Be the change, being a teacher, being me, punishment, student choice

A Small Question to Help Further Build Positive Relationships

I was speaking to my husband who is a first-year teacher and the topic of navigating student discipline came up, as it often does. He teaches middle school like me, and if there is one thing I know about middle-schooler it is how often they do not think through their decisions before they act. It leads to a lot of funny moments, but at times, also a lot of behavior displays that can be rather disruptive to the rest of the class or to themselves.

He asked me what I do when a child continuously disrupts. How do I approach them to help them change? And while I laughed a little because I am not sure that we can really make a child change, I do believe that there are ways we can invite them into a conversation about their choices without jumping right into punishment. And that has been a major change for me; slowing down before jumping to conclusions, but then how do you do that at the moment when perhaps you also feel heated and a bit indignant at yet another disruption?

I use a simple question, “Are you okay?” before proceeding with any decisions. I have used it so often that it is now hardwired into my language. This is to slow me down, to increase communication, to recognize behavior as a way of communication, and to center my approach in unconditional positive regard.

When I first started using it many years ago, I had to really think about it. Our brains are wired to jump into decision-making rapidly, in fact, educators reportedly make thousands of decisions every single day, each one opening a new instructional possibility. No wonder we often switch into a rapid-fire mode when navigating a child’s seemingly poor decisions; we have so many other things to juggle at that moment. But it is often this automaticity that can backfire in the long run, rather than recognize the uniqueness of the situation at hand, we treat it as if it is routine. Perhaps sometimes it is when handling a child’s repeat decisions. And yet, we must come into each situation recognizing its uniqueness and its opportunity for exploration. Asking, “Are you okay? “ and following up with “This does not seem like you…” (even if it is a repeated behavior pattern) signals that we are concerned about the human in front of us and not just the choice they have made.

That pause also allows us to recalibrate ourselves and get our emotions in check before proceeding further with a conversation. This can make the difference between strengthening a relationship or doing further damage.

Of course, if students are engaged in dangerous behavior, such as fighting, or physical destruction on a larger scale, I don’t often use this approach. When safety is at risk, other communication methods are used, but this does not happen as often as our brain sometimes wants us to believe. Slowing down, seeing the child as a child, no matter their size, and recognizing the inherent power imbalance at play, can help us navigate many behavioral situations.

And more importantly, I am worried about them and their well-being. So why not ask before we jump to further conclusions?

This post originally appeared in my Patreon community, where I share weekly lesson plans, resources, curated book lists, mini-pd recordings, and also live Q&As. If you would like to learn more frequently with me, I invite you to join. If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me coach, collaborate with your teachers, or speak at your conference, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  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.

Be the change, being a student, punishment, student choice, Student dreams

What Are They Trying to Say?

Black,                 Free Image

As I sat with colleagues not too long ago discussing a shared former student, it was mentioned how she still sees me as an ally even though I no longer teach her. Hard to believe as this was the same child that slammed my door loud enough to shake the team area while telling me exactly what she thought of me and *!@&*% class. And yet, still, to her, I am someone who cares. To her, I am someone who still has her back, despite our ups and downs while I had her.

We all have these children in our memories, perhaps you are teaching one right now (or many). The kids whose love language seems to be filled with protest, with ways to push us as far away as possible. Whose method of communicating their lives and their needs do not follow the same path as our own. How these kids, our kids, sometimes are the ones that carve out the biggest place in our days and in our hearts as we try to understand what it is they are trying to tell us. How they often make us feel like failures when our latest attempt at connection was dismissed and not enough. And yet….in every moment, in every day, we have this incredible chance to show that no matter what they throw at us, we can still be there, we can still care, we can still ask if they are okay rather than react in a more volatile way.

We speak so often of our vision for what our schools should look like. What they should sound like (silent in some cases which is terrifying but that’s for another day). What they should feel like for every kid. We plot and we plan. We dream and we train, and yet, some of that seems to be forgotten the very moment a child fails to live up to our expectations (thank you, Shana White for that thought). The moment a child seemingly steps out of line. We throw our hands up in exasperation, lose our temper, and quickly a situation that did not need to spiral out of control has done just that. Just because we had to prove a point.

I can only speak for myself, I try to not yell. It is something I work very hard at. Not because there are no situations where yelling might be used, but because I think the act of an adult yelling is only to be used in true emergencies. Yelling is only to be used when things are really dire. I don’t want to scare, nor intimidate my students, why would I? Instead, I try to treat these kids as the human beings they are; complicated beings who are carrying their own set of burdens every single day, just like I do. I try to treat them the same way I want to be treated; with concern, with an eye on my humanity. Not in an angry, authoritarian way, because in the long run, it does more damage than good.

So as I think about our school system, about the horrible inequities that exist, especially for marginalized populations, I think of what I can do. How I can certainly share the information that inspires me such as this article from Teaching Tolerance, but also the small things that I can do within my own sphere; our classroom. How I can approach each situation with calmness, how I can approach each child with care rather than anger. How I can ask if they are okay rather than jump to conclusions, how I can ask how I can help, how I can respond in calm rather than anger. How I can use humor and trust to try to diffuse the situations that arise. That I can try to be a part of a classroom that functions on humanity rather than punishment. How when I mess up, because I will, I can apologize and try to do better.

I know that every child is trying to tell us who they are, they just do it in many different ways, and sometimes those ways can be seen as a challenge. Yet, I know how deeply I care about my own story being told and heard, I can only imagine that our students do as well. Yes, our system needs to change, and we need to be a part of that, but that change starts right within our own spaces in how we treat the very children we get to teach every single day. How we protect their humanity even as they sometimes rage. We will never know their story if they don’t ever trust us enough to share it.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  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.   

being a student, being a teacher, being me, punishment

When We Don’t Just Punish

He stares at me in silence, eyes cutting through me like knives.  He turns his back, message sent loud and clear; conversation over, nothing resolved.    And I feel my heart beat faster, my judgment gets cloudy and part of me wants to punish.  Wants to give a consequence.  How dare you turn your back, how dare you refuse, how dare you not do as you are told.

I could send him out, I could call the principal.  I could take away, I could call home. I could punish, many probably would, yet I know that it wont solve, it wont make it better. I need a solution and that wont come from a phone call, a detention, public shaming through a behavior chart, or a lost privilege.  In fact, it won’t come from corporal punishment either although some states still seem to think so.  The answer doesn’t lie within the punishment. It hardly ever does.

So when we don’t punish a child, when we don’t force them into behaving, then what?  When we lose the easy way out, and trust me punishing a child is always the easy way out, then what do we do?  We worry, we reflect, we reach out to to others, and we don’t give up.  We search for answers that may not be easily found and we realize just how inherently human we are.  That it is hard to work with students who seem to take pleasure in finding every one of our buttons and then pushing them over and over.  Just waiting for our reaction, waiting for when we will give up and finally dole out a punishment.  That sometimes, even when you have been teaching for a while, you do not have all of the fixes and that when you are working with human beings there are no easy answers.

His back glares at me, seemingly waiting for my response, and so I clear my throat, clench my fist and say, “I am here if you need me” and I walk away.

That day I didn’t solve the problem.   Complicated situations always take more time.  In fact, I wonder if I ever will, but I know that if I had punished, if I had gone down my list of what to do that someone taught me in college, that child would not have changed.  He would have dug his heels in and fought me harder.  Because sometimes the kids that push us away.  Sometimes the kids that fight us the hardest.  Sometimes the kids that seem like they hate us with every fiber of their being are the ones that need us the most.  Even if they find the hardest way to show it.

So I will continue to take deep breaths, knowing that tomorrow brings a new day.  To realize that perhaps this is personal because it really is, because in the defiance is a test of relationship; how far can I push before the love is gone.  How far can I go before this teacher finally snaps.

I am only human but within my own humanity I find my answer; don’t give up.  Keep trying.  Stay the course.  Don’t punish but continue to be there.  Continue to try.  Sometimes simply not giving up is the only answer we need.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.


Be the change, being me, punishment

On Public Shaming and Our Classrooms

image from icanread
image from icanread

I used to yell students’ names across the classroom, making sure that everyone knew who was now in trouble.  I had the teacher voice down coupled with the stern glance.

I used to have students write their names on the board when they messed up.  That name served as a public reminder of their poor decisions all day and showed them that I meant business.  It was a wonderful display of who could not figure out how to behave well.

I used to have students call their parents in the middle of class to tell them when they were having a bad day.  Three strikes you are out was the way we worked.  I figured it didn’t matter that the rest of the class could hear their call, after all, that would probably just act as a deterrent for the rest of them.

I did not think I was shaming children, after all, children thrive on rules and routines.  Therefore, these rules were definitely helping them become better citizens of our school.

After a year, the names on the board did not seem to work so well, so I switched to sticks in a cup.  Everyone started in the green cup, your poor decisions moved you to yellow or red.  The sticks never moved backwards and we reset at the end of the day.  The names were no longer on the board, but the stick moving, that happened in front of the class.  That walk of shame where all eyes were on a child as they were told to “Move their stick” was a daily occurrence.  In our classroom everyone knew who the “bad kids” were, and so did their parents, after all, students love to share stories about how so and so got in trouble that day.

Then my firstborn got a little older.  She got a little more energy.  She wasn’t that good at sitting still or even paying attention at times.  She had so much to do and so many things to see.  And in her, I quickly saw the future.  If she got a teacher that used these systems of public shaming, she would be the kid that would move her stick.  She would be the kid whose name would be on the board.  And I would be that parent, wondering why my child was being publicly shamed for behaviors she was trying so hard to control.  For things that she did not do to intentionally harm the instruction, but simply needed support to work through.

So I stopped.  I threw it all out.  It turns out that you can have classrooms that thrive without the shaming from public punishment.  That you can have well-functioning classrooms without the public behavior charts.  That students will try to correct behavior and set goals with you when you remove the element of shame and try to problem solve instead.  That they will see you as an ally, rather than just a punisher, and that will get you much further when you try to help them become better human beings.

There are only a few things I am willing to fall on the sword for on this blog.  Previous experiences have shown me that most ideas in education are not black and white.  There are always more than 2 sides to every story, and every teacher teaches differently, and that does not mean they are not good teachers, it just means they are different.  But today, I will make an exception.

The public shaming that happens to students in our schools has to stop.  The reliance on public displays of punishement as a way to control behavior has to stop.  And the first place we stop it is by getting rid of public behavior charts.  Those clip systems that tell the whole world something that should be a private conversation between a teacher, a student, and the parents.

Whether it is a clip-system, the move-your-stick, the flip-your-card, or the put-your-name-on-the-board, and yes I used most of them myself, we have to find a better way.  We have to try because we are creating schools where children hate coming.  Where parents worry that their child will be singled out for having energy, for being excited, for not being able to sit still all day.  Where teachers are forced into roles as enforcers rather than nurturers.  I know that there needs to be consequences.  I know that we have to help students navigate behavior in our classrooms, but there are better ways then asking a child to create a permanent reminder and public display of how they are having a very bad day.

I am not proud of the mistakes I have made as a teacher.  I am not proud of the things I have tried that have hurt children rather than helped them.  But I am willing to write about it in the hopes that it will start a dialogue.  That perhaps someone, somewhere, will take a moment to rethink something that seems to be so ingrained in our classrooms.  That perhaps this post will help someone wonder what they can do instead.   Because there is so much that can be done instead, there are so many ways to build community, to build better relationships, to still have consequences, and create classrooms where kids have a chance at thriving.  All kids, not just the ones that know how to behave.  But we have to take the first step.  We have to take down the charts, remove the cups, erase the names.  We have to create classrooms that do not run on shame, but run on community. I speak not just from my teacher heart, but from that of a parent.  Our children deserve better than this.  And it starts with us.  Even if it makes us nervous.  Even if we are not sure of what to do instead.  I will help.  Just ask.

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, being me, building community, classroom management, punishment, rank, Student-centered, students

Let’s Discuss Class Dojo For a Moment

I get asked a lot about my feelings about Class Dojo and whether or not I use it.  I think it has to do with my very public stance on the use of public rewards and public punishment, which can be a component of this program.  So I am finally taking the plunge; let’s discuss Class Dojo for a moment.

I have never used Class Dojo, which is why I hesitate to give my opinion, yet that very opinion is why I won’t use it.  My first hesitation is cemented in the public ranking system that it uses. As a parent of a child who often has more energy than her peers, I can only imagine how she would feel if her name was constantly shown to be on the bottom because she is that kid that talks out of turn or gets out of her seat.  Ranking her would not help her curb those behaviors, nor make her more aware, she knows already, she works on it every single day, and yes, she feels bad.  She is also 6 years old and can only focus on so much at a time.   As a teacher who gave up public punishment and rewards five years ago, I don’t see the need for any child to know how another child is doing in a class.  I don’t think it fosters community. I don’t think it makes kids feel good about their role in the classroom.  I know that some will argue that having a visual reminder of how they are doing, much like a public behavior chart, is just fine, yet the parent heart in my breaks.  Visual reminders of consequences is one thing, but having students names attached to the levels of behavior is another.  Yes, kids should be held accountable for their actions, but if we use a system that often ranks children and we don’t see a change in their behavior then that ranking does not work.

My second hesitation is the time factor.  I cannot imagine spending time in my day entering in behavior information for every child and handing them points for both good and bad behavior, even if there is an app for my phone.  I cannot imagine trying to track student engagement through a program, I track that through my eyes and my reading of the classroom all the time.  I teach 130+ students, if I had to enter points or take them away every time they did something good or bad, that is all I would do.  Plus, in my own experience with point systems, I almost always forgot to award good points which meant that once again my focus was just on the negative behaviors.  Praise, in my opinion, should be delivered immediately and be sincere, not entered on a computer.  I have seen kids light up because I noticed something they did, and I have seen praise spread from child to child just because someone said something.  While behavior is an essential part of our day it should be an undercurrent, constantly running, not a major focus all day, every day.  I wonder, does this program bring behavior into the spotlight so much that it takes up more time than it needs to?

My third, and final, major hesitation is the direct communication to parents through the reports.  I am a huge believer in thorough parent communication, but I wonder whether parents need to be able to check on their child’s behavior every single day, every single moment.  I think back to my own school days and my “off days,” where I was glad that my mother didn’t always know.  Not because she would punish me if she did, but because it gave me a chance to have an off day and still be ok.  To change my behavior because I wanted to, not because I was told to do so by my mother.   I also worry about those few kids that do face major consequences from parents if they are seemingly misbehaving.  Those students where any small infractions causes physical harm or deprivation in their home environment.  Sure, this does not happen with every child, but for some it does.  Class Dojo highlights it product with this line “Get parents informed and on your side quickly and easily.”  Yet, I didn’t know parents weren’t on our side, or that sides even had to be taken?  If parents are on our side, who are we fighting against?  The kids?  Finally, as a parent, I would not want to know how my child does every single day.  I trust that she is having good days unless I am told otherwise.  She is often the first one to tell me if she gets in trouble, which leads to a good conversation about choices.  If I knew every single day about every single thing, I wonder how hyper-focused I would become?  What would my focus be when my kid came home from school?

Yet, within my doubts about the positives of this program, I have also met good teachers that have implemented it in a meaningful way, where they have not used the ranking, nor made it public, but rather used it as way to track behaviors within the classroom.  I have discussed it with teachers that have made the program their own and swear by it.  I am not here to judge those teachers, but instead start a discussion.  So if you are one of those teachers, please add your voice, because in the end, I wonder whether a program like Class Dojo is good for students?  Not for teachers or for parents because that is not who school is for, but for students?  Is this program, or something similar, re-engaging students in their classrooms, creating positive learning environments for all, and creating permanent changes in behavior?  Or is it one more tool to punish those kids that already have enough negativity associated with schools?  What do you say?  What is your experience?

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.

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.