Tag Archives: classroom management

Relationships are what heroes and teachers are made of.

More and more these days, schools are full of danger and tragedy. But a friend of mine recently challenged me to focus on the beauty in the world rather than the evil. This article does just that.  Teacher Ryan Heber talked down a 16 year old student-gunman in his California school, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now. Could there be a more powerful testament to the importance of developing relationships with students? Seeing them as little humans rather than test scores, cute stories, annoyances, or chores?

“David Heber wasn’t surprised that his son played a key role in diffusing the situation, saying Ryan Heber makes a point of getting to know his students — including the suspected gunman — on a personal level.”

Then, the article goes on to state the Heber doesn’t want to be known as a hero, only as a teacher. Maybe it’s the language arts teacher in me, but what does that tell you? He considers the courage he showed to be all a part of his job. And maybe to him, teacher is a label that carries more honor than a hero.

What a challenge! Would we have that kind of relationship with our students if we ever found ourselves in such a tragic situation?  There’s no way to know, and of course, there are countless other factors. Still, it’s a challenging thought. I really admire this man. This hero. This Teacher.

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Poverty and Relationships

I haven’t blogged in ages. National Boards is sucking the life out of me, and I fear sometimes out of my teaching as well. But I think (or maybe hope?) it is supposed to make you feel that way. Ah well. I’ve still been learning a lot lately, and I’ll plan on updating about that learning over the next few weeks.

About two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending (for the third time) a training on Ruby Payne‘s research on poverty. It’s absolutely fascinating. If you have not read A Framework for Understanding Poverty, I’d really encourage you to do so. It’s an easy read, and I really think it’s applicable for anyone with any job, but if you teach kids in poverty, you’ll learn so much that can dramatically improve your practice!

Payne explains that poverty is not just defined as people at or below a certain income level. Poverty is a lack of resources including financial, emotional, mental, spiritual/hope for the future, physical, support systems, relationships/role models, knowledge of hidden rules, and formal register.

For people living in poverty due to lack of resources, their greatest value is relationships. In the middle class, we value achievement. We see it as our ticket to successful lives, and since we live in a predominantly middle class world, achievement is the ticket to success for most of us. Achieving makes us proud of ourselves. It makes us proud of our children, students, and loved ones. It’s really what school is all about.  But in poverty, relationships take that role. Relationships are the ticket to successful lives in poverty. If someone threatens you, you need relationships … people to have your back. If the money runs out, you need relationships … someone to allow you to stay with them. Payne explains this all so much better in her book, but you get the idea.

So for people like me who teach middle school kids living in poverty, this is so important. We know from science that adolescents are driven by biology to seek out and pursue relationships. Their brains process the need for relationships much in the same way as their brains process their need for food and water. They feel as if they’ll quite literally die without them. If you spend any time at all around adolescents, this should make sense. They’re not just being dramatic. It’s hard-wired. So then how much more should we focus on relationships if we teach adolescents growing up in poverty?

A key to building appropriate relationships with students is developing mutual respect. In the workbook that accompanies A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Payne details 15 behaviors teachers can practice to build relationships and develop mutual respect with students. They aren’t necessarily what you’d think … at least not what I’d think.

1. Calls on everyone in the room equitably.

2. Provides individual help.

3. Gives wait time (allows students enough time to answer).

4. Asks questions to give students clues about the answer.

5. Asks questions that require more thought.

6. Tells students whether their answers are right or wrong.

7. Gives specific praise.

8. Gives reasons for praise.

9. Listens.

10. Accepts feelings of student.

11. Gets within an arm’s reach of each student each day.

12. Is courteous to students.

13. Shows personal interest or gives compliments.

14. Touches students (appropriately).

15. Desists (does not call attention to every negative behavior).

These are things I need constant reminders of. I need to hang them up in my classroom or something. I hope you can find them applicable. Every time I examine them, I realize improvements I need to make in the way I deal with my students.

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Lessons from Conscious Classroom Management by Rick Smith

The best classroom management tool is a well-planned, engaging lesson. This statement is the answer to a test question everyone in my college class (myself included) answered incorrectly. But now that I’ve been in the classroom a while, I’m certain that it’s true. Well-planned, engaging lessons will prevent most classroom management issues, but MOST is not ALL. Sometimes I still have difficult students even when my lessons are top-notch. During my second year of teaching, I made a rule for myself about situations like these. I could feel frustrated. I could vent to a trusted friend about “these kids” who “just won’t listen”, or “just don’t try”. But before I allow myself to go to bed at night, I have to problem-solve. Sure, the students should have made better choices. Oftentimes their actions are inexcusable. But they are kids, and kids will always do kid things. I can only make choices for myself. So the question is, what kind of choices can I make that may influence “these kids” to be more successful and STOP GIVING ME HEADACHES!

Two tips that have helped me tremendously come from Rick Smith, author of the fabulous book Conscious Classroom Management.

1. Always assume the best of your students.

Students, even middle schoolers, really do want to learn and really do want to please their teachers. I wasn’t sure if I believed this idea at first. How could anyone think STUDENT X wants to learn? Or even more preposterous, that X wants to please me? But then I started noticing that X would, without fail, complete his warmup every single day. I realized that this was a simple task that X could complete without risk of failure. So my response had to be two-fold: (1) put some serious effort into making my classroom an emotionally safe place for taking risks and (2) provide much more scaffolding and support for X. Through this, I also noticed that when I praised him, he responded with just the slightest of grins. Maybe he was human after all.

I did not “save” Student X. His life didn’t turn around. He did not become the model middle schooler. But my life was easier for the rest of the school year, and I can only hope he remembers that someone believed in him. Always, always assume the best of your students, even if it seems unbelievable.

2. Two by Ten Strategy

Want to see an 85% improvement in the behavior of a challenging student? And as a result an improvement in the behavior of the class overall? This strategy is so incredibly simple that it’s hard to believe it’s that effective, but it is research-based and I’ve found it to work wonders.

Simply have a two minute personal conversation with a student about something s/he is interested in. Repeat this 10 school days in a row. It’s really that easy! I find this strategy works on the student and on me. I try to choose a student who isn’t all that endearing, but after 10 days, I find myself invested in the student just as much as s/he becomes invested in me and my class.

My 8th grade team uses this strategy with a lot of success. Each teacher chooses a different student every two weeks. We report back to each other on our students during our weekly meetings. You can truly feel the difference in the atmosphere in our hallways when we are consistent about this as opposed to the times we let our busy schedules take over and put Two By Ten on the back burner.

Rick Smith has all sorts of quick and easy tips any teacher could start on Monday. Some of my favorite are posted here. I’d really encourage you to check it out.

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Bonding with Students

Perhaps it has to do with the demographics of my school or the age group I teach, but I’ve found that an essential component of managing my classroom and, more importantly, in motivating students to work as hard as I expect them to work is cultivating personal relationships with them. I am constantly looking for opportunities to show my students that they matter and that they are capable, but bonding isn’t always so serious. This first week of school, we bonded over . . .

OMG! Can you believe K. Stew?!?! Who would ever do that to R. Pattz?
My magnetic polish robot nails. They look pretty stellar, if I do say so myself.
And . . .
The Preposition Dance! Actually, I’ve just been talking this up to my students and holding off on the big reveal, but my homeroom is so into it. We want to learn it before the back to school dance Thursday.

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Filed under Beginning of the Year, Classroom Management