Posts

Behavior Management Strategies Taken from the Teacher’s Playbook

If asked about observations pertaining to student trends over time, teachers, administrators, and any other school personnel will likely tell you how the culture of behavior in schools has drastically changed, even in just the last decade. While this is a generalized observationnot necessarily one that rings true for every child in every school across Americaprofessionals working in the realm of education report an overwhelmingly recognizable shift in behavior and behavior-related challenges in schools.

For parents that are struggling to manage behaviors at home, the stress can be all-encompassing. As teachers and parents may witness, when these behaviors go unaddressed, there is a tendency for actions or attitudes to escalate. While educators certainly do not have all of the answers, what they do have is plenty of experience with a wide range of personalities and demeanors.

Maintain consistency and stay strong

As teachers well know, adolescents and even young children can be masters of persuasion. Whether begging, throwing fits, crying, or pitting parents against one another, a child’s aim is typically the same when it comes to these strategiesthey are trying to break you. The reason that they attempt these methods is probably because they have seen it work before, either among siblings, at a friend’s house, or maybe they’ve even worked you over in this way before. The point is, when children are used to getting what they want when they want it, they will go to great lengths to achieve or receive.

Therefore, if you have already said “no,” do not falter; do not waiver or go back on your word. In doing this, you are showing your child that they can convince you to change your mind. Will it be embarrassing when your child throws a tantrum in public? Yes. Will they likely stop immediately if you cave in? Yes. But will they remember their success rate from throwing this fit? Absolutely. It may make your life easy in that moment, but going back on your word just to stifle a temper tantrum will inevitablely backfire because you are essentially reinforcing that negative behavior.

Ditch empty threats

Just as a teacher would not give detention and then “let it slide,” parents must follow through. If you impose a consequence, you must be ready to deliver that consequence. Empty threats or punishments that never come to fruition are just other examples of adults reinforcing negative behavior. Your child will remember how the “week without screen time” turned into just one night without the iPad before bed. In dropping the ball on the original consequence, your child will be less inclined to take those warnings seriously.

Put the child in control of the outcome

Teachers typically spend a great deal of time setting the expectations for their classroom environment, assignment protocol, and behavior. The point of setting the stage so specifically and deliberately is that students are made aware not only of the expectations, but also the subsequent consequences if those expectations are not met. Students know in advance that they will lose a certain percentage if work is submitted late. They also know that unkind words or behavior will result in lunch detention or a phone call home. Because of these known repercussions, students are careful to adhere to the rules.

It’s the same at home. Parents should calmly remind children of the expectation and the consequence that their child will be choosing if the behavior continues. This puts children in the driver seat by reminding them that they are in control of their behavior and how that behavior will play out. Explain to them that they “are choosing a consequence by behaving this way.” Children will be less inclined to continue the behavior when they know that this behavior would essentially mean that they’re imposing a punishment on themselves.

Occupational Therapy Strategies to Enhance the Classroom Pt. III

Just as we explored occupational therapy (OT) methods that support fine motor control, balance, and coordination in the previous two posts, this third and final post will focus on OT methods for the classroom that support behavior management and attentiveness. Of course, depending on each student’s individual needs, the supports and strategies will vary. Likewise, a student’s age and developmental abilities will also determine which methods are beneficial and how to include them in the learning environment.

For children that need tactile strategies to promote their attentiveness in the classroom, teachers can employ some of the following activities:

Fidget toys, stress balls, and thinking putty/clay are great options for students that prefer to keep their hands moving while learning. Because of the rhythmic stretching, squeezing, or rolling between fingers or hands, students with attention issues are able to channel the urge to move, tap, or click into the object that they are holding. Just as the occupational therapist would do, however, be sure that students are using the fidget item discreetly, not as a toy or distraction.

When possible, plan to utilize 3D objects as models or manipulatives to introduce math or spelling concepts. For example, for elementary schoolers learning about multiplication via arrays, teachers can use Legos to build the array in place of drawing it or shading it on paper. The process of constructing and deconstructing arrays using Legos allows students to comprehend how 2+2+2+2 = 2 x 4 and what that representation looks like in 3D geometric form.

Using sand, paint, or shaving cream in aluminum baking trays, or “spelling trays,” allows students to practice their letter formation, spacing, and size with an engaging added sensory component. The practice is low risk as well; if a child messes up his letter, he can simply shake the sand or add more shaving cream and begin again.

For children that need movement strategies to promote their attentiveness and positive behavior in the classroom, teachers can employ some of the following activities:

Much like many 504 and IEP accommodations, frequent breaks are certainly beneficial when students become agitated or restless. A way to incorporate this method into the mainstream classroom is to promote brain breaks for all students in the room. Especially for classes that are run on a block schedule, teachers can break the instruction for 2-3 minutes to allow students to pace, jump on a miniature trampoline, stretch with resistance bands, do jumping jacks, toss a bean bag, play Simon Says, or simply stretch to release some pent up energy.

Teachers might consider swapping out their desk chairs for yoga/therapy balls, wiggle seats, bean bag chairs, stools, rocking chairs, wedge seats, or swivel stools. The different range of seating options allow students to bounce, alter positions, or swivel to expel some of their energy. With alternate seating, just be sure to provide clipboards or other surfaces for students to write comfortably.

There are also additional strategies to promote attention and positive behavior:

Much like educators differentiate by providing student choice, occupational therapists also utilize options and choices to promote engagement, attentiveness, and positive participation and behavior. When offering choices of activities, challenges, projects, practices, etc., occupational therapists try to provide at least one option or rotation activity that appeals to the child’s strengths and/or interests. When children have a hand in selecting their activity or assignment, they feel a stronger sense of ownership and independence, which increases effort and motivation.

OT methods also frequently incorporate tech tools to promote development of certain skills or practices. Teachers can provide links to podcasts, educational videos, scholarly articles or websites, and educational games for students to browse and play. The technology not only promotes engagement; the audiovisual component allows students to watch and listen as concepts and skills are modeled for them. They can also work at their own personal pace while using tech tools by pausing, rereading/re-watching, or completing additional practice games.

After a therapy session, many professionals ask children to reflect on and rate their work during the session. Questions can focus on the content, activities, behavior, focus/attention, etc. The key for this OT practice is to encourage students to reflect on the session and discuss areas of strength and areas for improvement. Teachers can plan mini-conferences with students to discuss progress. Stress the fact that genuine ratings and responses are essential for reflection and growth. Not only are students accounting for their successes and missteps, but they are also practicing skills such as summarizing, causes and effects, paraphrasing, memorization, critical thinking, and metacognition.

Occupational Therapy Strategies to Enhance the Classroom Pt. II

In addition to occupational therapy (OT) strategies that promote and strengthen fine motor control in the classroom setting, there are a number of additional techniques and practices taken from occupational therapists for younger elementary children that need a little bit of guidance with their balance, coordination, sensory processing, behavior management, or attentiveness.

Balance and Coordination

We often place these two concepts in the athletics realm; however, balance and coordination are necessities not limited to physical education programs in schools. These essential life skills stretch way beyond the field or court. Daily practices such as dressing, eating, climbing stairs, writing, brushing teeth, etc., rely on one’s ability to coordinate certain motor skills. Therefore, the roughly 5-7% of children affected by developmental coordination disorder, or DCD, will need to rely on OT practices and methods to develop more than a fastball or perfect jump shot. Their day-to-day practices truly hinge on their ability to develop coordination over time.

In the academic atmosphere, children with DCD or other difficulties with balance or coordination can benefit from the following modifications or strategies:

  • Desk chairs that are detached from the desk allow for more appropriate and comfortable positioning in terms of seating. The children can scoot or push their chairs in to their desired proximity to the desktop, which discourages slouching, reaching, and fidgeting.

  • Teacher notes or worksheets can be modified so that copying from the board is limited, as this can be a frustrating process for children with DCD. Fill-in-the-blank or paraphrased notes allow students to practice viewing the board, listening to the teacher, and writing an abbreviated version of the notes while maintaining focus. Because of the modification, the student is still receiving the content and is actively participating, but the workload is less taxing for him/her.

  • Provide students with paper that suits their handwriting style. If you know that a student’s main issue is size or spacing of letters, provide him with wider lined paper and lined paper that includes the vertical margin lines. If the issue is aligning numbers correctly in math problems, consider providing graph paper or grids to promote precise number alignment.

  • Incorporate tossing and catching into your memorization or test review lessons. Keep the rotation predictable, such as passing around the room in a circle or passing the ball alphabetically among the class. Use a larger, lighter item that allows for easy passing and receiving, such as a beachball or beanbag.

  • Games such as Twister and hopscotch allow teachers to incorporate balance and coordination with other content-area skills or practices. For instance, elementary schoolers learning their times tables can use hopscotch to demonstrate mental math while practicing balancing, hopping, standing, etc. A family favorite game, Twister, similarly encourages coordination while students reach and stretch left and right hands and feet.

  • Teachers can utilize painters tape as a way for students to practice making and categorizing shapes, then use the taped shape outlines to practice balance. Challenge students by having them walk the lines of the shapes “heel to toe.” You can add levels of difficulty by asking them to toss a bean bag while walking, recite the alphabet or math facts, or walk backwards.  

In the third and final edition of OT strategies in the classroom, we will focus on occupational therapy methods for the classroom that support behavior management and attentiveness.  

Teaching Self-Advocacy in the Classroom

As teachers, we aim for our students to become more autonomous and confident as the year progresses. In addition to the content area that we are instructing and the academic skills they will need moving forward, educators also focus a great deal of instruction on essential life-long learning skills. Self-advocacy is one of these essential skills that students must master, not only for their education, but for basic functioning and socialization throughout life. In addition to parents working to build self-advocacy skills at home, teachers can assist in that development as well by providing students with specific tools and practices to ensure that their voices are heard and understood. And the earlier children begin advocating, the better.

Self-advocacy is all about vocalizing one’s needs. However, the key to teaching children how to advocate for themselves starts with helping them to recognize their own needs. It is difficult to ask for help when you don’t know what exactly you need help doing. For some students, especially younger or inherently shy children, asking a teacher for help can be intimidating. Because of this, educators should equip students with multiple methods and strategies to foster self-advocacy and decision-making skills.

  • Teachers may choose to explicitly instruct students about what it means to be your own advocate. Depending on the age and needs of the students, the talking points could vary from classroom to classroom, but the take-away is the same: self-advocacy is all about speaking up for what you need and finding ways to obtain those needs with or without someone’s help.

  • Teachers should also be sure to stress the fact that listening is a key component of self-advocacy. Yes, self-advocates are expected to speak up; however, they are also expected to listen to the answer or response that they are seeking. Talk about how eye contact, body position, nodding, etc. are practices to enhance and demonstrate active listening skills. Remind students that, if listening attentively, they should be able to summarize or paraphrase what the other person just said.

  • For students to become strong self-advocates, they must be able to reflect and self-assess. Teachers should prompt students to consider their strengths and weaknesses as learners. The answers to questions like, “What are you good at?” “What do you often need help doing?” “How do you feel that you learn best?” allow students to see themselves as learners in progress. This self-reflection also encourages students to recognize in which scenarios they will need to stretch their self-advocacy muscle by asking for assistance.

  • Students can also learn a great deal about how to advocate for themselves as learners by looking at their likes and dislikes in school. Ask students to not only list their likes and dislikes, but explain why they feel that way about certain activities. A student who admittedly hates reading because he struggles to remember what he read will begin to understand that comprehension, summarizing, and recall are skills that he may need help developing.

  • For students that are exceptionally shy or hesitant to speak up, self-advocacy can be a challenging practice. Encourage these reluctant students by providing alternative options for them to voice their questions, concerns, and comments. With the help of technology, teachers are able to poll students digitally and see their responses in real time. Teachers can also provide students with a question or suggestion box, in which students can convey their needs in writing without getting the whole class involved. Teachers can also help students begin to feel more at ease about speaking up for themselves by creating small group activities, partnered work, academic language frames, sentence starters, and call-and-response practices. These types of activities remove the intimidation factor and allow the more reserved students the opportunity to practice self-advocacy.

Cultural Competency in the Classroom

A beneficial, yet challenging, factor of education today involves the increasing diversity in our schools. Because of the ever-growing demographics, teaching cultural competency has become a major focus in the classroom, especially for a public school system as vast and diverse as Montgomery County. It’s not only students that are getting instruction on cultural competency. These lessons start at the top with administration, curriculum writers, and educators all participating in this movement in favor of cultural awareness and appreciation.

Because culture involves a deeply personal, ingrained set of beliefs, behaviors, practices, and values, most people are at least somewhat unaware of cultures to which they do not prescribe. This is especially the case for young children who are just beginning to explore the world around them. Culturally-responsive instruction truly begins with a look at one’s self through reflection—it isn’t until we truly understand ourselves that we can begin to understand others around us.

Build a classroom environment founded in cultural appreciation by abolishing the word “normal.” Just because a behavior or characteristic might be our cultural norm, this does not mean that it is the “normal” or “right” way. Likewise, just because a behavior or trait may be unfamiliar to us, this does not mean that it is weird, wrong, or abnormal. Remind children that, just as we are all unique beings, our beliefs and values may cause us to speak, dress, and behave differently. Reinforce the mindset that cultural diversity provides learning opportunities that a culturally-homogeneous classroom would not necessarily have. Because each student comes from a different upbringing, with different customs, traditions, family structures, etc., the perspectives that we can gain by embracing our peers’ cultures are limitless. If we hold one another’s culture in high esteem by valuing it as a chance to gain knowledge about something new, we no longer see our peers as “odd” or “different.” Instead, children learn to place the emphasis on the fact that a peer’s culture has provided them with information and knowledge that they would not have known otherwise.

Beef up the classroom library with culturally diverse options for students to explore. Keep in mind that a culturally-relevant text does not receive its credit simply from the author’s culture. A novel about a child growing up during British imperialist India could provide plenty of opportunities for culturally-rich discussion—or it could oversimplify a culture or lack an important perspective all together. The key is to explore an abundance of different styles of texts, by many different authors, on a plethora of different subjects and themes. After doing plenty of research, and taking your students’ cultures into account, set up a culturally competent classroom library.  

Encourage courageous conversations surrounding cultural norms and where they originate. For instance, when examining the protagonist throughout the course of a novel, prompt the class to ask analytical questions about the character’s motivations, thoughts, and decisions. What do we know about this character’s values, background, upbringing, family structure, etc.? How are our lives similar or different because of our own cultures? How might our own beliefs impact the way that we view or characterize the protagonist? What more would we need to know or discover about the main character in order to fully understand why she behaves a certain way?

If we take steps to expose students to diverse cultures and guide their exploration of different customs, traditions and perspectives, they will learn to embrace new ideas and better navigate our world.

 

Teaching Inclusion in the Classroom

General education teachers are tasked with keeping many balls in the air, which is half the fun of working in a classroom—there are so many constantly moving and evolving pieces for which to account. One of these essential pieces to ensure equitable learning for every student is inclusion. Of course, this term is nothing new to educators—we work to create an inclusive environment on a daily basis. What might be new, however, are the many ways in which we teachers can look at inclusive practices. Since every child is different, we must continue our exploration of strategies and practices that best suit the needs of all students.

One best practice that supports inclusion is to vary the output of information. By this we mean that teachers should relay content and instruction in different ways. Some students, especially those with auditory processing difficulties, find that verbal instruction is hard to grasp. To ensure inclusion for these students’ special needs, teachers should try to present information in visual or tactile ways, in addition to the verbal instruction. Depending on the class or lesson, this might take the form of a demonstration, video, or hands-on activity. Some skills or lesson objectives may even lend themselves to a more kinesthetic or tactile approach. Even students without an auditory processing deficiency would find it confusing to listen to a verbal explanation of cursive letter formation. A demonstrated approach to writing using clay, beads, shaving cream, etc., makes more sense.

Similarly, when teachers are introducing concepts like grammatical conventions or figurative language devices, an audio or visual approach might work better than a written explanation of how a properly formatted sentence should sound. Teachers should also practice inclusion by encouraging students to demonstrate their learning in various ways. This means that, not only is the presentation of information different for each child, but the means by which a student exhibits mastery should be individualized, as well. Some students might prefer to write a formal, organized research paper to convey their knowledge of a subject, while others might feel most comfortable presenting a visual demonstration of their topic. The key is to provide multiple opportunities for students to display their knowledge so that everyone’s learning styles are being incorporated.

Another way to look at inclusion is to utilize multiple means of engagement. For students with attention issues, memory difficulties, or other learning disabilities, engagement in the classroom can make all the difference. Engagement might mean listening to music to identify metaphors, similes, or narrative voice. A film study might help students understand a new culture or part of the world. An analysis of a slow motion field goal might help students understand kinetic energy, velocity, or other properties of physics. The point is, when students are engaged, learning not only flourishes, but behaviors and attentiveness increase, as well. Engagement also assists with moving information from short-term memory into long-term memory. Inclusion, with regard to engagement, means that teachers are not only teaching with methods for each type of learner, but also appealing to each learner, so that memory of the information or skill can solidify. In order to provide engagement, there must be a level of interest on the student’s end. As different as each student’s learning style may be, so may be their interests.

This is where building relationships with students becomes essential for inclusion. Cultural inclusiveness provides students with a platform to express themselves on a more personal level. This also promotes a positive classroom environment, one in which students feel heard, understood, and accepted. Cultural inclusion allows students to see beyond themselves, as well, which fosters perspective-taking.

Digital Tools in the Classroom

Especially now, with the rise of technology in the classroom, teachers have practically unlimited methods for teaching, assigning, and grading student work. Features within forums such as Google Classroom, Flocabulary, Read180 Universal, PowToon, NewsELA, etc., allow for student choice, engagement, and differentiation. While the options and methods are seemingly unlimited, there are a few things to consider when it comes to utilizing classroom technology effectively.  

To ensure that the digital classroom is an asset, instead of an obstacle, for students and parents, educators will want to address the following concerns before planning and implementing:

  • Is the technology adding to the student’s understanding of the material, or is it simply technology for technology’s sake? If teachers cannot readily identify how the digital tool is adding a layer of complexity, relevance, choice, or differentiation, then the tool may be better utilized for another task. What we do not want is for the learning to be secondary to the digital forum. For example, if students are using PowToon or Prezi for an assignment, then the objective should be something related to summarizing, paraphrasing, simulating cause and effect, etc., since those are skills that the digital tools support. Those two particular digital tools are more geared towards public speaking or presenting, so an objective for speaking and listening should be a component, as well. 
  • How much scaffolding or frontloading will the technology involve? As teachers, we know that time is limited, as we are constantly moving students from one skill to the next. A worst-case scenario would be for the digital tool to become a “time-suck” in the unit. More than anything, the technology should be comprehensive and user-friendly, so that it does not become an obstacle for students to demonstrate mastery.
  • How much of the student’s grade will be determined by the proper use of the technology? Again, if the objective is for students to relay research that they have gathered in a focused and organized way, then the technology feature is simply a small aspect of that task. Consequently, if the objective is for students to construct a timeline of a story and present the animation, then the technology becomes more of a vital component. 
  • Can the use of the digital tool be optional? Another recommendation when considering student choice is to provide the option to not use the technology to demonstrate mastery. For some students, technology can be scary because of their unfamiliarity with it. For others, computer or internet access at home may not be a possibility. Teachers should be wary of only using digital creations or submissions, as this would mean that some students can only work on an assignment or project in the classroom—not at home. 
  • Are my digital posts, grades, and assignments easy to access and displayed clearly? When using a digital classroom like Google Classroom, teachers should be sure to make their digital forum as accessible and transparent as possible. At open house or parent conferences, teachers should consider inviting parents to sign up to the virtual classroom. This provides parents with their own means of logging into and monitoring the virtual classroom. Guardian access also allows parents to set email alerts anytime a new announcement, assignment, or grade is posted. This means that parents receive notifications in real time, as opposed to having to wait for their child to bring home the new assignment or rubric. Guardian access also allows teachers to post entire lessons, documents, and reading to the classroom. This type of transparency provides parents with a peek inside the day’s activities and lessons. With documents posted, there will also be a backup option for parents if their child has lost or forgotten the paper copy.

Constructive Feedback

Educators are trained to provide rigorous, engaging instruction, fair and accurate grades and assessments, and helpful criticism or feedback. As an English teacher, written feedback is a crucial aspect of the editing, revising and grading process. For students, the best way to ensure that our feedback is not going straight into the garbage is to make it as helpful as possible. While everyone has his or her own style of providing written feedback, below are a few solid Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to teacher feedback.

  • Try to balance the salty with the sweet—especially with younger or struggling writers. The writing process is complex, intimidating, and laborious for many young learners. When students are just starting out, a little encouragement can go a long way. This is not to suggest that feedback must only contain vapid or disingenuous fluff—not at all. The critical aspect of teacher feedback is what the students truly need. However, if we want them to invest in the time of reading, reflecting, and revising with the feedback we provide, we must be sure to draw them in as opposed to turning them off with only negative feedback. I not-so-fondly remember my own experiences where, even as an elementary student, my writing was more or less ripped to shreds by only harsh criticism. Yes, critical feedback is important, but we must also be sure to shed light on what the writer did correctly, as to provide a glimmer of enthusiasm, optimism, or positive reinforcement.

  • Focus your feedback on a few major takeaways from earlier instruction. For instance, if a main objective of the unit is that students will be able to support a claim with textual evidence and interpretive reasoning, then focus your feedback and critique around how successfully they attempted that objective. If introductions and conclusions were the focus, be sure to provide most of the feedback in that area of the paper. This not only makes your life easier by helping to focus the written feedback, but it also allows for students to hone in on a few significant writing skills at a time. The feedback will seem less tedious on your end, and less harsh from a student’s perspective.

  • Keep comments clear, but concise, by using highlighter functions or editing symbols in Google Classroom. One benefit to the abundance of technology that we educators have at our disposal is the fact that written (or typed) feedback can save teachers time, while providing students with comments and suggestions in real time. With the various digital platforms for students to submit writing assignments, students no longer have to wait for the return of tangible essays with handwritten feedback. Now students can simply login from home or school to view a teacher’s comments, critiques, and suggestions.

  • Use the editing or highlighting function in Google Classroom to note areas in a paper where students need spelling, punctuation, or grammatical revision. For students that need reminders, I may insert the first few missing commas. For others, however, I may simply highlight the areas in their paper where they are missing punctuation. This way, students will know where to include a mark, but must assess their own writing to identify exactly which punctuation mark fits properly in a given highlighted area.

  • Talk through the feedback to both put students at ease and answer follow-up questions that they may have. Like many things, sometimes our feedback can get lost in translation. If this is the case, consider setting aside a segment of class time where students can conference one-on-one with you about their specific feedback and suggestions. This allows students the opportunity to fully grasp the feedback to ensure that their plans to revise will in fact improve upon their first draft.

Group Work: How to Make it Work


Cooperative learning, collaborative strategies, group rotations—whatever we decide to call it, the research behind group work in the classroom makes a strong case for embracing collaborative learning. As beneficial as it is, however, group work can easily go awry if the planning and structures are not in place. Here are some suggestions for well-managed group work in the classroom.

  1. Consistency is key when introducing group structures and routines. Rotations, stations, and group collaboration involve much more than having students circulate through different activities together. Before you can even begin the actual group work, students need to be explicitly instructed on how they will form and work in their groups. Devote some time to having students practice moving into their groups in a quick and organized manner. Encourage students to have only necessary materials out during group work. Practice timed cleanup so that groups familiarize themselves with the amount of time needed to wrap up a work session.
  2. Teacher-derived groups should be deliberate on multiple levels. Be sure that groups contain personalities that will jive and complement one another. Also be careful to level the groups so that there are higher-ability and lower-ability group members in each group. When possible, groups should be gender-balanced and small enough that every person will play a vital role in the process and product. For the typical classroom, groups should be kept to 4 students or smaller to allow for accountability.
  3. Begin implementing group work by stressing the importance of the process, not necessarily the product. Of course the end result is important; however, cooperative dialogue, perspective-taking, and synergy are the foundations for a successful group—perfecting the product will come later. You want the groups to work like a well-oiled machine in the sense that each person knows that her individual input is necessary to achieve the end goal.
  4. Have open dialogue about that end goal. Part of the nuisance of group work is the fact that every group member has a different work ethic, mindset, motivation, and concept of the result. We have all experienced the headache and stress of completing “group work” individually because a partner or group mates were banking on someone else completing the job. To avoid this common pitfall, encourage groups to discuss what each individual’s end goal is and work on compromising from there. If one person’s goal is to complete the task in as little time as possible, assign that person one of the initial planning, prewriting, or beginning tasks for the project. If another person expresses a deep desire to perfect the group’s project, put that person in charge of checking the final product against the rubric and making edits or adjustments as needed. If one person simply aims to turn something in for credit, put him or her in charge of organizing materials, brainstorming ideas, keeping the group’s notes, etc.—the key is to play to each person’s strengths and desires so that everyone’s intrinsic motivation leads the group to the same end goal.

From a Teacher to a Teacher: Kindness in the Classroom

Dear fellow educator,

I think it goes without saying that these are crucial times for our young people, not only with regard to education, but also in forming the next generation’s principles. All politics aside, our students are coming of age in a time where kindness, empathy, and integrity have been shoved aside in favor of judgment, rivalry, and naiveté. As we move into a new school year, fervent introspection has me focusing on one question: how can we craft and nurture ‘goodness’ in our schools?  

Perhaps one of the biggest perceived roadblocks in our quest to add kindness to the curricula is the fact that we are here to educate, not parent our students. No matter what age, our students come to us with a belief system and moral gauge that far exceeds our reaches. With so many uncontrollable variables at play in our classrooms, how could we possibly begin to stomp out hate that may have been engrained in a child since day one? Is it even acceptable, as mere educators, for us to take on that role or responsibility? These perplexing questions may forever go unanswered.

Instead of looking at changing the child’s cognizance, I’ll begin to nurture kindness by looking at my personal practices in the classroom—let’s consider it a ripple effect of sorts.   

  • Use seating charts to recognize the “lonely students.” This is a concept used by a veteran teacher from Texas throughout her entire career. On Fridays I’ll ask students to write down the names of two people that they would like to sit with next week. I will make clear that these requests are not guaranteed to be granted.  Students will occasionally get their wishes. However, the key here is that I am not concerned with the seating chart in the least—who sits beside whom is of no concern to me. I am looking instead for the names that are not written down—which child is never sought out as a seating partner? Are these missing names indicative of a bullying problem? Do I recognize signs of grief or depression in any of the students that are not requested as seating partners? By analyzing the seating requests, I am better able to reach out to the children that may feel lonely or withdrawn and potentially change the course of their unhappiness.
  • Praise acts of kindness just as much, if not more, than test scores, grades, or GPAs. Academia is designed to breed competition through class rankings, SAT scores, honor roll lists, etc. Several schools in Montgomery County celebrate their seniors’ achievements by posting each student’s college admittance for the coming year in the local newspaper—a great opportunity for young scholars to shine. However, with such recognition comes an inevitable ranking or hierarchy among graduates. Seeing my name and future university in print, followed by so-and-so attending Harvard, would undoubtedly sour my sense of accomplishment. Yes—that’s the real world—someone is always going to be smarter, more successful, better… Consider this: Focusing on achievements in kindness would not take away from anyone’s academic achievements. This praise and acknowledgment would simply be an additional measure of character—one that is just as important (and sometimes as lucrative) as academic success. If a student is struggling academically, try showing appreciation for that student’s kindness. Highlight students that have shown acts of kindness to others—use this as an opportunity to place value on the concept of being a good person.
  • Model empathy at any opportunity. Seeing as I teach middle school, empathy is something that many of my students are still grasping. During the adolescent years, the brain is primed to self-serve. This sometimes creates an inability to see things from another’s perspective. It’s not that they don’t want to—it’s that the adolescent brain is still maturing. Demonstrate how empathy works by expressing your own instances of relating on an emotional level. Try starting the conversation with, “You know that we all make mistakes…” or, “I’m upset that you’re getting down on yourself for one low grade…” or, “I see that you’ve really tried to improve and I admire your effort.”