Wednesday, December 18, 2019

4 Ways to Build Relationships with Your Students

This is a timely article as we reach the mid-point of the school year--with a needed two-week break to re-energize for the second half of the year.

If you’re like me, you’ll try to take the next few days to begin to decompress from the hectic pace of school. But with the onrush of the holidays and family and friend obligations and responsibilities, it’s tough to relax and grab some private time

But at some point over the next two weeks you’ll finally find yourself relaxing, taking a deep cleansing breath, and just embracing the present moment without concern for the past or future. It’s at this time I recommend you read the article below.

As it’s written by an elementary school teacher, it’s honest and relatable. She captures both the joys and frustrations of teaching—and the fulfillment that comes from forging deep and honest relationships with her students and their families.

We all do what she recommends in our teaching, yet they serve as a reminder that when we return for the second half of the year to take the extra time to re-connect on a personal level with all our students and to make sure joy of being a teacher always trumps the frustrations. Just like family, teaching is grounded in relationships.

Enjoy the holidays and thank you for all you do for Trinity!



We all know relationships are crucial to teaching. Kids behave better, work harder, and learn more when they like and respect their teacher—and when they know their teacher likes and respects them back.

That positive rapport with students can be a powerful amulet for warding off burnout. It doesn’t matter how frustrated I am by kids’ misbehavior. One unguarded grin from a 2nd grader—invariably missing a tooth or two—and the chunk of frustration lodged in my chest melts away like a block of ice in a beam of sunlight.

How can we cultivate these relationships and weave them into the daily fabric of our classrooms, not just during the first few weeks of school, but throughout the entire year?

Spend time with the “hard” kids and the quiet ones: The best part of a recent week was having lunch in the classroom with a handful of my students. Alicia, who’s usually quiet as a painting, beamed her radiant smile while filling me in on her life, including the fact that her mom is about to have a baby. Christina, who is often teary and nervous in the mornings, was downright bubbly, clowning around and acting silly as a goose. It was hard to believe these funny, happy kids were part of the same class that drove me crazy all morning. How could these adorable children belong to that unruly little mob that straggled across the hall rather than forming a single-file line and stretched out on the rug like they were lounging in hammocks instead of sitting “crisscross applesauce”? That’s often The Teacher’s Paradox, especially at this time of year: an ill-mannered class made up entirely of delightful individuals. It’s common practice to do special things like lunch in the classroom only as a reward. The problem with that is you often end up spending all your time with the well-behaved students whose company you already enjoy, and who already enjoy yours. Sometimes when a child has driven me crazy all week, that’s the perfect time to have him join me and another student or two for lunch in the classroom. That time together often provides insights into the source of his behavior—a rough home life, a need for attention so deep he’d rather get negative attention than none at all—but it also gives us both a much-needed break from our usual patterns. For that little oasis of time, I’m not correcting his behavior, threatening him with consequences, or trying to make him do things he doesn’t want to do. Those 20 minutes can do a lot to mend a fractured relationship.

Build in lots of one-on-one and small-group time: The great thing about teaching is the same thing that makes it so hard: Each child is complex and distinct, an individual galaxy of needs, gifts, interests, and experiences. We have to teach them in ways that honor that individuality. To do that, we need to become experts in these particular children. The inconvenient truth is that whole-class direct instruction will never provide our students with the depth of understanding they need. Children develop their abilities the same way babies learn language: one-on-one, guided by an adult who cares deeply about them. I use only 10 or 12 minutes of each hour in my class for whole-group instruction. The rest of the time, I’m doing one-on-one conferences or pulling small groups. I’m taking notes, on paper and in my head, about what each child understands and what she still needs to figure out. Developing our expertise on individual students will take hundreds of hours. We have to build that time into our school day.

Write individual notes to your students: Each child in my class has a tiny envelope with their name on it. Once or twice a month, I write the children notes. I tell them what I liked about a story they wrote that week, or a new reading strength I noticed they’re developing. I ask them questions about their families and what they like to do after school. Kids need to know that they are seen and heard. They often treasure these little letters that only take me a few minutes to write.

Build relationships with families, too: I used to leave parent-teacher conferences feeling like the only thing I had asked parents, after 10 minutes of me talking non-stop, was “Do you have any questions?” In our district, children and parents attend teacher conferences together. So this year I prepared a few “icebreaker” questions for them on scraps of paper in Ziploc bags. One bag had questions for moms and dads to ask their children, like, “Who is your best friend in the class?” The other bag had questions for kids to ask their parents, such as, “What was I like when I was a baby?” or “Did you like school when you were a kid?” The answers gave me a deeper sense of each parent as a human being, not just a source for signatures on forms or help with behavioral problems. We have to show moms, dads, and grandparents the same curiosity and respect we show their complicated, infuriating, fundamentally lovable children.

Most of us teach because we love getting to know young humans, in all their messy radiance and flawed glory. If we make time to cultivate the relationships that sustain us and nurture our students, we will witness that annual miracle: a roomful of strangers becoming a kind of family. The children in our care will become kinder, better, and more deeply joyful. So will we.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Helping Boys Deal with Anger

This week’s article summary is How to Help Boys Deal with Anger.

Intended as advice for parents, the article is appropriate for teachers as well.

There were particular lines in the article that while broad-brush can help both parents and teachers work with boys who struggle with managing their anger.

Boys first need to understand that anger is biological, normal, and healthy. The key is how to deal with it.

From a bell curve perspective, boys deal with anger externally (verbal and physical) while girls more often internalize their anger.

Part of growing up is learning to recognize when your anger is escalating and then developing ways to deal with these emotions so you don’t harm yourself or others. We’ve all heard that the ability to self-regulate is a key to school success, and managing emotions, including anger, is obviously part of self-regulation.

As most of us have experienced, it’s useless to deal rationally with someone in tantrum mode. Once people go to the reptilian flight, fight or freeze part of their brain, there isn’t much anyone can do until they get tired, breakdown and cry, or just give in. Once they regain composure, however, we can help them by doing a post mortem and talking about what they felt and what they might do the next time. Yes, their understanding is gradual but most of us (unlike the Joe Pesci character in Good Fellas) do learn to develop internal self-control and regulation to deal with our fits of pique.

I really liked the sentence “you can feel whatever you want to feel but you can’t always do whatever you want” which validates for kids how they’re feeling but reminds them they’re a part of a community that has rules of acceptable behavior. Even we adults have these same feelings but have reflected, practiced, and learned to respond, not innately react, in a rational manner even when we begin to lose our cool.



Concerns about boys and anger abound, as comedian and writer Michael Ian Black captured in his viral 2018 New York Times opinion piece “The Boys Are Not All Right.” “The man who feels lost but wishes to preserve his fully masculine self has only two choices: withdrawal or rage,” he wrote.

My two boys do not inherently struggle with anger simply because they are boys. And yet they do lash out — sometimes in frustration, sometimes when I ask them to do something they don’t want to. I want to help them navigate that anger so they can experience the feeling but not be overwhelmed by it.

First and foremost, it helps to understand the basics of what anger is: basically, a response to a perceived threat. The body releases adrenaline (the hormone that plays a key role in the fight-or-flight response) and the heart rate and blood pressure go up. It is absolutely fine — and sometimes really positive — to feel angry. It’s when that anger is not managed in a healthy way that it can become problematic.

Here are some tips for parents to keep in mind.

Understand that there can be differences in how boys and girls experience and express anger: Obviously, there is so much nuance when it comes to individuals, emotions — and how they express those emotions. It is not fair, nor accurate, to say that all boys experience anger one way, while all girls experience it another. And research shows it is a myth that boys and men experience anger more than girls and women. Yet experts say there can be big broad-strokes distinctions parents might want to at least have in mind as they help guide their children through all of this. Psychologists have a saying that boys externalize and girls internalize. This means that boys are more likely to take their anger and distress and direct it outward, where it can become verbal or physical aggression. On the other hand, girls are more likely to direct their anger and frustrations inward towards themselves, so it can become self-blame or even depression.

Help your child learn how to label his feelings: The first step to stress and anger management is to help your child identify what’s going on, and to empathize with it. Young kids don’t always recognize what they’re experiencing. If you don’t understand what the problem is — in this case, feelings of anger or frustration that might lead a child to act out — you can’t solve the problem. Labeling the feeling is so important. In a younger kid, that might mean explicitly describing their emotions — like, “your body looks like it’s feeling frustrated,” or “it seems like you are feeling angry, because I told you no.” Don’t worry about being presumptuous or getting it wrong. Your kid might turn around and tell you that they’re not actually feeling angry, they’re feeling XYZ thing — and that’s totally fine. You’ve prompted them to identify what is going on internally. Older kids and teens probably won’t respond all that well to those kinds of prompts, but they might still need some help identifying their feelings in the moment. So for them, labeling might sound something more like, “If I were in this situation, I’d probably feel pretty mad. Walk me through what’s going on for you.”

Be soothing: Although parents might react to a child’s anger or outburst by walking away (and strategic ignoring can be one way to help diffuse tantrums), experts say there is a strong argument to be made for soothing children. Anger can overwhelm young children. They do not necessarily have the ability to calm themselves down so that they become more reasonable. There are many ways to soothe and comfort an angry young child, but it may require a shift in the parent’s mindset or focus in the moment. Be patient and calm. Make it clear that you’re not looking to just stifle or deny their anger in the moment — which is especially important with boys, who have historically been taught to bottle up their emotions. The goal is ultimately to help your kids get to a point where they’re able to self-soothe, perhaps by taking deep breaths, walking away or taking a few moments to themselves to calm down. By acting calm and soothing in the moment yourself, you’re modeling compassion for oneself and for others, which is a very good thing.

Provide consequences: Don’t confuse being soothing with being permissive. Consequences are needed when anger spills over into aggression, especially as boys get older. One sentence to use when working with boys is that “you can feel whatever you want to feel, but you can’t always do whatever you want to do.” Consequences can take many different forms, depending on how old your child is, what the specific circumstances are, and what his personality responds to — and, of course, those things can change by the day. But things like brief time-outs or loss of privileges can be powerful tools in teaching boys that there is a difference between emotions and behaviors. Spend a bit of time thinking about the types of consequences you’re comfortable with, so that you’re not blurting out random threats after your child has expressed their anger in a way you’re not comfortable with. Certain strategies work better for some children than others, so you might need to recalibrate and try out a few things. Remember, what you’re trying to teach is that it is absolutely OK to feel angry and to express that you are feeling angry. It is not OK to act out on that anger in an aggressive way.

If you’re worried about your child’s anger, ask for help: Psychologists use the standards of frequency, duration, intensity, and age-appropriateness when they assess whether a behavior is a symptom of a disorder, so those are criteria parents who are concerned about their son’s anger or aggression should pay attention to. There aren’t hard and fast rules about what’s typical and what’s not, but if your son seems to be struggling with anger on a daily basis, that might be a sign something more serious is going on. It’s also helpful to consider whether certain behaviors — like aggression — are happening across settings, such as if your child is having similar problems at home and at school. That kind of consistency signals that it is less about the particular situation in which they find themselves, and more about their general response to feelings of anger. If you’re concerned, talking to your child’s pediatrician is a good place to start, and checking in with his teachers can also be helpful.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Bias Starts as Early as Preschool

Societal bias is a powerful force that adversely impacts and affects us all, children and adults.

As we have discussed and as the article below illustrates, even our youngest students are impressionable to societal stereotypes.

Way back at the opening faculty meeting of preplanning, I listed the following steps we can all take to help our students (and ourselves) be more empathetic and inclusive:
  • Educate ourselves and our students
  • Acknowledge imperfections within our goodness
  • Provide both ‘windows’ of difference and ‘mirrors’ of similarities to our students
  • Think with multiple perspectives and withhold judgment
  • Resist societal stereotyping

Combating societal stereotypes (be it gender, religious, racial, age, body image, etc.) requires us to be both proactive and reactive with our students in providing counter examples of stereotypes and using the inevitable missteps we all make as teachable moments

While we can’t prevent our students from being exposed to stereotypes beyond the confines of Trinity, we can help them to see the beauty of difference, the connections we can make with others, and the individuality within all of us. The recent Wednesday faculty meeting about the importance and impact of books to expose our students to DEI topics is a great example of what we’re doing here at Trinity!



We know that teens and adults can demonstrate social bias toward people from cultures different from their own. But what about young children? Do they show bias toward peers based on identity groups?

Using an implicit bias test commonly given to adults, researchers found that the 4 and 5 year old children rated images of black boys less favorably than images of white boys and girls, with images of black girls falling in the middle.

Young children are “astute observers of the social world,” and this can have pernicious effects on how they perceive race and gender, according to the study. The majority of children in the study—both black and white—had a “strong and consistent pro-white bias.”

These findings show that children begin to show bias from an early age. Not only do they absorb the stereotypes they see, but they also become increasingly attuned to social category labels, social status, and the biases exhibited by family members.

In recognition of this research, it’s valuable for educators to be mindful and to implement strategies in their classrooms that recognize young children’s social biases. Here are four relatively simple strategies they can start with.

1. Be aware that children—possibly at an earlier age than expected—may demonstrate bias and preference in their interactions: Preschoolers are not immune to bias and may treat each other differently based on race, ethnicity, or gender.

2. Determine how you want to address situations when bias is occurring: Rather than ignore situations in which children demonstrate bias, educators can use these situations as inspirations for story selection, activities, and projects. For instance, a child may project hierarchies of power in their play by attempting to dominate materials or controlling how play occurs. In response, an educator can work with them to resolve the issue, which could involve listening to the children’s experiences and offering suggestions for sharing.

3. Be mindful of the social environment you’re nurturing: Children use adults—including educators—as reference points for how to react to others. Understanding one’s own preferences and biases is helpful in determining whether social bias toward certain groups is being perpetuated in classrooms. These biases and preferences may be influencing children’s interactions with peers in their classroom as well as educators’ selection of the activities, projects, books, and images they present in the classroom. Educators can become more aware of their own biases by dialoguing with other educators and sharing their stories related to their own cultural identity. These conversations can be kicked off by having educators share a family cultural artifact or family ritual and explain the reasons for its significance.

4. Understand that addressing bias is a process: Even if an educator would like to immediately change the circumstances in their classrooms, progress may be gradual. Just as it may take educators time to realize their biases and work through them, young children will not change their patterns of thinking immediately.

Educators are in a unique position to potentially see children’s social biases unfold as they play and work with peers, so they have a valuable opportunity to help children work through their biases and explore historical and everyday experiences of people from a variety of cultural groups. These explorations may encourage the children to create a welcoming environment in which all students can learn.