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The art of flying…

The ending before Winter Break was the worst of times…but also the best of times. We know our students react to the holidays often with increased anxiety, and no matter how tight or clear instruction is, sometimes a student or students can’t control their emotional responses. That is where our professionalism and patience are both tested and steeled. I just keep reminding myself that the majority of students are doing good, strong work and growing. The one to two who lash out just need more time, patience and support.

On the eve of the break, I received some amygdala-grabbing warnings about my teaching practice. Heaped on an already cortisol-filled heart and head, my best path to stress relief is to read and take stock, write notes, and make a plan.

Receiving negative criticism, however, need not be cause for alarm. With every negative assumption comes an opportunity to revisit positive intent. 

I am a HUGE fan of ‘assuming good intentions,’ and this article by Laura Thomas states why clearly:

Anger and Trust

What’s causing all this publicly shared ire? It used to be unacceptable to go to the scary rage place, particularly in front of colleagues or friends. Doing so would ruin one’s credibility. Now, due in part to the perceived anonymity of social media, we’ve reset the Overton Window on what is unacceptable — and we’re hurting ourselves as a result, because all of this anger may actually change the way the brain functions, as well as the heart, immune system, blood pressure, and lungs. When we feel attacked, a part of our brain called the amygdala floods our body with chemicals that prepare us for a fight. Angry outbursts feel like attacks, so we respond defensively, which from the other side looks a lot like an attack. In healthy people, the prefrontal cortex keeps us from taking a swing at the guy next to us (or at the very least telling him exactly what we think of him and his opinion). Lately, however, that system seems to be breaking down. We’re getting angrier while simultaneously feeling fewer inhibitions about taking that metaphorical or literal swing at the guy next to us.

So how do we stop it?

By recognizing what is happening, and surrounding and bolstering ourselves with intelligent, thoughtful relationships. To my colleagues who are smart and experts in terms of neuroscience, education, mindfulness and quality instruction. I am so blessed to have these women in my life. I will look to them for mindfulness lessons for students first.

Over-break Projects:

No burnout:

Don’t get burned out, but remain passionate.

Crafts, baking, walking, reading: enjoying my family’s company. My husband and sons are three of the smartest, funniest men I know. We are a creative, engaged family, and resourceful as all get-out. I realizing raising two amazing humans does not make me more or less qualified as an educator, but it does give me insights that help inform my practice. Raising humans is not for the faint of heart, and it takes a lot of heart to do so.

Seating Arrangments:

I went in today and cleaned up my room. I was sick that Friday before the break and reluctantly got a sub. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is seating charts. There are pros and cons, but ultimately it’s not the seating chart but the focus on what they will get done in that day. Though I have Learning Targets/Success Criteria always available, referred to and visible, greet them at the door, I am thinking daily success charts are the way to go. I’ve done these in the past, and they need to happen again. The management and logistics, however…that I’m not really sure about yet.

Trusting and listening to my students:

They are my ‘customers.’ They are who I serve. I love giving surveys and personality inventories, and choice. A lot of choices. However, choice to administrators or observers may look like chaos, and there is something to that. Not all students can handle choice: they’ve been through enough change and trauma to last anyone a lifetime, and they need direct instruction.

4. Go right to the kiddos.

Your students are the best evaluators of the success of your classroom. Throw together a quick survey and ask them how they think their year is going. This is also a chance for you to reflect on your core values; what’s important in your classroom?

For me, it’s every kid feeling free to be themselves—”You do you”—and learning in the way that’s the best for them. So, some of my survey questions might be:

  • Do you feel like I respect you as a person?
  • Do you think I do everything I can to help you learn? What’s one thing I could do differently?
  • What’s one thing you wish I knew?

(That last one can be heartbreaking, eye-opening and the best thing you’ve read all day all at the same time. Sometimes they just want to tell you they love you … and it’s exactly what you’re going to need in a moment of self-doubt.)

For some students, in particular, feeling they have my respect (they do) and my care (they do) is only as valuable as they use it to help them learn. And no one can learn if they don’t feel safe. (Including teachers.)

So: I’m working on this:

And then I’ll go bake something.

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A study of power.

The term “power play/struggle” in education translates to: “teacher has a petty request that the student won’t comply with until she either gets irritated to the point of raising her voice and/or stops an escalation of an event to the point of no return.”

Did you ever get involved in a power play? I sure have, not many, but a few here and there. But since I came into teaching in my forties, and had two sons of my own about the same age as my students when I started, most of the power plays or struggles came with small costs, a lot of reflection, and many apologies on my part. They were handled between me, the student, other teammates and sometimes the parent. Most power struggles are headed off at the pass by prevention measures:

  1. Have a routine. (Get composition book, something to write with or borrow a pencil from me, read the board, read the learning targets: when I am standing in the ‘teacher spot’ time to listen, and then get going!)
  2. State expectations clearly, and rationale why.
    • Example: No food in the classroom. Our building is old and in the heart of a city. There are vermin. I don’t want vermin in my class, or the building.
    • Example: food. Your red Gatorade and Hot Cheetos can potentially stain the carpet, or get micro crumbs in your laptop keyboard. Oh, and it’s killing you.
    • Example: You need a charged laptop every day. Not charged? You can bring your charger to my class. Don’t have it? Sit next to mine and use it.
  3. Know your quirks. Mine? No music while reading. Side conversations. Removing all oxygen from the room with your constant shouting and talking out.
  4. Understand emotional states: Explain that yes, sometimes they will be bored. And that’s okay. And it’s okay to be confused. And to not know everything…and to know things, too.
  5. Know your cool spots. Mine? Allowing music sometimes. Allowing random discussions about what is on their minds. Reading books they recommend to me. Asking permission to share their work. Telling them how much I love them. Apologizing if necessary. Knowing they are somebody’s baby. (My personal teaching motto/creed/mantra.)

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post posted a letter by educator Amy Murray, Teacher to parents: About THAT kid (the one who hits, disrupts and influences YOUR kid). I could have written it. This afternoon I was having an imaginary conversation with a parent of a student. (Note: anecdotally this is about many students–we all have students who seek attention.) This student is so smart, and…so bored in my class. He blurts out the endings of stories, talks over instructions, and when challenged to offer alternatives or choice, has nothing further to offer. I want to be this student’s, well, if I can’t be his favorite, then at least someone he can respect and do well. I don’t need to be any student’s favorite, I just need them to know I’m there for them, and maybe in ways they don’t recognize yet. That may not happen, and that’s okay. As long as he knows he will find that place, that person, in and out of his own family, circle of friends, etc. I just have 29 other little ‘someone’s baby’ to take care of, too, in that class.

Relationship building is an interesting situation. Conflicts happen. I may not be able to adjust for bias, assumptions, and backward-facing trauma, but I do have a proven record of relationship building, and can’t let others make me doubt this skill or who I am at my core.

So let’s add #6: Self-respect. Let students know respect can’t thrive without self-respect first. Be confident, be yourself, and be better.