Author Archives: Bill Ferriter

Simple Truth: Trying Kids Need Love, Too.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the interactions that I’ve had over the course of my career with ‘trying’ kids.  

You know the ones I’m talking about:  They talk over their peers, they use unkind words, and they show up late for class.  They sit in other people’s seats and refuse to move.  They seem to find a way to break rules at every turn.  You think about them all of the time — worried about what they are going to do next and you spend TONS of time talking to colleagues about the new and interesting ways that they’ve driven you nuts from day to day.

Used to be, I’d go full on Enforcer on those kids.  Punishment was my primary intervention.

Want to blurt out in class?  You’d better be ready to have your Pride Guide signed.  Using unkind words in class?  I’m going to fuss at you until you cry to show you what unkind words look and feel like.  Determined to break rules that other kids follow without question?  I’m calling you out in front of everyone, calling the principal, and then calling your parents.

Then — just to rub salt in the wound — I’d use condescending language like, “Wouldn’t it just be easier to follow the rules?” or “Sooner or later, you are going to figure it out.”

Most of the time, I believed that punishment mattered for trying kids — and I believed I was the right person to deliver those punishments.  “If these kids don’t learn how to behave,” I’d say, “they are NEVER going to succeed in life.  SOMEONE has to teach them that there are consequences for their actions.  SOMEONE has to hold them accountable — and if their parents can’t do it, I will.”

#sheesh

What I didn’t bother thinking a whole lot about was an argument that my friend Chris Tuttell makes all the time:  Trying kids aren’t TRYING to be difficult. 

Chris rightly believes that no child wakes up in the morning intending to be unkind or to use hurtful language or to be in trouble at every single turn.  And more importantly, kids who are struggling to meet our behavioral expectations have the same mental and emotional needs as the kids who please you the most day in and day out.

She writes:

Read that again, guys:  ALL kids want praise.  ALL kids want acceptance.  ALL kids want hugs and love and to know that someone is proud of them.  

More importantly, all kids DESERVE praise and acceptance and hugs and love and to know that someone is proud of them.

But is that what happens in our buildings?  ARE we taking steps to let every kid know that they have value and that we believe in them?  Or is our pride and praise reserved for the small handful of kids who act in ways that we expect?

#worthasking

The good news is that this is an easy fix. 

Find a trying kid today.  Take a minute to tell him the things that you love the most about him.  When you see him following rules, celebrate him — and make sure it happens in front of his peers, who have probably come to see him as more of a pest than a partner.  Call home and let his mom know that you believe in him and love him and are excited to have him in your class.

Doing so will help to redefine that child in the eyes of everyone. 

His peers will see him as an equal instead of as an annoyance.  His parents will appreciate and support you when you need their help.  And HE will start to see HIMSELF differently.  Because he feels acceptance from you, he will be less restless in your classroom and he’ll try harder to meet your expectations because he won’t want to let you down.

Doing so will also give you the emotional leverage to be heard in the moments where you have to deliver correction.  It’s a heck of a lot easier to point out misbehavior or to get trying kids to invest effort in changing when they realize they aren’t your target anymore.

But most importantly, YOU will stop seeing the trying kids in your class as annoyances and start seeing them as the amazing, inspiring people that they have been all along.

That matters.

___________________

Related Radical Reads:

Is Your School a “Rules First” or “Relationships First” Community?

Three Promises I’m Making to the Parents of Quirky Kids.

Simple Truth:  Kids Want to Be Noticed.

Tutorials on Blogging, Managing Bookmarks, and Sharing to Social Streams.

Over the last few days, I’ve had the incredible honor to learn alongside the remarkable people that serve as Solution Tree PLC Associates.  These are the folks who are helping schools to improve results for students through collaboration.

One of the things I was asked to speak about is the role that technology plays in my own reflection and writing. 

To facilitate that work, I made a series of 2-4 minute tutorials this morning that attempt to capture some of my writing and reflection routines.  Thought you might dig seeing those tutorials, too, even though they were created for a very specific audience:

Tutorials on Blogging: 

These tutorials cover everything from the reasons that I think every practitioner should be blogging (hint: it’s about reflection) to how to find a blog service (hint: use WordPress).

When you are done watching them, you should have enough know-how to create your blog and make a post!

Tutorial 1:  Why Blog

Tutorial 2: Finding a Blog Service

Tutorial 3:  Creating a Post in a Blog Service

 

Tutorials on Using Pocket to Organize Potential Blog Topics:

Let’s face it:  The reason most people don’t write more regularly is because they don’t think they have anything to write about.  But here’s the thing:  We are all CONSTANTLY reading, aren’t we?  And the bits that we read can become potential blog topics in no time.  We just have to organize them in a way that we can find them later when we feel stuck.  I use Pocket —  a service introduced in the tutorials below — to do that work.

When you are done watching them, you’ll know how to bookmark and tag things that you are reading online, how to find those bookmarks later, and how Pocket can help you to quickly find information related to your own interests and areas of study.

Tutorial 1:  Introduction to Pocket

Tutorial 2: Managing your Pocket Bookmarks

Tutorial 3: Exploring Popular and Related Bookmarks in Pocket

 

Tutorials on Sharing Content to Audiences using Buffer:

One of the easiest ways to add value to your audiences — whether they are people that you work with on a regular basis or people that have been inspired by you somewhere in the past — is to share both the content that you are creating and the content that you are consuming with them.  By sharing that content, you are helping people to access important ideas without having to do a lot of work.

The good news is that sharing important content is a BREEZE as long as you use a service like Buffer — which allows you to schedule posts to all of your important social spaces in advance.

By the time you are done watching the tutorials below, you’ll know how to share posts in Buffer, how to see some simple analytics on the posts you share through Buffer, and how Buffer can help you to find new content that is worth both consuming and then sharing back out to your audiences.

Tutorial 1: Introduction to Buffer (and Why Your Finds Matter to Your Audiences)

Tutorial 2: Adding New Finds to Your Buffer Queue

Tutorial 3: Managing Your Buffer Posting Schedule

Tutorial 4: Using the Paid Features in Buffer to Maximize your Reading and Sharing

Hope this helps you to get started!  And let me know if you have any questions.  

#alwayswilling

Advice on Teaching and Parenting for Kyle Hamstra!

11/08/2017

Dear Kyle,

I’m thinking a ton about you tonight — wondering, really, whether or not tonight will be the night when you become a PARENT for the first time!  

That’s an interesting word, isn’t it?  Parent?

A new part of your identity — something that will define you more than any word has ever defined you before.

Sure, you’re still a teacher.  You’re also still a friend and a colleague and a husband and a son.  You’re still a guy with conservative values from small town Indiana.  You are also a blogger and a Tweeter and a thought leader in your school and in our county. And of course, you’re still the #hashtag180 guy and a STEM guy and an #edcampwake guy.

(You birthed that too, didn’t you?!)

But you are also going to be a PARENT — and that changes everything.  You’ll see.  I’m not sure you believe us yet, even though Chris and Melanie and I have been gently nudging you towards that reality for the past few months.

I thought a lot about what to “get” you to celebrate Baby Hamstra’s entry into your life — and then realized that nothing that I bought from the Baby Barn could rival the advice that I have to give you about being both a parent and a teacher.

You see, there’s a ton of things you need to know, now that you are joining the card carrying ranks of teachers who are also parents.  There are practical things to consider — like how to rearrange your morning AND afternoon schedule to fit within your day care’s drop off and pickup times or how to pack the perfect bag of stuff to keep your kid busy as you sit through teacher workdays for the next 18 years of his life.

You’re also going to have to get REALLY good at writing sub plans — and at watching those 85 sick days of yours get whittled down to 14 because your kid has “hand, foot and mouth disease” or head lice and isn’t welcome back into day care or preschool or first grade until they “aren’t exhibiting symptoms” anymore.

There are also heartwarming things that you are going to need to learn — like finding places in your classroom to hang countless finger paintings made by YOUR kid.  Who cares if they don’t look like anything recognizable.  You’ll recognize them and hold on to them and smile every time you see them.

So will your students, by the way — who are going to LOVE hearing stories about both you and your child.

You’ll become even more to them now — moving from “that cool young teacher” to a real live DAD.  Let them see you with your kid at school functions.  Tell them about dirty diapers and fun weekend outings.  Pull up pictures on your phone.  Every personal story that you share will make you more real to your students than you have ever been before — and real teachers are worth their weight in gold.

You also need to know that being a Dad is going to change who you are as a teacher, Kyle.

You are going to start questioning everything about our “system” of education.  As you are scrambling around the house after a long day looking for a freaking shoe box to make a last minute diorama for a social studies project, you’ll start to question why you ever thought that homework was a good idea to begin with.

As you are listening to a teacher share their concerns and complaints about your kid’s inability to sit still, you’ll start to question why we ever thought it was a good idea to ask kids to sit still for 6 hours a day to begin with.

As you look over report cards that tell you next to nothing about what your child knows and is able to do, you’ll start to question the role that grades play in your own classroom.

And as you think about the interactions your child’s teachers have with him — pushing him, challenging him, inspiring him OR belittling him, embarrassing him, holding him back with crazy rules or ridiculous policies — you’ll start to question every interaction you’ve ever had with a student in your own classroom.  Better yet, you’ll start to strive to be the teacher you know your own kid deserves — and that will make you even better and more beloved than you are already are.

You are going to become FAR more tolerant and FAR more understanding of every kid and every family in your classroom — and that’s a good thing.  But you are also going to become FAR less tolerant of practices that we’ve accepted in education — and that’s going to make you uncomfortable on a good day and disgruntled on the worst.

But you also need to know that you are going to have to give a lot up, too, Kyle — starting with your insane levels of involvement in and commitment to your school, our district and the social spaces that we all know that you love.  

Until now, being chased out of the building by the janitors each night was a sign of your commitment.  Until now, attending every #edcamp within a hundred miles of Raleigh was a sign of your passion for improving education.  Until now, Tweeting and blogging and Voxing a thousand times a day was your way of both staying involved and of giving back.

But starting in just a few short hours, all of those things steal moments from your OWN child and from your OWN growing family.  A minute on your phone participating in a chat is a minute that you aren’t reading a book or building a fort or climbing a tree.  A few hours on a Saturday driving down to the beach to meet and learn from your peers in another part of our state is a few hours of cuddling or laughing that you’ll miss out on, too.

And believe me — you’ll look back ten years from now and miss those moments.  Life really does in the blink of an eye once you really DO have a baby on board.

You also have to realize that “your best efforts” on behalf of your students don’t have to be Herculean. 

I get it — you pride yourself on giving your all.  Your lessons are well crafted.  Your materials are always prepared.  Your assignments are graded quickly and handed back with tons of feedback.

But here’s the thing:  THAT’s not what makes you remarkable and memorable to your students.  What they remember is that you care about them and that you are excited to see them and that you are ready to ask them fantastic questions and celebrate their terrific answers.

They remember who you are — not what you’ve planned or how quick you got their papers graded.

So get comfortable with being a little LESS prepared than usual.  Get ready to walk out of school at 5 PM no matter what — and to leave every single paper ungraded and email unanswered until you walk back in at 8 AM the next morning.  You’ll still be one of the best teachers in your building.  But more importantly, you’ll be a better husband and father all at the same time.

Giving at least as much of yourself to your own kid as you give to the kids in your classroom HAS to be a nonnegotiable for you, no matter how strange that feels to you.

And here’s the one that hurts the most:  You MAY even have to walk away from the classroom completely.

The truth is that — at least here in North Carolina — it’s tough to provide for your family on a teacher’s salary.  Sure, you’ll always have a roof over your head and food in your belly.  And yes, you’ll always be able to buy school supplies and pay for field trips.

But if you want anything more than that — if you want tutors and sleep away camp and family trips to Disney World and a new minivan with room for the entire soccer team on the way to out of town tournaments, you are going to need a second (and probably a third) job.

And take it from me:  Those second and third jobs are going to crush you.

You’ll sneak home in time to kiss your kid goodnight and wonder what you missed while you were gone.  You’ll head out early on the weekends, hoping to get home in time for a family afternoon, but knowing that you are going to miss the slow, lazy routines that make Saturday mornings so special.

The older your child gets, the harder this will be for you — because he will tell you how much he misses you.

He’ll ask you if you can watch a movie with him on a Friday night and you’ll have to tell him that you have part time work to do.  He’ll wait on the porch for you to get home, no matter how late you are.  And he’ll write you notes telling you to have a good day — which will break your heart because you know that if you weren’t working two (or three) jobs, you’d be home to hear him say those same words in person.

Things might not be a LOT different if you move into school leadership or a curriculum coaching position in the district office.  Those folks work long hours, too.  But at least you’ll know that you are being paid enough money to give your child everything that you want him to have.

I know what you are thinking right now:  There’s no WAY you’d ever leave the classroom, right?  You are, above and beyond all, a TEACHER.

It’s who you are.  It’s what you have been for your entire career.  You are proud of what you’ve accomplished.  You love the impact you are making on everyone around you — but especially on the countless kids who will remember Mr. Hamstra as their favorite teacher.

But you are going to be a DAD, now.

And that changes everything.

Super happy for you — and super excited to see what you become.

Rock right on,

Bill


Related Radical Reads:

Are Grades Destroying My Six Year Old Kid?

My Favorite Radical Heads to Kindergarten.

Welcoming the Newest Radical!

 

Is Your School a “Rules First” or a “Relationships First” Community?

Over the next year, I’m participating in a school-based book study of George Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset.

If you haven’t read it before, you ought to pick it up.  What I dig the most about it is the fact that George’s ideas are incredibly approachable.  Not only will you walk away with a better understanding of just what innovation looks like in action, you will walk away with a belief that innovation is doable.

#thatmatters

My a-ha this week came in a chapter on the importance of relationships in education.  

George references this Atul Gawande bit describing how ideas spread through an organization.  In the article, Gawande describes something called “the rule of seven touches” that he picked up from a pharmaceutical sales representative:

I once asked a pharmaceutical rep how he persuaded doctors—who are notoriously stubborn—to adopt a new medicine. Evidence is not remotely enough, he said, however strong a case you may have. You must also apply “the rule of seven touches.” Personally “touch” the doctors seven times, and they will come to know you; if they know you, they might trust you; and, if they trust you, they will change.

That’s why he stocked doctors’ closets with free drug samples in person. Then he could poke his head around the corner and ask, “So how did your daughter Debbie’s soccer game go?” Eventually, this can become “Have you seen this study on our new drug? How about giving it a try?” As the rep had recognized, human interaction is the key force in overcoming resistance and speeding change.

I know firsthand that the rule of seven touches works with adults.  Here’s why:  I’m ‘notoriously stubborn’ too! 

Need proof?  Ask literally ANYONE who has worked with me professionally over the last 25 years.

If you are going to have ANY chance of convincing me to embrace a new practice or behavior or to walk in whatever direction you are hoping I’m going to walk, you are going to need to rely on more than just your authority or position.  Instead, you are going to have to have a series of smaller interactions with me that build trust.  If I don’t come to know you — or worse yet, if I’m not convinced that you’ve tried to get to know me — I’m never going to trust you.  And if I don’t trust you, there’s not a chance in the world that you are going to convince me to take your ideas for a spin.

But I wasn’t thinking about adults when I read about the Rule of Seven in The Innovator’s Mindset.  I was thinking about the students who struggle with behaviors in our schools.

You know the kids that I’m talking about:  The ones who aren’t in their seats when we want them to be or who use unkind words to their peers or who can’t keep their hands to themselves or who are late to our classes time and time again or who are in spaces where they aren’t supposed to be or who mouth back when we try to correct their behaviors.

For years, my response to those behaviors had nothing to do with “the rule of seven touches.”  Instead, my response was more along the lines of “the rule of seven consequences.”

I’d sign their behavior trackers or fuss at them in the hallways or chase them back to their classrooms with a stern voice or the ‘evil eye.’  I’d write them up and send them to the office and argue that we needed MORE consequences if we were ever going to ‘manage their behaviors.’

I actually took pride in being ‘the strict teacher’ and would warn kids at the beginning of the year that if they didn’t behave, I would be their LEAST favorite teacher.  I’d call their parents during my planning period, intentionally trying to get kids in trouble.  “Wait until you get home,” I’d crow.  “Your mom is NOT happy with you.”

The funny thing is that NONE of those ‘command and control’ approaches to dealing with student behaviors worked.

Students who were suspended time and again or fussed at time and again or shouted down by teachers time and again or ‘disciplined’ time and again by the adults in a schoolhouse don’t become MORE likely to follow your rules or to participate in your school community in positive ways.

Instead, they resist and fight back and begin to doubt and disrespect everything and everyone in your school community.  Why would you expect cooperation from kids who have been buried in consequences by important adults at every turn?

So I’ve done my best this year to create “positive touches” with the students who struggle with behaviors on my hallway.  

Specifically, I’ve learned the names of kids in different classes that I stumble across over and over again out of place in the hallways.  I say hello using first names every time that I see them. I ask about their weekends, about their interests, and about how their days are going every chance I get.  I say goodbye as the head out the door at the end of the day.  I say, “It’s good to see you!” a thousand times a day to kids who have gotten used to being somebody’s outcast.

There’s nothing remarkable about any of these interactions — and they cost me nothing.  But they are deliberate — designed to get kids to ‘come to know me’ because I realize that if kids who struggle to behave ‘come to know me’, they are more likely to trust me.  And if they trust me, I’ll have a better chance to coach them around behaviors when I need to.

And it’s working.

I’ve already established trusting relationships with some of the most ‘difficult’ kids in our school.  Those kids stop and listen when I ask them to.  If I need them to head back to their classrooms, it happens without any kind of resistance involved.

When they make poor choices, I can call them out on it and know that they will hear me rather than slip directly into denial or anger or belligerence.  What I love the most is that many of them have started stopping by my room on purpose just to say hello in the morning — and they’re bringing friends who want to get to know me, too.

None of this would have happened in previous years, y’all.

That’s because in previous years, I would have tried to drop the hammer on these kids every time I saw them in the hallways.  I would have chased them away or fussed first and asked questions later.  I would have used every punishment that I had available to me, convinced that those punishments were not only deserved, but essential to “send a message” to kids.

Can you see the flaws in my logic?

My priority was obedience first and relationships later, not realizing that obedience — or the lack thereof — was a direct reflection of the state of the relationship that I had with each individual student.  The kids who misbehaved the most were the ones that I’d done nothing to get to know and appreciate and value and celebrate.

Now don’t get me wrong: I haven’t ‘rescued’ any of these students yet.  They aren’t behaving everywhere that they go in our building.  In fact, it’s not unusual for me to find out that they are in trouble for shouting at other teachers or staff members that they’ve encountered during the school day.

But each of those negative interactions bothers me more now than ever because I KNOW that these same students CAN respond in a positive way to correction and to guidance from adults.  That correction and guidance just has to come from adults that they trust — and trust starts when adults concentrate on having positive touches with the most difficult kids in their buildings.

So here’s a simple question I want you to consider:  Is your school a “rules first” or a “relationships first” community?

You are a “rules first” community if you spend more time in staff meetings or leadership meetings or school improvement meetings talking about consequences for kids than you do talking about the best ways to build trust with the kids who need you the most.

You are a “rules first” community if you have an incredibly long list of misbehaviors and their corresponding punishments posted all over your school’s website, but you can’t make a similar list of the deliberate steps that YOU are taking to make sure that every kid — including those that are always in trouble — has positive interactions with adults in your building each day.

You are a “rules first” community if your school is full of teachers who are constantly grumbling about the lack of “enforcement” or “discipline” in your building but those same staff members aren’t willing to roll their sleeves up and create experiences intentionally designed to strengthen relationships with students who are struggling to behave.

You are a “rules first” community if teachers in your building can list all of the things that a difficult student has done WRONG but struggle to come up with anything that those exact same students have done RIGHT.

You are a “rules first” community if you are more than ready to call home to notify parents of all of the ways that their kids have broken the rules, but you never take the time to call home and notify parents of all of the ways that their kids inspire you and make you proud.

And you are a “rules first” community if there are a group of kids that you never seem to be able to reach with consequences.  They’ve tuned you out.  They’ve given up on you.  They don’t trust you — and because they don’t trust you, they will never respond to you in the way that you hope that they will.

If that sounds anything like you, maybe it’s time to start thinking about relationships.

They matter.

#trudatchat

——————–

Related Radical Reads:

Is Your Team Failing Unsuccessful Practices Together?

Three Promises I’m Making to the Parents of Quirky Kids.

When Was the Last Time You Wrote a Positive Note Home to Parents?

 

Transferring Facts v. Building the Future Together.

Over the last five years, I’ve really been wrestling to understand the changes that are needed to create the schools that our students deserve.  

For me, that wrestling started when I realized that it was becoming harder and harder to truly engage my students in the lessons that I was teaching.  Instead of being active participants in class — something that I’d never struggled with before — my kids were increasingly passive and disconnected from the work that we were doing.

Sure, they were still playing the “grade game” — turning in tasks that showed mastery of the standards.  But there was little to no real inspiration in their efforts.  It was clear that they saw school as something to be endured instead of enjoyed.

So I started thinking about the differences between ENGAGING and EMPOWERING learners.

The way I saw it, traditional schools stripped learners of any real agency — and learners without agency are uninspired.  What’s more, I want kids to leave school convinced that they can change the world around them for the better — to see themselves as people with both the capacity and responsibility to be a positive influence their communities.

That’s when I started tinkering with purpose-driven learning — the notion that kids are most motivated when they are wrestling with causes or issues or problems that are meaningful and purposeful beyond the classroom walls.  If I could use problems as an invitation to learn the required curriculum — an idea that Garfield Gini-Newman calls “problemitizing the curriculum” -I could meet the expectations outlined in the required curricula while simultaneously creating learning experiences that my kids really WOULD care about.

But I’ve always struggled to explain in clear and simple terms what this change in education should look like — and that’s kept my thinking from spreading widely beyond my own room.

It’s easy to SAY that empowerment trumps engagement and that purpose should stand at the center of the classroom learning experience, but what exactly does that MEAN?  How would learning experiences be restructured if that shift stood at the center of the work we did with kids.

That’s why I was jazzed to stumble across this Erik P.M. Vermeulen bit describing the expectations of millennial learners on Hackernoon in my stream this morning.

In it, Vermeulen writes:

“The world has really changed. Education has become less about the transfer of “fact”-based information/knowledge and much more about exploring and building the future together with the students.”

That’s SUCH a powerful statement, y’all.  Read it again.

And then ask yourself a simple question:  Are the bulk of your learning experiences about transferring facts or about exploring and building a better future together with your students?

Chances are that if you work in a traditional school, you’re still transferring facts.  And if so, chances are your kids are bored.

How do you fix that?

Constantly remember that transferring facts is a heck of a lot easier and more inspiring when it happens as a part of an attempt to explore and build a better future together.

Kids need purpose, too — and all too often, that purpose is missing from the work we do in schools.

#trudatchat

If you want to learn more about using causes as levers for learning, consider checking out Creating Purpose-Driven Learning Experiences — my latest book for Solution Tree Press.

——————

Related Radical Reads:

Should We Be Engaging or Empowering Learners?

How Engaged are YOUR Students?

Why Can’t THIS Be School?