical that we react.

Yet it is within our reaction that we must pause.  If a child is angry or violent, we must ask why?  We must dig for answers until something is uncovered.  Yes, start the plans, but start the investigation at the same time.  Relationship and trust has to be our first line of defense, not excessive force.  Not assuming that the worst will happen, thus waiting for it to happen, and then not being surprised when it does.  If we look at an angry child and expect anger, we will find it.  If we look at a child that may become out of control, they will.  Our mindset is what has to change, even if it means pausing before reacting.  We have to stop our line of escalating punishments if they are not solving the problem.

So with all of my angry students, I had the showdowns.  I didn’t always call for the principal, and perhaps I should have, but instead I stood my ground and asked questions; why are you doing this?  Why is this your reaction?  How can I help?  I even cracked a joke or two.  And it wasn’t a miracle, these children did not change overnight, they still got angry, they still threw chairs, but at least sometimes I knew why and I could work on that.  Yes, there were consequences, but they were ones that made sense; speaking to the counselor or the psychologist, working through it with me, parents getting involved, teams put in place.  Not suspension, not detention, not always.

For the past 5 years I have tried to give power back to my students.  I have asked them what they need in our classrooms to learn.  I have listened and tried to provide a classroom that they felt in control over, where there was room for them, where they didn’t have to escalate to get what they needed.  I have moved away from my own instant judgment and punishment as much as possible.  It has been hard.  My gut reaction has often been to punish, yet I knew that long-term it would not help the child but only grow the problem.  I am not alone, other educators have been doing this for years, so how do we do it as a nation?  How do we move away from more and more force being used, from creating more angry children who end up becoming angry adults?  What can we change?  And what can we change right now?

PS:  I don’t know what prompted the officer to shoot Tony, I don’t know if there was anger.  The post is simply the train of thoughts that were prompted based on what my community is going through.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being me, control, students

It’s Time to Embrace the Princess

“This one mommy!!!”  Thea runs up to me with the frilliest, ruffliest princess dress I have ever seen.  “Mommy, this one is beautiful…”  and from then on, no matter how many other cool costumes I point out her heart is set; she will go as Rapunzel in her wedding dress no less for this year’s Halloween.

Part of me wants to say no, part of me wants to stomp my feet, shake my head, roll my eyes.  Could Thea play more into our gender roles?  Of course, she wants a princess dress this year.  Of course, she will not even glance at Spiderman or even a witch.  She wants to be the belle of the ball.  Yet, I thought we had it beat.  This is the kid that was Buzz Lightyear last year, the kid that loves to run, climb, and be rough.  Granted she does it in full pink outfits, preferably with sparkles, but she isn’t afraid.  So why am I bothered so much?

Someone told me they would never introduce princesses to their daughter, that they didn’t hold that value in esteem.  We never introduced Thea to princesses either, we never told her to act like a girl, to twirl in big dresses or crave sparkly shoes.  She did that herself.  She found things that she thinks are beautiful and so is drawn to them.  I don’t wear pink, I don’t wear sparkles, I am not really a girly girl, and yet she epitomizes the American girly girl.  All by herself.

My husband hates all of the pink and does his best in trying to get her to wear other colors. He is worried what the pink may signify to her; the princess mentality it seems to symbolize.  I, on the other hand, am not worried.  Not that much anyway.  I don’t think the  dresses mean she thinks she is a princess who will not work for herself.  The sparkly shoes does not mean she will be lazy or expect others to do all of the work, she just thinks they are beautiful.

I realize it is who she is, much like the students that show up in our classrooms already embracing their roles in school.  And no matter how we try to point them in different directions, most of the time they are perfectly happy being the person they are.  Most of the time they can’t help it.  And we have to embrace that.  We cannot turn a quiet kid into a loud one.  We cannot turn an extrovert into an introvert.  We cannot expect to either, but we can show other tenets of personality.  We can help them develop their character and see the strength in their personality.  We can give them a space in which they can fully embrace who they are, rather than face more judgment.  As adults we tend to want to change things to make things easier, to have things work out the way we envision it, but we cannot do that with kids.  We can try to guide them but we cannot push them into the mold we envision fit them best.  So although we think we know best, sometimes we just have to step back, hold our breath and watch them develop.  Even if that means pink, sparkles, and princess dresses every day.

being a teacher, control, education reform

Forced Education is Not Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Image from here

An interesting debate has been sparked in the comments section of my post “Not Grading is Awful” on the Cooperative Catalyst, with some people stating that forced school is inhumane.  I have been pondering this for a bit and I must say I disagree; having an educational system that is mandatory is not inhumane, not having one would be.  And neither is forcing courses on students, it all comes down how those courses are taught, which incidentally is something we do have a bit of control over.

Now I know that we are tied to standards and district regulations, the politicians are breathing down our neck to raise test scores and there are, indeed, major flaws within our educational system, and yet…There are many things we can change within the public school setting.  I did.  But back to the original point that forced courses or mandatory education is cruel and unusual punishment and that students should have a free reign instead over what they study and how.  I disagree.  I think students should be expected to take certain classes simply because education is what rounds us out at human beings.  Particularly in the primary grades.  I loved climbing trees as a child and could have spent most of my days outside roaming around with my knife, and yes because of school I couldn’t pursue that all day, however, that childhood passion would certainly not have led me down the path of teaching.  Instead going through school and having a foundation to do further studies on led me to where I am.  Children may have the curiosity to explore, and that should never be stifled, however, we must support that curiosity with basic common knowledge and a well-rounded worldview.

So some may argue that there is no point in knowing historical facts that do not directly relate to whatever we end up pursuing as a career.  Some may argue that much of math is arbitrary for most people who simply do not end up using it.  Some even say that grammar and how to write an essay is superfluous knowledge that does us no good.  I disagree.  I think all of these lead us to where we end up.  I think knowledge as a whole is needed to be a citizen, to be a knowledgeable member of society, to be respected and accepted.  So I may not remember all of the days of grammar drilling, or spelling lines, or even math facts, but I see the result of them; me teaching it to my students but trying to make it more interesting.

I think we sometimes mistake the whole notion of education for all as flawed, where instead we should be focusing in on the parts that are.  Drill and kill, sometimes that is a necessary component.  Teacher talking, yep that too.  However, how we teach becomes just as important as what we teach.   And that is something we all have control over in this endless debate of education policy.