All About ‘The Who’: Truly Knowing Your Students Can Change Their Lives

We spend a lot of time as educators worrying about “the what,” “the why,” “the when,” “the where,” and “the how.”  What am I teaching? What units do I need to cover? What standards should I be teaching to? Why are we teaching this?  Why do we use this textbook? When am I going to fit all this in? When will I get these papers marked? Where is my classroom going to be next year?  Where should my students sit? How do I teach this lesson? How am I going to survive?!?

We’re so caught up in all of these other areas that we tend to forget about the most important piece…”the who.”  Who are our students? Who needs help today? Who has been successful on this task? Who looks like they didn’t sleep well last night?  Who has identified their strengths? Who is having a bad day today? Who…who…who?

The most important thing we can do as educators is build relationships and establish trust with our students.  Knowing them is more important to their success than anything else. More important than the book you use, the lessons you teach, the homework the complete…everything.  You must know your students!! I don’t just mean know their names or favorite color, but really know them as people. Who are they?

With that in mind, I wanted to continue sharing some great resources with you. These four articles, similar to the last few weeks, are things I’ve come across and saved as valuable tools and resources.  Have a look…the last one, in particular, will be helpful in making progress toward getting to know your students better!

The Benefits of Helping Teens Identify Their Purpose in Life

Important quote from this article:  

“In the past we had more of a script for who to be and how to be. The lack of script is a very good thing but it also makes it very hard if students don’t have support,” Senehi says. “This is part of the depression problem [among teens]. If you don’t have a script or you don’t have a place to define it for yourself, you are like a ship without an anchor.”

Why Late Nights Lead to Crankier, More Emotional Teens

Important quote from this article:  

“Getting these kids enough sleep and appropriately timed sleep is necessary for optimal self-regulation,” she says. “If you don’t have enough and appropriately timed sleep, then you’re going to compromise your ability to have these kinds of skills.”

Sometimes Misbehavior Is Not What it Seems

Important quote from this article:

“Sometimes the reason for misbehavior is very different than the obvious and requires a totally different intervention than the usual consequences. It is never easy to determine why children do the things they do.”

These teens saw how poor mental health hurt their peers. So they got a law passed.

Important quote from this article:  

“The problem is that students are doing too much, and they don’t have individuals in place that can help them deal with the stress and anxiety that come with that. A bad day turns into a bad week and turns into a bad month.”

A 4-Part System for Getting to Know Your Students

Important quote from this article:

“Building solid relationships with your students is arguably the most important thing you can do to be an effective teacher. It helps you build trust so students take academic risks, allows you to better differentiate for individual needs, and prevents the kinds of power struggles often found in poorly managed classrooms.”

 

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Students Aren’t Robots

Students aren’t robots, in fact they’re exactly the opposite – they’re humans.

Not only are they humans, they are teenage humans.  Hormone filled, emotional, impressionable teenagers…eeek!  There couldn’t be anything less predictable wandering our halls than 600+ teens.  Nothing could be more different from a predictable and programmable robot than a teenage human being.

This is why, recently, I’ve asked our Year Level Managers to start scheduling parent meetings with all of our students (and their parents) who’ve shown a pattern of arriving late to school.  See, up until now, we’ve sent each student the same exact “agreement” letter once they’ve reached a certain amount of ‘late to school’ infractions.  The problem, once again, is that our students aren’t robots.

If our students were robots then ‘agreements’, lessons, and consequences that were exactly the same for each student would work perfectly for all of them.  It would be glorious, we’d find the perfect lesson and consequence that helped all students arrive to school on time and our problem would be solved.  However, as I’ve mentioned, our students aren’t robots.

So, back to the meetings…my theory (that our students aren’t robots) proved to be true right out of the gates.  The first set of meetings were all completely different situations.  The first student was having a hard time arriving to school on time because she would wake up and look at social media on her phone for such a long time that she ended up leaving the house late every day.  The next student just couldn’t get out of bed because he was staying up until two or three in the morning each night.  The third student was doing everything right but her older sister was so slow in the morning that she ended up being late herself too often.  How effective is the same ‘agreement’ letter for these three kids and can you really apply any fair consequence to all three students?  

Our rationally developed and 95% effective Behavior Expectation System just wasn’t doing the trick for that remaining 5% of our students.  The reason it didn’t work for everyone…well, I think you’ve figured it out by now, ‘our students aren’t robots’.  We needed a touch of the human side to get involved in the process and, from what we’ve seen so far, it was very necessary.

I’m sharing this today because I want to encourage you to work on responding to the individual needs of our students more appropriately.  Sometimes it seems more efficient for the entire class to go through the same lesson, lab, or assessment but is that actually the most effective way of learning for each student?  Being ‘late to school’ is no different from trying to learn academics in the grand sense that our students all have different stories.  One student may learn very differently than their peers.  Most students, in fact, don’t learn the same way as those sitting next to them…they are humans.  

Our students aren’t robots.  I know that’s obvious but I think the exaggeration of the point allows us to realize that, sometimes, we operate as though they are very much the same person.  Even if we could take away the crazy swings that hormones cause in our students we’d still be faced with 600+ individual and unique human beings.  Perhaps 95% of students fit the molds we’ve created, but what are we doing in our classrooms, with our Behavior Expectation System, and every other aspect of education to make sure that all 100% of our students are receiving the best education possible?

Seeing Ourselves as Models

It’s hard to believe that we’re already in the second week of the second term, this year is flying by at a breakneck pace.  However, before it gets too far ahead of us I wanted to slow down and come back to something that I really believe to be the most important thing we can do as educators…model.

I’ve written about modeling our life as ‘learners’ for our students before but this goes beyond that, this is bigger, and is easier to forget.  At the beginning of the year, before we hit full stride, it’s easier to keep the small things in mind.  Modeling for our students, as important as it is, often seems like one of those small things.  It’s something that is easily overlooked as the year goes on.  We see our students’ true colors and they get to see ours…what are they seeing?

Recently I discovered Jennifer Gonzalez and her amazing website, The Cult of Pedagogy.  If you have some time it’s most definitely worth a look, she’s got great stuff to share about education.  I also began following her on Twitter, and over the weekend she shared one of her past blog posts.  As I read it, I realized that it was perfect timing for this piece at our school.  It came as a wonderful reminder to me and I believe you’ll find it as a great reminder as well.  

The post is titled, Lessons in Personhood: 10 Ways to Truly Lead in Your Classroom, and it is outstanding.  In fact, you should stop right now and read that post.

Jennifer’s 10 lessons are as follows but you’ll have to read the post to get the details…if you haven’t already read it, you should really do it now…

  1. Lead with imperfection.
  2. Lead with assertiveness.
  3. Lead with relationships.
  4. Lead with language.
  5. Lead with self-control.
  6. Lead with manners.
  7. Lead with quality.
  8. Lead with humor.
  9. Lead with enthusiasm.
  10. Lead with humility.

Over the last 12 weeks I’d like to think that I’ve done my best to lead in this way but I will continue being mindful of these 10 “Lessons in Personhood”.  Similarly, I hope that you take these lessons to heart and stop to think for a minute about what it is that you’re modeling for our students.  These lessons go beyond education, management, or business.  These truly are lessons for how to be a better person.

Week 12, hard to believe…enjoy it 🙂

They Don’t Care How Much You Know

Amy has a saying she learned from her mother long ago that I just love, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Putting in the effort to learn your students names is a good starting point but after a couple weeks the assumption would be that you’ve achieved (or you’re at least close to achieving) that goal.  Take a minute then, to think back to your days as a student, who was your favorite teacher?  Who was the best teacher in the school?  Now ask yourself ‘why?’

I’m willing to bet that your favorite teacher and/or the teacher you remember as the “best teacher” earned that place in your mind, not because they knew the content better than anyone else, but because they were a teacher who you knew cared about you as a person.  Very often the teachers who are the most effective at helping their students learn are those who show their students that they are valued and important as people, both in and out of the classroom.  

Show your students you care and they’ll work harder for you.  This seems obvious, right?  Yet, how much time and effort do you spend establishing that relationship with your students versus teaching them content material?  Now, granted, you don’t have loads of time laying around to just chat with your students but without finding a way to show them how much you care, they’ll never care how much you know.  

A few ways that I’ve found to be helpful for showing students you care:

  1. Relate to them:  Wow, this gets harder and harder each year.  I met a student this week named “Tiffany” and I started singing, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something.  Now, I know that not everyone knows that song and maybe not everyone knows the movie either.  However, it was a reminder that this is the Bieber Generation…and they’re not far from being too young for him as well.  Each year we come back to work as teachers we’re a year older but the kids are still the same age.  It takes more and more effort to relate to our students each year.  Talk to them, listen to them, and learn from them.
  2. Learn about their life outside of school:  A big word of caution here, don’t take this to mean you should be prying into personal matters.  Mostly what I’m talking about here is stuff like: what they did on the weekend, where they traveled over the summer, and what they’re listening to on their headphones.  As you build a relationship with students they may share more personal information with you, if you’re ever unsure whether something is too personal, talk to your counselors or principals.  
  3. Be real:  On Friday a high school girl asked me, “why would anyone get married?”  She, obviously, knew that I was recently married and was truly curious about the tenant of marriage and what the attractions were for so many people.  It might be a little deeper question than the average teenager would ask but I felt like if she had the courage to ask me that question, then she certainly deserved an honest answer.  Students can tell when you’re selling them a bunch of fluff, so as long as the truth doesn’t cross any ethical barriers you should be open with them.  Again, a qualifier – just because you’re being honest doesn’t mean you have to reveal everything about yourself.  Authentic is one thing, unfiltered is another.  
  4. Create opportunities:  As I continue to learn 650 names and try to show students that I care beyond just their names, I’ve got to find time.  Before/after school, break, and lunch are all prime times to talk to kids outside of the classroom.  I try not to stay too long, moving from group to group, learning bits and pieces as I go.  If you’re on duty (or even if you’re not) this is a great chance to talk to some students outside of the usual classroom context.  Also, take advantage of the few minutes of transition time to briefly check-in with one or two of the students who arrive early to your class, you’ll be amazed at what you can learn in just 30 seconds.  
  5. Get involved:  As an educator many of the strongest bonds I’ve created with students have come as the result of coaching sports.  Whether coaching, leading an After-School Activity, or simply going to watch a game or activity, there is possibly no better way to show your students that you care than getting involved.  

There are lots of ways to show our students that we care.  Over the years, as educators we’ve all learned tips and tricks to connect with our students and engage them as learners.  Whatever works best for you is what you should use.  The strategies I’ve discussed above are things that work for me and, if you haven’t tried them, might be useful tools for you as well.  Please take the time over the next few weeks to really start building those relationships with your students, the time and effort now will pay off all year long.

It’s already the beginning of week three and I couldn’t be more excited for a Monday!!  We’ve got a wonderful group of colleagues and truly awesome students, a perfect combination for a great school.  Enjoy the week and Happy Monday 🙂

What’s Your Name Again?

I’ve done it before.  72 kids, 120 kids, 300 kids…but there I was standing in front of 650 kids, telling them that I vow to learn each and every one of their names…eeek!  What would possess somebody to endeavor to do such a ridiculous thing, let alone say it out loud?!?  

Throughout the week as people watched me struggle to remember names learned just 30 seconds earlier, smack myself in the head, and once in awhile actually remember a name, I’ve been asked about my strategy for remembering so many names.  Well, I don’t have just one.  The reality is that I’ve got about five or six that I’m using at any given time.  Let me see if I can articulate those for you:

  1. Use It or Lose It:  It’s true of anything in life, if we don’t use a skill it fades and is eventually lost.  The same is true with learning names.  The kids I met on Monday who I didn’t see the rest of the week; almost no chance I’ve remembered their name this long.  There are, however, a bunch of kids who’ve helped train me by continuously asking “Do you remember my name?”  To be honest, I probably didn’t know it the first or second time but those kids who continue to ask are now well ingrained in my heads.  They are in the small group that I’ll still know after a weekend away.  Use it or lose it.

  2. Repetition:  This is very similar to the first one but is more about the actual moment of learning, it is basically burning the memory of their name into my head.  I’m not sure it works that well, kind of like Rote Memorization, but I generally say a kid’s name over and over in my head (and sometimes out loud) as I’m trying to make a connection somewhere in my brain.

  3. Connect the Dots:  Speaking of making connections – aside from #1, this is probably the most important for long term memory making.  Our brains are like Velcro, memories and new information seek out a connection to stick to.  If there is nothing for those names to latch onto they just bounce around for a few seconds and fall right out.  I start with physical features, if there is something distinctive I can connect to that is always best…hair cuts, new glasses, and everyone wearing the same uniform are total enemies of this strategy!  Connecting their name to popular culture, a person I’ve known in the past, or just something silly all help maintain the connection longer.  Basically, for the long term recall, making a connection to a more permanent memory helps cement the new memory much faster and longer.

  4. Visualization:  I find that this one is very helpful for short-term memory.  Often times when I’m trying to recall a name I’ll ask the kids where I learned their name.  This helps me draw back to the initial creation of the memory and rummage around until something springs up.  If they were sitting with friends at lunch, in Math class, or I met them on Orientation Day, these are all opportunities for me to flash back to recall their name.  An aside here, there are certainly places that are not conducive to learning names – I’ve realized that in the morning or afternoon as kids are coming and going in a steady stream I can’t recall much of anything.  So, if I’ve stopped into your room to meet a few kids, thank you – I’ll appreciate being able to visualize your room later while trying to think of a name 🙂

  5. Context:  This is generally a good tool for helping me remember names in the long term and something I’d recommend for teachers learning names in their classes.  If I have the time I will engage a kid in a longer conversation, asking about their summer, their favorite class, or if they have brothers or sisters.  If I can place them in a certain context later on then I’ll have an easier time recalling their name.  Anything unique that I can learn about a student will greatly increase the odds of remembering their name.  This strategy is tough for me because often I don’t have a couple minutes with every kid, this is why break and lunch are great for learning names!!

  6. Spelling Champion:  Never mind that I lost the spelling bee on the word “phlegm” in 6th grade (who would think there is a ‘g’ in there?!?)  I’m often very good at processing auditory information but I find that when learning new names I benefit from having kids spell their name (especially the names that are “new” to me) while I phantom write them on my hand with my finger.  The process of hearing, doing, and saying is a good combination.  Also, there are a lot of kids who have “common” names that are spelled differently than I’m used to; this unique quality helps me remember as well.  

At the end of the day, no matter what strategies I use it comes down to effort, determination, and perseverance.  It’s not easy, it will take a long time, and I’ve already made so many mistakes it’s embarrassing.  However, it’s important to me so I will continue to push on and, someday I hope, I will get there.

As the beginning of the year washes over us and we move into the next phases of the school year, it’s important to keep in mind that we’ll have ups and downs, highs and lows. Whether it’s remembering names, planning lessons, or trying out new strategies in class, take a risk and don’t be afraid of a challenge.

 

Fresh Starts

It’s finally here, day one, the first day of school.  It’s a feeling of clean hallways, new notebooks, bright smiles, youthful exuberance and…freshness.

Luckily, for those of us in education, we get to have a fresh start every year.  With the end of summer holidays comes the beginning of a new year.  Our friends and family, who don’t work in the most amazing field in the world like we do, can’t possibly understand what it means to be able to start fresh each year.  New school uniforms, clean whiteboards, refreshed colleagues, and eager students.  It’s one of the best times of the year to be an educator, the energy is high and the possibilities are endless.

A fresh start, however, doesn’t mean that we’re starting from nothing.  Having a clean slate and being able to start fresh allows us to build and grow upon lessons learned in the past.  We can think back to previous school years and draw on experiences, both good and bad, to develop our plan.  So often in life we only get one shot at something and it’s over, no matter if it went well or not.  As educators we get to look back, recall lessons and activities, and know that we get another shot to make them even better this time around.  After all, growing and improving is what it’s all about, right?  Just as we work hard to help our students grow throughout their time in our classes, we are working on growing and improving as educators as well.

With students streaming through the doors, eager to see their class lists and schedules, the opportunity to start our students off on the right foot is ours for the taking.  Helping them find their classes, welcoming them with a smile and handshake, and setting a positive tone will leave them with the excitement and ambition for success right from the start.  Being mindful of the way we start each class, each day, and each week is just as important as how we start the school year.  We’re fortunate to have a very positive and supportive school community, keeping the momentum rolling won’t be hard after such a strong start.

Everyone appreciates a fresh start, students and teachers alike.  We had a great first week together as a staff and I’m more confident than ever that the coming weeks with students will be even better!  Enjoy the fresh start and take it all in.

A couple interesting reads about fresh starts:

The Fresh Start Effect

The 10 Best Pieces of Advice for Making a Fresh Start

Seeing the Invisible

Sometimes we can’t see diversity.

Often times we consider diversity to be something that we see or hear on the outside…skin color, languages spoken, or other “physical” traits.  

During our Senior Roll Call, as each of our seniors was welcomed by the song of their choosing, what I’m calling “invisible diversity” was on display.  From Metallica, to David Bowie, to Drake, to Elvis and everything in between.  We had K-Pop, traditional Chinese songs, and Ecuadorean ballads.  Our students were each able to choose their own song which goes to show the wide range of interests that our students hold.  This example of “invisible diversity” is, perhaps, the number one reason that we need to get to know our students on a personal level!  

As educators it’s easy to group our students and place them into a category.  The “artists”, the “athletes”, the “academics”, the “musicians”…but who are these people beyond what we think we see?  Many of our students (or people in general) don’t fit neatly into any one group in particular.  Some of our best athletes are also strong musicians, artists, academics, and much more.  On the other hand, some of the kids who aren’t our top academics have talents and interests outside of school.  But how would we know if we don’t take the chance to get to know our kids on a personal level?  

I’ve mentioned this before, don’t be afraid to take some class time to set the content aside and learn (and share) some personal information about these young people that you work with 210 minutes (sometimes more) each week. Teaching is more than disseminating content, it’s about knowing our students and building connections.  

I know it’s the end of the year, this may be more relevant at the beginning of the school, but it’s worth considering at any time.  Since it was the Senior Roll Call music that inspired my thinking about “invisible diversity” I thought I would share the songs from the whole playlist…enjoy 🙂

* A word of caution…while our students selected a 1 minute and 15 section of these songs with all “clean” words, some of the full songs include “explicit lyrics”.

In order of appearance…

Build Me Up Buttercup – The Foundations

Let’s Go – Khalid

마에스트로 (Maestro) – 창모 (Changmo)

Strange Charm:  A Song About Quarks – Hank Green

The Fratellis – Chelsea Dagger

Anillos De Saturno – Danny Fornaris Feat. Jani Sanchez

Daddy – Psy

Modern Love – David Bowie

Me Llamas – Piso 21

Jump in the Fire – Metallica

Headlines – Drake

All My Love – Led Zeppelin

Empire Ants – Gorillaz Feat. Little Dragon

Everyday Superhero – Smash Mouth

‘에라 모르겠다(FXXK IT)’ M/V – BIGBANG

Walking on a Dream – Empire of the Sun

Yo Naci Aqui – Juan Fernando Velasco

1901 – Phoenix

Come On Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners & Kevin Rowland

醉赤壁 Zui Chi Bi – 林俊杰 JJ Lin Jun Jie

Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen

Fire – Gavin DeGraw

La Dueña De Tu Amor – Marala Feat. Zion & Lennox

Il Mio Cammino – Phil Collins

Tu Mejor Error – AU-D

La Isla Del Amor – Demarco Flamenco

Eres Mi Sueño – Fonseca

Mi Testimonio aka El Edificio – Bacilos

Burning Love – Elvis Presley

Someday – The Strokes

Sugar – Maroon 5

Lo Mejor De Mi Vida Eres Tu – Ricky Martin Feat. Natalia Jimenez

Oh My God – A Tribe Called Quest

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell