Monday, October 30, 2017

Isn't It Your Job To Teach Me?

The teacher asked her students to make some decisions about the direction of the learning. The lesson required independent thought and initiative.

But one student resisted, "Isn't it your job to teach me?"

Have you ever heard a question like that from one of your students? It's a question that was asked by a student in our school. And to me it illustrates the way many students have come to believe that learning is a product of their compliance with a teacher. 

Just tell me what I need to know. Tell me what to do, what to learn. Teach me. Isn't that YOUR job?

Another student said to me, "I just want to take notes and then have a test." This comment came from a student in a classroom where students are expected to own a considerable amount of the learning and develop original thoughts. Learning in this class is demonstrated through projects and authentic activities.

I don't blame these students for thinking this way. I think, at least in part, they are simply a product of a system that has conditioned them to be passive learners. 

So who owns the learning? The student? The teacher? Both?

How would you respond if you heard these words from your students? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, October 27, 2017

9 Mistakes That Sabotage Your Classroom Management

If you've followed my blog, you might know I really like to refer to classroom management as classroom leadership. But that's not how we typically think of it.

Regardless of what we call it, it's challenging. It's one of the toughest things for early career teachers to get a handle on. And even seasoned teachers will have their fair share of challenges and not know how to respond in every situation.

It really has to be an ongoing process of learning and growth. No one ever has it all figured out.

So if you're struggling with student behaviors, give yourself a break. Keep working at it. Learn from others. Study different methods. And reflect on your own failures and successes.

In this post, I'm looking at some of the BIG mistakes that can happen when a teacher is frustrated or has a lapse in judgement. It's important to think about these in advance to plan for these NEVER to happen. When they do, it undermines the development of a positive classroom and healthy culture of learning.

These behaviors are harmful to kids and can harm your ability to develop a respectful, orderly classroom environment.

9 Mistakes That Will Sabotage Your Classroom Management

1. Painting a child into a corner.

Your most challenging students will often try to engage the teacher in power struggles. A skilled teacher can avoid these high stakes moments. The goal is to stop a disruptive behavior while also keeping the student in class. It's important to avoid a showdown between student and teacher. These situations end up with everyone losing. The teacher doesn't have to win in the moment. The situation needs to be addressed in the moment, but fully resolving a problem can happen at a later time. After some time passes, the results are often much better than escalating the situation when emotions are hot. 

2. Handling private matters publicly.

Students don't want to lose face in front of their peers. You can always delay and say, "Let's talk about this later." Just be sure to follow up as you promised. If a student feels disrespected or belittled in front of others, it will not end well. Try to keep tough conversations private. The tone will often be much different when there is not an audience.

3. Failing to give a kid a fresh start.

We all want to have an opportunity for a fresh start. We don't want to be judged by our worst moments. Our students need forgiveness too. So after an issue is resolved, let the student know they have a clean slate. Today is a new day. Let them know you believe in them and expect them to do great.

4. Using cutting sarcasm.

Sarcasm can be very dangerous. I've seen it used in a way that is not threatening and is just playful, but sarcasm can be degrading and manipulating. The best advice is to not use sarcasm at all. 

5. Speaking poorly of someone's friends or family.

Never criticize a student's friends or family members. You can certainly stand up for what's right, but don't pass judgments on people. It's also very important to never talk badly about a student when they are not present. If you wouldn't make a comment in front of that student's mother or grandmother, you probably shouldn't say it to a group of students or another teacher. If your harsh comment gets back to the student, it will be difficult to ever repair the relationship.

6. Speaking poorly of another staff member.

Never criticize another staff member in front of students as this creates a toxic environment. And, always defend a colleague if students are being critical. Even fair criticism isn't fair when it's shared at the wrong time and location. Tell your students if they have a concern with another teacher they should go talk to that person directly. If you have a concern with another teacher, you too should speak to them directly about it and not complain about them behind their back.

7. Losing control of your own behavior.

Always remember you're the adult and a professional. You have to stay in control of yourself and your actions. If you act badly, it will make it much more difficult to address the student's misbehavior. The student and the parents will be focused on what you did instead of focusing the responsibility on the student's own actions. I can't tell you how many times I've worked to help a student reflect on their own bad behavior, but they are focused on what the teacher did instead. Sometimes that happens when the teacher was completely upright. But sometimes it's because the teacher showed up poorly in the situation.

8. Comparing a student to a sibling or another student. 

Avoid comparing students to one another or to a brother or sister. These types of judgments chip away at dignity. You wouldn't want to be subjected to public comparisons with another teacher. Students don't like this either. Even comments like "Your sister was so smart or funny" that seem positive may chip away at a student's dignity. People want to be noticed for who they are and not compared to someone else.

9. Rushing to judgment without listening.

This one encompasses so much. It's easy to jump to conclusions or make assumptions in the course of a day working with students. Teachers make so many decisions. I shared recently about a situation where I really embarrassed myself by making a quick judgment in a situation. The key is slow down and approach problems with a sense of curiosity. Work to understand what is going on with the child, what needs they are trying to meet, or why they are not successful even when expectations are clear and consistent. In a recent post, I shared 21 phrases that can help with these conversations.

Of course, there are many other factors involved in building a positive classroom culture. What are some of your thoughts? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

10 Thoughts On Positive Attitude to Share With Your Team

A positive school is built on positive moments. It doesn't just happen by accident. Every interaction counts. It takes a concerted effort on the part of everyone to create an environment that is awesome. So what are some things everyone should know to be more positive in their own mindset and help contribute to that positive environment we all want? 

Here are ten thoughts to consider:

1. Your positive attitude, more than your talent or expertise, will determine your impact.

Positive people inspire and influence others. If you want to help others be great, you have to demonstrate a positive attitude. Your ability to be joyful, hopeful, and resilient will inspire others like nothing else.

2. Positive attitude is not believing everything is okay; it's believing everything is going to be okay.

Positive people find the silver lining in the most difficult of circumstances. They learn from difficulties. They don't pretend everything is okay. That's not positive thinking. That's denial. Positive people just believe that things can get better. They expect things to get better. And they believe they might just learn something from the difficulty along the way.

3. Positive attitude is not feeling happy all the time.

Even people who are positive feel negative emotions like sadness, disappointment, and regret. But these feelings do not overwhelm them, partly because they are able to also feel positive emotions simultaneously. For example, perhaps at the same moment they grieve for a loss, they are also thankful for the blessing they had for a time. Even when things are at their worst, positive people view negative feelings as temporary and expect their emotional well-being to improve.

4. When you bring positive energy to a space, negativity leaves.

Negative energy can create a toxic culture and spread throughout your school. It's so important to create and nurture a positive environment to keep the negativity out. Scientists have found that people's brain patterns actually start to align as they spend time together. Attitudes are literally contagious it seems. 

5. It takes at least 4 positive experiences to overcome a negative one.

I'm not sure this number is actually correct. But I do know we need to relish the positive moments and use them to overcome the setbacks and difficulties we face. It you do 20 things right today but make one mistake, you will be tempted to ignore all of those positives and focus only on your mistake. It takes deliberate celebration of the positives to help overcome the negatives. Relish those positive moments.

6. Sharing gratitude grows your positive reserves.

When you focus on the positive experiences in your day and share those with others, it makes you stronger and helps others too. We often start our meetings just by sharing the good things that are happening. What are three things you're thankful for in the last 24 hours? Who are you thankful for? If you want more energy and enthusiasm, focus on showing appreciation. Lift up others, and you'll be lifted up too.

7. Positive people are problem solvers. 

They don't make excuses. They find solutions. When you are negative, you see only problems. In fact, negative people seem to find a problem for every solution. But positive people can open their minds more possibilities. They can see possible solutions that others might miss.

8. Positive people are playful.

"Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying." I remember these words from my childhood. My mom would say it after making fun of some unfortunate circumstance. It was a way of coping, and I'm thankful we had permission to see the humor in little misfortunes. Positive people don't take themselves too seriously, and they are eager to have fun while getting the job done.

9. Resilience is built on positive thinking.

Positive thoughts give you power over your circumstances. Don't let negative thinking give your circumstances power over you. Reality does not shape you. The lens through which you view reality is what actually shapes you. Make that a positive lens. Some of the happiest people in the world have very little of what this world has to offer. But they view the world through a positive lens and make the most of whatever they have.

10. Positive people are happier, more creative, more productive, and have more energy.

We often think hard work leads to success. We just need to work harder, try harder, be more committed, sacrifice more and then we'll be happy. But that's never enough. Turns out, it's better to start with being happy and then let that drive your productivity, creativity, and success. This amazing TED Talk makes the case much better than I can.

What is your best tip for keeping a positive attitude? Share it with us all so we can learn from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Are You a Historian, Reporter, or Futurist?

One of the books I recently finished reading was No Limits: Blow the CAP off your capacity by John Maxwell. Maxwell shares the perspective of his friend Paul Martinelli and how he has pursued continual improvement:
We have three options in life. We can be historians, reporters, or futurists. The historian wants to remind us of everything in the past and wants to filter everything in the future through that. The reporter is really attached to the conditions and circumstances of today, and that's just the way it is. The futurist focuses on what hasn't yet been done. He says, "There is more for us to do. We can do more. We can broaden our capacity. There is more of our potential we can take advantage of."
Although this idea is aimed at growing oneself and reaching your personal potential, I thought it could be applied to education as well. In school life, where do you see yourself? How does this analogy work for educators?

The historian probably complains about kids these day, remembers fondly the past as if everything in the good ole days was problem free. The historian holds onto yesterday and doesn't see much potential in tomorrow. He sees anything new as something "we already do" or that "we tried and it didn't work." There are few new possibilities worth considering. If only we could return to a time when life was good. In my experience, the historian will blame students, parents, policymakers, or just about anyone else for the problems of today. He will overestimate the accomplishments of the previous generation while underestimating the potential in the next generation.

The reporter is working tirelessly to respond to the mandates and initiatives of today. They have their heads down with their noses to the grindstone. Sometimes they forget their larger purpose or mission, but they are busy collecting data, chasing test scores, and responding to whatever urgent needs arise. They are expending tremendous energy, but there is no long term perspective. The reporter will often burn out, feeling like they are on a hamster wheel going nowhere. It's hard not to feel bitter when you play by the rules and do what you're told, but the rules keep changing or your work is never considered good enough. The reporter doesn't dare dream of a better way or a brighter tomorrow. They are just trying to cope with the realities and do what they can to survive.

The futurist always has the long term perspective. There is a great sense of mission and purpose in how amazing school could be and how important this work is for students. There is a desire to create positive change. To be a difference maker. To prepare kids for their future and not our past. They want to push forward into new territory, take risks, and do whatever it takes to create a better learning experience for students. They see what could be possible, and they work to make it reality. They invest their energy not only in the routine work of today but also in changing the trajectory of tomorrow. 

If you are a historian, you might need to find a different profession. Sorry if that offends you, but I think it's true. If you're a reporter, I invite you to become not only a doer but also a dreamer. And if you're a futurist, keep being a positive change maker. Share your passion and your vision and take steps each day to make education stronger for students.

What are your thoughts on this analogy? How would you add to it? How would you critique it? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Facts and the Stories We Tell Ourselves Based on the Facts

I've been planning to write this post for the past two years. That's right. It's been that long. I'm not sure why I didn't write it sooner. But the events of this weekend swiftly and certainly moved these ideas off the sidelines.

Friday night we had home football. There is always some stress associated with each home game. Our admin team often jokes about how much easier the road games are. There are just so many things that can go wrong with large crowds. On top of that, I was at the end of a long week and physically tired. That's typical for Friday night, right?

So I noticed a Twitter post after halftime that tagged our school. I knew the individual who posted it and have a very good relationship with him, although we haven't interacted that often. 

But I quickly became offended by the post. How could this person publicly criticize the school? He should know better than that. He manages people and events and must understand the challenges that come with that. Social media is not the place to air your concerns, at least not initially. Come talk to me. Give me a chance to solve the problem.


I quickly fired off a text message to the individual expressing my frustration and disappointment.

Then came the reply, "Should I delete it?"

"Well, of course you should," I thought.

I responded in another message ramping up my indignation.

And then when his next reply came, I got it. He clarified and all of the sudden, it was clear. It hit me all at once. It almost took the air out of me. He didn't mean it that way! I took it wrong!

In my haste, I completely misunderstood the comment. I missed it completely.

I went back and read it again. Any other person reading the Tweet would NOT have taken it the way I did. I had started climbing the assumption ladder and had gone straight to the top rung.

Time to own my mistake. My very embarrassing mistake.

I sent my apologies. I tried to explain. I told him he did nothing wrong. I should know better. It's totally on me. I'm sorry. I felt terrible.

Fortunately, the person on the other end was gracious in accepting my apology. Looking back, I can't even believe I made this mistake. I practice these skills every day. Not assuming. Trying to understand the other person's perspective. Not jumping to conclusions.


So how does this happen?

A couple of years ago I read the book Crucial Conversations. It is the best thing I've ever read about effective communication when the stakes are high, when there might be strong opposing thoughts or opinions.

One part in particular is so important for us in keeping conversations safe. We have to be careful about the stories we tell ourselves. Here are a few of the big ideas I took from the book.

Stories Cause Feelings

Someone else doesn't make you mad. You get angry because of the story you tell yourself. "I feel bad because of my story, not your actions." Emotions don't settle in like fog. Others don't make you mad. You make you mad. You tell yourself a story, and the story leads to the emotional response. Once these stories take hold, they have a life of their own.

Avoid Silence or Violence

To keep good dialogue, we have to keep safety in the conversation. If we lose safety, the conversation will turn to one or the other or both parties holding back and not being honest or lashing out and taking cheap shots. Neither silence nor violence is a healthy response. We want to develop shared meaning and be totally honest. We want to learn from the conversation, not be right or wrong.

Stories Are How We Explain Why, How, and What Is Happening To Us

So even when presented with exactly the same set of circumstances, we will determine if it is positive or negative based on the story we tell ourselves. Our story is how we attach significance to these events. We decide the level of significance based on the story we tell.

Many Possible Responses

For every set of circumstances, there is not just one way to respond. My emotions are NOT the only valid response. So just because such and such happens to me doesn't mean I have to respond in a certain way. There are many possible responses.

Slow Down

The thing that got me in trouble was how quickly I settled on the story in my mind based on the Tweet I was reading. I attached a certain meaning almost immediately. I didn't consider any other possibilities. Several things had happened earlier that primed me for this response, but no matter, I still wouldn't have failed in communicating if I would've slowed down or even consulted with someone else before drawing conclusions.

Three Stories

We tend to tell ourselves three types of stories to explain things we don't like. We also use these stories to justify our own bad behavior.

Victim Stories - "It's not my fault."
Villain Stories - "It's all your fault."
Helpless Stories - "There's nothing else I can do."

Stories Result in a Path to Action

1. See/hear (facts)
2. Tell a story (interpretation of facts)
3. Feel (emotions)
4. Act (choose a response)

Our path to action may seem reasonable and certain, but if it is based on a story and a feeling, we may act in ways that are not helpful. I saw the Tweet on Friday night and immediately told myself a story. Then I felt upset and even angry. And that led to the awkward text message conversation that ensued. Oh my...

So this is really practical stuff that we can apply daily. In fact, the entire book has great wisdom for educators. We deal with so many crucial conversations. It happens all day, every day. It's important to develop these skills.

It's so important to remember there are the facts and then there are the stories we tell ourselves based on the facts. To close, here are four questions to ask that can help to avoid the crazy dance of some of our stories.

1. Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
2. Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this? This one would have stopped me cold on Friday night.
3. What do I really want?
4. What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?

I encourage you to read Crucial Conversations. I still mess it up sometimes (obviously), but the book was really helpful for me in dealing with difficult situations. Have you noticed yourself telling stories and jumping to conclusions? Maybe with student behaviors? Or colleagues? Are you retreating to silence or resorting to violence in your conversations? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

21 Phrases to Use in Dealing With Difficult Behaviors

The first priority in creating a positive classroom environment and limiting problem behaviors is to develop positive relationships. That's absolutely essential.

The second priority is to clearly establish expectations, for students and teachers. And that's a necessity also. Both teachers and students should know what to expect.

Building relationships and communicating expectations must be tended to daily. Both are critically important. We have to constantly build relationships and communicate expectations.

But what happens when things go off the tracks a little? How do you address those moments when it's not working well? The following are phrases I use when meeting with a student to work on a behavior concern. I gave a brief description of how and why I might use the phrase.

Set a Positive Tone

1. "I will never intentionally disrespect you."

This is one of my favorite phrases. I want kids to know I intend to show them respect. The implied message is I also expect you to show me respect.

2. "I believe in you."

Kids can't here this enough. It's important to establish positive intentions.

3. "I won't give up on you."

If a child feels you don't accept him or her, you aren't going to get their trust. Sometimes I even say, "I don't approve of what you did, but I will always accept you and be here to help you."

4. "Let's work together to solve this."

All of the problem-solving in working through an issue shouldn't come from the teacher. It's not me vs. you. It's us vs. the problem.

Address the Issue

5. "I was puzzled when you..."

Approach the situation with a sense of curiosity instead of approaching it with judgment, frustration, or anger.

6. "What do we do here when...."

Remind the student of the expectations. "What do we do here when it's time for bell work?" Then work with the student to verbalize the expectations.

7. "What should you have done differently?"

How did your behavior not meet the expectation? Help the student think through what behavior would have been acceptable in the situation.

8. "How did you intend for that to make ______________ feel?"

This is another one of my favorite questions. I often will use this to hold kids accountable if they do something disrespectful to me or someone else. "When you roll your eyes at me when I'm talking with you, how do you intend for that to make me feel? I care about you, and I feel sad or disappointed when you do that."

9. "How did you feel at the time?"

I also want kids to know I care how they are feeling and that feelings can be strong and make us want to do things we shouldn't do. But we are still responsible for our actions.

10. "That seemed upsetting to you."

Paraphrasing is important. Again, validate how the student is feeling but help them know they are still responsible for their actions.

11. "I hear what you are saying. I'm listening."

If you want to help deescalate a situation, make sure the person is feeling heard. Not feeling heard is a sure way to keep the two side apart.

12. "Is it possible that...?"

Help introduce new possibilities to the situation. Kids, and adults for that matter, can get locked into seeing a situation from only one perspective.

Decide on a Path Forward

13. "What should you do when ___________________?"

This questions can be helpful to brainstorm how the student could respond to certain triggers.

14. "What will you do next time?"

It's very important to get a plan that is future-focused. Too often, behavior is handled by just giving consequences. Punishments focus on the past. We want to build toward better future decisions, too.

15. "When will you do it?"

It's just another question to be very intentional about planning for next time. Looking for things like, "I'll do it the first time I'm asked."

16. "What do you need to do now to make this right?"

This question is very important. There may need to be an apology. There may need to be some other action right now to address the problem.

17. "Would you like to _________________ or ____________________?"

Choices are really good for providing some agency while also limiting behavior to acceptable options.

18. "Can I count on you to do that?"

This question is very important. After I discuss with a student the path forward, I will follow up with this one. I want to make sure they are fully committed to our agreement.

19. "Okay, but in case you don't, what do you think are fair consequences?"

The student also needs to consider there will be consequences if the agreement is broken.

Reflect on the Conversation

20. "What's your understanding of what we decided together?"

This question requires students to provide a summary of what was decided.

21. "Do you feel that you've been treated fairly?"

Students may not always be happy when we are finished dealing with an issue, but I want them to feel they have been treated with fairness and respect. If they leave feeling disrespected, it is not going to help them be ready to make changes in their behaviors.

I hope these questions are good reflection for you as you work with students and solve problems. But I want to hear from you. What questions would you add to this list? What are some of your best tips for dealing with difficult situations? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, October 6, 2017

If You Want To Be A Difference Maker, You Have To Be A Risk Taker

I recently learned of the story of John Berry Meachum, a figure in Missouri history I previously knew nothing about.

He was born into slavery in Virginia, but at the age of 21 earned enough money as a carpenter to purchase his own freedom and a short time later the freedom of his father.

Throughout his life he had an entrepreneurial spirit. He would purchase the freedom of slaves and most would pay him back. He eventually came to live in St. Louis, where he founded the African Church. 

There he taught religious and secular classes to free and enslaved black students. The location for the classes was known as "The Candle Tallow School."

In 1847, the state of Missouri banned education for all black people. Clearly, one would expect this oppressive law to have a devastating impact Meachum's school.

But Meachum was not dissuaded. In response, he moved his classes to a steamboat in the middle of the Mississippi River, beyond the reach of Missouri law.

He provided the school with a library, desks, and chairs and called it the "Floating Freedom School."

John Berry Meachum showed the determination and innovation needed from all educators. We cannot let our circumstances stand in our way. We all face challenges every day. We have to be willing to think creatively and take risks to create a better future.

What if Meachum just threw up his hands and quit?

What if he felt sorry for himself because of this terrible injustice?

What if he retreated to something safe instead of taking a risk?

He had a dream to educate blacks in his community and nothing was going to stop him. I admire his passion and commitment.

One of my favorite illustrations is from best-selling author Austin Kleon. It communicates so well the risk that is required to pursue something better. 

Most people see the difference between what is and what could be, but not everyone is willing to make the leap. Not everyone takes action. But leaders do.

You can be a leader in your school when you step out and take a risk. If you want to be a difference maker, you have to be a risk taker. 

Don't be satisfied with the status quo. Be a future-driven risk taker.

Be focused on the future, not stuck in the past. Meachum would never have taken the bold risks he took if he were filtering his actions through the past. He was doing something that was largely unheard of because he wanted a brighter future for the people he served. His dream was bigger than yesterday.

Believe there is probably a better way to do just about everything. It may seem that things are just the way they are. Our circumstances are fixed. But there are so many ways to approach a problem. Even when things are bleak, think like Meachum. Find a way. Try something new.

Learn from your setbacks but don't be defined by them. When you take risks, sometimes you are going to get knocked down. But even your failures can lead to future greatness. Many of the greatest world-changers of all-time also experienced incredible hardships and disappointments.

Are you taking risks as an educator? Or, are you settling for the status quo? You are needed as a change maker.

How can we inspire educators to take more risks? How can we overcome the obstacles that stand in the way? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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