The Pros of Conflict-and How to Manage it Productively

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The Pros of Conflict—and How to Manage it Productively

After graduate school, one common question that I continued to encounter from one teaching interview to the next involved conflict resolution. Of course the wording varied, but the overall query went something like this: How would you handle two students that do not get along in your classroom?

My response may have been somewhat surprising, but the explanation behind the response is something that I continue to practice in my classroom regularly.

Q: How should you handle children that are having a conflict?

A: Put them together.

Now, of course, there are underlying details that correspond with this concise response—we cannot simply force friendships amongst reluctant children. But, as much as conflict is inevitable, so should be a resolution. What I try to teach my middle schoolers every day is this: life involves conflict. Life means working with people that you don’t necessarily enjoy. Conflict can simply be a difference of opinion—it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

That said, conflict is not mediated by merely avoiding certain people. An important indicator of future success involves the ability to work with others. In any phase of the personal, social, educational, spiritual, or professional realm, we must always be capable of communicating, collaborating, and respecting others, no matter the situation.

Here are a few tried and true methods of teaching conflict resolution:

Put opposing students together

The key to this notion is simple—conflicts should not be swept under the rug. Ignoring a problem does nothing to resolve it. Instead, the negative feelings continue to fester and grow. At some point, the pressure will build to a volatile level. To avoid this, encourage students to confront conflicts as they arise. Create a safe space for students to practice healthy conversations with the help of an impartial mediator. The root of many conflicts is a misunderstanding. Often times, the best way to begin mediation is by clarifying the misunderstandings or calmly explaining each person’s interpretation of the conflict.

Encourage “I feel” talking points

When putting conflicts center stage, it’s important to demonstrate healthy communication. Have children focus on their own personal feelings, instead of what the other person is doing. Model conflict resolution by beginning with “I feel frustrated when…” This phrasing removes the tendency for people to place blame and find faults. “I feel” phrases also allow both parties to display vulnerability and practice empathy. Recognizing how and why someone feels a certain emotion opens the door for better understanding.

Facilitate collaboration on a common goal

Once students have calmly discussed the conflict or issue, encourage a working relationship amongst the students in the classroom. This does not mean that the two students will end up as “besties.” Strengthening a respectful working relationship teaches children several life lessons:

  • Students learn that cooperation is key when working with others.
  • Students learn to listen to one another in order to effectively collaborate.
  • Students see that others’ opinions are valuable—and sometimes more beneficial than their own.
  • Students begin to understand that problems are solved by communication and compromise.
  • When students share the weight and complete a task together, they unknowingly build trust and mutual respect in pairs or groups.

Conflict, while not encouraged, is inevitable. The earlier that children learn how to effectively communicate with others, the more success they will have in future collaborative efforts.  Conflict resolution can also be a very introspective process. Talking through an issue sheds light on one’s own personal biases, exposes alternate perspectives, and reveals our own “pet peeves” or “tipping points.” While conflict cannot be avoided, we must teach children how to productively utilize and learn from clashes with others.

Give Thanks by Giving Back

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Give Thanks by Giving Back

The old adage “to give is to receive” may seem a bit convoluted to young children—especially since children are more inclined to care about their own needs being met. With Thanksgiving upon us, it is the perfect time to teach children about the importance of giving. Whether you give your time at a food bank, donate toys to needy children, or make greeting cards for the elderly or terminally ill, giving to others has countless positive effects.

There are many things that children can learn from giving.Giving back builds confidence and instills a sense of purpose. It is important for kids to learn that they can be agents of positive change. By volunteering and giving back to those less fortunate, children can see exactly how their own actions can have a great impact.

Children can gain a different perspective on life. Everyone is guilty of feeling sorry for themselves at some point. Children especially can get caught up on the idea that things are “not fair.” Giving back can be a very great lesson for kids—because they’re right—life is not always fair. Helping others in need is an eye-opening experience, and certainly a humbling one, as well. Yes, you get the warm feeling from the fact that you brightened someone’s day, but it’s more than that. In the day-to-day, we often forget to be grateful for the blessings we have. Kids are able to gain a new perspective on just how fortunate they are by helping others.

Volunteer work teaches social skills. Charity work and volunteer opportunities are often done in groups with others from the community. Volunteering with new “friends” allows children to introduce themselves, engage in conversation, ask questions, etc. The “teamwork” aspect of community service also encourages cooperation, problem solving, leadership skills, and listening skills. Whether kids are raking leaves for elderly neighbors, or organizing a coat drive for struggling families, giving back together allows children the opportunity to develop socially.

Giving back allows kids to explore their talents. Volunteer work can teach children valuable lessons about their strengths. There are always different charities and organizations that could use an extra hand. With the vast amount of work to be done, children can explore different roles while giving back. Perhaps your child is great at socializing and making people laugh during hospital visits. Or maybe your child has great leadership skills for helping at a youth camp. Possibly your advanced reader wants to read to young kids at a local shelter. No matter the task, giving back allows kids to show their strengths in the name of giving. Not only can kids practice developing their skills, but they can feel proud of the fact that their efforts are helping others.
Too often, children believe that their actions, beliefs, and opinions go unnoticed simply due to their age. By helping someone else, kids can begin to see that what they do does, in fact, matter.

Keep Your Cool When Things Are Not

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Keeping Your Cool When Things Are Not

The most rewarding aspect of educating young people can be the unpredictability of it all. Ironically, the most daunting aspect of teaching can be the unpredictability of it all. We plan, we practice, we arrange, we redirect, and yet every day in the classroom is a gauntlet of unforeseeable events. All educators will tell you that one of the best parts of the job is being able to work amongst all of the dynamic personalities that students bring to school. However, this can also be the most challenging aspect, as well.

Look at the bigger picture

Behavior management can often be a tall order, especially for novice teachers. Disruptions and disrespect will occur at some point. However, even the most difficult students have a reason for their behaviors. We may be unaware of the catalyst, but something certainly causes the waves of negative behavior that we encounter in the classroom.

Students arrive at school with a myriad of different emotions brewing. It is not always obvious how our students are feeling—or why. Teachers may not be privy to the happenings at home or the drama among peers. It is easier said than done, but teachers must try to remember that the student is not defined by his or her behavior—this behavior is coming from a specific place.

Use a behavior mishap as a teachable moment

When students misbehave, it is a typical instinct to reprimand or place blame. The truth is, behaviors stem from somewhere. Before rushing to judgments, consider a few things—What did the student do? What motivated him or her to act out? Was this an intentional action? Has he or she done this before? These questions can even be asked during a worthwhile conversation between teacher and student. When speaking with a student about behavior modification:

  • Speak directly, clearly, and objectively about how the behavior disrupted the classroom environment
  • Explain that he or she took learning time from classmates
  • Remind the student of the classroom expectations
  • Ask why he or she decided to disregard the expectation
  • Ask how he or she should have reacted in that moment
  • Show that you understand the student’s feelings or frustrations
  • Provide a reasonably proportionate consequence

A firm but calm response is the best approach to defuse a frustrating behavior moment. Again, this is easier said than done, but adding fuel to the fire by reacting is never a good strategy. Teachers will undoubtedly find themselves struggling to maintain their cool. Sure, it is human nature to react when provoked—but remember, something likely provoked the student’s behavior, too.

With that in mind, when the wheels fall off, remember this mantra: keep calm and teach on!

How to Deal With Frustration: Bad Day Remedies For Your Child

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How to Deal With Frustration: Bad Day Remedies For Your Child

We’ve all experienced different degrees of frustration at some point. Our boiling points can fall on a scale from spilled coffee or a flat tire, to a traffic collision or a serious health condition. Frustration is commonly defined as, “a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs” (Merriam-Webster).  Knowing this, one could conclude that frustration is typically linked to a lack of control over one’s situation.

Frustration is not an emotion limited to adults, however. Newborns experience frustration, too. In fact, frustration in babies and children may be greater due to the fact that they have less control over what goes on in their world. So how can we teach children to recognize, cope with, and manage frustration? In the same way that we ourselves must deal with it.

Be Positive

Seeing the silver lining is not always easy to do in the moment, especially for youngsters. Because the concept of the future is not something that young children readily consider, it is especially difficult for them to see beyond this frustrating occurrence. Reassure your child that this frustration that they are feeling is a temporary emotion.

Ask them questions like, “Is this something that will realistically still be upsetting you tomorrow?” Or, “What can we look forward to when this frustrating moment is over?” Asking your child to look beyond the current “bad” situation will help him or her to recognize frustration as a fleeting and temporary feeling.

Ask and Accept

When frustrations arise, many children (and adults, too) are unsure of what to do with this emotion. When children are frustrated, have them ask themselves what exactly it is that is upsetting them. It may help to have them write down the events that instigated the initial frustration. By pinpointing the root of the stress, children can begin to understand how to better deal with a similar situation in the future.

Likewise, when reflecting on the day, most people will find that the catalyst of the frustration was something that was beyond their control. It is important for children to learn that things are going to happen that they cannot change. Sometimes, the only thing that we can control is our reactions to situations. This is especially difficult for youngsters, whose impulsive nature can sometimes get the best of them. Acceptance is a necessary part of managing stress and frustration.

Plan For Next Time

Perhaps the benefit of experiencing frustration is that it gives children a chance to learn something. When children look closely at their frustrations, they will begin to see that even little things, such as oversleeping on a school day, could have unforeseen consequences. A moment of frustration could teach them to set an extra alarm, study a few days in advance, tell the truth the first time, clean up after themselves, etc. Either way, talking about actions and their effects is a helpful way to show children how to be proactive in the future.
Avoiding frustration is impossible, but managing it is not. The sooner children learn to work through frustrating moments, the better equipped they will be at handling themselves in stressful situations.

Things I’d Like To Tell My 12-Year-Old Self: Observations From An Educator

Things I’d Like To Tell My 12-Year-Old Self: Observations From An Educator

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Times have certainly changed since my elementary school days. Granted, it was not that long ago that I was furiously memorizing times tables and MLA works cited formats. However, today’s youth is experiencing something that I didn’t recognize until my adult years: extreme stress. This year, especially, I’ve found myself repeating stress-relieving mantras to our students on a daily basis. From tears over B grades to pressures at home, my current students are slowly breaking my heart with their ever-growing worries and concerns.

Yes, I worried as a child—we all did at some point. But my students this year have been talking candidly about debilitating, sleep-interrupting, all-encompassing anxiety and stress. I’ve seen children break down in sobs, asking questions like, “How can I be better?” What I want to tell them in these moments has nothing to do with literary elements or plot diagrams. I want to tell them the same things that I wish I could tell my 12-year-old self when I felt stressed or lost.

You will not be the best at everything.

…But you don’t have to be. You will find that you are amazing at something—maybe even a few things. These are your passions—follow them, nurture them, be proud of them.

You will make mistakes.

…But your mistakes are your greatest teachers. You will learn more from your mistakes than you will from your successes. So use this knowledge and know that you will learn from your errors.

Your parents are always proud of you.

…Even when you fail, stumble, and struggle.

It’s okay to disagree with your friends.

…They are not always right, and neither are you.

People are going to be mean.

…But pay them no mind—it’s not you, it’s them.

Apologize when you mess up.

…And forgive those who apologize to you. Remember that saying sorry and being sorry are two different things—know the difference.

Life is not fair.

…So do not expect it to be. There will always be people who have more than you.

The only thing that you can control is yourself.

…Do not frustrate yourself with things beyond your control.

Trust yourself.

…You are capable of much more than you’d imagine. Take chances—you will likely surprise yourself.

Everything will be okay.

…It might not seem like it right now, but you will get through these tough times. The struggles will only make you stronger, so don’t give up.

Parent-Teacher Conferences: Advice from the Teacher for First-Timers

Parent-Teacher Conferences: Advice from the Teacher for First-Timers

Communication is Key

The start of a new school year brings many new experiences, not only for children, but for parents as well. For some of you, the parent-teacher conference may be one of these new experiences. According to the National Education Association, “research has shown that parental involvement is the most important factor in a student’s success in school.” Now, while the term “conference” may have an intimidating connotation attached, it is important for parents to understand the positive outcomes of parents and teachers communicating closely about a child’s educational development.

Parents’ and Teachers’ Goals Should Align

The old adage “it takes a village” certainly applies here. While parents or guardians undoubtedly know their children best, teachers’ observations are uniquely valuable as well. Consider the time we teachers spend with our students–we know their peer groups, their interests, their quirks, strengths and weaknesses, etc. That said, the parent-teacher conference allows both parties to get a glimpse inside the student’s habits in and out of school. It is often that both parents and teachers leave a meeting with new information about the child. Whatever the circumstances may be, the most important thing to remember at a parent-teacher conference is that everyone seated at the table is there for one reason–the child. Regardless of the reason for the conference, every person present has the child’s best interest in mind.

Prepare Specific Questions

In preparation for the conference, it is beneficial that parents come prepared with specific questions for the teacher(s). Teachers will also have prepared questions and conferred with colleagues about the child’s academics beforehand. In fact, before your parent-teacher conference, it is possible that there were one or two prior conferences about the child with teachers, counselors, and administrators.

When preparing questions, it is best to keep the focus on the child. Ask about how your child has been progressing or regressing on assessments. Ask to see upcoming assignments or projects. Ask about possible after-school opportunities for help with specific classes. Teachers will ask questions as well. We may want to know if your child has worked with a tutor in the past. We may ask about your child’s specific homework routine, or study habits. It may help us to know if your child typically shies away from asking for help. We may also ask about after-school or weekend activities that require a large amount of time and energy from the child. All of these questions simply paint a better picture about how your child approaches school work and education.

Leave With an Action Plan in Place

The worst outcome of a parent-teacher conference is that you leave the meeting asking yourself, “What was the point of that?” Of course, a teacher’s time is limited during the school day, but even a mid-day conference should bring about some sort of solutions and strategies for the student moving forward. At the close of the conference, both the teacher(s) and parent(s) should have established clear expectations regarding the child’s behavior, effort, assignment completion, etc.

It may also be beneficial to ask what your role as the parent should be moving forward. Depending on your child’s age, it may be appropriate to loosen the reins and place more responsibility on your child. After all, autonomy and self-advocacy are two skills that children must inevitably learn on their own.

Removing Roadblocks to Build Avenues: Learning Disabilities Awareness Month

Removing Roadblocks to Build Avenues

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month. This important topic was first observed during the Reagan administration in 1985, and it has continued to bring awareness for the 15 million Americans that live with learning disabilities today. Awareness for disabilities such as processing disorders and dyslexia is important for everyone–not just the individuals that live with these disabilities. The National Education Association explains that, “one of the biggest challenges faced by individuals with learning disabilities is the overall lack of acceptance by society.” This lack of acceptance and understanding is precisely why Learning Disabilities Awareness Month is so important. Education is key in terms of building peer relationships, promoting advocacy, and supporting families.

Here are 6 things that may surprise you about learning disabilities:

  1. While the “nature vs. nurture” conversation is constantly debated, there is no proof that environmental factors are tied to learning disabilities. There is also no evidence to support that learning disabilities are linked to low socioeconomic status. The truth is, learning disabilities span across all races, ethnicities, and income levels.
  2. For an unknown reason, boys make up two-thirds of the students receiving special education services in the public school system. There is no explanation for the apparent gender distinction.
  3. Most children with learning disabilities have average or above-average IQs. Contrary to popular belief, learning disabilities are not linked to deficits in intelligence, motivation, or emotional development. There is no “effort factor” present in students with learning disabilities–they simply require a different set of strategies to learn and retain information.
  4. A child with a family history of academic difficulties could be at a higher risk for a learning disability. Certain learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, are known to run in families.
  5. Learning disabilities cannot be medically cured. These disabilities do not go away; however, they can certainly be managed or treated. A factor in successful management is to recognize how to capitalize on strengths and circumvent areas of weakness.
  6. Experts believe that around 5% of the population struggles with a learning disability. With such a prevalent statistic, it is likely that a learning disability hits close to home in some area of a person’s life.

The truth is, learning disabilities do not determine someone’s capabilities. It is important to educate ourselves about these various educational difficulties so that we may better accommodate our students and children. A learning disability is not a roadblock. We simply must continue to create alternate avenues for learning so that everyone’s unique needs are met.

 

Listen Up: Auditory Processing

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It is Audio Appreciation Month! September reminds us to be grateful for an ability that some of us may rarely think about: the ability to hear. Of course, we hear sounds all the time. We are constantly receiving inputs from the environment, but the ability to absorb and process sound is actually quite complex. The process involves the outer, middle, and inner ear structures, as well as hair cells and the auditory nerve that transports information to the brain.

Additionally, a surprising fact about hearing is that, “the human ear is a fully developed part of our bodies at birth and responds to sounds that are very faint as well as sounds that are very loud. Even before birth, infants respond to sound” (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association). While in utero, babies are able to hear sounds from within and outside of the womb. The auditory pathways, however, are still immature at this stage. This means that, while the baby is able to hear, processing and perceptible abilities have not fully developed.  

The magical aspect of the development of the auditory system is its plasticity, especially when considering our constantly changing environments and experiences. The auditory system is regularly adapting to process the various inputs we receive at any given moment.

But what happens if there is a glitch in the system? Since the auditory system stretches way beyond simply hearing, the ripple effect could greatly impact other areas of development.

Since hearing is a large aspect of human communication, obstacles related to hearing impairments may impact a child’s educational development. Specific areas of concern in the classroom for children with hearing impairments include:

  • mastering that subjects of grammar, spelling and vocabulary
  • taking notes while listening to lectures
  • participating in classroom discussions
  • watching educational videos
  • presenting oral reports

The complicated aspect is that a hearing issue may not be related to the actual hearing process at all. Instead, the auditory system may be impacted by a processing impairment. Auditory processing disorder, also called a central auditory processing disorder, is sometimes difficult to identify. Symptoms of APD are strikingly similar to symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). APD and ADHD can coexist; however, the slight distinctions between the two disorders are sometimes overlooked, resulting in misdiagnosis. Since symptoms of ADHD and APD are so similar, it is imperative that a child’s condition be thoroughly explored to ensure the best possible plan for treatment and therapy.

While APDs are not necessarily preventable, noise-induced hearing loss is. In order to prevent future hearing loss, it is important to monitor your child’s use of electronics and earbuds. Volume is not the only culprit; prolonged listening can harm hearing as well. Some safety tips include monitoring the length of your listening, monitoring the volume at which you are listening (no more than 60% of the maximum volume), standing away from loud speakers at concerts and sporting events or wear earplugs, and taking frequent short breaks from loud venues.

You should, of course, always listen to your body as well. If you notice that you begin straining to hear conversations, phone calls, or television shows, you may be suffering from minor hearing loss. Likewise, if you struggle to distinguish background noise from other sounds or conversations, you may also be experiencing hearing loss. Be kind to your ears by turning the volume down and getting regular hearing checks.

 

Tips for Middle Schoolers…Transition to Success

Tips for Middle Schoolers…Transition to Success

  1. Organization is one of the most important and necessary skills for being successful in Middle School.  Here are some tips:
    • Post your schedule inside your locker.
    • Color code your notebooks and folders for faster, easier class transitions. Example: Red notebook & folder for Math
    • Keep a small, magnetic dry erase board inside your locker to quickly write down after each class what books to bring home. Example: You leave math and know you have homework–write on your board math HW.
    • ALWAYS use your agenda.  You should be writing down any homework or upcoming tests/quizzes daily in your agenda. Do this before you leave your classroom before the bell.
    • A 3-ring zipper binder is a useful tool to hold pens, pencils, notebook paper and your agenda so that you are ready for every class. Note: D shaped binder rings tend to be more durable.
    • Get to know your locker combination and practice how to use the lock.  
  2. It is also important to communicate with your teacher.  If you do not understand something, wait for the appropriate time and ASK.  
  3. Do not spend too much time socializing in between classes.  Five minutes goes really quickly and tardies can add up fast. Several tardies can get you a detention. Use your lunch and after school to catch up with friends.
  4. Enjoy your time and get involved with clubs and other activities that are available.  Listen to what the teachers have to say and remember that being respectful can get you far.

Welcome to Middle School…Your Parent Guide

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  1. Check your child’s agenda book daily, and check not only homework, but completed homework on a regular basis.
  2. Keep lines of communication with school open. Don’t wait for school to contact you. Take the initiative.
  3. Get to know the teachers, keep in contact, and understand–regardless of what your child comes home and tells you–there is always another side to the story.
  4. Teach your child that every teacher is different, just as co-workers and bosses will be in life.
  5. Be prepared for change. Be prepared for the shock of academic and non-academic discussions in middle school about topics you never heard your child mention before.
  6. Tell administrators about teachers who make a positive impression. Do you enjoy being complimented? So do teachers.
  7. Reward positive accomplishments (agenda book completely filled in, perfect papers, etc.) on a weekly basis. A little goes a long way, and middle schoolers thrive on praise.
  8. Get involved. Research has shown that parents’ participation increases the child’s self-esteem, improves their academic performance, improves the parent-child relationship, and develops a more positive attitude toward school in both the parent and child.
  9. Ask your child to teach you at least three new things they learned each day! Listening is one of the greatest–and most neglected–skills of parenting. Don’t be too busy with the little stuff in life to miss the important moments with your child. When they tell you about their day, look them in the eye, and listen; really listen!

Be objective. Listen to your child’s teachers. Sometimes they may tell you things about your child you aren’t going to like or want to hear. But remember, your child at home is not necessarily the same child they see at school. You don’t have to take everything the teacher says as gospel, but make sure you really listen and consider their advice.