Friday, September 23, 2016

13 Things to Say to At-Risk (All) Students

     I read an Edutopia Twitter post telling me 13 things not to say to students. That got me thinking of things I try to say to students. Here is my list of 13 things you should say to students.

1. "I'm proud of you." Four words that can inspire students in ways we could never imagine. My students don't seem to be told someone is proud of them For them to hear an adult say that to them, well, it can work wonders for their confidence and determination to live up to those words.

2. "I trust you." Again, these are confidence building words for my demographic. Trust isn't something inherent in their world. They don't trust many and even fewer trust them. These are the kids who get followed in convenience stores or looked at sideways by most adults. Trust is something knew to them. But the words can't be empty. I have to show I trust them by doing just that. And you know what? I've rarely been let down.

3. "You've really shown improvement." When I go through papers with students, it's easy to point out the myriad of errors I see. What's harder is looking for the improvement. Even the smallest area they've  boosted deserves recognition by me. I can tell them about the areas needing work on later. Giving them a sense of achievement is imperative to keeping students motivated.

4. "You've done a terrific job." Students not only like to hear good things about themselves (even those who seem not to care) but they need to hear positive comments. Who doesn't like to know when you're doing a good job? Who doesn't need that lift that comes from knowing people are paying attention to the work you're doing? This is something everyone needs, not just at-risk students.

5. " I can tell you're trying you're best." Acknowledging the effort helps stave off frustrations that may build in students who struggle in your content area. Students need to know you understand their struggles and are there to help.

6. "You are a hard worker." I have one student who thrives when I tell him this. He prides himself on working hard. He may not always get the theme of the work right, but he works diligently to find it. Letting him know I see his effort just fuels him to continue to work hard.

7. "I appreciate your honesty." Let's face it: kids don't always tell the truth. That is one of my biggest pet peeves. So no matter what they tell me, as long as it's truthful, I tell them I appreciate their honesty. And for the most part, they respect that and stay true to that policy.

8. "I'm glad you're in my class." I told this to a student who recently returned from a group home to my class. I'd never had her before but at the end of the day today, I told her how happy I wa to have her in my class. "Really?" was her response. How many people have told students they are a positive addition to the teacher's classroom? Get them to believe it and they begin to act it.

9."Thank you for your efforts." Actually, I could end this one at "Thank you." So few of them know the soft skills needed to be successful in this society. By modeling good manners and appreciation for the work and effort someone has put into something, we are teaching students positive soft skills.

10 "I understand..." Beginning a sentence with those two words can defuse tense situations. But don't just say the words, believe them when you say them. Understand that life isn't always about school. Understand they may not have money for lunch or school supplies or laundry or gas. Understand that they may be helping to support their family with the job they're working after school and they don't have time to read your book or work on your paper. Just letting them know you understand and will work with them can relieve teens of a lot of pressure.

11. "You've got this." Struggling student trying to grasp a writing concept can easily become frustrated. By talking them through a paper and helping them organize their thoughts, you inspire confidence in them. Those three little words lets them know you believe in them.

12. "Please..." Again, I try to model good manners. I don't demand students something I ask and show appreciation when they do. Students are quick to pick this up and act accordingly.

13. "Tell me what you think." Often teachers will ask kids what they think, and then the teacher doesn't listen. Let them tell you. These are fledgling adults trying to understand what they do think. Allowing them to articulate their ideas to you, without interrupting or without commenting  on those thoughts shows active listening. Who doesn't want to be heard?

     Treat your students like you'd want to be treated. Talk to them the way you want to be talked to. It really can make all the difference. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Relax and Take It Easy

     Anyone who knows me would laugh at the name of this entry. It's probably the last thing I do. In years past I've jammed my schedule, running from meeting to meeting, trying to do it all. I was crazy and lived a frenetic lifestyle that was doing more harm than good. Learning to relax and rest is vital to being on your game in the classroom.
     As teachers we often bring home more than just papers to correct. Our thoughts dwell long after the dismissal of students on a confidence shared with us by a student about a new development or twist in their already dysfunctional lives.Thoughts linger and hearts ache. With our mind trying to reassure us the students will be okay, a myriad of questions fill our souls.
     It's hard for teachers to let go and disengage. I'm speaking from past experience. Yet that's exactly what we need. Teachers give out so much during the week, they deplete their "giving" bank and sometimes even their reserves. Taking time during the weekend to recharge and refuel is vital to teacher survival.This past weekend I determined not to bring home school work. Instead my goal was to relax. And guess what? I did it. I relaxed. I read. I walked. I visited with friends and family. I hung out with my husband. It was awesome. My usual pattern for weekends? Work, work and more work.
      So what did I learn from this short respite from school? That we teachers need it. We need to relax and get out of classroom mode. It's healthy to take a break and not  think about the classroom for a night or two.
      Instead of looking for ways to occupy your time, read a book. Take a walk. Visit friends. Go for a bike ride. Disconnect for a bit. It can make all the difference.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Goal Setting: Is It for You?

     "Tis the season of writing professional goals. At least it is for me. This is the time of year that forces me to think about what I'd like to accomplish this year. Some people love to set goals, even if it's only a list of things "to do" that day. There's a thrill of ticking off items from the paper, a feeling of deep accomplishment knowing you accomplished something that day. But are goals for everyone?
      Not all are enamored with the idea of such structure that goals bring. Not wanting to be confined, these people resist the limitations they may feel targets bring. What if your life takes a twist and you are no longer interested in hitting these marks? Teachers are no different. Some thrive with having a measurable means of gauging "success" by achieving the goal while others don't want to be committed to going in a certain direction.
     What works best? It comes down to knowing yourself. Me? I'm definitely one who likes the structure that goals afford me. I may change the marks, but I need something to shoot for during the year. I have a colleague, though, who works through the year day-by-day, without really a set agenda just waiting to see where his classes go. This works for him.
     I don't always write down my goals, yet I'm fully aware of what they are. These are what drive me in my quest to be effective in the classroom. Something I'm aiming for this year is consistency--being faithful to teach a couple of things daily.
     Although I like setting goals, I don't always accomplish them. My biggest problem was shooting too high and expecting too much...from me. I've lessened the burden on myself and given myself some slack in this process. Just as expecting too much from my kids makes them frustrated, shut down, and lose confidence in their abilities, the same thing can happen to me. If we shoot too high, we almost make it impossible for ourselves to achieve the goals we set. I would nearly wear myself out attempting to achieve what in reality was unrealistic.
     Here are some things I've learned about goals:
     1) Be realistic. Nothing destroys a student like setting the bar too high and the same goes for ourselves. Ask yourself if you would expect a colleague to be able to meet this goal. Or ask for input from those around you. Colleagues should know you well as a professional and can offer good advice as to the reality of  that goal.
     2) Be flexible. Things change. Students have lives, too, and sometimes those lives impede learning. Maybe you won't be able to put another notch on your ruler or tick off the completed goal. Maybe instead of meeting the mark, you put the kids first and adjust your aim a bit lower. It's not the end of the world. Learning can and does still happen, just maybe not at the rate you were shooting for.
    3) Be positive. No one likes a grump. Not meeting goals really affects some people, causing them to be difficult to be around. Instead of moping about the lack of progress in meeting your mark or getting upset about it, relax. It's not that important. Continue to work toward your goal, seeing the big picture instead of focusing on a microcosm of it. Life will still go on.
    4) Be consistent. I think of the tortoise and the hare. Be tortoise-like in your approach, slow and methodical, yet steady.Working toward a goal needn't be sporadic. Diligently striving to achieve a larger goal shouldn't be all-consuming but neither should you have fits and starts in regards to it. Too often I "zoom" in my start only to lag shortly after. Taking small steps consistently helps me to relieve some of the pressure on myself. I'd rather see steady progress than the fitful starts and stops.
    Setting goals may be an effective way for you to operate in your classroom. It is for me. But not everyone is the same. Lighten up on your expectations of yourself and others. It could make all the difference.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Ready for Risks

    Are you ready for some innovation? That's a question I ask myself as I approach the new school year. Am I ready to take a risk or two to try something new in my classroom? Am I comfortable enough with myself as a teacher to put myself out there? Am I willing to think beyond my regular parameters to implement a hopefully engaging idea that will capture my at-times reluctant demographic? All good questions to start the school year.
     I spent the summer with my mind fairly far from teaching. Occupied with other aspects of life, my thoughts would occasionally percolate on teaching and what I was going to do differently in my approach to the school year. Ideas came and went until I finally settled on my tactics. Even those changed the weekend before the first day.
     But the point is, I'm trying new things. I want my class to be the class kids don't want to miss. I want my class to be the class where deep learning takes place. I want my class to be the class where kids feel safe to express themselves, even if contrary to my own ideas. I want my class to be THE place.
     I am experimenting this block with a couple of concepts. So far, I have no idea if these strategies are working. Yet I'm trying. Even when appearances seem to bespeak failure. Even when my gut wrenches in apprehension about the success of these ideas. Even in spite of my lack of confidence, I'm pushing through and trying. And who knows? These new approaches? They could make all the difference. I'll keep you posted.