Tuesday, 31 August 2010 17:45

Tip #2: The First Day Letter

Over the next several weeks the Teaching Tips will connect to the four beginning-of-the-year priorities I introduced last week.  This tip addresses the fourth priority: communicating with students’ familes in a proactive manner.


The First Day Letter is the educational equivalent of a movie trailer.  It offers a sneak preview of the year ahead, whetting parents’ appetite for what’s to come.  The First Day Letter is a sincere articulation of who you are, what you value, and what you hope to accomplish.  Your words paint a picture for parents of what the upcoming months will look like and create a sense of possibility, optimism, and excitement by charting the direction in which you want to take the class.  Writing a First Day Letter provides you with your first and best opportunity to establish your leadership of the class, build goodwill, and capture parents‘ attention.

Sunday, 15 April 2012 17:41

Happiness and Gratitude

happinessI once heard an inspiring TED Talk entitled “The Happy Secret to Better Work” 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 Achor’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 you’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 “think” 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 don’t go their way, and that behavior largely disappeared. Of course, I can’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 didn’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 didn’t happen. Instead, the kids shared a wide variety of responses, including: health, our country’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 don’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.

Published in For Kids
This blog post marks the end of my 13-week series on nurturing students’ intrinsic motivation. As I  close out my discussion of this topic, I want to distinguish between recognitions and rewards.  Many consider them to be one in the same.  In fact, I vividly recall a course I taught to a group of teachers where I was pointing out the dangers of using extrinsic rewards and suggesting instead the nurturing of intrinsic motivation based on the ideas described in this blog series.  One member of the group, however, drew the conclusion that, because some of the recognition ideas involve notes and certificates, now we are supposed to give students rewards but call them recognitions instead.  He saw no clear difference between the two approaches.

Published in Blog
In my previous blog post I described how consistent, thoughtful recognition can make students feel valued, boost self-esteem, and nurture intrinsic motivation. In this blog post I will present a list of ways, formal and informal, in which teachers and students can offer recognition on a regular basis.  Try as many of these options as you can.  You will notice an immediate change in your classroom environment.

Published in Blog

Introduction

This blog series has reached the tenth and final force I have identified that brings out the best in children by appealing to the best in them.

Instead of trying to gain temporary obedience from our students through the use of rewards and punishments, these forces help us in our attempts to win our students’ hearts and minds and enlist a genuine commitment to the worthwhile aims and objectives we are trying to promote in our classrooms.

Published in Blog

Introduction

This blog series continues with a description of the 9th force (out of 10) I have identified that brings out the best in children by appealing to the best in them.

Instead of trying to gain temporary obedience from our students through the use of rewards and punishments, these forces help us in our attempts to win our students’ hearts and minds and enlist a genuine commitment to the worthwhile aims and objectives we are trying to promote in our classrooms.

Published in Blog

Introduction

This blog series rolls on with a description of the 8th force (out of 10) I have identified that brings out the best in children by appealing to the best in them.

Instead of trying to gain temporary obedience from our students through the use of rewards and punishments, these forces help us in our attempts to win our students’ hearts and minds and enlist a genuine commitment to the worthwhile aims and objectives we are trying to promote in our classrooms.

Published in Blog

Introduction

After sharing a story in last week’s blog post about the “bird signal” I used with a former student in an attempt to inspire him to be his very best, I return this week to describing the forces that nurture intrinsic motivation.  This post introduces the 7th of 10 forces I have identified that bring out the best in children by appealing to the best in them.

Instead of trying to gain temporary obedience from our students through the use of rewards and punishments, these forces help us in our attempts to win our students’ hearts and minds and enlist a genuine commitment to the worthwhile aims and objectives we are trying to promote in our classrooms.

Published in Blog

 In this blog post I build on the premise of my previous post by sharing a story about how we can use inspiration in our classrooms to bring out the best in students and nurture their intrinsic motivation to learn and grow.

The story features a previous student of mine whom we shall call Gary.

Published in Blog

 In this blog post I continue describing the forces that nurture intrinsic motivation.  Instead of trying to gain temporary obedience from our students through the use of rewards and punishments, these forces help us in our attempts to win our students’ hearts and minds and enlist a genuine commitment to the worthwhile aims and objectives we are trying to promote in our classrooms.

Published in Blog
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