A lot has been said about the importance of building relationships with students. Most of the educational focused research has been focused on the importance of authentic relationships with at-risk students. I have lived in this world and I can tell you that this research based practice works. Students who lead lives that are less certain than others cling to caring teachers. They yearn for acceptance, love, and someone to talk to. They strive for the best they can give and will take pride in the knowledge that they’ve earned your respect and deserve it. Now, what about all the other students sitting in our classrooms? What about those children that come from intact homes with helicopter parents, all the food they can eat, all the support they will ever need or want? What about them? Those students also present some interesting challenges in the classroom. Those students become bored very easily, they too have ADHD, and they love a challenge whether it’s an enrichment assignment or finding ways to get rid of a sub they don’t like. Those students have a way of making teachers’ lives just a difficult as the most at-risk student, but very little research has been done on the importance of relationship building with these students. How interesting….

I thrive on a discipline issue. I know most administrators shy away from these because either they feel uncomfortable with the discipline policy in place at a school, or they don’t want to deal with a parent that doesn’t quite see things the way they do, or they don’t want to be the bad guy. All of these reasons are justifiable, but I look at discipline as an opportunity to get to know and connect with a kid. It’s as easy as that. It’s a lot of hard work, trying to figure out the true sequence of events, to identify misinterpretations of an event, and to listen to adults weigh in without the child’s best interests in mind. Yep, it’s hard work and frankly takes up a lot of time during an already hectic school day, but the leg work is worth it and I’ll tell you why.

  1. As an administrator, you don’t have the opportunities to get to know the kids like you did as a teacher. You don’t have all those hours together, riddling over arithmetic and writing prompts. Discipline issues give you a reason to meet with a student one-on-one, to listen, and to reason with them. You get to know where the kid is coming from and why she makes the choices she does.
  2. I keep the basic tenants of the discipline policy in mind, but I tailor each situation to the needs of the children involved. I read every infraction notice that is given. I am aware of the students with repeated offences, those that miss assignments regularly, and whose parents just will not take the side of the teacher and will make excuses no matter the infraction. (I see all the parent responses too.) Once I determine that it’s time to see a student in my office, I listen to the student and make the judgment call based on the history and needs of the student.
  3. I research the infraction. If a teacher or another adult sends a student to my office or requests that I meet with a student, I wait to talk not only to the student, but to any other students that may be involved if there is a behavioral event that brought them to my office. By getting all sides of a story, I not only get a chance to meet other students and talk with them, but I also know I have all the facts in front of me to make a fair decision.
  4. Once I make a decision of who is guilty and why, I talk it out with that student. I explain why I believe what I do and the punishment  that is the result of the choice he made. Invariably at this point the student accepts and agrees with my decision and is ready to face the consequence.
  5. Before I put anything in writing, I always call the parents involved to discuss and to reason. Because I have taken all the steps I needed to in order to ensure that I had all the facts, parents generally agree with my decision and grudgingly accept their child’s guilt.

It’s important to note that at this point all the students I talked to along the way now know me. It is so important for me to say hi to them in the hallways, classrooms, and in the cafeteria. I need to take time if they want to talk about unrelated issues, and most of all, I have to find time to laugh with them.

Through this lengthy process, I am making a ton of connections. I am talking with teachers and staff, students, and parents. This gets me in the door. I begin to prove to these students that I am fair, that I will listen to them, and that I think what they have to say is important. This is authentic relationship building and when this is done right, the positive long-term benefits far outweigh any negatives of the time it took to solve the issue.

Kids today are very different, or rather the way they look at school is very different. In order to motivate a student in a classroom during a lesson, you have to connect with them. In most of the schools I have visited, there is always this common theme among the staff…..they want the kids to be motivated in class to do the work and to achieve. They want the kids to be self-motivated. I believe that the only way to truly achieve this is through authentic relationship building. By building relationships with any kid, you get to know them. You know what they like, what drives them, what annoys them, and what makes them happy. You know who they work well with, who they play with, who distracts them and who keeps them on target. A teacher can then use all this knowledge to develop lessons and projects directly tailored to the students in their classrooms. They can predict distractions before they happen, can eliminate drama by separating students, can laugh away embarrassment caused by presentations and simple mess ups. Self-motivation in students will only happen when they truly like and respect their teacher no matter their background.

A quick point I just need to make…..It is not the job of a teacher to become a student’s buddy. This is not proper “relationship building”. Like a parent, a teacher has to remain the authority figure. There always has to be a line so the students knows what is appropriate and what isn’t in a classroom setting. It is the teacher’s job to draw that line clearly so that proper roles are maintained and that the classroom continues to be a professional learning experience for the students. If a teacher is a student’s “friend” or “buddy” then the student will not work for that teacher because she will think she doesn’t have to because lines have blurred.

Look at the way you interact with your students. Are you giving them the attention the crave in order to get the best out of them? Are you creating lessons with them in mind that will attract them, motivate them, and push them to their limits? Are you interesting new ways of presenting a lesson and varying assessment ideas? Are you working to connect with them so that you truly know what they need? Develop those relationships no matter where you are teaching and no matter what types of students you have. If you do, your days will be easier and your work will be far more interesting.

 


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I have a lot of students who worked below grade level in the elementary and middle school grades. Students would come into my classrooms with various roadblocks in attaining instant success in education. Many of the babies had language barriers that made it difficult for them to score high test scores on proficiency/achievement/standardized/high-stakes tests in English speaking schools. Although I never once blamed my students for the English language deficiency, I knew that having English as a second language negatively impacted their scores on these yearly exams.

Let me explain something…..I believed then and I believe now that all of my students were and are BRILLIANT! To have the bravery and fortitude to walk into a classroom day after day and not truly understand what is being said, is mind boggling to me. I can’t even imagine sitting in a room, watching a teacher write words (not in the language I speak at home) in cursive, saying these crazy, insane words known as content vocabulary words day after day and then be expected to complete assignments independently with no cues, expected to write paragraphs in this alien language, and solve complex mathematical problems written with the sole purpose of confusing or tricking the reader, see and recognize words like “text”, “paragraph”, “selection”, and “passage”, while realizing that they all mean the same thing. No wonder so many of our children would break down weeping or shut down after ten minutes. What an incredible JOKE! Hey, but don’t worry, these students who speak English at school…with their teachers….only….are allowed to have a dictionary and extended time. (Sarcasm) Yep, that will make the situation equal for these children. (Sarcasm) Yep, these test scores from these biased, ridiculously written tests by these companies making huge money are capable of determining which students are “at level” with a group of same aged peers.(Sarcasm) These test scores, which are not, in any way, a true measure of a child’s intelligence should determine which teacher deserves her position or a wonderful evaluation? WHAT A JOKE!!!! Yet, here we are, in 2018, still listening to these people telling educators and parents that these test scores are what matters. And I have to admit, that there have been moments when I have been sucked into the craziness. I worried about my kids’ test scores. I bragged about the students who did well, and I searched, worried and lost sleep trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. But do the test scores even matter one bit????? NO they do not.

Those students, the ones who struggled, cried, quit, and bolted from the room, those same students who were turned down by high schools because their scores weren’t good enough….well they are doing GREAT! They are excelling at other high schools by working hard, studying for tests, and listening to the words their dedicated teachers taught them. They finally realized that a number on a standardized report means absolutely nothing. They have 3.0 and much better grade point averages, they are deeply involved in their schools, they are being accepted into colleges and are excelling, they are receiving scholarships to numerous schools, and they are standing straight with pride and confidence. I am so proud of each and every single one of the students I have taught, because they are beating the system. Even when others were telling them they couldn’t do it, that they weren’t good enough, they are proving those people wrong every single day.

Those stupid, useless tests mean nothing. What matters is the love, acceptance, beliefs that teachers have in their students. What matters is a hug, a shoulder to cry on, the ability to break down concepts, the ability to create connections for understanding, and a belief that speaking another language isn’t a curse, but a truly great gift that we should foster and build. The celebrations of a student’s home culture is incredibly important because when you find joy in what they believe and how they are raised, then you, as an educator, are telling them that they are important, vital, and should be proud of where they come from. You are telling them that even though differences make school hard sometimes, they don’t make school impossible.

If only educators could focus solely on true education and the educational needs of their students. Just think of all the wasted time, tears, and frustration that could be replaced with experiences that build scheme, educational opportunities, artistic activities, and joy….Just think….


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I Just Need a Break

I once taught a student with a very distinctive voice. His voice was one of a kind and for some reason it was like a beacon for me. No matter where this student was; in the lunchroom, gym, back of the classroom, front of the classroom, in the room next door; my brain honed in on this voice and I could hear what this student was saying, who he was talking to, and I could determine, just by the lilt of a word, what kind of mood he was in. I could not escape this voice because this boy was the type of kid who talked constantly….even when he was by himself. I could be teaching a lesson, the class could be engaged, maybe they would be working on a project, having a discussion, or silent reading, it didn’t matter because this kid was talking. Now you have to understand that this student was pretty smart. When he was on task, he could be a great contributor, when his stories and responses were insightful, but his mouth got in the way. I can still, to this day hear myself blurting out, “Please, just stop talking for one second!” “Please!!!! I just need a break!” “Would you please, just take a breath!” He would look startled, maybe shake his head, but inevitably he would just start talking again.

This student had ADHD. He was not my first student to have ADHD, but was memorable because for me, his diagnosis proved to be a great challenge in my classroom, not only for him, but for me. If you have ever worked in a typical classroom, you know that within every group of students there are those that stand out, that are loud, that never stop fidgeting, that can’t stay organized to save their lives, and those that have no power whatsoever to stay focused. If you’ve been in education for awhile, I bet you have noticed that the number of these special students have multiplied. There are no longer one or two, but now you have five, six, ten. I like to tell parents who have these little guys and gals that they are not alone, these students are the norm rather than the exception and fellow educators, I want to tell you that we have to adjust, we have to embrace their learning differences, and we have to accommodate….in the typical classroom.

If you stay abreast of the latest research and if you are acquainted with all the new methods, theories, and strategies out there, this is old news. Classroom dynamics are changing all across America and we can no longer look to the intervention specialist to absolve us from our struggles. So I guess I’m proposing that if we want to make a difference, if we want our students to achieve in our classrooms, if we want students to leave our classrooms knowing that they had a teacher that truly cared about them, then we have to adapt our typical classroom to fit the needs of our atypical students.

Everyone learns differently. All teachers were taught about the various “modalities”. We know that there are tactile learners, visual learners, auditory learners and more. We know this, yet are we using this knowledge to redevelop lessons, to redefine the way we teach curriculum, to breakdown concepts so that all in our classrooms will learn? Students with ADHD need structure and routine. They need multiple breaks and work well with hands-on tasks. These children need all the help they can get with developing executive functioning skills so colored folders work, writing assignments on the board works, creating checklists and keeping all of their passwords handy works. Chunking information, tasks, assessments, and only requiring necessary assignments for practice works. Guided notes, developing short term goals, and limiting free time works. Do your homework, keep your records, and brainstorm with past teachers to see what is best for the child now sitting in your room. These children are told “No” and “Stop” and “Settle down” so much. Remember to praise, high five, give them a sticker for accomplishments. Make them feel loved, accepted, and cherished inside the walls of your classroom. Find what they are good at and let them fly!

That boy, the one with the voice, well I ended up teaching him for four years, and although there were times when I just needed a break, I realized that he had those moments too. We got to know one another and I realized that he was a great big brother and friend. He made great strides in reading and did really well on oral assessments and tests with multiple choice and short answer. His math skills improved with practice and little by little he began to believe in himself. I do not believe that all ADHD children should be on medication, but I do believe that some children thrive on the right meds, but with this kid, it didn’t matter. His parents couldn’t afford it so I was made or forced to try other techniques for him. He made me work hard and frankly there was no way I could push him off to the side and ignore him. I had to find what worked for him and I can honestly say that when he left my school I truly missed him. I’m happy to say that he’s doing great and I’m glad when I run into him. I can feel confident knowing that I did everything I could to make him succeed and this is good because knowing this allows me to sleep at night.


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We’re Growing Up

My second daughter is going off to college next year. Yep, I will now have two daughters in college (out of the house) and one finishing up middle school. Our house will be much quieter, especially since our middle schooler spends most of her time in her room watching Logan Paul videos and talking with her friends – NO, not in person – don’t be ridiculous. Things will be changing around the Smith house, and although at first it will be weird, it will be okay. We will get used to the change in dynamics at the kitchen table and in the car.

All school and classrooms are different. Each room of students has its own dynamic. Certain kids can sit by one another, a couple have all the answers, and some students claim they just can’t do it. A teacher is the hub of the classroom. No matter the mix of the students, it’s the teacher that has to make sure that the entire room runs smoothly. If a teacher is afraid to face the changes each year, then he/she will have a tough year and so will the children. Teaching is not stagnant, it shifts with the research and the needs of the students as society changes.

As a teacher, as an administrator, and as a mother I have seen some commonalities. I see teachers that feel comfortable with what they are doing and are reluctant to make changes. Some educators use what they learned in their undergraduate studies and don’t move on. When a class struggles with material that these educators have used year in and year out, they blame the students. I have seen tests with dates on them from ten years prior. These same teachers refuse to listen to their students when they ask for additional help or extra time. The ignore the needs of English Language Learners and specifications stated on IEP’s. They don’t want to “dumb down” their curriculum to accommodate students that need a simpler language and longer time and practice retaining subject vocabulary. These teachers are convinced that they are doing right by their students. Tough love in the classroom. The students have to adjust or fail. “It’s my way or the highway.”

How antiquated and closed minded.

Our job as educators is to TEACH the material. Our job is to CREATE life-long learners. Our job is to EXCITE students into wanting to learn required information. These are our jobs as teachers. We have to stay current, make adjustments, and continue to learn what works best for the students in our classrooms. Although some think our job is easy…they have no clue, our job isn’t. But nor is it mired in sameness. No teacher should be relying on what they have done year after year because although lessons may have been great at one time and with one class, it is not great with every class and with every student. Ask around and every teacher can share an experience where they had a lesson that killed on year yet bombed the next. Reflection is the key. Why didn’t it work? What do I have to do to tweak it for this class? How can I break down the material so Tommy can get it? What lab or project can I add to give the students who test poorly a different way to demonstrate their understanding? Why did he fail the test? What did I do right and what did I do wrong? These are the questions that great educators ask themselves.

Do you ask yourself these questions?


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Whole New World

I do a lot of educational reading and this summer has been no exception. The only difference being, that I’m not doing it for a class…finally, so I can read whatever I want. It’s clear by the literature that’s out there that teaching/education is changing. It’s not even close to what it used to be back in the olden days; you know, like when I went to school. The invention of the internet, social media, blogs (like ours), live streaming, and apps takes education to a whole new level. If this observation is true, and I know it is because I have read, seen, and experienced things that prove it, then educators who have been around for a while have to come to terms with the fact that it’s a whole new world out there and this should be represented in our classrooms and schools.

The word “change” should be interchangeable with the word “education”. Education in America and across the world is constantly morphing and shifting to represent the times. The unfortunate fact is that although education changes, many teachers do not. You’ve heard me say that education is an incredibly personal craft, therefore it becomes very difficult to admit to some that what they have done well and successfully in the past may not work today. That’s hard to hear and frankly once educators realize this and accept it, they know that they have a whole lot of work to do. Creating a working curriculum is hard to do. It’s more than taking the standards written by the states, breaking them down into doable lessons, then implementing the lessons. It’s so much more than that. If you are a teacher that responds to the gifts, talents, and needs of your students, then one lesson does not fit all. Add that fact with the realization that kids today learn differently, need newer instructional goals, and thrive in an environment of discovery, well then you’ve just opened Pandora’s box. Nothing you used to do is usable. It’s time to scrap your old plans and devise new ones to meet all the goals in today’s classrooms.

A new school year is about to begin. Take a good, hard look at what you’ve been doing and look around. Is it time to rethink, take stock, and imagine what more is out there. This self-assessment is important because reflection and change is what keeps us fresh and motivated and educators. Use the new tools out there to open a world of knowledge and discovery for your students. Test yourself, try new methods, new ideas, and new creative means to get the concepts across to your children. Each teacher is the ruler of his/her classroom. It is up to you to make it whatever you want. Why not make it a whole new world.


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