Yesterday was my final, and last, professional development training of Love & Logic. And, I'm happy to say that it was just as good..if not better..than last week's training.
It was a day full of learning strategies and tools to use with kids that, sometimes, just don't want to cooperate and how to offer choices, put problems back on children to solve for themselves, and make the life of a teacher much less stressful and/or frustrating.
One thing I know about myself, as hard and embarrassing as it is for me to admit, is that I tend to be somewhat of a "drill sergeant" teacher. I hand out orders and commands as if they were candy. I expect structure, order, and control of my classroom. I sometimes use intimidation tactics to get the result I'm looking for. And when faced with resistance, I plan strategic attacks to eliminate the problem.
Am I necessarily proud of this truth about myself? No. Well, not anymore.
You see, I have solid classroom management. I've been observed and told by others that I have amazing classroom management skills, and that my classroom runs like a well oiled machine. I have implemented my expectations and rules, and "trained" my students to follow them.
They know when it's appropriate to chat while working. They know when it has to be silent. They know how to line up and walk down the hallway. They know the procedures for gathering materials and transitioning from one lesson to the next. They know that I have a "no excuses" mentality that won't falter regardless of what the reason is.
For that, I am proud. Because behind all those procedures and protocols I truly know that my students respect me and do what I ask them to do because I also respect them.
Well, that's what I thought up until yesterday, anyway.
My kiddos do respect me. For the most part, they love me as their teacher. For the most part, I know that almost every student in my classroom will do anything I ask them to do. That's not something that starts on day one, it's earned throughout the school year. They start off nervous and unsure of this "drill sergeant" standing in front of them, marching up and down telling them HOW it will be, WHAT I expect, and the CONSEQUENCES for disobeying the rules. But, over time, I lighten up because I can. I don't have to be intimidating because they get to know me and realize that under that hard exterior, I'm really quite the softy on the inside.
But, what I learned yesterday, is that I don't have to be so rigid with my expectations and still get the same result. I can still have high expectations, and can still have the students reaching them, without coming off as "weak" or intimidated myself. And the most important lesson I learned, yesterday, is that I can earn the love and respect of all my students much more efficiently by giving them the belief that they have some control and get to make some of the decisions that take place in the classroom.
As we read and discussed and watched movies, I read phrases such as "effective teachers can get the toughest kids to do what they want", "the toughest kids are the kids most needing of a loving relationship, even though they won't admit it", and "the toughest kids just want to know that you won't give up on them".
That is me. I am able to get the toughest of kids to do what I ask. But, was I doing it in the right way?
When I'm trying to reach the toughest kids, and by tough I don't mean gang member or threatening I mean tough because they are defiant or have some trouble following the basic rules, I feel like I'm sending them the message that I won't give up on them. I will keep on them, pushing them, until they realize that I'm in it till the end, plan on seeing it through, and my ultimate goal is to get them to care enough to not want to be defiant. I actually treat defiance as a cry for help. They want or need attention, and they are somehow programmed to believe that negative attention is just as good as positive attention. When I'm mad and upset that they didn't do their work, won't stop talking, or don't ever seem to be paying attention...they get MY attention.
And, for the most part, I'm able to succeed. Last year, I had several kids that didn't do their work or gave up or didn't pay attention simply because they didn't think they COULD do the work. I was able to reach those kids by giving them tasks I knew they could accomplish. I set up the learning environment so that there was no room for failure...and those students flourished throughout the year.
This year, I have some similar situations. I don't, however, really have any behavioral issues. OK, I have a few kids that seem to NEVER do their work and are perfectly content with F's as their consequence, but I don't have kids that are mean, or disrespectful, or seem to do the exact opposite of everything I ask them to do.
If someone does something wrong in my class, they will admit it. My #1 rule is honesty, and I back that up with rewarding honesty no matter how bad the situation is. The consequences are ALWAYS far less severe when honesty is at play, and my kids know that. In fact, it's so good, they will come to me and admit stuff they've done before I'm even aware that something has been done.
That part I am very happy and proud of.
But, what needs to change is my "drill sergeant" mentality when it comes to not doing work, not being prepared for class, or other minor issues that tend to come up.
NOW I'm going to start offering my kids some minor choices so that they feel like they have some control on their learning.
For example, when I give them a math assignment, I will let them choose if they complete the odd or even problems. Their choice. Doesn't matter to me. They do ten or so problems still, and it's no harder when grading because we'll just go over each problem.
Or when I assign the spelling contract, they can choose to turn their activities in each day or wait and turn them all in on Friday. I won't grade them until the weekend, anyway, so what difference does it make if they want to turn their activities in each day?
I am also going to STOP using "I won't", "you won't", and "you will" statements. Those aren't good. They automatically tell the students that I'm barking orders, and the defiant students will perk up and wait for the opportunity to not do what I'm asking or do the complete opposite of what I'm asking.
By using "I will" statements, I get to set up the limits and expectations and then throw the responsibility back on them if they don't follow through.
For example... "I will grade the assignments that are turned in tomorrow", "I will grade the assignments that I can read", "I will take my class to lunch when they are quiet".
When I get "I didn't do my homework", they are reminded of the statement I made, and are then forced to realize that I gave them the expectation and they made the decision not to follow through.
And my most favorite part of the training was learning how to put student problems back on themselves to solve. This is, by far, one of my biggest weaknesses. I always feel like it's my duty to "save and solve" all the problems that come my way from my students.
For example... a kid comes to me and tells me they can't do the work, they don't get it.
My normal response would be: "OK, let me show you how to do it again, I will sit with you and go over and over it until you get it." And, if they are still struggling after a little while, I just tell them to pack it away and we'll try another time.
Instead, my response should be: "Oh no!! What do you plan on doing about that?"
When the student doesn't have any clue how to fix the problem, I can offer to provide some suggestions on what other students would do in that situation.
The strategy, though, is to offer a couple of bad choices and one good choice.
For example: "Some students just give up, how do you think that will work for you?"
The hope is that they will respond with that not helping because they won't learn how to do it. So, then I can offer another suggestion...
"Well, some kids just take a zero, how do you think that will work for you?"
The hope is that they will respond with not wanting to make a zero.
Then, I can offer "Well, some kids ask their friends for some help or go to homework help in the mornings to try and get more practice, how do you think that will work for you?"
And then, hopefully, they will take that opportunity.
But, if they don't? If they choose one of the other options? I let that play out...and then have them confront the new problem as it arises, hopefully building their ability to problem solve and identifying that bad solutions or "easy outs" never really pay off and just create even more problems.
I LOVE IT!!!
I plan on incorporating ALL of this new stuff in my classroom today. I have barely scratched the surface of the great techniques and information I got yesterday, but it's that time when I have to get ready for work.
So... I'm gonna try the new stuff, and I'll be sure to let you all know how it works for me.
Until then, though, it's off to get ready for another great day of learning!