Tuesday, March 31, 2015

You can't be open minded until...

I learned a new word early in my college career.  Prereq.  It is short for, "prerequisite," a required prior condition.  Algebra is a prerequisite course for Algebra II.  Algebra II is a prereq for calculus.   You must crawl before you walk.  First do this, then do that.

So with each new adventure I have encountered over the last year, I have known that it would be important to listen first and learn the most.  I needed to watch those around me and ask questions.  Lots of questions.  Folks who know me will tell you that asking questions is definitely not a problem for me!

Approaching each new adventure with an open mind is a prereq for success.  I am passionate about excellent education for kids and I want to be successful, so I head into each day with an open mind so that I may be able to learn from those around me and benefit from their expertise.  But their is a prereq to an open mind.  First, I must be open-hearted.

Monday, March 30, 2015


We all know that actions speak louder than words.  What we do is more telling than what we say.  As educators, how well do we listen to those actions on a regular basis?  What is our class trying to tell us?  

We know what Little Johnny is saying when he is bouncing off the walls.  We have learned to "listen" to Little Johnny's actions frequently to meet his needs pro-actively.  What about the class as a whole?  When the entire class is speaking to us, do we listen?  

If 95% of the class sits on the edge of their seats, hanging on to your every word, you know they are engaged.  When the entire class is participating in small group science experiments, you know they are engaged.  Likewise, if six kids are actively choosing to ignore you and the assignment at hand, what does that tell you?  It tells you that the activity you designed for today's learning has room for improvement.  Those six kids are telling you what they think.

During your best lesson of the year, how many of your kids are fully engaged?  Probably all of them.  Your best lesson captures them all!  Dave Burgess, author of, "Teach Like a Pirate," talks about the lessons that kids would pay to be a part of.  Every decent teacher has a few of these.  These are the lessons the kids love and the teacher loves too!

These lessons fully engage students.  The more of them you have, the better your class will be.  The kids will learn more and their actions will tell you how much they like it.  What about the lessons that aren't worth the price of the ticket quite yet?  Kids would not pay for them.  When you "listen" to the actions of the class, what do you learn?  

This week, pay special attention to what your class is telling you without any words.  Your students' actions only speak louder than their words if you are listening.  Also, pay more attention to what you do.  Your students are always listening to your actions.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Unconditional Positive Response

Flip Flippen, founder of Capturing Kids' Hearts, uses the term 'unconditional positive response' to describe the deep concern that outstanding teachers demonstrate for their students.  This deep concern can be shown in many ways as long as there is a strong foundation built on the Golden Rule.

Even for the best teachers, occasionally, a student will act with complete disrespect.  An outstanding teacher will model a positive response.  A student may yell out repeatedly in class every single day.  An outstanding teacher will model a positive response by staying calm and using appropriate language.  A student my get out of his seat or storm out of the classroom.  An outstanding teacher will model a calm and respectful response.

The examples can go on and on.  Kids may make poor choices when they reach a boiling point.  The teacher's reaction will help determine what happens next.  If your response is unconditionally positive, the results will be positive.  If you let your emotions control your response, or you meet the student at his elevated emotional level, your response will most likely be negative.

I have seen a few examples of incredible patience over the last few weeks involving some quite difficult situations.  Kids with truly stressful situations and inappropriate actions met with grace and dignity.  As challenging as it may be in the heat of the moment, these positive examples of responses are always better than trying to "win" a tough situation with an emotional student.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Like Goldilocks!

I was talking with a kid today about the difficulty of her math problem.  She said she wanted them to be easy like they were in first grade.  I asked her if math was easy in first grade and she quickly responded with, "It would be easy now!"

So I asked again, "Was your first grade math easy when you were in first grade?"

No answer.

So I asked her why she wanted easy math like that right now in middle school.  She said that school would be fun if everything was super easy.  Her friend interrupted, "No it wouldn't!  It would be SO boring!"

The conversation continued between these two:

Kid #1:  "Yeah, but I would make straight A's!"

Kid #2:  "So! You would end up getting in trouble all the time and you would end up too stupid for high school!"

Kid #1:  "Well, when the assignment is pointless, I don't like struggling for no good reason!"

Kid #2:  "Answering 2+2 all day, every day would be pointless too!"

I enjoyed listening to this back-and-forth, then interrupted, "What kind of activities do you want your teacher to provide for you?"

Kid #2 replied immediately, "Not too hard.  Not too easy.  Just right.  Like Goldilocks!"

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Effort ignites ability!

I read Mindset, by Dr. Carol Dweck, awhile back.  I have been listening to the unabridged version in the mornings recently and I am still incredibly moved by her work.  As I listened today, she used the term, "recovering genius," to describe an adult who was in the process of overcoming a childhood filled with an overabundance of praise and adulation.

This made me think of the other side of the coin, the "recovering ignoramus."  Of course we wouldn't ever actually tell a student he was ignorant.  But it made me wonder how many kids leave public school with that mindset.

It also made me wonder which upbringing is toughest to overcome???  One of the best reading teachers I have ever seen told me that she struggled with reading as a child and her teachers were sure to let her know it.  She overcame the low expectations given by her teachers to become an expert in her profession.  I have also watched a teacher who completely knocked my socks off during her rookie year repeat that exact same year several more times without much improvement.  She arrived on campus with confidence and told me that she knew she would be good at teaching because she was good at everything she did.  She struggled to overcome the success that was seemingly easy for her during her first try, and left within five years.

From Dweck's work, the question is not whether we choose between over-inflating kids' egos or constantly pointing out their deficits.  The question is, "How do we talk to kids so that they develop a growth mindset?  How do we foster growth mindsets in a classroom of 25+ uniquely individual students? How do we ensure that every child leaves our school believing their efforts will ignite their abilities?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Did you do your best on this?

I have heard teachers ask this question numerous times through the years.  I have asked it myself.  Recently, I have really started to pay attention to this one.  It is quite interesting!  On the surface, it seems like it could be a good question.  A seemingly simply, non-judgmental query for a kid to self-assess effort.  But the reality of the question is usually far from that.

Little Johnny regularly takes twice as long to finish his assignments even though he spends the majority of time staring at the ceiling or talking to his friends.  His work typically does not show mastery of the learning target.  Then he hands the teacher his assignment and hears, "Is this your best effort?"

Little Johnny can see and hear his teacher's opinion in those words.  He knows she doesn't think he did his best so he answers, "No...," grabs the paper, and walks back to his desk as if he is going to do better.  Really though, it actually was Little Johnny's best effort.  He did the best he could with the tools he had available to him.

Little Jimmy hands his paper to the same teacher and hears the same question, "Did you do your best work on this?"

Little Jimmy replies emphatically, "Yep!"  Then he walks away, even though he knows he barely read through the questions and wrote incomplete thoughts for his answers.  In other words, Little Jimmy did as "best" as he was willing to do.  His willingness to to actually do his best was non-existent and his teacher knew it before even asking the question.

Little Janie hands her paper to the same teacher and hears, "Did you give 100% on this assignment?"

She takes a deep breath, looks down at the ground, and answers, "I guess not..."  She walks back to her desk, scratching her head and thinking to herself, "I always do my best!  I make straight A's!  What does she want from me???  Perfection???"

These different scenarios are just a few of examples I have seen.  Each different one is based these things:

  • the student/teacher relationship,
  • the student's past experiences,
  • the teacher's body language and tone of voice, and
  • the mindset of both of them.

How can we consistently ask kids to assess their efforts without prejudice?

Friday, March 13, 2015

That kid...

You know the one.  He has a tough time getting along with other kids and he definitely drives most of his teachers crazy.  He may have a few bad habits or attention deficit disorder.  He may seem to not care about a thing the written curriculum tells him to care about.  He may not seem to care about the lessons and activities that you are telling him to care about.  He may talk too much and wiggle too much and wander too much.  He may argue with you and everyone else.  Perhaps he always needs to be right and he see every interaction as a battle he wants to win.  You know this kid.

A lot of folks have probably already given up on him.  They only see those attributes that make him a misfit rather than the things that help him fit in.  The teachers before you have told him that he wiggles too much.  He has heard it 1000 times.  They also told him to focus on his work.  He has heard that 1000 times too.  His peers have called him weird about 1000 times too.  He has heard all of the ways he is a misfit too many times.

I guess he just refuses to make the changes that pretty much everyone is telling him to make.  I guess he doesn't want to change.  I guess he prefers to remain a misfit.  He probably likes hearing the same negative observations about him repeated 1000 times.  He wakes up every morning and thinks to himself, "I sure would like to experience an entire day of negativity and butting heads about my less-than-desirable characteristics."  Of course, this would be ludicrous.

So what do you do?  Is your mindset fixed?  How do you help him become successful?  Can you help him fit in?  Can you help him make some positive changes so that he is less of a misfit?

The changes won't happen overnight.  If so, they would have already happened.  In fact, your efforts may only be a small portion of his journey to fit in.  Your actions may not become evident for years to come.  The thing to remember is that your actions will eventually become evident, whether you are a positive influence on him or not.  Your actions with your student will help shape who he becomes.  If you give up on him, he will be influenced by you.  If you continue to call him a misfit and tell him he needs to focus, he will be influenced by you, but not in a good way.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Question #2

I love Daniel Pink's work!  The man knows motivation.  Not in a Zig Ziglar way, but in a way that can make a huge impact in classrooms.  Educators are always trying to find the keys to motivating kids.  A lot of time is spent discussing the students that are seemingly unmotivated to do the assigned work.  Sometimes, too many of these conversations demotivate the teacher.  This has me thinking about Question #2 from Pink.

Was I better today than I was yesterday?

Pink says each one of us should ask ourselves this question each night before our heads hit our pillows.  I'm going to try to remember this for awhile.  Of course, a meaningful answer to this question depends a lot on Question #1.  You can see his Two Question video here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

It is not what you say...

"It is not what you say, it is how you say it."
I have heard this since I was little.  Choosing the right tone of voice can be everything.  No matter what needs to be said, it can be said kindly.  It can be said with good heart.  Except when the words shouldn't be spoken at all.  

Choosing the right words is every bit as important as saying the right words kindly.  When you can't find the right words to say, it doesn't matter how pleasant your voice sounds.  When you can't find the right words to say, don't say them.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Do what you love!

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are filled with inspirational quotes these days.  So many, that it is impossible to read them all.  It is even more impossible for all of them to be meaningful to everyone.  But everyone can find one or two quips that strike a chord and resonate some kind of meaningful influence all day long.  Over the last few months, the quotes I have noticed most frequently have a similar message:

"Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life."

"The only way to do great work is to love what you do."

"Doing what you love is where happiness lives."

I know a bunch of people who live this way every day.  Lots of them do so with their jobs.  Other folks do so with hobbies or other creative endeavors.  The lucky folks get to do what they love at work and at home... all the time!

I also know people who don't get to do what they love.  They only do.  They don't love it.  Some barely even like what they do.  They go to a job they dislike, then head home too tired to pursue their passions outside of the workplace.  And they are stuck.  They are in a rut and they can't get out.  Too tired to find their way out of the rut and too tired to enjoy life after the job that provides no joy.

Imagine a world where no one was in that rut!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Slow it down!

Every now and then, I find myself getting caught up in the speed of the world.  With a thousand things to do and a thousand unexpected things that pop up, it is easy to suddenly see my personal speedometer pegged at 150 miles per hour!  I try not to find myself in this situation to often, but when I do, I like to sharpen the saw with a slow down.  I start by getting back to my personal mission statement and my weekly plan.  I make sure I am getting my big rocks in and I give myself the right to say, "No thank you," to requests that are neither urgent nor important.

I also like to take 10 minutes to simply sit back, do a little deep breathing, and relax.  I don't ever feel bad about 10 minutes!  If you are one of those people who lives and dies by a "TO DO" list, please add this to your list: DO NOTHING FOR 10 MINUTES!  You will get your satisfaction from your ten minute break and you will get your satisfaction from drawing a thick black line through it afterwards!