Category Archives: Teachers Reflect on their Practice

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.

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?

 

 

How Would YOU Answer these Questions on Grading?

I’ve been doing a ton of thinking about grading and feedback and assessment over the last few weeks.  It’s not a new conversation, right?  Teachers have been wrestling with grading for decades.

If I’m being honest, I hate grades.  I think they are ruining learners.  I see that in my own classroom AND with my own daughter.

While I won’t pretend to have all of the answers to the great grading debate, I do have a ton of questions that are worth considering. 

Here’s just a few:

Do your students care more about their grades than the learning those grades are supposed to represent? 

Figuring out the answer to this question is easy.  Think about what kids say to you when they earn a score they aren’t proud of.

If grades are more important than learning in your building, you hear, “How can I raise my grade?” about a thousand times a year — particularly in the last week of a marking period.

If learning matters most, your kids are asking, “I’m struggling with this content.  Can you help me figure out what I still need to know?” all quarter long.

Are the grades given in your building an accurate representation of what students know?

The simple truth is that grades are oftentimes really poor reflections of what a kid actually knows.

Need some examples?

Think of the student who loses points because work was turned in late.  Or of the student who corrects every mistake on a unit test perfectly but is only given a 70 in the grade book because of a school’s rework policy.

In both cases, grades are NOT accurate reflections of what a kid knows and is able to do.  Are we OK with that?  Are we OK with sharing inaccurate information with parents and students and other teachers about a student’s ability in a particular subject area?

Are grades in your building a better indicator of student COMPLIANCE than they are of student PERFORMANCE?

I’m raising an awesome, amazing, wonderfully intelligent third grader named Reece.  What I love the most about her is that she’s stubborn times ten.  That determination to live her own life regardless of what others think and feel is going to pay off as she grows older.

But as an eight year old, that same determination is having an impact on her grades.

Here’s how:  When she’s given a task to complete, she immediately decides whether or not she’s interested in it.  If the answer is no, she does just enough to squeak by.  The result is a task that isn’t a great indicator of what she’s really capable of.

In other words, teachers rarely see what my kid CAN do.  Instead, they see what she’s WILLING to do.

The result:  Her grades are rarely an accurate reflection of her ability.

My favorite example:  As a kindergartner, she ended up in the lowest reading group in her class because she hadn’t demonstrated mastery of her letter sounds.  That surprised me because I was pretty sure she had letter sounds down pat.

When I asked her teacher about the placement, I found out that on a screening test, Reece had refused to participate.  The teacher would point to a letter or a blend and Reece would say, “Nope!” over and over again.

“Do you know what the A says, Reece?”

“Nope!”

“How about the B?”

“Nope!”

“We’ve been working on the CK sound lately.  Do you remember that one?”

“Nope!”

(She’s DEFINITELY my kid, y’all!)

Would I have loved it if Reece had just cooperated and shown what she knew?

Absolutely.

But that story also reminds me to dig deeper with the stubborn kids in my own class.  I need to work hard to make sure that my scores are a representation of ability and performance, not simply compliance.

Do grades REALLY motivate learners?

Before you answer this question, spend a minute thinking beyond the high performing students in your class who thrive on making As on every assignment and making the honor roll every quarter.

Instead, think about the average student.  Are they working harder because they know that their performance will be graded?  Or think about the struggling student.  Does knowing that a grade is coming change their overall investment in a task?

I’d argue that the answer in both of those circumstances is a resounding “nope.”

Need proof?

Think about the kids who are asking for extra credit or completing reworks in order to raise their grades.  Most of the time, aren’t those students ALREADY making good scores?

And then think about the students who struggle in your classes.  If all you did was offer a rework or extra credit to raise scores — instead of requiring that a student to participate in an intervention — would struggling students take you up on your offer?

If grades motivated kids, wouldn’t every student jump at the chance to raise their scores on every assignment?

Hope these questions make you think.

And if you want to learn more about steps you can take to move from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback in your school, check out my newest book:  Creating a Culture of Feedback.  

_______________

Related Radical Reads:

Are Grades Destroying My Six Year Old Kid?

Grades AREN’T Motivating.

Session Materials – Annual Conference on Assessment and Grading

Simple Truth: Your Attention Has Been Hijacked.

Here’s an interesting confession from a guy who has been a tech enthusiast for a long while:  I HATE smartphones. 

Like legitimately hate them.

My animosity towards them has been growing and growing over time.  It started when I caught myself laying in bed every night and opening Instagram to see whether anyone had liked the photos of my daughter that I used to share there regularly.

I’d anxiously wait for the number of new notifications to be updated — and often, I’d be upset that I didn’t get as many notifications as I wanted to.  I really felt ignored at times, trying to figure out why some people would have 60 or 70 or 80 likes on pictures of their kids and I’d have four.

Then, I’d start looking at the people in my network who had liked the pictures of OTHER people in my network.  I’d see that people I considered friends were actively liking content shared by each other, but they never seemed to like or favorite content shared by me.  “They are shunning me,” I’d think.

I’d even play games where I’d go in and like and favorite pictures with increasing regularity.  “Look, I’m here and I’m saying I like your content!” I’d think every time I’d drop a like or a comment on pictures of other people’s kids.  And then I’d wait to see if they’d reciprocate — reloading my stream tons of times each night to see if anyone had noticed me.

If they did, I’d go to bed relieved.  If they didn’t, I’d go to bed feeling sad.

How crazy is that?!

Only adding to my animosity towards phones has been the impact that they have had on the people around me. 

I’m a pretty social guy.  I love being with and around others and engaging in deep conversations with them.  But I started to notice that every time I was with other people in a physical location, there were fewer and fewer sustained conversations because people were CONSTANTLY checking their iPhones or their SMART Watches.

Heck — a few years back, I ponied up a bunch of cash and went to ISTE and couldn’t BELIEVE how little attendees actually interacted with the people they were sitting with.  At one point, I was taking a break in a seating area on a really comfortable couch.  There were ten other people in the same area.  None of them looked up from their devices a single time.

I see the same trends in my family life, too.  Our living rooms — places where we used to gather to connect and to laugh and to enjoy — have grown increasingly quiet as people pull out their phones and sift through their streams instead of invest in each other.

That pattern has strained the relationships that I have with people in my life who pull out their phones the most often.  I just don’t enjoy being around them anymore because I know they are going to turn away from me and turn towards their devices every time that we are together.  Seeing their phone out makes me resent them — and, given how frequently they keep doing it, I’m not sure they even care.

Here’s what’s REALLY evil:  The people who are designing social apps are TRYING to “hijack” your attention.

Need proof?  Check out the details in this article on the Guardian.

Did you know that app designers are attending $1,700 seminars on how to “manipulate people into the habitual use of their products”?  Does knowing that the person responsible for the next update of your app has probably studied the role that anticipation and craving and triggers play in the human mind — and are intentionally using that knowledge to develop features that take advantage of those inner needs and impulses.

And can you spot the built in features of the social apps that you use the most frequently that exploit your inner needs and impulses?

Here’s one:  The “drag to refresh” feature on so many of your favorite social services is intentional.  From a purely technical standpoint, you could see your new notifications immediately when you open an app, but by requiring a drag to refresh, app designers are manipulating your need for anticipation.  It’s like the feeling you get when you pull a handle on a slot machine.  You can’t wait to see what comes next — and because that anticipation is so strong, you are likely to KEEP dragging to refresh all day long.

Sometimes, you’ll be disappointed because you won’t have any new notifications.  That will cause angst.  You’ll work harder to create and to share content in those social spaces that people WILL like and share.

Other times, you’ll hit the jackpot.  A post will take off and you’ll see it shared and liked over and over again.  And every time that you drag to refresh, you’ll feel the rush that comes along with seeing dozens of new notifications.

Either way, you’ll keep coming back to your social service.

You’re a digital moth, y’all.  And drag to refresh is the flame.

#sheesh

Should we blame social services for trying to turn you into a habitual user?  

Of course not.  They are creating a product that they need to profit from.  If they didn’t think through how to best capture your attention, they wouldn’t be acting in their own interest.

But we should be aware of the fact that they ARE trying to manipulate your attention — and their goals have nothing to do with helping you to be a more complete person.

So what are the solutions?

Here are mine:

(1). You’ll never see me checking any social apps on my phone while we are together:  That’s a promise I made a few years back to the people in my lives.  I may pull my phone out to check the time or answer a call from my kid — but even then, I’ll tell you what I’m doing so that you know that you are more important to me than any social stream that I may be swimming in.  We owe that to each other.

(2).  I’m uninstalling MOST social apps from my phone:  The challenge with social apps is that we use them most frequently while we are on our phones.  Here’s why that’s a problem:  Our phones are almost always with us.

Hanging out on the couch with your partner and/or your kids at the end of a long day?  You probably have your phone with you, too.  Sitting at Thanksgiving dinner with relatives you haven’t seen in six months?  You probably have your phone with you, too.  Visiting with friends who you value at a local brewery?  You probably have your phone with you, too.

So the times when you should be the MOST present are also the times when you have a device full of services that are trying to pull you away.  And given that it’s difficult to resist the tricks being used to manipulate you into using those services, you are far more likely to allow your attention to be hijacked — and by default, to turn away from the people who you are physically present with.

But if there aren’t any social apps on your phone, that social interruption can’t happen. Better yet, over time you will rethink your relationship with your device.  You won’t see it as a tool that feeds your need for anticipation or craving or triggers. It will be easier to ignore if it isn’t the primary source of reward and anticipation and need and craving in your life anymore.

I’ll always keep Twitter on my phone.  That’s because it is a place where people reach out to me with questions about the professional work that I do.  But I don’t need Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or Untappd on my phone anymore.  Those are purely social services to me — and in order to prioritize the social interactions that I have with the people around me, I’m going to intentionally turn away from having similar interactions with people on my my phone.

Does that mean I won’t use social services at all?

Nope.  It just means that I’ll have to dig my computer out to participate in those spaces — something I’m far less likely to do when I’m on the couch with my kid or at the bar with my friends.  I’ve got Twitter open right now in a tab on my browser — but I’m also sitting alone in the back of a Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery banging away at the keys on my computer.  If my attention is hijacked, it isn’t being stolen from people that I care the most about.

(3). I’m going to nudge the people in my life — my peers, my relatives, my students — to take the same actions.  I’m going to teach them about the manipulative design features in social services that are pulling them away from one another.  I’m going to encourage them to think through the consequences of divided attention — on their own happiness, on their relationships with other people, on their ability to learn.

I’m going to ask them to think about whether or not it is ethical for companies to design products that intentionally leverage human behaviors to steal their time and attention without being explicitly clear about their intentions.

These are conversations that we need to be having.  Otherwise, divided attention and intentional manipulation through app design become the new normal.

And I’m not OK with that.

Does any of this make sense to you?

______________________________

Related Radical Reads:

Banning Smartphones in Class May Be the BEST BYOD Policy

Are YOU Teaching Students about Attentional Blink?

I’m Going “Topless” in 2015