Educational Perfection

As we end another school year and look forward to summer vacation, I think back to my first years in education and what summer “vacation” looked like for me. July was spent taking additional qualification courses and most of August was spent prepping and planning. It wasn’t really much of a vacation.  So why did I do it? Two reasons. I am passionate about learning and I am a (now recovering) perfectionist-especially as an educator.

I must have thought there was some kind of a prize for having the tidiest, prettiest and well organized classroom. I wanted my classroom to look like something out of the Scholar’s Choice catalogue. The custodians would be annoyed at having me in the school and I would wait anxiously for them to be finished waxing our hallway so that I could get in and set up my classroom. I needed everything to match. If I had baskets for items in the classroom they had to all be the same colour. It isn’t always easy to find 24 of the same basket at the Dollar Store.  Before the students started in September I felt the need to have labels on all of their notebooks, duo tangs and I even labelled their pencils. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to control the environment for my students. My classroom looked like a showroom on the first day of school and I would spend the next 194 days trying to maintain that standard. Our first printing practice lesson (because we still did that back then) was to practice writing “A place for everything and everything in it’s place.” When I think back now to all of the time and energy that I wasted not allowing learning to get messy I shake my head. It was exhausting.

After twenty plus years in education I’ve learned a few things about educational perfectionism and letting go of control in order to empower the learners in the classroom. When I was given a portable for a classroom that I wasn’t able to get into much before school started I panicked at first.  I didn’t have space or time to create a showroom. I decided to give the design over to the grade 4-5 students.  I still had labelled duo tangs and a place for each of them to put their things that was their space ready on the first day but the rest, we did together. It built community, it gave the students ownership and it gave me some of my summer back. If you’ve ever taught in a portable that has the coat racks inside, winter is a bit of a nightmare for an organizational freak but eventually I let it go. We still had a tidy classroom because their wasn’t enough space to be too messy but the organization of things didn’t stifle the learning. We learned how to paint in a portable without water using buckets and trips into the school. We brought lawn chairs to school at sat outside at reading time. I loved our little cabin in the woods.

As educators we have a lot of people that we are accountable to in our jobs. Students, families, administrators, our board and our communities are all stakeholders in what we do. The pressure to be perfect in our roles can be overwhelming and paralyzing. What educators do each day is literally driven by “overall and specific EXPECTATIONS”. It took time for me to realize that the expectations that I was putting on myself were much higher than those of anyone else. It took reflection to realize that perfectionism isn’t the badge of honour that I thought it once was and that it was making my life more difficult. I came to understand that it isn’t the room or the resources that make me a good educator.  It is about the connections and relationships with my students and their families that matter. It is about embracing the Ms. Frizzle moments and rolling with it.  If I’ve learned anything from COVID-19 it is that being flexible and letting go of what I cannot control are the keys to staying out of perfectionism. I plan on guarding my summer vacation as I would a medical specialist’s appointment but I’ll likely take a few professional resource books along to read in the waiting room.

 

“How can I help?”

The adage of “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” was ingrained in me at an early age.  Until recently, I have always thought that being confident, capable and successful meant never asking for help.  I used to think that asking for help meant that you were weak.  I now think that asking for help is incredibly brave.  My 17 year old son recently told me about a group chat with his workmates.  Someone at work had sent an urgent message to the group asking how to do something while closing up the restaurant.  Many of the coworkers poked fun at the lack of knowledge of the person seeking help.  My son (brace yourself for this proud Mama Bear moment) texted that it was really brave of his co-worker to ask for help and provided the information that the coworker needed to close up for the night. I think that his act demonstrated wisdom an empathy far beyond his years.

Have you ever felt a little territorial or protective about your ideas or lessons in your classroom?  I imagine everyone likes to be valued for their unique talents and abilities.  In general, I don’t think anyone likes to be seen to be struggling and consequently, some teachers might choose to work in isolation. Perhaps it is fear. I’ve spoken to many colleagues who have identified as suffering from imposter syndrome. Perhaps those of us who have experienced imposter syndrome think that if anyone else got eyes on what we do every day that we would be judged and found to be lacking in some way.  Often teachers will tell me that they don’t have time to share with their colleagues-there just isn’t enough time in the day to collaborate. With the busy pace of education, I know that I have absolutely felt that way. My experience has been that when I take the time to collaborate with others I in fact, have more time and consequently better programming.  It is a concerted effort and takes a trusting relationship to co-plan and co-teach but when it works, it is amazing.

In my role as an instructional leadership consultant I am responsible for two portfolios; Innovation and Technology and the New Teacher Induction Program.  At the beginning of the COVID pandemic as teachers were teaching virtually for the first time, some had never used things like Google apps, FlipGrid and Kahoot. I was doing my best to support teachers with tools for teaching online.  Thankfully, I knew some other teachers that I could reach out to and ask for help.  These teachers, close to the beginning of their careers, were using these tools in the classroom and were able to help design and present webinars to other more seasoned colleagues.  As teachers, we often think that we need to have all of the answers for our students and with one another.  I’ve heard it referred to as the “Sage on the Stage Syndrome.” We seem to feel that we need to stay ahead of everything, which is impossible.  Education is changing more rapidly than ever.  I learned so much from my colleagues over the months that we worked together as a team and even though it was stressful at times, it was also incredibly fun.  I look back now on the powerful outreach our work had and the gratitude that was expressed by our colleagues and I am so glad that I got over myself and asked for help.

In the t.v. drama “New Amsterdam” whenever the new director of the hospital is introduced to someone, the first question that he asks is, “How can I help?”  It happens in the first episode about twenty times. This was a BIG a-ha moment for me.  What a powerful question!  How often have we wanted our students to ask for help?  How often have they refused when we have asked “Can I help you?”or “Do you need help?”  Unfortunately, asking for help is still seen as a weakness by many people.  However the question “How can I help?” turns it around so that the responsibility and focus is on the person offering assistance.  It is more difficult for someone to just say “No.” to this question.  It can help to create psychological safety in order to focus on what can be done to help rather than someone sitting in discomfort or shame because they won’t ask for help.  Sometimes just asking can make all the difference to someone when they are feeling overwhelmed, even if they decline the offer.  The four small words, “How can I help?” can make a powerful impact.  Sometimes, asking for help is the bravest thing you can do.

“Just” an Occasional Teacher

Hello everyone!

I am thrilled to announce that I will be joining the Heart and Art blogging team this school year. I look forward to time spent being passionately curious with all of you.

As educators, it feels we are under the spotlight this year to openly reflect in conversations with curious strangers on how the school year is going amidst the pandemic. Everyone is wondering how educators are creating activities and lessons for students that involve social distancing, mask wearing and constant hand sanitizing. When asked personally about how this crazy year is affecting me, I often find myself replying with “I am just an Occasional Teacher”. 

I love my job and feel valued in the school system, especially this year with the demanding need for Occasional Teachers across Ontario school boards. I feel important, worthy and necessary. Why do I sell myself short each time by adding the word “just” in front of my job title? 

The word “just” has so much power and holds the potential to remove importance from meaningful concepts. As I reflect upon my own use of the word “just”, I begin to think about how this small but significant word can affect my students. Psychologist Carol Dweck talked about students’ growth mindset and the power of the word “yet”. In terms of growing and learning, students can use the word “yet” to talk about what they cannot do, but will learn to do after practicing, taking chances and making mistakes (for example: “I do not know how to multiply… yet”).

Does the word “just” have the opposite effect? Instead of granting power and adding room for growth like the word “yet” does, “just” seems to diminish the power of whatever follows.

Let’s harness the power of “yet”! Here are some phrases that should not follow the word “just”:

  • Students are “just” playing.

Play is how students explore, investigate, discover and create what they don’t know yet. No matter age or ability, each student deserves play opportunities in an environment that respects and celebrates the benefits play can have on academic progress, social and emotional growth and overall student well-being. 

  • “Just” Art, Phys. Ed, Social Science or any subject that isn’t Math or Literacy.

Each subject and learning area contributes to holistic development while providing opportunities for learning and success in areas which students have yet to grow. Students deserve to know that each subject is important and personal accomplishments can be celebrated in sports, the arts, etc. With the pressures to push for success in reading, writing and math, we must not let talent and passion in other areas go unnoticed, unacknowledged or undervalued.

  • You are “just” an Occasional Teacher/Rotary Teacher/whatever your role is in a school.

To all my fellow educators out there, no matter what you are doing, no matter where you are, you will ALWAYS be more than “just” a (insert job title here) to your students, their families and the school community.

You are passionate.

You are important.

You are valued.

For what you know now and for what you do not know yet

Triggers and Habits in Teaching Part One

Dreaded Seating Arrangements

Almost every teacher I talk to says, “I have a really difficult class this year.”  The difficulties identified are most often tied to “behaviour” issues.  In my experience effective classroom “management” can be connected to dynamic programming and developing solid relationships with students. Many of us go to things like Class Dojo or incentive programs to “manage” behaviour and some have their merits.  However, they might “manage” behaviour, but does it help student to learn to self-regulate?  I understand that there are students who have behaviour safety plans that can provide challenges and I do not mean to downplay the effect that even one student’s behaviour can have on an entire class.  However, there are ways in which we can have small tweaks in our triggers and habits in teaching that will have a positive outcome on developing a community of learners.

So what is a trigger?  A trigger in psychological terms can  used to describe sensations, images or experiences that re-visit a traumatic memory.  It can also mean to make something happen very quickly; a reaction.  It is also referred to as an event that kicks off the automatic urge to complete a habit.*  Habits are seen as something that people do often or regularly.  Habits can even be unconscious behaviours and sometimes difficult to stop.  What do triggers and habits have to do with teaching?

Over the years I think I have become more self aware in the classroom about my own triggers and habits.  It is easy to continue to do a routine in a classroom simply because it is something that we have always done. Even when we have sound pedagological reasoning, it can be difficult to change or cease a habit. For example, for many years I put names on the desks of students before they entered the classroom on the first day of school.  I don’t really know why I began this habit.  Besides a wedding, some kind of gala or a reservation at a restaurant, I get to choose where I sit every day.  It is a fairly important life skill.  I’m not going to find my name on a seat on the city bus.  Once I recognized that this routine was purely out of habit and was “triggered” by the first day of school, I decided to change it up.  On the first day of school with a grade 4-5 class, the students came into the room and sat wherever they wanted. I admit that this made the perfectionist in me who loves order, routine and habit rather uncomfortable.  I had some students sit in groups, some in pairs and some on their own.  Then we had a class meeting about how they had felt when they entered the room and had to make their seating choice.  There was talk of anxiousness, sweaty palms, heart rate increase, fear of missing out and for some it was no big deal.  I decided to create a google form to survey the students about where to sit in the classroom, how often we would change it up and who would decide.  The results of the survey were fascinating.  Some students wanted me to choose where they sat and wanted to have that same spot every day for 194 days.  Some never wanted to “sit” in a group but wanted to be a part of it during group work time.  We came up with a plan that each Monday the students would choose where to sit for the week and the students who wanted a regular spot would be able to keep it and the other students would respect their choices without question.  We also had some extra choices for seating that students could go to if their choices for that week weren’t working out.  The students gained incredible insight into self-regulation.  I heard things like, “I sat with Gracie all week and we’re such good friends, I didn’t get my work done so I’m not going to sit with her next week.”  or  “I don’t hang out with Olivia but I know she is a serious student so I’d like to sit with her in a group.”

It isn’t easy to be self aware while we are trying to keep our head above water, collect permission forms, listen to announcements, adjust our day plan for the assembly that was announced, deal with a parent that wants to chat in the hallway AND teach curriculum.  I GET that…however, being aware of triggers and habits and making small tweaks to our teaching behaviour can make a big difference in our classroom community.

*106:Triggers-The Key to Building and Breaking Habits, Chris Sparks, 2018

 

The Gender Gap in Technology

Quote for blog

According to a recent report* by ICTC (the Information and Technology Information Council) Canadian women represent about 50% of the overall workforce but represent only 25% of the technology industry workforce.  Of the 100 major tech companies in Canada only 5 have female CEOs and 1 Co-CEO.   26% of the tech companies have no women in senior leadership at all.  There is a gender wage gap in the industry of $7,000-$20,00 per year.  When I read these statistics I wondered as educators, what can we do about the gender gap in technology?  This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to begin:

1.  Build her confidence in her abilities.

2. Cultivate a community of supportive peers.

3.  Provide a STEM/STEAM club for girls.

4. Ensure that access to technology and computer experiences is encouraged and inclusive.

5. Foster interest in computing careers.

6. Be a role model as a LEARNER.

May 11th is National Girls Learning Code Day.  If you are looking to encourage coders in your school, why not begin on May 11th?  Below you will find links to resources for beginning coding.  Many students code on their own at home and may appreciate the opportunity to mentor fellow students.  The resources attached will get you started.  There is no special equipment or robotics required.  Teachers do not have to be expert coders to encourage their students.  Teachers can be role models of resilience, risk taking and problem solving by learning alongside their students.  Teachers only need to open the door and expose their students to the opportunities.

Girls Who Code Canada

National Girls Learn Code Day

Canada Learning Code

Scratch

Hour of Code

Code.org

 

*Cutean, A., Ivus, M. (2017). The Digital Talent Dividend: Shifting Gears in a Changing Economy. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Ottawa, Canada.

Elaborated and written by Alexandra Cutean (Director, Digital Innovation Research and Policy). and Maryna Ivus (Senior Analyst, Research and Policy) with generous support from the ICTC Research and Policy Team.

Do-over day

https://www.flickr.com/photos/42931449@N07/5263539723
https://www.flickr.com/photos/42931449@N07/5263539723

Have you ever wished that you could do something over again to make it better?
In education, this could be everyday, every week, every month, and every year in our classrooms. If we let it.

Have you ever taught a lesson more than once in order to ensure your students understood and could master the concept(s)? What, you’ve done this over and over!? You don’t say?

This happens more often than all of us think and that’s okay. I learnt very quickly in my career that last year’s grand slam lessons do not always guarantee success when used in the years to come. Hence the need for the do-over, or reinvention in order to revive or re-invigorate what we teach.

What about a retest? A few years ago, I completely misread my students’ progress on a Math strand and the results were glaringly obvious that I failed them. After an open discussion about the daunting unit, I had students take their tests, crumple them up, and throw them around the classroom. It was like a giant breath of fresh air had blown into the room as everyone exhaled.

We restarted the unit from ground zero and had a “do-over day” a couple of weeks later with much improved results. As a result, our class grew closer as a learning community. Students knew that I had their best interests at heart and that learning in our class did not come with an expiry date as laid out in dusty long range plans. After all the curriculum says, “by the end of each grade…” and not immediately after an assessment of learning.

Recently, my students were preparing to share a series of movie trailers they created about the book Loser by Jerry Spinelli. Each group, of 2 or 3, was asked to pull key elements from the text and to present them in the form of a live drama or digital version.

After much planning, production, and practice, the big day arrived for everyone to share their work. Not surprisingly, there were a number of interpretations of the text being shared and the trailers were being presented and screened. And then it happened.

Whether it was nerves or a case of over-preparation(I think it’s a thing), the majority of presentations shared were not the shiniest outputs from this group. Cue the do-overs. When I suggested this, the students seemed generally wary about it, but I was serious. With some descriptive class feedback, we started over again with much more positive results.

Now think about your classroom? Is there room for the do-over within your walls and halls? Imagine the opportunity to reinforce the idea that failure can still be a positive result when it is used as a stop along the way rather than the final destination to success. I believe that the more we build this into our pedagogy, the more our students will be willing to take chances, make mistakes, and move forward.

Thank you for reading. Please share your “do-over” stories in the comments section below.

Don’t Give Up on a Tough Class

I have one class that is very tricky. It is a very large class with a lot of emotional, physical and academic needs. It is the two periods in the week that I wish I had a clone of myself so that I could meet everyone’s needs immediately all the time (with this class I might need an army of clones).

I would rate the autumn with this class as alright. We have had our ups and downs. Some periods have gone well. Some have not. The thing that has been most consistent with this class is that I refuse to give up on them and their ability to do well in Music.

I feel at this point in the year, I have tried so many strategies to get the classes running smoothly and find ways to support my weaker students. However, it wasn’t until this past week that I feel like I have made a breakthrough!

I have finally landed on a combination of whole group instruction, peer-supported creations and individual choice.

Getting to know the students has been an important factor in this positive change. I have had several conversations with many of the students about sports, animals, music and all of their interests. I have used that knowledge to help build a relationship with them and inform my decisions around content for upcoming classes. I know for one of my students who is having the most difficult time at school right now, he really loves sports. I am planning to do a basketball dance this term to incorporate his interests.

I also have some students in the class who are significantly below grade level. Many of these students are embarrassed to ask other students for help. They are weak in reading and writing and therefore, they are very reluctant to work with many of the students in the class. Last week, I went to each of them individually and asked if they felt comfortable with anyone in the class. I let them choose who their partner was and since they all had a say in who they were going to work with, they all had a level of comfort in working in the class.

I met with the classroom teachers about good accommodations that I could provide for their students with upcoming assignments. I have also conferred with the classroom teachers about medical needs and emotional needs.

I have built in the usage of many of my student’s strengths. Everyone has so many amazing skills and I have tried to highlight them. I have a student who can’t read but is great at tech. He is my technology advisor and the kid I send everyone to when we have problems. Another student can’t read either, but is an incredible singer and rapper. He can improvise at the drop of a hat and can generate ideas at a speed I cannot match. When we need lyric or rhythm ideas, we know who we can count on.

I have continuously worked on trying to improve the climate. Last week, before we started our partner activity, I had the students do the game Two Truths and a Lie with their partner to build a relationship with their new partner. Taking time away from curriculum to build climate has been worth the investment.

Using choice as a motivator has also worked exceptionally well. Students begged me to allow them to listen to music of their choice when they are finished their compositions. “For sure!” I said. We are developing a pre-approved list of music to listen to.

Ultimately, the most important thing is not to give up. Have a good cry, a particularly big piece of chocolate cake and a long phone call complaining to your friend about your difficulties. After that, analyze what is going on that is not working, and start a plan tomorrow. And if that doesn’t work, try something else on the next time. It might take time, but it is worth it!

Painting with the same brush.

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PublicDomainPictures / 18043 images CCO 1.0

Underlying
An artist was preparing to paint one day. First, she stretched and secured her canvas over its wooden frame. The artist continued by arranging her brushes, planning a colour scheme, and then by setting up her supplies. Finally, it was time to ponder her subject forever to be captured in a moment of time and occupied space – where her vision would be on display in pigment, oil or acrylic for evermore for all to enjoy.

The artist could already see her finished masterpiece. As if the picture had miraculously painted itself. Without anything left to imagine, conjure, or deliberate she began.

Un-(der) inpired
It was all right there in living, er um, cold dead colour. All she had to do was slather it onto the wintery whitewashed space in waiting. She pulled out the widest brush in her kit, dipped it into the first colour, white, and painted a perfectly straight line across the top of the canvas. She dipped her brush again and repeated, the same thing over and over, with the precision of her first strokes until she has covered the entire canvas. She felt satisfied, but did not have time to admire her work for long. There were 29 more canvases to cover just like the first one. She smiled, sighed, dipped her brush, and started on the next one.  Yet, with a pallet of colours and brushes at the ready, the artist only knew how to paint with a single brush and to use white paint to do her work.

http://kaboompics.com/one_foto/880/brush-painting-the-white-wall CCO License

Under pressure
Does teaching ever seem like this to you? Do educators feel they are asked to paint blank canvases everyday, but are only given one wide brush and a single colour to work with? I wonder whether that is how some teachers have come to feel when a learning system is imposed on them which expects students to be taught to the test?

Teachers plan and prepare their materials to deliver a lesson much like the artist in the story above and in the end are expected to use the broadest brush and one shade of paint. What may be more disappointing, is that many only have time to paint one coat before feeling they have to move on.

Underwhelmed
I am not a huge fan of the traditional textbook. In fact I have called them “knowledge coffins” in the past. When traditional textbooks are at the centre of the instructional day, there is little option for learners to explore beyond its pages.  Yes, it’s all in there, but at what cost are other things and ideas being left out?

First, consider the cost of purchasing texts/licenses per class. Math books alone can range upwards of $1500 to $2000 for a class set per subject. What happens when the curriculum gets revamped like what has recently happened in Ontario with the French(2013), Health/Physical Education(2015), and Social Studies(2013). Could the money schools, boards, and government pour into photocopies and textbooks be used to provide Chromebooks for every student instead? Imagine the cost savings in paper alone. If we did this, every learner from K to 12 could be equipped with a productivity and research tool for the classroom at their fingertips? And, at home too if WiFi is available.

Unrepentant
I am a fan of adaptive and hands on learning environments. In the classroom, I want students to have a voice in how and what they are being taught so we can democratize education. I believe all educators possess the means/ability to transform and tailor their instruction to suit their students. What they need now is a safe place to do so and that’s an issue of system and school leadership.

JFK Paint by Numbers
JFK Paint by Numbers

To paint a portrait of the future, educators need to use the prescribed curriculum as a pallet filled with colours that is not limited to a paint-by-number task. However, many are afraid to use other, less traditional brushes and materials to paint their masterpieces because the outcomes might not look resemble or match work gathering dust on the walls.

Yes, there are things to be taken from the past, but the world outside our classrooms has not remained fixed in space and time. Neither should it remain static inside. The classroom must become a vibrant and connected place where students have access to, and be able to contribute to a world of knowledge.

This requires courage to happen. It requires time for others to understand, accept, and embrace. It doesn’t have to look perfect. The mess is an important part of the process.

Ask yourself what or who inspires you to take chances as a learner? What new idea(s) would you try in your classroom if you knew you couldn’t fail? Start by giving yourself permission to change things up in one subject area, and then go from there.

I’ll be here to chat if you want to talk more about how we can change the portrait of education to a landscape of creativity, differentiation, and encouragement.

In the meantime I have some brushes to clean.

Circumstances Beyond Our Control

You know that feeling you get when you sit in a meeting with a parent and it all becomes clear as to why your student/their child behaves the way they do? Or when after meeting with the family, you would like to recommend the parents for parenting courses, or worse, you feel you may need to call for the support of CAS? We know we must do everything we can to protect our students from abuse by reporting when we have reason to believe that they are in harmful situations, but what do you do when the behaviour is inappropriate or harmful to the child in more subtle ways? The chaos, the disfunction, the stress in certain homes is out of our reach but it is what is ‘normal’ in the child’s life, and it will present itself in some way in our classroom.

We have such a student. Doctors are inconclusive in their diagnosis of Tara (not her real name), although ADHD and spectrum disorder are part of her treatment profile. In her home, there is discord between her parents which may or may not have been present before Tara was born, but which currently translates into a push-me-pull-you situation with regard to the way she is being brought up. To expect this child to easily switch gears as she enters our classroom and leave any emotional baggage at the door is a huge expectation. All we can do is offer the opposite of her homelife – a calm, safe, predictable environment. But the physical environment is not enough to bring Tara around and we are constantly trying new ways to ‘keep the lid on’ because what worked last week may not work this week. Usually we know within the first 15 minutes of our outdoor learning what kind of a day she is bringing with her, although, a good start does not necessarily mean a good end to the day. At the age of only 5 years, diagnosis of behavioural problems is still unclear, although a series of potent medications have been tried to help her bridge the turbulent episodes with the beautiful, calm, smart, kind child that she is most of the time, without too much success. Tara’s home life is inconsistent and so is her behaviour, to the point where aggression is surfacing. Thankfully, there is a big support system for her at school and good communication with one of her parents. It takes a lot of human power to help Tara manage each day – but it is worth it. If she is having an off day – we ALL have an off day.

One of our strategies that hasn’t changed is to have a quiet conversation with her every morning to remind her of how valued she is, see how she is feeling inside, and ask her what she’s looking forward to in her day. I recently saw an inspirational video of a teacher who does just that, making a point of connecting with each of his students in his behavioural class each day for about 5 – 10 minutes. It may seem like a lot of time directed away from instruction, but if you think about it, the learning environment is so much richer when our students feel comfortable and safe. For students who are riding through stormy seas, whether behaviourally or developmentally, a calm and caring voice can be an anchor for them. Rather than feeling lost and out of control, they can feel connected to something bigger than the storm, because, as we have seen with Tara, when she is lost in the storm, it is nearly impossible reaching her. So the only time to make that connection is sometimes a small window of opportunity when she is calm.

Tara’s awareness of her situation is heartbreaking because, after the fact, she knows when she has gone too far and she is not proud or happy about it.  While the event is tumultuous and we need to ensure her safety, evacuate the classroom to ensure the safety of the other 25 students, and try to contact the administration for back-up, our approach is consistent, nonjudgmental, and calm. We try to help her and the rest of the class by remaining calm during an episode of throwing chairs, emptying shelves, and yelling.

Of course the parents love their child, but we cannot underestimate how stressful it must be on them to hear, almost daily, that their child is causing serious problems at school, as well as continuing this behaviour at home. Tara needs to feel the consistency of attention and love in a calm and caring environment, as well as a unified approach to behaviour so that school and home are synchronized. This may not help her through everything in her troubled life, but it would help her brave her stormy times. It seems so easy for us because we only see Tara at school, but it is what we would love to be able to say to her parents.

Sunshine Calls

When my students arrive into my alternative behaviour classroom in September, so do their parents and families. The family’s beliefs and attitudes about school have been shaping ever since their child became a part of the formal school system. For the  family of my students, that means that most communication from the school has almost certainly been a negative scenario that had unfolded. So when I complete my first call home in September what do you think the response is from the parent who answers the phone? You are right, “Okay what did my child do now?”

Just as it takes time to build relationships with your students, so does it take time and effort to connect with families. This is especially true for families of students who have struggled in school or have had difficulty adjusting to school and classroom expectations. For me this starts with an onslaught of ‘Sunshine Calls’. A Sunshine Call is a strategy that I use to gain the confidence of my families by showing that I care about their child, I believe in their child and will balance the type of information that comes home and not dwell on the negative (attribute based approach).

The best analogy I can use to explain the benefits of this strategy is to compare it to banking. The more positive deposits that I put into my account (compliments, sunshine calls) the stronger that balance will be. When I do have to make a withdrawal (call home about a negative scenario) my positive balance will hold me over and the relationship will remain stable and the family will be more likely to support me knowing that it must be concerning for Mr. B. to be calling home about it.

What is exciting for me, is when my students start to understand and realize that their best efforts and positive changes will be shared often and ongoing with their family. I start by asking them if they would like me to cimagesall home and tell their parents about some positive scenario that took place that day. They 100% of the time say an astounding yes. As they come to realize this is a regular part of our classroom, they begin to ask me to call their family and let them know about their math work or reading. That is the time that I know why I will always look to see the glass as half full.