In this post I share an incredibly useful piece of teaching advice I learned from my friend and classroom management expert Angela Watson. (Check out her book The Cornerstone on amazon.) At the beginning of each school year, Watson tells her students that their actions and choices in the classroom influence her actions and choices as a teacher. In my experience, this announcement takes many children by surprise because they tend to think that all major class decisions are made by the teacher and that they really don't have a role in affecting those decisions. This approach to classroom management gives kids the incentive to show great judgment because the better judgment they show, the more responsibility they will have in determining the direction of the class.

For example, assume Katie and Allison wish to be desk partners. Using Watson's approach, we would let the kids give it a try. If they are able to focus on their work and use their time well, then they would be permitted to remain neighbors. In other words, we provide the opportunity, and the students have the incentive and the responsibility to make it work. Here's another example. Assume that students in my class work independently on all their class activities. One student, however, makes the suggestion that we should start working with partners during math time. Instead of saying no because we have never done this type of cooperative learning before, I would give it a shot to see how it goes, and their actions would determine the extent to which cooperative learning becomes a regular feature of classroom life.

For the past two years, during the first half hour of the first day of school, I have explicitly told my students that their actions and choices would influence mine. Pardon the pun, but this has become a "cornerstone" feature in my classroom, and the effect it has is immediate, positive, and lasting. Now, whenever my students have a suggestion about how our class should function, I (almost always) say yes and then give them the responsibility for making it work. Providing students with these opportunities is empowering and motivating.
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   As a general rule, I recommend that, as teachers, we try not to do things for children that they can do for themselves. Expecting students to do things for themselves develops independence and responsibility, and it furthers our efforts to develop self-directed learners. One example of this principle in action occurs each day when I walk with my students to the school cafeteria. When we arrive, I could easily grab our set of lunch cards and pass them out to the kids one at a time. Instead, I ask the first two students in line to get the cards and distribute them to their classmates. This may not seem like a big deal, but it encourages cooperation and promotes leadership, responsibility, and independence. When children do things like this throughout the day, these little moments add up to something substantial. Examples include cleaning the room thoroughly before they leave at the end of the day, carrying their own backpacks and other possessions to and from school, and managing their own supplies. Look for opportunities for your students to take on as much responsibility around the class as possible.
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Saturday, 14 December 2013 20:44

Leading By Example (Teaching Tip #109)

    During my graduate training at UCLA, an instructor once remarked to our class that no matter what subject any of us went on to teach, we would all impact our students most powerfully with the examples that we set. He cautioned us not to lose sight of the fact that though we may teach science or English, more than anything else, we are teaching ourselves; we are teaching who and what we are. Years later, when students look back on the time spent in our rooms, they might not remember all the content. They will remember us.   
    As classroom teachers, we need to pay very careful attention to the example we set for our students. This doesn’t mean that we have to be perfect or that we should hold ourselves to some unrealistic standard. It does, however, mean that we make every effort to model for our students the qualities and behaviors that we promote. When leaders walk their talk, they accomplish a great deal more than they do with words alone. For example, in the beginning of every school year, one of my main objectives is to create an environment of trust in my classroom. What is the most effective way for me to do that? Is it to establish a rule that everybody must trust everybody else? No. It is to be trustworthy. I must make and keep promises to my students so their trust in me grows. I show them how to play the role of trusted team member by playing it myself. Talking at my students will not achieve the same results. Leaders understand the power of a strong example.          
    Constantly look for ways to model the principles and attitudes you hold dear. Let your actions do the talking. For instance, to show how much you value physical fitness, change into your tennis shoes occasionally and participate in a class PE activity. Say “Please” and “Thank you” every chance you get in order to encourage the development of proper manners. Demonstrate the high priority you place on literacy by bringing in a book during silent reading time and joining in with the group. Share stories about your golf game or some other hobby to show your students how you apply the spirit of continuous improvement to your own life. Kids remember examples.
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An effective way to help students improve their ability to perform class routines is to use what educator Madeline Hunter calls “think-starters.” Imagine Randy has just handed me a paper with no name on it. If I said, “Put your name on it,” that would be a “think-stopper” because I am the one pointing out his mistake. On the other hand, if I asked him what he needed to do before handing me the paper, then I am helping Randy discover his own mistake. That would be a think-starter.

Asking him instead of telling him shifts the responsibility to Randy. Think-starters give students ownership of their behavior. By encouraging kids to reflect on their actions, think-starters help them internalize these habits and build their capacity for the future. While Randy may have forgotten to put his name on the paper this time, think-starters increase the likelihood that he will remember to do it next time.
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Inevitably, there will be times in our classrooms when things just seem a bit off. During these instances, for example, the typical level of focus and effort with which our students work may not be present or the kids may be having an unusually large number of arguments or problems on the playground with their peers.

In these moments it is important to remember the old adage, “As teachers, we don’t teach content; we teach children.” I always try to keep this idea in my mind, but I’m as guilty as anyone of forgetting it every once in a while. I may be so focused on rehearsing the steps of the math lesson I’m about to teach on a given morning that I am mentally unprepared to address the recess argument that’s still bubbling over when the kids return to class after the bell.

Teaching Tips 5-7 described the creation of a Class Mission Statement and explained how this founding document can be used throughout the year to establish a sense of purpose in our rooms.  Later in the year, we can follow up this initial effort with the creation of personal mission statements.  Participating in this powerful exercise promises to help students better understand the purposes of their learning, improve their behavior, work with greater motivation and enthusiasm, and find greater meaning in their work.  I simply cannot imagine myself teaching without this tool.

The Teaching Tips will focus on the topic of personal mission statements for the next three weeks.

Week 1: Introducing the Personal Mission Statement
Week 2: A Step-by-Step Process for Creating a Personal Mission Statement
Week 3: Personal Mission Boxes


Teaching Tips 5-7 described the creation of a Class Mission Statement and explained how this founding document can be used throughout the year to establish a sense of purpose in our rooms.  Later in the year, we can follow up this initial effort with the creation of personal mission statements.  Participating in this powerful exercise promises to help students better understand the purposes of their learning, improve their behavior, work with greater motivation and enthusiasm, and find greater meaning in their work.  I simply cannot imagine myself teaching without this tool.

The Teaching Tips will focus on the topic of personal mission statements for the next three weeks.

Week 1: Introducing the Personal Mission Statement
Week 2: A Step-by-Step Process for Creating a Personal Mission Statement
Week 3: Personal Mission Boxes


Teaching Tips 5-7 described the creation of a Class Mission Statement and explained how this founding document can be used throughout the year to establish a sense of purpose in our rooms.  Later in the year, we can follow up this initial effort with the creation of personal mission statements.  Participating in this powerful exercise promises to help students better understand the purposes of their learning, improve their behavior, work with greater motivation and enthusiasm, and find greater meaning in their work.  I simply cannot imagine myself teaching without this tool.

The Teaching Tips will focus on the topic of personal mission statements for the next three weeks.

Week 1: Introducing the Personal Mission Statement
Week 2: A Step-by-Step Process for Creating a Personal Mission Statement
Week 3: Personal Mission Boxes


 This week’s tip concludes our current theme: establishing an effective morning routine that prepares students for a great day of learning.  Every morning my students and I participate in a four-part morning movement warm-up.  Executing these movements helps my students achieve what I consider to be an ideal mindset for learning: calm, relaxed, focused, and confident.  During this four week period I describe the four movements, one per week.  This week I describe the final part of our warm-up, hook-ups.


After students have had the opportunity to energize themselves during the first two parts of our routine, our goal for the third and fourth parts is to help them become calm and relaxed.  Hook-ups are an important part of that effort.

 This week’s tip continues our current theme: establishing an effective morning routine that prepares students for a great day of learning.  Every morning my students and I participate in a four-part morning movement warm-up.  Executing these movements helps my students achieve what I consider to be an ideal mindset for learning: calm, relaxed, focused, and confident.  During this four week period I describe these four movements, one per week.  This week I describe the third part of our warm-up, deep breathing.


After students have had the opportunity to energize themselves during the first two parts of our routine, our goal for the third and fourth parts is to help them become calm and relaxed.  Deep breathing is an important part of that effort.

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