#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Behavior Plan, Character Education, Child Development, Class Meeting, Education, Intervention, MTSS

Joy and Pain

Life is a series of moments….some are ordinary, some are joy filled, and some are full of pain. As an educator, you experience your own moments both at work and in your personal life. This is challenging enough. Then, you look at a room full of people, little developing people and you have to manage their response to life’s moments. It can be overwhelming, but for most of us that love teaching, it is our humanity with our students in moments of joy and pain that stay with us and make our job worthwhile.

Joy and Pain are a part of all things in life. As an educator, you are challenged with educating kids in whatever subjects you are asked to teach them in. This is a huge challenge in and of itself. One of my core philosophical beliefs is that students will not take academic risks (the foundation of learning) when they do not feel safe. Emotionally safe, physically safe, and socially safe are requirements for a student to be willing to take the risk that true learning requires. So, facing and managing your students joys and pains must happen to create learning.

This week, I experienced some amazing joys and some terrible pain. It was a roller coaster. I saw people at their very best – generous, thoughtful, kind and at their very worst – angry, irrational, and out of control. These extremes made me recognize the essential role a teacher can play in creating a classroom community that acknowledges and addresses these joys and pains. Here are a few ideas how you can do this:

JOY – Celebrations and traditions are a part of every culture and community around the globe. The reasons for this is that celebrating our human connections (birthdays, holidays, honoring tragedy) is the link that binds us. A strong classroom teacher focuses on creating moments of joy in their classroom both intentional and organic. Here are a few ways to foster joy:

  • Classroom Compliments – Fill your bucket, Leader in Me, Character Counts, and a host of other programs all highlight the importance of teaching children to compliment other children. Create a regular way for students to compliment each other. I use our school’s core values to have students pick one student each week at our class meeting to write and verbally present a compliment to. This is undeniably powerful.
  • Celebrations – It is a commonly held joke among my students and friends that I am not the most festive of teachers. We work…really hard…pretty much most of the time. That being said, I do make time for celebrations. Setting up class goals and then picking a whole class reward or picking a specific event to really celebrate with your students create a time for students to build community.
  • Content that focuses on life’s triumphs – Kids want to learn about people who have overcome adversity, heartwarming stories, or those fabulous silly moments in life (Mo Willems books anybody?). Read great books, study current events, history, or the magnificence of science and help kids see the joy in life.
  • Informal moments of joy – laugh, giggle, smile, take a moment to let joy into your classroom. Relationships based on genuine joy and care in each other will foster learning AND create a life long impact.

PAIN – It is hard to live through or watch those painful times in life. Teaching is filled with moments that can be agonizing, hurtful, and challenge you to decide again if you really want to be a teacher. Watching students struggle with pain from trauma, social pressure or isolation, or self doubt to name a few can be a very helpless feeling. A teacher has the power to provide a child with tools to address their pain and offer a soft place to land. However, a teacher must acknowledge and address their own pain with honesty and courage to do the work that must be done. You know, take the oxygen mask for yourself first philosophy! Here are some ways to address pain with our students:

  • Manage Anger – Anger is an emotion that is always masking some other feeling (anxiety, fear, stress, hopelessness, etc.). Angry kids in our classrooms don’t know effective coping skills to deal with their anger. Managing anger through a specific plan of learned skills is a gift to the angry child and your classroom. Check out Authentic Teaching TPT for great resources for managing student behavior full of tips. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Motivation-Educator-Plan-4800920 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Intervention-Plan-4800875
  • Create a tool to check in with students regularly – Weekly reflections, class meetings, a “concern” box, or daily individual check-ins with students can foster a way for you to key into a student’s pain. Once you know what is hurting them, you can be their advocate and guide through the pain allowing them to function better in your class and life. Check our Authentic Teaching TPT for my weekly reflection: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Reflection-4750316
  • Build relationships – Your students will learn from what you say and what you do. They will watch the way you care for them, your colleagues, and yourself. Build an authentic relationship with your students that allows them to see you work through painful moments for you at school and gives them the freedom to face their painful moments.

Watching some really angry people this weekend and feeling their overwhelming pain masked by anger, I realized that educators in today’s world are more essential than ever. We could be the only person who will look a child in the eye and say “Amazing, this is wonderful, you are wonderful, let’s celebrate!” We may also be the only person who says to a child “your pain is allowed here and let me help you find a way through it”. Creating a community of caring people who honor each other’s highs and lows may the most important teaching we will ever do. This will not be measured by any standardized test or score. This may be a tiny seed a teacher plants without ever seeing it grow. In today’s world that seems full of anger and pain, we must consciously and intentionally be the voice that calls out – I am here and I care!

# Professional Development, #Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Class Meeting, Creating a Community, Education, Intervention, Teamwork

Beneath the Iceberg

One of my friends said this week “The honeymoon period is over”. Like all groups – a classroom, a teaching team or a school will move from a phase of endless possibility to the true work of creating a community. When the “honeymoon” ends…the real work begins. One of the best descriptions I have ever heard of about groups uses this concept developed by psychologist Bruce Tuckman of the stages of a group achieving success.

We have left the forming stage for most of our classrooms, grade level teams, or schools and are making the tough transition into the “storming” phase of group formation. This is where a group must find the ability to effectively work through their differences, problems, and concerns so they can transition into “norming” which ultimately leads to “performing”. This storming phase requires so much effort, heartache, stress, dedication, and attention that it is often the stage that zaps teachers of their energy and focus.

Like the iceberg concept of success, what happens during these darker times, is literally the most essential part of moving the group forward towards a successful team of people that are driven towards one goal. This time requires all of the growth mindset goals we see here to achieve that magical place where our class, team, or school is performing like a well oiled machine.

So – is the honeymoon over for you? Are you storming right now? Here are some ways to find your way out of the storm, set some norms, so your class, team, or school can perform!

  1. Stop to assess what the issues are so you can plan for how to address things positively. You might want to use the 5 How’s worksheet on Authentic Teaching TPT if this is happening in your class. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/How-To-Planning-Sheet-4750755
  2. Isolate out whole group issues vs. individual issues. You can then make a plan for whole group issues you need to solve and work on individual plans for those who need them. Here is a tool to help you evaluate what is happening with a specific student from Authentic Teaching TPT https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Motivation-Educator-Plan-4800920
  3. Think about what is happening under the surface for a particular student or teammate that you may not be aware of. Just like the iceberg shows us only the tip of what it takes to achieve success, we only see the tip of a person’s life. Take the time to learn more and figure out what is under the surface.
  4. Think about new norms that need to be set for the group that can move you out of the storming phase. Sometimes having a tough conversation with students, parents, teammate that is said with love and care can solve many concerns and help create new expectations for everyone involved. I loved this article on all the steps of having a tough conversation https://www.judyringer.com/resources/articles/we-have-to-talk-a-stepbystep-checklist-for-difficult-conversations.php .
  5. Make sure you have a clear idea of what “performing” for the class, team or school looks like so you can create a shared goal that everyone is working towards. Sometimes we assume (and you know what that makes us) that our class, our team, or our school has the same goal we have for what it means for this group to be performing. I really like the simple, straightforward steps of this article on how to develop a shared goal https://magazine.vunela.com/4-steps-to-creating-a-shared-vision-that-will-energize-your-team-82b801e742ed .

Never forget that success is like an iceberg. People rarely see the work and effort put in to achieve it. So, if you are having one of those times where it seems to be too much – remind yourself that all this under the surface work leads to success. Hang in there and give others grace so that your class, team, or school can achieve success together by moving through storming and norming to performing.

#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Behavior Plan, Character Education, Class Meeting, Creating a Community, Education, Intervention, MTSS

A Fear Free Classroom

In today’s world, it is easy to feel fear. This first week of school, with all of its excitement and challenges, was colored by events in our local community and in the nation that fostered fear. As an educator AND mother, the events happening make me fearful for other people’s children I have been entrusted to keep safe and for my own babies in the care of another teacher. We have much to do as a nation to begin creating a safer world for the next generation. However, as teachers, we have the ability to create a fear free classroom which fosters learning.

Why is a fear free classroom essential? Children will not learn when they are afraid. It is that simple. I have over the years done an exercise with my students at our class meetings where I put up Maslow’s hierarchy and ask them to rate which level they are operating on most of the time. When a student is at the bottom, attempting to get their most basic safety needs met, you have a true barrier in the way of their learning. When a child is on the next level, seeking the approval of peers and not receiving it, learning will not happen. Only when a student reaches emotional, physical, and social safety will they be open and willing to learn. This is the true secret of why schools are “performing” or not according to whatever standardized scale used. FEAR – the biggest roadblock to learning and the underlying cause of the most significant behavioral, social, and emotional needs. So, how can you foster a fear free classroom? Read on to see some of the most common types of student fears and how you can address them. My favorite communication tools for students to share their concerns and fears is my weekly class meeting and my weekly reflection both of which are available on Authentic Teaching TPT. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Reflection-4750316 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Class-Meeting-Lesson-Plan-Template-4837084

Children whose fear is based on missing basic needs – These children often enter our classrooms with the most challenges. There is much research being done today on creating a trauma sensitive classroom. If I am not sure where my next meal is coming from, where I might sleep, or experience violence regularly…how can I focus on learning? This child needs a teacher who first seeks out ways to support the child using every resource at their disposal. They reach out to the school counselor, psychologist, social worker, other teachers, cafeteria staff, community organizations, etc. They need a teacher who is advocating on behalf of them loudly and consistently. Even with this, a teacher may not be able to change the child’s circumstances. This is where a classroom should become a safe haven with consistency, routine, whatever basic needs the teacher or school can provide available, and where the child is explicitly taught ways to cope and overcome adversity. Here is an excellent starter article about ways to help as a trauma informed teacher. https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-and-why-trauma-informed-teaching

Children whose fear is based on a history of academic failure – These children come in all forms… quietly detached, outwardly obnoxious, or openly uninterested in learning. I have seen dozens of students enter my room with the weight of being a “bad reader”, “dumb student”, “in the low group” on their shoulders. My goal is to foster a new sense of purpose in their learning by 3 specific actions. (1) Openly discussing the growth mindset and how I believe anybody can learn anything. (2) Teaching passionately about subjects that kids will be interested in (3) Looking for ways for that child to shine beyond the traditional modes of learning (check out guided reading on Authentic Teaching TPT for the way this model fosters this excitement in learning). https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Small-Group-Novel-Study-Guided-Reading-4836948 If you consistently and authentically do these 3 things, even the most reluctant learner can overcome their fear of failure and that is why we should all teach…for those moments.

Children whose fear is based on socialization issues – Kids who do not receive the support of their peers, only seek the praise of their peers, and/or are mistreated by their peers will not learn. Why? Because if I am at risk of being mocked, laughed at, made fun of, or ostracized, what are the chances I am going to take an academic risk? The truth is, the learning will not happen at all or will happen to a very limited amount. This is where your classroom community, procedures, and expectations are essential. Take a look at an earlier post “You won’t get the WOW’s if you don’t know the HOW’s” to address these issues. https://authenticteaching.blog/2019/08/02/you-wont-get-the-wows-if-you-dont-know-the-hows/

Children whose fear is based on a special need – As a 5th grade teacher, I have seen several students make it through all of elementary school with a special need that is not diagnosed, misdiagnosed, or not addressed. Frequently these students are labeled as “serious behavior problems” who enter your classroom with a reputation of concern. If you have a child with a special need (anything that would qualify for an IEP or 504 Plan – Anxiety, ADHD, ODD, Autism Spectrum disorders, Sensory needs, etc.) and you do not actively create and implement ways to address their unique needs, you are fostering a climate of fear for that child and because of that child in your classroom. Simple things that meet that child’s needs can often stop many of the most serious fear based behaviors (like written, visual schedules or verbal cues before changes/escalation). Children with special needs frequently have the highest levels of fears THAT DO NOT LOOK LIKE FEAR. Their fear often looks like anger, tantrums, withdrawal, or disruption. Here is a great resource from Authentic Teaching TPT that can help you identify, address, and implement systems to minimize the fears of these students. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Motivation-Educator-Plan-4800920

Fear…it is an essential emotion that is genetically designed to keep us safe. Flight or fight – the response that stopped our neanderthal ancestors from being eaten by a saber tooth tiger. In today’s modern world, we often forget that fear is still consistently a part of our lives. We like to act as though we are impervious or oblivious to fear. As teachers, helping students face their fears and learn to use fear for positive outcomes, is our most essential and underlying goal. Seek out a fear free classroom so that in today’s world your room becomes the calm in the storm for every child!