Friday, September 10, 2021

Teaching Accountability

This week's article summary is How to Teach Kids the Importance of Accountability.

At our back-to-school TTT, I stressed to our students how important responsibility is to being a contributing community member. 

Last week’s article summary focused on resilience, which to me is also an aspect of responsibility: things don’t always work out the way we plan and hope; hence when facing hardships, we need to keep a positive frame of mind, regroup, re-strategize, and try again.

Like resilience, accountability develops over time with much practice as well as guidance and oversight from adults.

While there is nothing novel in the recommendations below, they are reminders of how intentional and patient parents and teachers need to be in order to develop accountability in our children.

Joe

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We’re living in a time and place in which it often seems the people in charge have no sense of accountability. Adults don’t seem to understand the consequences of their actions and refuse to acknowledge when they’ve made mistakes. And as always, our children are watching. So perhaps now, more than ever, is the time for parents to focus on teaching kids about accountability.

Accountability is a way to take responsibility for actions you’re in charge of. By teaching kids personal accountability, you’re teaching them that mistakes happen and when those mistakes happen, it’s important to learn to fix or grow from them.

Here are some ways parents and teachers can create a culture of accountability.

Start small: Accountability can start when kids are toddlers, e.g., “We can play with the puzzle but when we’re all done, we need to clean it up.” Too often parents resort to just cleaning it up themselves because it’s faster and easier that way. But it’s better to provide opportunities for kids to take ownership of their own little responsibilities. When you start early, you start setting the foundation that it’s important to be accountable.

Give more responsibilities: As kids get older, you can give them more things to be responsible for. The key is to make sure the tasks are developmentally appropriate, such as asking toddlers to pick up their toys and books at the end of the day. For kids that might be a little bit older, it could look like packing your own lunch, packing your own backpack, making your bed, or putting all of your dirty clothes in the hamper. Kids begin to understand that they do have responsibilities, and the choices they make ultimately have consequences. It also teaches them free will and how to be responsible citizens of society ― it’s ‘I do have a part in what happens in the world.

Teach them about consequences: Accountability means taking ownership of the decisions and the choices you make and accepting whatever consequences those choices come with. It’s important for every young child to learn so that they understand cause and effect and how the choices they make have consequences, positive or negative. There are many everyday opportunities for kids to make decisions or take actions and then experience the natural consequences of those choices. For example, don’t fight them if they don’t want to take a coat, but then when they moan about being cold or wet, simply explain that that is why you suggested taking a coat in the first instance, but that it was their decision not to bother. Perhaps they might not want to eat their lunch. There’s no need to start an argument or fight about it, but just make it clear there’s nothing else to eat until dinnertime and so if they are hungry, they will have to deal with it. Children should also understand that even when they experience negative consequences resulting from their choices, there’s always an opportunity to make things better or try again next time.

Offer positive reinforcement: Don’t forget praise at all age levels. Parents tend to notice when kids mess up, but when they are doing really well, they ignore it. Catch them being good! Kids should learn that taking responsibility isn’t just about negative consequences, but about positive rewards as well. 

Model accountability: I believe the primary way parents can teach their kids accountability every day is to model these behaviors. Parents can set an example by actively and openly practicing taking accountability for their actions. This can involve things like apologizing when they make mistakes, acknowledging when their behaviors or emotions are more extreme than a situation warrants, or identifying ways to make amends when they hurt others. Children are likely to repeat what they see others doing, so it is important for caregivers to be aware of the lessons kids are learning from them.

Show consistency: Consistency is the most important thing a parent can do while teaching their kids to be accountable ― consistency in how they handle times their child doesn’t take responsibility or creating and following family rules. Teach children to follow a routine, such as waking up, brushing teeth, making the bed, showering, etc. If you teach your child to follow a routine and they don’t follow through, it’s up to the parents to correct that action. In many cases, parents will often set rules but not follow through on the consequences once they set them. This behavior promotes irresponsibility by teaching kids that their behavior is acceptable and they don’t have to accept responsibility.

Discuss the feelings involved: Teaching a kid accountability can also help them learn how to process their feelings in an appropriate way. Everyone gets anxious, upset, angry and so forth. Being accountable involves learning to take charge of your emotions and process them in healthy ways, such as taking deep breaths or talking about how you feel. Encourage them to explore what triggers their feelings and ways they can accept responsibility for those triggers.

Be open-minded: Kids will make mistakes. Parents should take care to self-regulate and not have large emotional displays when their kids struggle with accountability. This can lead their child to be less likely to want to talk about times where accountability is difficult for them. Good mental health comes from correctly taking responsibility for things within their control ― for example, how hard they study for an exam ― while not taking responsibility for things they can’t control, like the disruption to schooling because of COVID, the lockdowns and home schooling. Children often have an egocentric mindset in that they think bad things happening around them are their fault.

Promote their independence: You want to build up an accountability system that eventually doesn’t rely on you. For example, you might want to help them with their organization skills or homework when they are in elementary school, but eventually, you want them to figure out how to check their assignments and organize their desks and rooms without your help. Promoting their independence and sense of accountability also empowers kids to take ownership of their successes and failures. This reduces children blaming other people for things that go wrong and also helps kids feel good about themselves when things do go well, which also builds confidence. Essentially, being accountable builds resiliency.




Friday, September 3, 2021

Raising Resilient Kids

 This week's article summary is Parents Who Raise Resilient Kids Do These Four Things.

The first few article summaries of the year have focused on our goals/outcomes (student emotional intelligence, confidence, resilience) and classroom structures (routines, practices, norms, rules, guidelines). 

The first article summary of the year stated, teachers “are often more comfortable around literacy strategies than around discipline strategies.” The reason for this is student behavior and their inter/intrapersonal skills, attitudes, and habits are harder to quantify than academic areas like numeracy and literacy. 

We all know emotional intelligence (EQ) is just as, if not more, important than IQ, yet we often expect our children and students to naturally and intuitively pick up character habits when in fact parents and teachers need to be just as intentional in instructing, monitoring, reinforcing, and modeling appropriate behavior in our students. 

For me, resilience—the ability to bounce back from missteps and disappointments—is an important virtue for success and happiness. Like most things, some of us are more naturally inclined to being gritty while others need to be guided and supported. Nevertheless, we all need opportunities to practice and further develop and hone the habit and skill of resilience.

Joe 

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The pandemic has highlighted the importance of resilience in the face of external stressors and unpredictable circumstances. But it’s not something you randomly develop — it’s a trait that parents can nurture in children early on to help them become emotionally healthy adults.

Kids aren’t just born resilient — they become so with the support of their parents and teachers.

Resilience is something that all kids learn through experiences, problem-solving, and watching others cope with stressors. Kids aren’t just born resilient, which means they can learn those skills, and parents and teachers have the power to teach kids how to manage stress.

From encouraging autonomy to avoiding the temptation of becoming too involved, here are four things parents and teachers who raise and educate highly resilient kids do differently.

They encourage autonomy: Parents/teachers who raise and educate children with good coping skills and resilience oversee their children and students in a style that builds healthy autonomy and fosters independent problem-solving skills.  Within an environment that encourages independent decision-making (in safe, age-appropriate ways), children start feeling more comfortable and capable of managing what life throws at them. It’s not about letting kids do what they want at all times, but involving them in decisions so they can feel more in touch with their inner guidance, commitment, and responsible, according to Advanced Psychology.

They help their kids develop coping skills: Stress-inoculated kids have parents/teachers who emphasize coping skills instead of coddling them when something doesn’t go their way. Explain to them that life isn’t perfect, that there will be times when you will be uncomfortable. Kids will adapt and learn to become more self-reliant and self-aware, which are skills associated with higher degrees of confidence, happiness, and overall wellness. While it’s difficult to see your children/students experience setbacks or uncomfortable emotions, it’s critical not to try to immediately fix the situation for them or brush it off, but to allow them to process their emotional state and develop the trust they can withstand and adapt to moments of discomfort. As a result, kids grow up to become resilient adults who are happier and see stressors in a more positive light — and are less likely to feel the effects of stress.

They don’t helicopter their children: if you want to raise mentally strong kids, it’s super important not to become a helicopter parent and to avoid jumping in every time something happens that makes a child uncomfortable or upset. Instead, spend time objectively debriefing what went wrong, focusing on solutions and giving the child positive reinforcement for how they coped. 

They foster self-awareness: Self-awareness is not only the cornerstone of resilience but also of lifelong mental health and wellness. When we become self-aware, our brain and body learn to self-regulate as we connect to our thoughts, sensations, and emotions. The beauty of self-awareness is that when you know yourself better, you can feel more confident making decisions as well as saying no to things that don’t feel right. So make sure you’re asking thought-provoking questions that will help your kids turn inwards and gain a deeper understanding of their unique selves.


Friday, August 27, 2021

Do Masks Stunt Social-Emotional Growth?

This week's article summary is Do Masks Stunt Students' Social-Emotional Growth? 

As we all know, ‘to mask or not to mask’ remains a controversial topic in schools.

As Nurse Debbie constantly reminds us, while there are many practices we all need to follow to help limit Covid’s spread, the most important are to get vaccinated and to wear masks when around others.

One reason offered from those who oppose mask requirements in schools is they detract from students’ social emotional growth. 

As you’ll see from the interview below from the Senior Director at CASEL, there is little to no research that’s been done on this question. Yet as you’ll also read, kids wearing masks have displayed remarkable adaptability over the past 18 months and have shown growth in both their academic and social-emotional development.

So for Trinity,  if masking ensures that kids can be at school learning collaboratively with their peers and developing the skills and habits of a responsible, respectful member of a community, then masks are a minor inconvenience that helps us achieve our greater school goals for our children.

Joe

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While many students wore face masks in school last year, the issue has become incredibly heated and polarized in some regions this year. One concern that has risen out of the debates over whether children and teachers should be wearing masks in schools is whether the practice inhibits the development of social and emotional skills. But with the surge of the Delta variant, the need to protect students and school staff from infection, illness, and death is paramount. After vaccines, universal masking is the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID, public health and medical experts say.

At the same time, social-emotional learning is a top priority for educators right now, as many see it as vital to helping students cope with the anxiety and disruptions caused by the pandemic. So, does that strip of cloth covering the nose and mouth and muffling the voice get in the way of students learning about emotions? How do masks impact teachers’ ability to get a read on how their students are feeling?

Education Week put these questions and more to Justina Schlund, the senior director of content and field learning at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL. This conversation has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

How could masks affect students’ social and emotional development: I’m not aware of any research that shows that masks have specific or meaningful social-emotional detriment to students’ development. I think, logically, part of social-emotional learning requires being able to understand other people’s emotions, and because masks cover part of the face, they probably in some ways obscure what we can see on someone else’s face in terms of their emotions, in terms of social cues that we might be responding to. But I think the question, whether this has a negative impact on their social-emotional development is a different question than, does it make it more difficult for me to see your emotion in the moment? The past year has shown us that there are lots of challenges with social-emotional connection and learning through virtual platforms. One of the things that masks allow a lot of schools and districts to do is resume in-person learning where they have more opportunities for in-person SEL or in-person relationship building that we know are also important for students.

Which is better? Is in-person and masks better than out-of-class and virtual: It is pretty agreed-upon by most of the experts in the field that in-person learning is going to be better for most students. And so the degree to which we’re able to continue that is beneficial for students, socially, emotionally, and academically. At the same time, there are lots of ways, regardless of if you’re in person or virtual, with masks or without masks, to promote students’ social-emotional learning. 

A masked teacher facing a room of masked students wants to continue imparting social-emotional skills. What are some of the workarounds? Is this an opportunity to teach new skills: It’s absolutely an opportunity to teach new skills, beginning with the most basic. We have traditionally relied on a lot of facial expressions to help talk to students about what emotions mean and look like and feel like. This is an opportunity to expand our language and awareness about emotions. Those emotions include facial expressions, and they also include body language, they also include tone of voice, and what people may be saying through their eyes or their eyebrows and helping students to tune into that type of social awareness. We’ve seen in a lot of classrooms the use of pictures and even emojis to do checks with students, to create that time to share how they’re feeling and what their perspectives are. What was critically important before the pandemic but especially now is building a really, really strong sense of community in every classroom. This means making time and space for students to learn about each other on a more personal level, to share their interests with one another, to ask each other questions, to collaborate on projects.

An important component of SEL is good decision making. How could this time offer a lesson in building that skill: We’ve seen this throughout the pandemic. This brought up a lot of conversations in classrooms and homes with students about what does it mean to be a good community member. And what does it mean to make decisions that are responsible and that benefit not just myself, but my family and other people? Whether or not schools are choosing to have masks on right now, it’s opened up a conversation for students to engage in around how can we keep each other safe and healthy. And what factors do I need to weigh to make those types of decisions? What are some of the pros and cons, exactly? And then, how can we all work together to make those healthy decisions that keep our community safe? We often talk about SEL within the school walls, but there’s so much SEL that’s going on at home and in the community as well. Even if students have moments where they’re masked at school, they have so many opportunities to practice facial recognition of emotions and things like that at home with their families, or outside on the playground. We need to think about SEL beyond the confines of school. 



Friday, August 20, 2021

This week's article summary is How to Foster Confidence in Young Children.

As we begin to settle into the routine of school, it’s critical in the first weeks of school that we establish a safe, trusting classroom in which our students can push and challenge themselves and gain self-assurance as they learn and grow.

While confidence ultimately is an intrinsic quality, it needs to be nourished, encouraged, and cultivated externally. 

The article below is intended for parents yet its advice is applicable to the classroom.

Celebrating the process of learning including effort, gently pushing your students beyond their comfort zone, encouraging their independence, and trusting them to make the right decision are all aspects of an effective classroom. 

These first weeks of school set a strong foundation for the remainder of the year and will buoy your students as they gain confidence, one of the outcomes of a Trinity education.

Thank you for all your efforts in making these first days of school so productive and foundational!

Joe

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Here are seven ways to instill self-confidence in your child.

1. Make your help contingent on their self-help: As parents we want to do everything we can to help our children, but at some point, everything does nothing for their development and confidence. This one's hard for me because that parental instinct to "rescue" my daughter kicks in, creating a desire to intervene and help solve her problems. But I've learned that making shortcuts for her only lengthens her road to true self-confidence. And I see the results-- when she tackles something on her own, she walks taller. 

2. Applaud the effort, not just the result: Over the long haul, consistently trying hard builds more confidence than intermittently doing well. That's because in trying hard the child knows they're doing their best, they see progress in some measure, and will define success in smaller steps along the way. These constant micro-wins and knowing that they're giving their full effort add up to sustainable confidence.

3. Don't tell them when you're worried about them: Expressing confidence creates confidence. It's our job as parents to be worried about our kids, but telling them we are is unhelpful (except on things related to their safety or health). When you do, you plant seeds of doubt, not growth. It's up to you to ensure the latter. I've seen the power of the latter many times as a leader. I tell someone who's not so confident that I believe in them and then their performance soars, thus boosting their self-confidence-- a wonderful virtuous cycle.

4. Encourage practice outside of pressure: As an adult, you should practice the way you'll be performing, under simulated conditions of pressure. Not so as a child. The point of practicing for kids is to instill the confident expectation that improvement will follow. You already know you'll get better with practice, kids need to learn this. And children build competence and confidence simultaneously in supportive environments.

5. Let them act their age: In certain areas you might want your child to mature faster. But striving to meet advanced age expectations can reduce confidence. There are two exceptions to this, however. The first is letting the child make as many decisions as possible, even more than their age might dictate (as appropriate). Second, encourage them to excel at their natural talents/advanced skills that by default put them ahead of their age (i.e. don't hold them back in those cases). Both of these exceptions build confidence, not burst it.

6. Expand their circle of challenge: Give your child new challenges, experiences, and responsibilities, and praise them for their courage in taking them on. When they make the inevitable mistakes, help them see those mistakes as a necessary part of the learning process. Share your own stories of failure and improvement, too. And give feedback and suggestions for improvement versus criticism. More often than not, parental criticism reduces the child's self-valuing and motivation.

7. Let them see you succeed at something: They're watching you. So demonstrate some moments of triumph to subtly ingrain, "If mom/dad can do it..." Just remember, don't expect them to do it as well as you or you undermine the point.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Assessing Your Emotional Intelligence

This week's article summary is 5 Questions to Assess Your Emotional Intelligence.

I liked that the article’s focus is on us—Trinity’s faculty/staff—and the importance of how we work in concert and in collaboration with one another. Our community bonding during preplanning sets us up for a great school year!

I also liked the article’s simple five questions we should ask ourselves about how we interact with others. As teachers, these are the same expectations we have for our students as they develop essential social-emotional skills and habits, particularly interpersonal,  needed for success in school and beyond.

Thank you for a wonderful first two days of school! Have a restful weekend!

Joe

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Employees who exhibit emotional intelligence (EQ) improve teamwork, communicate better with team members, and share ideas as well as are open to others' ideas. They are also highly adaptable and adjust easily to change and challenging situations.

In practical terms, employees with high EQ know how to handle unhappy customers, disgruntled co-workers, or managers not pleased with their work.

Is there a good metric for getting started in the right direction toward building up your EQ skills? 

You can start by asking a few look-in-the-mirror questions to help you determine where you measure up against the principles of EQ. Answering each question with a 'yes' will reveal your EQ aptitude.

Do you respond rather than react: High-EQ people typically respond, rather than react, with a more patient, "keep calm" approach. They process a situation, get perspective, listen without judgment, and hold back from reacting head-on.

Do you practice self-control: People with high EQ maintain control over their emotions. Self-control is a learned skill to help you be more present, calmer, and focused during times of high stress. It's a necessary emotional skill with a long-term payoff.

Do you exercise self-awareness: People with high EQ are adept at self-awareness and are able to see both sides of an issue to choose a different, and better, outcome.

Do you adapt well to change: Adaptability is a key hallmark of people with high EQ. They are able to recognize when to stay the course and when it's time for a change. In other words, when one strategy is not working, high-EQ people evaluate and determine a different course of action.

Do you serve the needs of others: Besides focusing on their own success, people with high EQ also maintain a strong desire for wanting to see the people around them succeed.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Getting Consistent with Consequences

Thank you all for an uplifting first week of preplanning.

For me, there’s always a mixture of excitement and nervousness as we begin preplanning and begin to put the finishing touches on all the work and effort needed for a smooth opening of school as we look forward to welcoming our students and their parents back on campus. I always enjoy preplanning (much longer and more formalized here in Atlanta than in other schools I’ve worked in), especially the opportunity for us to learn, grow, collaborate, and socialize together. This year it’s been particularly enjoyable as we’re meeting in-person, not via Zoom or Google Meet!

For those of you new to Trinity, most Fridays during the school year, I send out an educational article that piqued my interest and that I hope provokes thought in you as well.

As we live in fast-paced times, we’ve grown accustomed to the limited characters of Twitter and short video clips of YouTube and TikTok. Hence, I try to edit down the article to its most salient points so it’s a quick read. (If available, I link the full article.)

I try to find articles applicable to early childhood/elementary education in general and Trinity in particular.

I don’t necessarily agree with every article, but I enjoy articles that make me think, ask me to reflect on my educational beliefs, and perhaps even confront my educational biases. As we discussed in our DEI session this morning, our unconscious blindspots need a little cognitive dissonance and our brains need us to practice metacognition!

The school year’s first article summary is Getting Consistent with Consequences.

As you’ll see in the article (which is much longer than what I usually post as there’s so much valuable info in it), student behavior in schools is an age-old challenge. One of the article’s recommendations is for a school to agree on how it will approach, model, reinforce rules, norms, guidelines to help students behave in the moment as they develop vital social-emotional (SEL) skills, habits, and attitudes.

In the MyTrinity page of our website is the Social Emotional Learning Tile and it lays out Trinity’s SEL tenets, in essence best-practices from both Positive Discipline and Responsive Classroom.

The article below provides a comprehensive overview of classroom rules and consequences. I urge you to read and digest the article and discuss with your fellow teachers in your classroom, on your grade, and in your division.

Joe 

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Few topics cause as much angst in schools as consequences for problematic behavior. Colleagues can view the same challenging behavior and have wildly different ideas about an appropriate consequence. Educators can struggle with the proper use and role of consequences in schools even more than with academic issues. Why is getting consequences right so hard?

I'll explore here several ideas about consequences. One thread runs through them all: Using consequences effectively requires taking a nuanced view of disciplinary situations—and that's hard. 

Most of us would prefer consequences to be cut-and-dried. If a student does X, then Y should happen. This perhaps explains the appeal of one-size-fits-all approaches like "three strikes and you're out" or zero-tolerance policies. These systems are comforting because they seem to offer quick, easy solutions. We can feel like we've done something and get back to teaching.

When we step back, however, we realize that the reality of teaching students appropriate behaviors is much more complex. Punishing a student for a misbehavior offers us the illusion that we've held that student accountable, but have we really? 

Let's consider some reasons educators struggle with consequences, and how we might avoid each obstacle and employ consequences more effectively.

Consequences" Means Different Things to Different People

One reason adults in schools often struggle with reaching common ground on consequences is that when we use the term consequences, we're not all talking about the same thing. There are several different types of consequences for problematic behavior, so we should be clear about which type we're discussing or using.

  • Natural consequences don't require any adult action or intervention; they simply happen. If Maria doesn't wear a coat to recess on a chilly day, she'll be cold. Natural consequences can be great learning opportunities for students, as long as they're not overly damaging.
  • Logical consequences differ from natural ones in that they require adults to implement them. According to Jane Nelsen, effective logical consequences fit four criteria: they must be related to the behavior, respectful of the student, reasonable for the student to carry out, and (whenever possible) revealed in advance so the student knows the potential consequences of their actions ahead of time. These kinds of consequences can be powerful in maintaining calm, safe, and respectful learning environments.
  • Punishments are the antithesis of logical consequences. They're often harsh and frequently involve shaming students. They can breed resentment and diminish students' sense of self, often leading to even more disruptive behavior in the future. They can even model bullying, in which people with more power (teachers) impose their will on others (students) through force.

With practice and understanding, educators can gain more consistency and ensure they rely on natural and logical consequences rather than punishments, even in the heat of the moment. 

We Try to Get Consistent with Consequences Before We're Consistent in Beliefs

Many factors go into our personal beliefs about effective discipline. The way we were raised, both at home and in school, is a huge one that often lurks below the surface. Our teacher-preparation programs and internships play a large role in how we view discipline in schools, and even the way we approach problem behaviors as parents can impact how we interact with students. With so many factors influencing how we view discipline and so many various (often conflicting) methods floating around, it's easy to see why approaches can differ greatly from one classroom to the next.

There's an underlying instinct in schools to view discipline the way U.S. society views parenting—you do your thing, I'll do mine, and we stay out of each other's business. Schools often have more success adopting common academic curricula than behavioral ones. Educators seem to be more comfortable being responsible to each other around, say, literacy strategies than around discipline strategies.

Educators need to start with some basic beliefs such as,  All kids want to do well, all students want to be a positive member of a community, all students need caring adults in their lives.

We Want Consequences to "Work," but Haven't Defined What That Means

Teachers often think, "I'm looking for a consequence that works." But what exactly do we mean by "works"? This gets to one of the most complex issues surrounding consequences. Knowing how to choose the right reaction to misbehavior requires us to understand what consequences can and can't do. Let's look at this issue more closely.

  • Consequences can stop misbehavior in the moment. If we have a class rule that says that we will be safe, and two students are shoving in line, we split those students up. This creates a tone of safety and order.
  • Consequences can get students back on track. If Jesse is playing Fortnite on his phone instead of working on his research project, and you say "Jesse, put your phone on my desk. You can get it back at the end of the period," you've just acted as Jesse's prefrontal cortex, enabling him to get back to work.
  • Consequences can be part of how students learn. Stacy is playing with her snack. Her pretzels drop on the floor and she spills her milk, then asks for another bag of pretzels. "Nope," we reply. "Students get one bag of pretzels. Here's a dustpan and brush to clean up the mess." The natural consequence of losing her snack and the logical consequence of having to clean up help Stacy learn to be more careful.
  • Consequences can't teach missing skills. Punishing a kid doesn't teach that kid the skills he or she needs to be successful. Even natural and logical consequences can't teach capabilities that students don't already possess. If a student doesn't have the self-soothing skills needed to handle frustration, giving her a consequence when she melts down over a test won't help her the next time a test rolls around.
  • Consequences can't work as our only strategy. Imagine if we tried to teach students to write by simply circling their errors and making them rework their writing. While this might be one strategy to use as students are revising and editing, we know that they'll also need direct instruction in effective writing strategies, time to practice and make mistakes, and a nurturing environment.

 We Miss the Middle Ground

 When we don't use consequences at all or wait too long to use them, we become permissive. When adults set limits but don't follow through, students feel unsafe, which often leads them to push limits. It's almost like they're begging us to be in control—to keep them safe. However, the overuse of consequences—especially punitive ones—also leads to an unsafe climate. When teachers yell, levy harsh punishments for minor mistakes, or are overly controlling, the classroom climate becomes one of fear and resentment. Both permissive and punishment-heavy cultures put students, especially those already on the edge, in a place where it's almost impossible to learn well.

An important part of getting to that sweet spot between permissiveness and harshness is getting clear about how consequences feel for students. Again, this is nuanced and tricky. On the one hand, if a student has to leave the classroom because she was out of control, she may feel bad—but we shouldn't make feeling bad the goal. To invoke shame isn't productive or respectful. At the same time, we don't want the consequence of being removed from the room to feel like a party. Sitting quietly with a book or working on a jigsaw puzzle might soothe a student's spirit, helping him regain control so he can rejoin class. But if the student's allowed to play video games or is given candy during a time-out, this might send confusing messages and inhibit his ability to calm down.

When we're in that desirable middle ground, consequences help a classroom feel safe, orderly, and predictable. Students understand that mistakes, both academic and behavioral ones, are part of the learning process, and that their teacher is there to support them. They aren't necessarily happy when they experience consequences, but they aren't devastated. The overall tone of the classroom is one of firm caring and support.

We Act with Emotion, Not Reason

Using consequences effectively requires educators to react with reason and logic when our inclination is to be emotional. When a student says something mean to a classmate, we feel outrage for the child who is insulted. When annoying pencil drumming interrupts a lesson, we feel frustration grow.

Our students need us to be strong enough to react with reason, not emotion. They need to see what it looks like when mature adults respond to frustration in calm, respectful ways. And they need to be treated with dignity and respect, especially when they're in a crisis.

 We Misunderstand Consequences' Role in the Big Picture

There's a common misunderstanding about the role consequences play in the broader picture of discipline. Too often, educators view consequences as the center of the picture and see all other supportive strategies—like teaching skills, modeling appropriate behavior, and building relationships—as tangential. In fact, relationships should be at the center, with all other strategies seen as tangents. Without relationships, everything else falls apart.

This shift in perspective helps teachers change the question they often ask when considering consequences—"What's the consequence that will fix the problem?"—to a better question—"Is there a consequence that might be part of how we help this student?"

That shift is especially helpful for our most vulnerable students. It's a sad irony that kids who often aren't strong enough to benefit from the potential teaching power of consequences are the ones most likely to be hammered with frequent punishments. At the same time, kids who have the emotional stability and behavioral skills to learn from consequences are often excused from them ("She's a good kid and usually on track. I'll just give her a warning.").

 Digging Deeper

Consequences are tough. On the one hand, they're critically important. Like a rumble strip on a road, they help set clear boundaries and keep students and teachers safe—so that challenging behaviors don't spiral out of control. At the same time, we must not over-rely on them, because they have limited power to teach positive behaviors. 

Additionally, educators shouldn't adopt black-and-white consequence systems, since children are all different and each situation is nuanced—and yet a school that doesn't have a consistent approach to consequences will create anxiety for everyone. 

So we must engage in robust conversations with colleagues, developing more consistent beliefs and understandings of the role of consequences and practicing appropriate responses. When we do this, we create a school culture that's structured and safe while also supportive and respectful of students.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Thank You For an Unforgettable School Year

 The final article summary of the 2020-21 school year is Educators Share the Best Teaching Advice They've Received.

It’s fitting for the final summary of the year because it captures the vital values we need to embrace in order to guide and educate our students and to find the balance of the personal and professional in our lives. 

I’ve been in education since 1980, and while I’ve had ups and downs (mostly ups) and seen many new ideas come and go (and a few good ones stay), the past 14 months have indisputably been the most challenging and fretful of my career. 

I consider myself fortunate that I am optimistic by nature, one of the values listed below. The 24/7 demands and the frustrating fits and starts of the past year tested me--and all other optimists. I kept expecting the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, but until a few weeks ago that light proved elusive. There’s an old Lou Reed song with the chorus ‘You need a boatload of faith to get by’: we needed a flotilla of faith this year!

But, as I said in yesterday’s end-of-year meeting, we did it! We did it in exemplary fashion! We did it together as one community! And, most importantly, we made a difference in the lives and education of our students!

There aren’t appropriate words to thank all of you for tireless efforts, endless imagination, gymnastic flexibility (another value below), iron-clad unity, and indefatigable positivity this year! 

As we gradually begin to put the 2020-21 school year in our rearview mirror and over time can start to reflect on it with the lens of perspective, we will swell with pride in what we accomplished. We were tested individually and collectively and we rose to the challenge and emerge from the tunnel stronger than ever.

But for right now, let’s enjoy a physically and emotionally restful break to replenish our soul and spirit

Enjoy summer and our readjustment to normalcy!

Joe

Classroom management: Will what I am about to do or say bring me closer or will it push me away farther from the person with whom I am communicating? Sometimes—not often, but sometimes—I can lose my temper a bit with a student. Each time that has happened since I read that line, I have been able to remember that wise piece of advice and shift gears. Obviously, it would have been better for me not to get upset in the first place, but, of course, I am only human.

Flexibility: The most important teaching advice I have ever received and I now give is to “be flexible.” Flexibility is the quality of bending easily without breaking. In my 24 years of teaching, I’ve learned that successful and happy teachers are ones who are flexible—flexible in their thinking, in the way they teach, and in their response to situations. As much as I enjoy being a teacher, I don’t think I could have lasted this long if I had not learned to be flexible. For, as much as you plan out your day and your lessons, there inevitably will be disruptions and distractions that will pop up. I always come to school prepared for the lessons I’m going to teach that day, but I’ve learned to go with the flow if there are any changes. I’ve learned to adapt. The pandemic we are experiencing at present is a perfect example of teachers being flexible. We’ve had to adapt to a new way of teaching—from working with students in the classroom to teaching virtually through the computer. We’ve had to learn to use different programs to record lessons that teach content effectively while also being engaging. We’ve had to come up with ways to motivate our students at a distance. In this situation, teachers who have a flexible mindset fared better than those that have not mastered this skill.

The Best Version of Themselves: Simple, yet profound: See people for better than they currently are and always believe that they are doing the absolute best that they can. This advice works for teachers working with kids, teachers working with other teachers, instructional leaders working with their staff, and quite frankly, it works with every human being who has the privilege of engaging with another human being. I truly believe that when we have the mindset that people are giving us the very best version of themselves at the given moment, it changes how we behave. Couple that mindset with the belief that we can all get better, AND we have the unique and profound opportunity of trying to help others grow into a version of themselves that is better than their current iteration, is to me the essence of education and leadership. We are all unfinished, and in education and leadership, we have the privilege of being a small part of people’s continued growth. Keeping this in mind will always provide a direction and a motivation for any teacher, and as a result, it is the most important piece of advice I can possibly provide to anyone lucky enough to be a part of the world’s greatest profession.

Do What You Know Is Best for Kids: Teaching has changed so much since I began in 2004. However, some of the best advice I ever received was to go in your room, close the door, and do what you know is best for kids. I have seen what feels like a million fads come and go, all in the name of research, fidelity, and increasing student achievement. These can all be good things, but ultimately, you know your students and what they need. Sometimes, what they need is a fun activity that helps them connect with one another and feel less isolated. Sometimes what they need is to go outside and learn in the sunshine, because they have been cooped up all day and are stressed. If you always have the intention of doing what is best for kids, regardless of the fads that come and go, you will be doing just fine. One more piece of advice? Stay out of the gossip mill. If someone will talk to you about someone else, that means they’ll talk about you to someone else, too. Don’t get sucked into that negativity ... our job is too big and too important, and the kids need you. Rise above all that and keep it professional! Anything else is just wasted energy.

Maintain High Standards: A high-quality education is not going to come from repeated practice in packets and worksheets. The lessons that are planned need to be rigorous and engaging while providing scaffolds that allow students to learn at a high level. All students deserve the opportunity to be challenged and take part in a productive struggle that helps them take ownership of their learning and build their confidence. In order for this to take place, teachers need to have deep content knowledge and be ready to implement a variety of instructional strategies that will support student learning.

What Benefits the Student? The most important advice I was ever given came in the form of a question. In my early teaching years, I struggled over a grade for a student which would doom the student’s opportunity to succeed. Though I can’t remember the details, the grade question was being determined by the everybody-on-the-same-page grading rules. In seeking advice, my department chair asked me, “What would be the best course of action for this student?” Not only did that make my decision crystal clear (the student would in no way benefit if I placed the rules above my concern for the student), but I appreciated the wisdom of the question. It shaped my behavior toward all of my students from that point forward and is still the guiding principle in all issues which arise both in and out of the classroom: What benefits the student?

Capture Multiple Perspectives: The best lessons I have learned on my journey as an educator have emerged from my experiences as a learner. As a member of a marginalized group, it was not until I approached my graduate studies that I was able to pinpoint reasons why I always felt I never actually “fit” in any of my educational contexts, not even at the university level. It was in graduate school that I realized that my peers and my professors didn’t really understand me as a covered Palestinian Muslim female beyond the stereotypical me presented in mainstream media and had approached me with that lens. The feeling that I was having was that of an outsider, that of “the other.” I didn’t know that is how I was feeling until I learned the terminology as an aspiring educational leader, an opportunity that many students will never have, causing them to go through life without the ability to name feelings of discomfort and suffocation and understand their origin. This leads to my advice and my mantra as an educator: Immerse yourselves in the “otherness” that comprises the demographics in your school context. You cannot serve students you don’t understand equitably and with fidelity. Implicit biases are a real thing. We are immersed in media that will feed those biases making them more real than ever. As great as technology is, it has enhanced this process. It’s your job as an educator to make yourself vulnerable and put on the hat of the learner. Go beyond asking your students questions; students don’t want to stand out for being different. Capture multiple perspectives for any one group. Do not fall into the trap of assuming that one experience represents that of a whole group even if it is the experience of a member of that group.

Take Care of Ourselves: A principal once told me that teachers are wired and trained to take care of everyone else first and themselves last. We have to actively fight that trend to preserve longevity in the profession. This hit home the most when we had an act of violence occur at our school. Her words assuaged my guilt in asking for what I needed in the days after the event.