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.
Published in Blog
   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.
Published in Blog
Tuesday, 18 September 2012 17:41

This is the Year

back to schoolAs 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 don’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 didn’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 wasn’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 didn’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 you’re willing to work like a champion with an enthusiastic, determined attitude.

If you are thinking that you can’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.

Published in For Kids