Think about the organized activities in which children participate. At band practice, for example, musicians understand why they need to rehearse. They know that practicing is important because at a later date the group will perform its songs to a live audience. The connection between todayâ€™s preparation and tomorrowâ€™s performance is straightforward. Young actors in a drama club are also aware of this relationship. So are players on a Little League baseball team. The leaders of these activities generally do not need to spend much time explaining the purpose of practicing because kids can figure it out for themselves.
Interestingly, the organized activity that occupies more of a childâ€™s waking hours than any other - school - is the one where the purposes of attending each day are typically the least well understood by its participants. What are the purposes of attending school? Most students answer that they come to school to learn. But when pressed further, they are often unable to articulate compelling reasons why learning is important. The larger purposes of education are not as obvious as those of Little League, band, or drama club. As a result, children have greater difficulty discovering on their own what these purposes are.
As parents and teachers, if we want children to work with a sense of purpose in school, we must communicate with them to establish a sense of purpose. There is no more fundamental question an adult can pose to a child than, â€œWhy is it important to do a good job in school?â€ We canâ€™t assume that they already know.
In this article I share ten important reasons why it matters to work hard, value education, and take school seriously. Children who understand the many purposes of education will be more motivated to learn, more committed to their studies, more likely to persevere during challenging times, more willing to delay gratification, better able to find meaning in their work, and better able to connect todayâ€™s learning to tomorrowâ€™s opportunities.
1) Learning adds quality to our lives. The development of the mind is a joy and benefit in and of itself. Learning is interesting and fun, and it should feel good. When kids work hard in school, they learn knowledge and develop skills. That builds confidence and self-esteem.
2) Working hard prepares kids for higher levels of education. Doing well in elementary school generally leads to good grades in middle and high school. It also opens the door to honors classes and other important opportunities. In addition, consistent academic success increases the likelihood of earning admission into selective colleges and universities.
3) Working hard in school helps children develop lasting habits. In my classroom I emphasize two important sets: â€œhabits of mindâ€ that predispose us to think and act in certain ways and â€œhabits of characterâ€ that focus on study habits, social skills, and attitudes about our work. In Horaceâ€™s Hope, educator Theodore Sizer once said that, â€œKnowing stuff is nice. Being able to use that stuff makes sense. Being disposed to use it always, as a matter of habit, is the brass ring, the ultimate standard.â€
4) Working hard can help children find their passion. Many well-known individuals discovered their future careers and areas of intense interest in school. Books, videos, and other curricular material can expose kids to people, music, languages, endeavors, and ideas that they might not have come across any other way.
5) Doing well in school helps people establish themselves as individuals. The classroom is one of the primary places in which we determine our personal standards of quality. Students who work hard and do well in school learn to establish a high expectation level and expect great things from themselves. They decide that they want to strive to become the best of the best and will settle for nothing less. They will carry these standards with them as they get older. Children need teachers and parents who hold high expectations, but ultimately, what matters most is whether they make the personal commitment to aim high.
6) Education helps us get the jobs we want. It is a simple fact that people who graduate high school earn more money than people who donâ€™t, and people who graduate college earn even more. Over the course of a lifetime, this difference in earning power is significant. Making money is certainly not the only reason to do well in school, but it is an important one.
7) Doing well in school maximizes our options in life. Education opens doors. Not only does it help us obtain higher-paying jobs, but also it enables us to access a wider variety of jobs that offer challenge, interest, and the opportunity to contribute to our communities. Education also opens doors that are unrelated to our careers. A track record of school success, for example, can help us earn worthwhile volunteer opportunities.
8) Working hard in school empowers us to become more effective consumers. In school, of course, we learn the arithmetic skills that help us make correct change, balance our checkbooks, and manage a household budget. Beyond that, we also learn the higher-level thinking skills that empower us to be consumers in the larger sense - consumers of news and information who have the ability to analyze issues critically and make intelligent judgments.
9) Education empowers us to make a difference in the world. The more we know, the more we can contribute to the lives of others. Working hard in school enables us to help people, both through our formal roles, such as doctors and nurses, and through informal roles, such as when we tutor a neighbor or assist a younger sibling with reading.
10) Education empowers people to participate fully in civic life. Healthy communities need involved citizens. Voting, attending city council meetings, writing letters to the editor, and taking action on important issues are necessary to preserve and strengthen our democracy. By working hard in school, we learn the history of our country and the responsibilites that we all have as citizens.
Since I knew Iâ€™d be setting up the classroom during the week before school started, I invited each family to stop by to meet me in person. About ten of my 32 students accepted this offer. With these ten, I was able to learn their names, talk with them briefly, and get a sense of who they were. I greatly enjoyed and appreciated this one-on-one time. In addition, these students were much more relaxed and comfortable on the first day of school.
I then found the previous yearâ€™s Kindergarten class pictures in the yearbook. By matching the names on my list to the faces in the yearbook, I learned the names of the rest of my returning students. In addition, I was only expecting two new students, one boy and one girl. So, I quickly learned their names. On the night before school started, I made a simple nametag for each student and arranged the tags on a table by the front door of the classroom.
That next morning I was ready. I stood at the door eager to welcome my new students. While I was praying that none of them had gotten haircuts over the summer, they began to arrive. I greeted all the students by name, handed them a nametag, and invited them to sit down on the rug.
Standing outside on the yard, a number of parents watched the whole thing, wondering how I could possibly know the names of people I had never met. The students, themselves, were equally baffled. I felt fantastic. Before the school year was barely three minutes old, I had created a very favorable first impression and made a major deposit in what well-known author Stephen Covey refers to as the â€œEmotional Bank Accountsâ€ of my students and parents.
This proactive gesture had set the tone I wanted. For teachers, being proactive increases our credibility, strengthens our voice, and reaffirms our position of leadership. Making the effort to learn the names of my incoming students also created a sense of optimism and positivity among students and their families. Making this effort is especially valuable for children who have never before had successful school experiences. When their teachers communicate in an enthusiastic, upbeat tone, these kids will sense that this year may be different. They will know that they are in a new place with a new attitude, and they will feed off this optimism.
Begin the year with some sort of powerful, dramatic initiative. If you are unable to obtain a class list before the start of the year, do something the first day. Write a short, personalized note to each student, call each parent after school expressing how much you are looking forward to the year ahead, shoot each family an e-mail, or send a postcard through the mail. Just do something. The more novel, the better. A thoughtful gesture on your part will be remembered. As the old saying goes, we only have one chance to make a first impression.
Itâ€™s not enough to keep parents pleased, appeased, or out of our hair. If weâ€™re committed to bringing the best out of our students and teaching the whole child, we need to build and maintain long-term relationships of loyalty, trust, and respect with their parents. Investing the time and effort to work closely with parents throughout the year maximizes our chances of fulfilling our mission and achieving our goals. The following points provide a strong rationale as to why teachers should make parent involvement a top priority.
1. Parents are their childrenâ€™s first and most important teachers. Though not all teachers are parents, all parents are teachers. As such, they have the greatest impact on a studentâ€™s motivation to learn. Parents are usually eager to play a significant role in their childrenâ€™s education, but they often donâ€™t know how. By establishing caring relationships with parents, we can help them help their children.
2. Consistent communication between the home and school enables parents to reinforce the skills, knowledge, habits, and priorities that we emphasize in class. This fact is especially true in situations where our teaching methods and approaches may differ from the norm and require parent follow-up on a regular basis.
3. Itâ€™s important that teachers are aware of studentsâ€™ strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, areas of special sensitivity, and any factors at home that are affecting school performance. Parents are in the best position to provide this information and are usually glad do so when asked.
4. Students act, behave, and perform differently when they know that their parents and teachers communicate frequently.
5. Frequent communication earns parentsâ€™ confidence, trust, and respect. With open lines of communication, itâ€™s unlikely that feelings of uncertainty, mistrust, and alienation will ever arise. The favorable impression that we create makes problems easier to solve when they occur.
6. When teachers and parents communicate in a respectful manner, we model positive adult interactions for the kids. These occasions serve a pro-social function because many children, unfortunately, donâ€™t often have the opportunity to observe this type of relationship.
7. Parents can become our biggest supporters and most loyal allies. Should a colleague or supervisor ever doubt our methods or question our approach to teaching, these allies will be there to come to our defense.
8. Parents are often valuable classroom resources. The better we know parents, the more weâ€™ll be aware of the various ways in which they can assist the class. This assistance may come in such forms as classroom volunteering, donations of supplies and other materials, technology support, and arranging for special field trips.
9. Forming trusting relationships with parents can reduce the feelings of isolation that so many teachers, especially newer ones, often experience.
The parents of our students are our partners. Commit to making parent involvement a top priority as you begin the next school year. Keeping parents informed and involved on a consistent basis pays huge dividends as we focus on the academic, behavioral, and social needs of our students. In order for us to teach the whole child, we must work with and value the whole family.
As you begin a new school year, it is natural to think that you will do as well academically as you did last year. If, for example, you performed at a high level in reading and writing, but not quite as well in math and science, you may assume that all this will stay the same as you enter a new grade. It is easy to think that your strengths will still be strengths and your areas of difficulty will remain areas of difficulty.
It doesn't have to be this way.
If you say that you have never had much of an interest in reading for pleasure, this can be the year you develop a genuine love of reading. If you say that you have always been a poor speller, this can be the year you become a stronger speller. This year can be anything you want it to be.
In my opinion, as important as it is to be a great reader, writer, and mathematician, it is just as important to be a great dreamer and goal-setter. As human beings we have the wonderful ability to think about our lives, identify the things we like about our lives and the things we donâ€™t like, and choose to make a change. We can decide that we want better for ourselves.
Once we figure out what we want, we can focus our incredible energy on achieving the goals that will make a powerful difference in our lives. If you can think big and follow up those dreams with consistent hard work and dedication, you will gain a feeling of pride and happiness that nobody else can give you and nobody can take away from you. If you have a goal that you care about and if you are willing to put in a little extra time and effort, then extraordinary results can follow. You can make this the best year of school you have ever had. You may even surprise yourself by what you can accomplish.
All of this starts with a simple choice.
Last year one of my students made this choice, and watching the transformation that occurred after she made it was one of the highlights of my teaching career. During the first two months of the school year, this girl did many things well, but she also had her share of struggles. She didnâ€™t always complete her homework, and she missed two important publishing deadlines in our Writing Workshop. She and I had a meeting with her parents about these difficulties on a Friday afternoon, and she returned to school the following Monday a different person.
She had made the choice to dedicate herself 100% to becoming a quality student. She knew she wasnâ€™t living up to her enormous potential, and she wanted better for herself. That decision ignited a fantastic chain reaction. Immediately, she started trying harder and caring more about her school work. Then she began to receive positive feedback from her parents, her classmates, and myself about the improved quality of her work. Her confidence increased, and she felt prouder and more enthusiastic about school. After that, the most powerful step in the chain reaction happened.
She began to expect more from herself.
Her parents and I were there to support her, but she didnâ€™t need us very much. She was now the owner of her education, and she was fiercely determined to make every piece of work her best piece of work. She turned in excellent homework each Friday, her work became neater, and she wanted to excel in every subject area, even the ones she never believed were her strengths. She was operating with an attitude of no excuses and no limits.
This school year I strongly encourage you to make this same choice and dedicate yourself 100% to becoming the best student and person you can be. You can achieve anything you want to achieve - if youâ€™re willing to work like a champion with an enthusiastic, determined attitude.
If you are thinking that you canâ€™t do this, I am telling you that yes, you can. You can do anything to which you set your mind. Many people are ready to help you make this the best year of school you have ever had, but the choice is yours. The dedication and the desire have to come from you.
I once heard an inspiring TED Talk entitled â€œThe Happy Secret to Better Workâ€ by Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think Inc. A big idea in his 12-minute presentation is that in our society people tend to believe that we should work hard in order to be happy. Achor suggests that this way of thinking could be backwards. He argues that happiness makes us more productive, creative, and successful. Consequently, happiness should come first.
My eighteen years as a classroom teacher tell me that Achorâ€™s words contain a great deal of truth. I know, for example, that when my students start their school day in a good mood, they are likely to work hard, get along well with their classmates, embrace challenges, and produce quality work. On the other hand, when students enter the room angry about something that is happening with their friends or upset about something occurring at home, focusing on their school work can be a mighty struggle. It is an even larger struggle for kids who feel this way on most days.
Whenever I notice that someone in class appears to be off to a rough start on a given morning, I make it a point to speak privately with that person as soon as I can. As much as I want to jump in and focus on academic work, I understand that it is very difficult to relate to people on this level when they are preoccupied with other concerns. I need to help them change their mindset first. Once students are in a more positive frame of mind, then we can talk academics.
The question becomes, how do you achieve a more positive mindset when youâ€™re not feeling happy? At the end of his TED talk, Achor shares some ways that people can use to focus on the positive aspects of their lives and become happier. One of his ideas resonated with me, and upon hearing it, I immediately decided to incorporate it into my teaching. Achor asserts that individuals who try this idea for 21 straight days can train themselves to think differently about their lives and actually re-wire their brains.
The idea is to think of three things in your life for which you are grateful. So, for three weeks (fifteen consecutive school days) my students and I did this. At the end of our daily, morning movement warm-up routine, I gave everyone about a minute of quiet â€œthinkâ€ time. Then several volunteers shared their ideas with the class. During this daily gratitude activity the primary challenge was to think of new things every day. By the end of our three-week endeavor, the hope is that students, over time, would realize just how many positive things they have in their lives, and as a result, the classroom environment would change.
That is exactly what happened. I have a few students who tend to pout or complain when things donâ€™t go their way, and that behavior largely disappeared. Of course, I canâ€™t know for sure whether out daily gratitude activity was responsible for causing that change, but it is reasonable to believe that it played an important part. During this three-week period other positive signs emerged. The most powerful occurred anytime I met one-on-one with a student who seemed to be sad or lacking confidence. Though I met with the kids to discuss academic work, I didnâ€™t start talking with them about the task at hand right away. Instead, I first asked them to tell me their three ideas from that morning.
Doing that seemed to bolster their spirits, and then we could address the school work. The overall mood and effort level in the classroom also improved. Over the three weeks I was curious to see how student responses would evolve. Initially, I thought the kids might have difficulty generating new ideas after mentioning family, friends, school, food, shelter, and other familiar ideas, but that really didnâ€™t happen. Instead, the kids shared a wide variety of responses, including: health, our countryâ€™s freedom, classmates, freedom of religion, siblings, William Shakespeare, the environment, math, money, the opportunity to learn, peace, baseball teams, food, books, basketball, art, pets, the protection offered by police officers and firefighters, surgeons, trees, technology, the Sun, a warm bed, medicines, the library, grocery stores, tools, an efficient math system, and electronics.
Even though my students and I have concluded this initiative, I can now use it as a reference point for the remainder of the year. Our Putting Happiness First project is something we can revisit on a regular basis to help us build and maintain a sense of gratitude in our lives and a sense of perspective. During those inevitable times when things donâ€™t go your way and the bad seems to outweigh the good, you can remember coming up with forty-five positive things for which you feel grateful. Maybe that can help you ride out those difficult times and maintain a positive attitude, even when it feels difficult to do so.
Give this idea a try. It may help you find that positive mindset that is so critical for performing at your highest level and producing your highest quality, most creative work.
Many kids who have read my Chase Manning Mysteries have asked me which books I enjoyed reading as a child. The first author that comes to mind is Judy Blume. Two of her books, in particular, were my favorites: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. I must have read each of these books at least ten times.
When I read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, I would always put myself in Peter Hatcher's shoes and think about what it must be like to have a younger brother. I'm the youngest of three kids and don't have a younger sibling. I think about how embarrassing it must have been for Peter to have lunch with Fudge and watch him smear mashed potatoes on the wall of the restaurant or go shopping for shoes and see Fudge throw a tantrum on the floor. I thought that Peter and I had a lot in common, and I really connected with him. I like this book so much that I now read it aloud to my students every year.
I liked Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great for the exact opposite reason. My personality was nothing like Sheila Tubman's, and I think that's why I enjoyed reading about her. She whined, she complained, and she had a negative attitude. Even though these are not the character traits I endorse and promote to my students, I have to admit I found her to be very entertaining and funny.
In addition to Judy Blume's books, I loved reading the Encyclopedia Brown series, and this is probably where I acquired my love of mysteries. I must have read every book in the series, but the funny thing was, I could never solve any of the cases. Not once. If you're unfamiliar with the format of this series, each book contains approximately ten short mysteries. There is always one clue in each mystery that the reader needs to find to solve the case, and I couldn't do it!
My experience reading the Encyclopedia Brown series influenced me greatly as I set out to write my first mystery, Chase Against Time. As much as I loved the Encyclopedia Brown books, I didn't want my readers to encounter the same level of frustration that I had. Therefore, instead of having a set of shorter stories with only one suspect and one main clue in each, as those books tended to have, I decided to have only one mystery in each book and have multiple suspects in play and many clues that the reader would have to sort through. That way, readers would have more time and more opportunities to try to identify the real thief. Let's see if you can do it!
One of my very favorite things to do in my free time is exercise. I love to lift weights at the gym, take yoga classes, and run on the beach. I also enjoy playing golf and going for walks. With most of these activities, I can get a great workout while also spending time with my family and friends or listening to music.
Every year in my classroom, I ask my students what types of exercise they enjoy. Swimming, skateboarding, and playing handball and soccer are usually the most popular answers they give me. Many kids also mention activities, such as basketball, martial arts, and tennis.
Exercise is incredibly important for many reasons. First, itâ€™s a great way to stay in shape and get stronger. As I said earlier, itâ€™s also a way to spend time with others and have fun. You probably already knew this. What you might not know is that exercise can also help us do better in school. Physical activity has a powerful effect on our brains and makes it easier for us to pay attention in class and work hard for long periods of time without getting tired.
This is especially true if youâ€™re able to exercise before school. Some of my students ride their bikes in the morning, take walks with their families, or play games on the playground if they get to school early. Many schools are starting to schedule their PE or gym classes at the beginning of the day so that everyone can start their day with physical activity. I think thatâ€™s pretty cool.
I'm interested in finding out what you like to do for exercise. If you want to send me your ideas, Iâ€™d love to read them. Feel free to contact me.
The Ultimate Mystery Writing Course For Kids ($99)
This course on Udemy.com is designed for children 8-12 years of age who are interested in writing their own mysteries. National Board Certified elementary school teacher and award-winning author Steve Reifman takes young writers step-by-step from the beginning of the writing process to the end and helps them craft stories that keep readers guessing and on the edge of their seats! It doesn’t matter whether students are already seasoned mystery writers or brand new to the genre. This course promises to take children’s writing skills to the next level.
The course features:
* Unprecedented flexibility and convenience. The course consists of short, easy-to-follow videos that students can watch and pause whenever they wish and re-watch as necessary. Kids learn at their own pace and complete the course anytime, anyplace.
* Detailed handouts that give students the support and information they need
* Quality instruction from a National Board Certified teacher and award-winning children's author about all the elements that make mysteries so much fun to read and write!
* Numerous examples from Steve's book Chase Against Time that demonstrate important teaching points
* A focus on valuable writing habits, such as perseverance, pride, and paying attention to detail
* An emphasis on enjoying the writing process and developing a passion for reading and writing
The course is divided into four sections.
I. Getting Started
1) What is a Mystery?
2) What is the Crime?
3) Who is the Crime Solver?
4) Collecting Seeds
5) Trying Out Our Ideas
6) Making the Choice
II.Bringing The Characters to Life
7) Three-Dimensional Bone Structure
8) Character Change
9) Character “Back Story”
10) Who Did It?
11) List of Suspects
14) Ruling Out Suspects
III. Adding Other Mystery Elements
15) Hiding Clues
18) Red Herrings
19) Investigation Strategies
IV. Putting it All Together into a Story
21) Story Mountain
22) Chapter Plans
27) Reflecting & Celebrating
Note: The lessons in bold letters are essential to this mystery writing process. The other lessons are included to give children an extra challenge and provide them with a more complete writing experience.