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Choose Wisely

There are a lot of things that we are unable to choose. “Stuff” comes our way and we have to deal with it. When you have the opportunity to choose, be sure to make the choice that is going to set your students up for success.

This is what happens when you choose “poorly.” Okay, maybe it is a little dramatic, but I believe it gets the point across.

In this scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Julian Glover (Donovan) drinks from a golden chalice believing it to be the Holy Grail. Unfortunately, it turns out to be the wrong cup, and instead of obtaining ever lasting life, Donovan decomposes in a matter of seconds.

Implication for Education

Every morning I start my school day directing carpool traffic. It is one of my favorite parts of the day, because I get to welcome parents and students to our school.

I am sure to wave and share a smile with every car that goes by. Everyone deserves to have a positive experience when coming to school. Over the years I have become familiar with lots of the cars. Here comes Roscoe, the golden retriever. I know his window will be down for an early morning ear scratch. The white truck that greets me every morning with a salute instead of a wave. The mom on Friday who asks me how my boys are.

These are all positive examples of my daily morning interactions. Unfortunately, not all drivers are warm and friendly first thing in the morning.

No matter how hard I smile or how fast I wave, some parents will ignore my attempts to elicit a positive reaction. Of course I would love for every parent to smile and wave back, but one non-participating parent is not going to ruin my day. It does make me wonder why that parent is choosing not to positively interact with me. Which makes me wonder what impact that has on the child. Which led me to wonder if we have any “non-waving, non-smiling” educators in the building and their impact on student learning.

Teachers do not get to choose their students. They do not get to choose their curriculum. They do not get to choose their colleagues. But, they can choose their attitude.

I go back to the child with the perpetually unhappy parent. At home maybe they don’t see joy, love, humor, or warmth. Maybe their only opportunity to experience a positive interaction is at school.

So who are we to deny those students that right?

There are a lot of things out of our control. Smiling, laughing, waving, joking, comforting, expressing appreciation, and demonstrating excitement are things that every educator can do.

In order for any child to learn they have to feel safe and loved. We cannot assume that every child that comes to our class already has those needs met. Make the choice to greet your students with the positivity and enthusiasm they need to excel.

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The Sky is Not Falling

The best way to address any concern is when you are in a calm state. When things happen, and they frequently do, there may be little time to make a decision. It is important to come down from whatever initial emotion you went to in order to begin to remedy the situation.

Okay, it is more of a literary reference, but they did make a movie. In this opening scene Chicken Little is ringing the tower bell informing all the citizens that the sky is falling.

What is important to note is the domino effect Chicken Little’s warning has on the entire community. Because of his overreaction, cars get into accidents, city property is destroyed, and the entire city is in a state of panic.

At the end of the scene we learn that the sky is not falling (maybe it will eventually, but no spoilers here). But whether the sky is or is not falling is irrelevant, the way in which Chicken Little responds only escalates the situation.

Implications for Education

From a Teacher’s Perspective

Inclement weather. You were hoping to get the day off, but the school district thought the weather might pass. It did not. Now you have just been informed that you will be releasing students 3 hours early. Unfortunately, you do not have a 3 hour early release schedule.

As a teacher you have to work with administration and other teachers to put together a plan to get students through the day. How long will classes be? Will students go to all of their periods? When will you go to lunch? Are you eating in the classroom?

Additionally, the students’ energy has just been increased. They are getting out early, and who knows, maybe they will be off tomorrow.

Balancing all the logistical moving parts of a last minute early release with student behavior makes it no easy task to keep your cool, but it is what you have to do.

Students take their cue from you. Their behaviors are mitigated or aggravated by what they see from you.

In this stressful situation, students are already more likely to make poor choices because there is increased excitement and decreased routine.

By being the calming agent in your classroom you can de-escalate a situation where a 3 hour delay can feel like a 3 hour extension.

From a Principal’s Perspective

School threats are all too pervasive in our society. The majority of the time they are false, but that does not mean they should be taken any less seriously.

When dealing with school threats you have several stakeholders to consider: students, parents, and staff. The number one priority for an administrator is ensuring the safety of everyone in the school. That certainly includes physical safety but also emotional safety.

Because you have to consider students, parents, and staff when navigating a school threat, it is essential to maintain your composure. Most school districts have established protocols that need to be followed. When you let your emotions get the better of you, you are more likely to miss essential steps when investigating and mitigating the threat.

Word travels fast. It will not be long before students, teachers, and the community are all talking about the threat. You will have to address concerns in the hallway from school staff, phone calls from parents, and support (and questions) from district level personnel who will all want to know what you are doing. If you portray a sense of panic, that is what the people in your school community will reflect.

It is impossible to remove all stress and anxiety during a crisis situation. However, when the school community sees and hears you leading from a position of confidence and assurance, they will feel a great deal safer.

Whether the sky is falling or not, what really matters is how you react. Those around you will do much better in challenging situations when they see you responding calm and under control.

Who Knows What the Tide Could Bring

Setbacks are a part of any profession. In education they can manifest in a variety of ways. Whether it is losing a teacher mid-year or learning that your students did not perform as well as anticipated on a summative assessment, educators deal with adversity. It is essential to move forward with a positive outlook because sometimes wonderful opportunities arise out of the most devastating of circumstances.

When initially stranded on an island, Tom Hanks’ (Chuck) initial thoughts revolve around survival and rescue. However, as more and more time goes by, those thoughts transition to hopelessness and despair.

After spending four years marooned on an island, Chuck returns home. In this scene Chuck shares how he was able to overcome those negative emotions by focusing on the possibility that he would one day be reunited with Helen Hunt (Kelly), the love of his life. “Then one day that [pessimistic] logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in and gave me a sail.”

While maintaining hope in the most dire of circumstance, Chuck was gifted the one thing that could potentially reunite him with Kelly.

Implications for Education

From a Principal’s Perspective

It is inevitable that a teacher will leave mid-year. They will relocate, decide to stay home with their family, change professions, or go back to school.

No principal is ever prepared for it. What are you going to tell the parents? Who is going to prepare the lesson plans? How are the students going to behave? Who is going to do the grading?

You can drown yourself in the negative self-talk. You can allow yourself to succumb to the pressure and stress being placed upon you by the parents or you can move forward, because from challenge comes opportunity.

Two years ago I was faced with this exact situation. A teacher left, parents were upset, students were misbehaving, and there was a looming end of year exam.

But, the administration maintained a positive attitude. We worked with the team to ensure there was a plan for lessons and grading while we searched for a long-term substitute.

And we found that substitute, a gentleman transitioning to education as a second career. He was someone who discovered later in life that he had a passion for working with kids, making a difference, and giving back.

Fast forward two years and that teacher is an institution at our school. What he does for kids and the school culture is immeasurable. And if it were not for a mid-year crisis, he would not be a member of our school family.

From a Teacher’s Perspective

There are a couple of ways in which teachers measure their effectiveness. One way is through teacher observations and feedback. This can be a great tool, but is subjective. A second, and more objective, means is student achievement, or student growth scores. I understand there a lot of factors that go into student test results and there is not a direct correlation between teacher effectiveness and student growth, but it is the most objective measure we have.

Depending on your school or district, when you receive these results will vary. However, no matter when you receive student scores, the feeling you get if those scores are not what you hoped for, remains the same, awful.

Just like a principal who has a teacher leave mid-year, a teacher with less than stellar results will face additional stress. What did I do wrong? What does the principal think? Am I in the right profession?

But, if that teachers moves forward with a positive attitude and a focus on growth, there is much to be gained. A reflective teacher is an ever improving teacher.

Now that the teacher has accepted the results and is determined to get stronger as an educator, he or she can get to work.

Strategies from Reflective Teachers After Receiving Test Results

  • Observing other teachers (focusing on those with strong scores)
  • Having other teachers observe you (again, focusing on those with strong scores)
  • Surveying students about engagement, rigor, feedback, and relationships
  • Delving deeper into your data [what specifically needs addressing (it might be more manageable than you originally thought)]
  • Spending more time with PLCs to discuss results from common formative assessments (this way you are more prepared for future formative test results)

It is not if you will be faced with adversity as a principal or teacher, but when. And when that time comes, how you react, and ultimately respond, will make all the difference. Who knows what the tide could bring?

Be Aware of Your Emotions

“Attitudes are contagious, is yours worth catching?” This is a pretty cheesy quotation that I often see on classroom posters. It is directed towards students, but I think the message needs to be heeded by educators as well.

Disney’s Inside Out is a wonderful movie with a variety of important life lessons (maybe future blogs). One of the main characters, Sadness, is a great representation of the attitude and demeanor I sometimes see in educators. By the end of the movie we discover the important role that sadness plays in adolescent emotional development. However, for the purpose of this blog, she will be used as the example of how not to look, act, behave, and speak.

In this scene, Joy and Sadness are trying to make it back to Headquarters to help Riley (the girl who they serve as emotions for). “I am positive you will get lost in there.” This is an example of how Sadness always looks at the worst case scenario.

Also important to note is that Sadness, having read the manual, knows how to get back to headquarters. But Joy has to literally drag her around to get the journey started. Besides not helping herself, Sadness’ negative attitude is now impacting those around her.

Implications for Education

I have a theory. A school receives an anonymous donation. They are able to give each teacher in the building $1000. However, it turns out that a portion of the donation was supposed to fund a new projector for the conference room. The teachers are asked to give back $20 to purchase the projector. A small fraction of the teachers will complain.

My point is that no matter what the circumstance there will always be some who choose to be unhappy.

My hope is that this post helps those with Sadness tendencies reflect on the impact their attitude has on a school.

As a principal, I frequently make building rounds. I know that there are some hallways and classrooms where the teachers will be in the hallway greeting students, sharing positive stories with colleagues, and keeping an eye on things. I love traversing these areas, because the optimism is infectious.

Then there are the areas of the building where I dread going. In these spots the teachers will inevitably stop me. They won’t stop me to talk about a new idea for a lesson, to share about the progress a student is making, or to ask me about my family. Either the copier ran out of toner, they had to cover a class where the substitute did not show up, or an entire class bombed a quiz.

The wind has been completely taken out of my sails.

I am not saying that these are not concerns, but instead of rolling with it and being solution minded, they let obstacles ruin their day, and worse, ruin everyone else’s day.

I can’t imagine that the same teacher leaves the hallway and starts class with the positivity and enthusiasm necessary to engage students. I know for a fact that there are students in that class dealing with a lot more than a lack of toner. How are those students supposed to act when what is being modeled to them is unhappiness, malaise, gloom, and despair?

Student behavior is a reflection of teacher behavior. You ever see a science teacher who is completely in love with his curriculum? They get so animated by the content that they make it impossible for their students not to be excited about the next lab.

Not only does negatively impact the students, but other teachers as well. It could go one of two ways. Teachers around the Sadness teacher will choose to retreat to their room. This creates a school culture of isolation. The other thing that could happen is that fellow educators get “infected” by the teacher. They start to think maybe I should complain more about my circumstances. That is why in a school that utilizes a team model, you may see teams take on a common characteristic (good or bad).

The only way to fix it is to be aware of it. Education is challenging. There are things that will come up or you will be asked to do that are difficult, will cost you time, and weigh heavy on your emotions. But, how you choose to handle those situations will make the difference. Deciding to sulk, complain, and mope will only compound the issue. Meeting the challenge head on will not only make you feel better, it will inspire and motivate the students and teachers around you.

Be careful because the path of Sadness can sometimes lead you down the path of becoming the Eeyore Teacher.

3 Common Teacher/Student Relationship Misconceptions

Education is responsible for raising the next generation of productive citizens. This is no tiny task. And certainly not one to take lightly. But perhaps the business of education has become too formal. Maybe we, as educators, need to examine the dynamics of the teacher student relationship.

*This video contains graphic language*

This scene is the culmination of the feud between Philip Seymour Hoffman (Mitch) and Robin Williams (Patch). The two medical students operate (nailed that pun) on opposite ends of the spectrum. Mitch sees the relationship between doctor and patient as very sterile. The doctor dictates the “treatment” to the patient. Patch believes that developing relationships with his patients is essential to providing great care. Laughter can indeed be the best medicine.

“…That you think that you have to be a prick to get things done and that you actually think that that’s a new idea.” This is Patch’s comment to Mitch as Patch leaves the room. Then the camera pauses on Mitch for a second as he grapples with this statement.

Implications for Education

Let us explore three Mitchian comments that you hear in education and how Patch might respond to them.

“Don’t smile until Christmas.”

Teachers need to be seen as the person in charge. They have to be firm, set expectations early, and demonstrate that they are in control. Teachers are afraid that if they are nice (smile) they increase the chances of students not respecting them as authority figures.

Patch would argue that the exact opposite is true. Students are more likely to respect rules and authority from those whom they believe care about them.

There is still a prevailing notion that students have to fear teachers in order to respect them. Historically, educators believed that by simply holding the title of “teacher” commanded student compliance.  Well it may be true that students and young people in general should be respectful of teachers and adults, that is not always true.  The best way to earn respect is by showing respect.

When teachers fail to smile or show kindness they miss opportunities to earn students’ respect.  Simply put, students respond best to rules and directions when shared respect exists.  In fact, I have spoken with several students who told me that they will deliberately go out of their way to break rules and disobey directions, because their teacher treated them like they were less than.

“I’m not here to make friends with my students.”

Any relationship that is outside of the stereotypical teacher student one is inappropriate and ineffective. Students come to school to learn. Teachers work at schools to teach.

Patch would argue that learning takes places when students develop positive relationships with their teachers.

If you think back to the teachers that had the greatest impact on you, they worked hard to create meaningful relationships with you. You felt comfortable going to them for help, school related or not. When I think of these teachers, the word “friend” never comes to mind. Invested, caring, empathetic, compassionate, yes. Friend, no.

Failing to form relationships with students because it will lead to friendship is a cop out. Forming relationships takes time. But, investing that time early in the year will yield positive dividends over the long-term.

“If you don’t punish the student, the rest of the class is going learn that it is acceptable to misbehave.”

The classic domino effect. One student gets away with something and now every student is going to mimic that poor behavior.

Patch would contend that every student is different. Every situation is different. To provide generalized consequences would not take into consideration all the factors surrounding a student or an incident.

Educators know that it is 5% of the students that take up 95% of your time. Therefore, the domino effect is proven inaccurate. Other students do not start misbehaving if they perceive a student to have “gotten away” with something. In fact, other students are extremely perceptive and empathetic. They acknowledge how hard educators are working to support struggling students.

The focus should not be placed on worrying about the other 95% of students. The focus should be on the student with the behavior concern. That is why it is extremely important to take into consideration that individual student when applying consequences.

At the end of the day, the goal is to reduce or eliminate the negative behavior. There are no universal strategies that accomplish that for every student. But, when you focus on the individual student, and not how the rest of the class will respond, your consequences/supports are more meaningful.

Patch says it best, ” You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.”

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