Tag Archives: Motivation

Relationships First…or “I Still Want to Be Miss Findlater!”

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“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do.” (Hale, 1870) That is the heart of a teacher! That was the heart of Carol Findlater, my fourth grade teacher and inspiration. Miss Findlater loved and lived passionately and instilled in each student confidence of success. I write about Miss Findlater here, because she connected students to herself in a way that transcended the sharing of content knowledge and physical space for nine months, and she instilled a passion for life, not just learning, that continues to inspire my own learning and teaching years later.

Miss Findlater shared her life with her students; I will never forget the day she burst into the room (she typically burst) and cried out to her beloved 8 year-olds, “You have to hear this!” She proceeded to share Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” and to this day, I love and quote the words: 

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! (Lazarus, 1883). 

I believe that Miss Findlater saw her students as “yearning to breathe free” and she committed herself to breathe life into each of us. In fact, I do not recall wanting to become a teacher because I loved children or even had a desire to help students. As I reflected on Miss Findlater’s influence recently, I realized that I wanted to become a teacher because I wanted to be fully alive just as Miss Findlater was passionately alive. She presented “an authentic self to students” (Phelps, 2006). In 1966, most of the adult women I knew were homemakers. Miss Findlater was an adult woman who read and wrote poetry, and sang songs to us like “MacArthurPark” even though we could not comprehend the meanings, and roared with laughter when we played, and cried true tears when we hurt.

Thinking about Miss Findlater, I decided to visit the alumni page of my old neighborhood school, and yes, many students had written of their memories of Miss Findlater. For instance, a boy from my same fourth grade class recalled:

A quickie about Miss Findlater. She was my 4th grade teacher at Peter Burnett. She was one of my favorite teachers I’ve ever had. She was so nice. When I was the window monitor and put my hand through the window and cut four of my fingers nearly completely off she was so concerned she came to the hospital with me. I remember her very fondly (Jones, 1998).

Another former student wrote:

I was an adult the last time I saw Miss Findlater (can’t remember the year, late 70s maybe).  I visited her at Peter Burnett School. Hadn’t seen her in years. She came out from the teacher’s lounge and recognized me immediately (Wright, 1998).

Those students who were fortunate enough to have Miss Findlater never had to worry that they would “go through school and have no one know what you looked like” (Corbett, D., Wilson, B., & Williams, B, 2005). When Miss Findlater passed away, I attended her funeral, along with the entire neighborhood. Many of us who had traveled a fair distance and arrived only a half hour before the service, had to stand outside as the church was full. We stood, with dignity, and we knew that Miss Findlater had touched each of us with respect, and love, and life.

As I think about Carol Findlater, I admit that I am closely looking at where and whom I teach. I long to be and continue to admire those teachers who are the Carol Findlaters of their schools. All schools, regardless of location, public or private, have students who need life breathed into them – who feel like “huddled masses” in the midst of an environment where everyone else seems to be in control. Those are the students I want to teach. I want to teach those “huddled masses” – those who feel disenfranchised, not quite fitting; instilling a passion for learning because all students deserve the tools to succeed. Of course, desire is the first step.

The next step is taking the risks involved to be that type of teacher. Phelps (2006) notes that Barth wrote “one thought-provoking question for teachers to consider regularly is: “How much are you prepared to risk of what is familiar, comfortable, safe, and perhaps working well…in the name of better education for others?” (Phelps, 2006) That question hits like a slap in the face! Do I risk anything for my students? Do I truly advocate for students? (Phelps, 2006). More recently, Aaron Hogan encourages teachers to risk vulnerability (Hogan, 2017). Vulnerability means I share myself even if I fear “it’s not cool” enough for my kids because when I share myself, they feel safe to share themselves. I open up and say, “Hey, you know, I like this. What do you like?” And then I listen, with vulnerability, knowing that what they share with me might be awkward or disagreeable or actually fun — it’s taking the risk to know each one as he or she is, without expectation of what each one should be.

I have an interesting, evolving role; I hope as I continue in whatever capacity I am in and wherever I am, to strive to breathe life-giving respect and passion into my students daily. “I am only one, but I am someone; I cannot do everything, but I can do something” and I will (Hale, 1994).

References

Corbett, D., Wilson, B., & Williams, B, D., Wilson, B., & Williams, B. (2005). No choice but successEducational Leadership, 62 (6), 8–12.

Hogan, A. (2017).  Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help you THRIVE as an Educator. Dave Burgess Consulting, Incorporated.

Phelps, P. H. (2006). The three Rs of professionalismKappa Delta Pi Record, 42 (2), 69–71. Used by permission of Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education.

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Readers Read…and so do my middles!

goodreads exampleIt’s Christmas break and I update my latest reading on my Goodreads account, and then it hits me! I’d been lamenting the lack of enthusiasm for reading among my 7th and 8th graders, and I couldn’t seem to motivate reading for fun. My middles were used to reading for points, for prizes, for grades — but not for any of the reasons that last after school gets out. This was last year, my first year back in the classroom as a middle school teacher in 30 years, and my first year back as a classroom teacher in 12 years. So much had changed in terms of popular culture, technology, and standards. Nothing, however, posed more of a frustration to me than this apathy and even antipathy toward reading among my students. And then, as I said, it hit me!

My kids don’t see people reading; they don’t encounter peers who read or adults in their lives who read just for the fun of it. I knew this because early in the semester, when we talked about “active reading,” I asked my students to interview three adults about their reading habits. Questions included: “What and when do you read for your job?” and “What and when do you read for pleasure?” Most students interviewed adults they knew; some interviewed people on the street. All found that many people admitted that they don’t read much for pleasure, but they do read during their work-day — texts, emails, memos, and professional reading, for example.

When I updated my progress that day during Christmas break last year, I thought about all of the books I’d read, and all of the people I’d met through Goodreads, and all of the books I’d tried because of Goodreads recommendations. My yearly thrill is completing my Goodreads Reading Challenge and seeing my stats at the end of the year — okay, so that is kind of like reading for points, I’ll admit. Anyway, I suddenly realized that my middles need two things: time to read and people with whom to share their reading! So I revamped my whole approach when we returned to class after Christmas break.

First, I gave my students 15 to 20 minutes each class period to read. We have 90-minute class sessions, so I just reworked my planning and that time for reading became sacred. Secondly, I created a Goodreads group for our school. I invited all of our school’s staff, administrators, and counselors to join “Legacy Reads” so that my kids could see what their teachers and principal are reading — and that they do read. I did have to keep the group private because I need to ensure my students’ privacy with parents. During that semester, I posted a question each week for students to answer on our group page, and each student kept track of their independent reading on their personal Goodreads page.

During the summer, I scoured thrift stores for books to add to our classroom library, bought throw pillows, a chair, and the softest rug ever to surround our library area. This year, kids could opt to read wherever they felt comfortable — and they did! why people read - 3 We set reading goals for the year, noted books we completed with stars and reviews, and shared opinions on our group discussion page. I could see which books kids loved and talk with kids about what they were reading as they were reading, rather than logging in to a program to check a quiz score. I also encouraged parents to take pictures of their kids reading at home and send the photos to me. I then enlarged the photos, printed them, and posted them on the bulletin boards and on our class web pages. I wanted to immerse my kids in an environment of reading for fun. So satisfying to hear a student say, “You have to read this!” Or to see kids smiling as they read silently. Or see that one student has sent a book recommendation to another. Or have a parent stop me in the hall to express wonder that her active 8th-grade son reads after baseball practice because he wants to and asks her to get more books!

The real joy came, however, two weeks after school got out. I was updated my Goodreads page with my latest reading and saw several updates from my students. I wasn’t checking up on them; they didn’t have to update for class. They just continue to read and give stars and share opinions about books. Readers read…and so do my middles now!

 

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Steps…

Today I see the small steps — the step to meet with a teacher rather than pretending help is not needed, the step to list three main points from the history reading rather than skipping the reading altogether, the step to read a chapter in the assigned novel rather than trusting Sparknotes. These small steps, so few, may lead to the next step and the next, and I recognize and value them. Each struggling student who takes a step is to be encouraged — and I cannot let any of us get mired in the journey by entrapping our feet in the mud of “but why don’t you…” or “still you need to…”

Today I see the small steps — the step to speak with gentleness, the step to affirm first, the step to value all steps.

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“Find out what it is in life that you don’t do well; and then, don’t do that thing”

One of the best hugs I received at this year’s high school graduation was from a student named Brett who literally exuded both pride and relief as we lined up for the ceremony; he’d made it! I’d worked with Brett when he was a sophomore, helping him develop independent learning strategies and executive functioning skills. I hadn’t seen him much since his sophomore year until the end of 3rd quarter, this year, his senior year, when he walked into my room and simply said, “I need help.” With those three words, Brett exhibited several characteristics that led to his successfully completing his senior year. According to Dr. Marshall Raskind, (2004), “there is a ‘spirit’ of optimism…based on knowing that, despite an early ‘poor prognosis’ or having to face great adversity, some individuals with LD ‘beat the odds’ and go on to lead productive, satisfying, and rewarding lives” because they have “certain factors like self-awareness, internal locus of control, proactivity, realistic goal setting, and strong support systems promote positive life outcomes” (King-Sears, Boudah, Goodwin, Raskind, & Swanson). Brett, self-aware, recognized he was in trouble, pro-actively determined on his own to seek help, knew where to find support in setting goals for repairing the academic damage done during that 3rd quarter, and took action steps with the first one being coming to my room that day.

Brett knew where to come for help because when we first worked together, two years prior, we had worked on several of the 6 Success Attributes listed in Robert Langston’s book The Power of Dyslexic Thinking. I didn’t realize that we were doing so, but I’m glad that I had made developing students’ self-awareness, pro-activity, perseverance, goal-setting, use of support systems and coping strategies part of my Academic Success Program. In fact, this knowledge of the 6 Attributes fits with the name of my program. When I first created the program and introduced it, I called it the Academic Support Program; after a few months and working with the kids, I realized that the name didn’t inspire. Some kids felt it meant they “needed special help” and checked out of the program, either physically or mentally. So I suggested to my administrator that we change the name to the Academic Success Program because the program’s purpose is to help students develop the executive functioning skills needed to “do school” successfully. We knew that the students were intellectually capable, but they needed to develop the strategies for success that other students seemed to inherently know or be able to do. The name stuck and for the past 10 years, without realizing it, my kids have been working on learning independence and developing attributes for success.

I will admit that imparting the value of the attributes to my students is more challenging than engaging my students in activities that develop the attributes. Perhaps this is because they are high school students who do not want to be talked “at” when they meet with me. If we get involved in doing something immediately, I can talk about the values, but an activity’s relevance to the student’s success often speaks louder than my words can. With that said, I plan to share in a series of posts how I approach sharing with my students and helping them develop these 6 Success Attributes, beginning this week with “Self-Awareness.” I’ll also mention now that I highly recommend reading The Power of Dyslexic Thinking – every teacher should dare to read this book — guaranteed paradigm shift!

Self-Awareness

Langston notes that “self-aware people with learning disabilities know the types of problems they have and how they impact their lives, as well as their strengths and talents. While they recognize their limitations, they’re not defined by them.” Sometimes when a student first starts meeting with me, he does see himself as “lazy,” or “unmotivated,” or “dumb” – a label, either directly or indirectly attached to the student, has become how he defines himself. I’ve seen those kids who sit across from me and expect me to point out their bad grades and say “this is why you need me.” I’ve had to deal with tense moments when the parent comes with the student and points out bad grades and says, “This is why you need her!” I find that often in order to help a student develop self-awareness and ‘redefine’ himself, I need to do all I can to “learn” that kid. I use questionnaires to guide conversations with the student. I like the suggestion from Ficksman and Adelizzi (2010) about using “questionnaires regarding likes and dislikes, executive functioning skills, writing samples, how well the game of school is played, and the like” (p.36). I also like questionnaires because they keep the conversation somewhat focused – I have ADHD, I am often meeting with a student who has ADHD, and I wish I could have recorded some of the meetings I’ve had when this is the case because our conversations do not follow any type of a linear path at all and I find it completely ironic that I am in this role of leading the way.

The learning issues that I typically see in my students are ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, central auditory processing disorder, Asperger’s, Autism, and related issues. When I have a sense of who the student is, how he feels about himself, his temperament, and what he understands about his own strengths and weaknesses, I can move forward in building on my own sense and helping my student develop a clear sense of his strengths. This may involve first demystifying his learning issue. For example, when I take out my picture of the brain and show a kid where his “pre-frontal lobe” is and then share that that part of the brain doesn’t mature until the early 20’s, I have his attention. I can then say something like, “You know what, Jon, your pre-frontal lobe works differently, and not only that, it’s still maturing. So you’re not “Irresponsible” when you forget about an assignment; your brain just didn’t file that input as expected. Let’s figure out a way to sort out your brain’s filing system.” When Jon realizes how his brain functions, and that he does not need to define himself as “ADHD” as if it’s a synonym for “irresponsible”, he begins to see what he CAN do because he emotionally is ready to do so.  Langston explains this in the chapter about Paul Orfalea when he reasons that when society says you should be able to do something and you can’t do it, “then in your mind—whether anybody’s saying it or not (and a lot of times they are)—you think you’re stupid. What we need to get out there is that dyslexia is about how the brain is ‘wired,’ not about being stupid” (Langston, 2014).

The kid, who believes the labels, can’t build on his strengths – too much emotional energy is being used up with the negative thoughts. When Jon says, “Oh, okay, I guess if I keep a planner, I can help myself remember,” he exhibits a positive self-awareness that then allows him to move forward so that he can later say, “I am really good at thinking up ideas for group projects” and offer that strength to others, letting someone else in the group keep track of monitoring progress on the project completion. I plan to emphasize some of the stories in our text with my students that relate to this self-awareness and building on strengths. I loved the comments from Paul Smith, who avoided his office because it was filled with paperwork that he couldn’t do and who noted, “I never did those kinds of things. And fortunately, being president, I really didn’t have to, and I think it made me a better president; ” Langston follows up Smith’s words with the insight that relates to this self-awareness I just discussed: “Paul knew what he wasn’t good at, so he focused on what he could do well” (Langston, 2014). This reminds me of a commercial that I find funny and yet true – the “Most Interesting Man in the World” philosophizes, “Find out what it is in life that you don’t do well; and then, don’t do that thing.”

References

Ficksman, M., & Adelizzi, J. U. (2010). The clinical practice of educational therapy: A teaching model. New York: Routledge.

King-Sears, Margaret E. et al., “Timely and Compelling Research for the Field of Learning Disabilities: Implications for the Future,” Learning Disability Quarterly 27, no. 2 (2004), http://www.questia.com/read/1G1-121279906 .

Robert Langston (2012-04-26). The Power of Dyslexic Thinking AuthorHouse. Kindle Edition.

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Relationships are the means and the end…

Teaching high school English and creatively approaching curriculum has always been a passion, and I am a task-oriented person; as I reflect on my position, now, as a Learning Specialist, however, I am seeing that my priority is my relationship with each of my students. When my focus is on achievement, the daily activities spur me on and provide a sense of accomplishment, but in truth, “the desire to achieve and to see ourselves mirrored in achievement” does not fulfill at the end of the day (Tompkins, 1996, p.199). Sonia Nieto (2003) quotes Karen Gelzinis who writes, “the older I get, the less it is about me feeling good about what I do” and then Karen concludes that the students are the most important (p.114). “Mindfulness” is the buzzword of the season, and yes, this must be my focus; “being in, being for, and being with” my students (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 49).
 
My renewed mission for next year, as I reflect this summer, is to develop my understanding of my students, collectively as learners and individually as gifts in my life; to prepare my students for life, showing them how to establish their own values and modeling respect and integrity; and finally and most importantly, to nurture relationships with my students that will grow out of my commitment to them as learners and contributors to my life. My specific goals, as I focus on this mission, will be to provide a safe environment for students; to establish personal relationships with each student; to establish personal relationships with their parents, to the fullest extent possible; to provide additional resources to my school’s students and parents, via web site, email and mailings; to learn more about student-motivation and learning so that I can more effectively affirm students in meeting academic responsibilities and in becoming independent learners.
 
My first goal is to provide a safe environment for students to come during their hectic day, to study, get homework help, and to work with peers. My classroom is actually designated the “Academic Success Center”. The Academic Success Center provides students with a place to study individually and with peers, in an informal environment. Students use the room as a student lounge throughout the day. I strive for comfort in the room set-up; I group tables, offer cushioned swivel chairs, and keep a never-ending supply of Hershey’s Kisses and the makings for hot cocoa available. As the students spend open periods and lunch periods in my room, I hope to develop relationships of trust and respect with them, that they will feel safe and see me as a “teacher who went beyond academics and became a mentor, confidant, and positive model for personal identification” (Vitto, 2003, p.4).  In addition, I want students to build safe relationships with each other as they collaboratively study or meet with peer tutors. I plan to set up a board for sharing “Secrets to Success” on which students can write study strategies that they have found helpful and that they want to share with their peers. If students eagerly add their advice, then we have established a non-threatening environment and relationships that encourage learning together. I want all students who enter the Academic Success Center to believe they are successful and can contribute to the success of others.
 
I meet with students individually. As my second goal, I resolve to celebrate students’ successes and to “assist them in coping with failure” (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 41). The Academic Success Program provides academic support to individual students who struggle with executive functioning. Within the program, my role of Learning Specialist includes providing individual instruction, encouragement, and accountability over the period of a full semester to a year, depending on the individual student’s needs. As I meet with a student, I want to listen more than talk, and ask more than answer. In the same way that I am learning about my teaching through reflection, I want my students to understand how they learn by reflecting on their actions as learners. All students have the capacity for success, given that they exhibit curiosity, demonstrate potential to learn, experiment with new ideas, ask questions, and examine ideas. Not all students succeed, however, due to attention issues, poor or ill-timed questions, lack of organization, inability to complete tasks, inappropriate participation or lack of participation in discussion, lack of discernment as to what information is important. I hope to ask questions that prompt each student to “be aware of the state of one’s own mind and the degree of one’s own understanding. The good student may be one who often says that he does not understand, simply because he keeps a constant check on his understanding” (Dembo, 2000, p. 23). I talk daily with students who believe they cannot learn, that they are unintelligent. These students have repeatedly struggled in school due to the issues mentioned earlier in this paragraph. My goal is to develop a relationship of trust with each  student so that when I affirm that the student is capable and gifted and will succeed, he or she will know it is true. It has been noted that “some students believe that ability or intelligence is fixed. That is, people are born with a certain amount of ability and there is not much that can be done about it” (Dembo, 2000, p. 7). My mission is to change that misperception and to advocate for, encourage, and celebrate each success. With that in mind, I will have each student compile a “Success Portfolio” to share with their parents at the end of the semester. Each student will share how they have developed their learning skills, and the parents and I will cheer and applaud.
 
Nurturing this team-spirit and including students’ parents is vital and is my third goal. Currently, I email each parent weekly after meeting with their son or daughter. My emails are chatty in nature, sharing the progress of the student and indicating areas we will work on that week. I need parental support, but I’m finding that my weekly encouragement is valued by the parents. When a child struggles with “doing school,” the whole family is affected. Every dinner conversation is punctuated with “why didn’t you do that assignment” or “you forgot that paper at home again” or “how could you not know about the test today.” Students who struggle with school struggle with life; and that is what truly frightens their parents and prompts the angry reactions to the child’s mistakes. A student who struggles in math can get help and will improve in comprehension. A student who struggles to remember to do assignments and then where he put them and when to turn them in lives life like a pinball, batted from one mistake to the next. These are the students with whom I work. Their parents are the ones I understand because I am one also. My goal is to decrease the number of angry or painful conversations at home while I help students develop strategies for handling school. I hope to serve as a facilitator / negotiator during conferences between students and parents. I promise to offer empathy when frustrations build and to “appreciate rather than to evaluate families’ successes and struggles with their children” (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 77).
 
Relationships are the means and the end. Soren Kierkegaard was noted as saying, “The irony of life is that it is lived forward but understood backward” (Loughran, 2002). So reflecting and then looking forward, I set this mission before me to know more about my students collectively and individually, to support students and parents as I model my belief in my students’ ability to succeed and to continually nurture these relationships in my life.

References
Dembo, M (2000). Motivation and learning strategies for college success: A self-management approach . Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
 
Frank, P. (1999). Becoming a reflective teacher: Define your teaching goals and continue to reevaluate them. ASCD Catalyst. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/teachexperience/tresk030605.html?mode=print
 
Intrator, S & Scribner, M (Eds.). (2003). Teaching with fire: Poetry that sustains the courage to teach. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
 
Kottler, J. A., Zehm, S. J., & Kottler, E. (2005). On being a teacher: The human dimension (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
 
Loughran, J (2002). Effective reflective practice: In search of meaning in learning about teaching. Journal of Teacher Education53, Retrieved from http://www.questia.com/read/5000686594
Nieto, S. (2003). What keeps teachers going? New York: Teachers College Press.
Ritchhart, R (2002). Intellectual character: what it is, why it matters, and how to get it . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
 
Tompkins, J (1996). A life in school: What the teacher learned . Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
 
Vitto, J (2003). Relationship-driven classroom management: Strategies that promote student motivation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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Focus this year…

“The teacher is probably the single most important factor affecting student achievement — at least the single most important factor that we can do much about” (Marzano, 2003, p. 1). The second half of that statement strikes me as the most crucial to consider. The classroom environment today is affected by so many variables such as the increase in students with diagnosed learning differences, the increasing number of students coming from varying language backgrounds, the increase in the number of students living in or near poverty, the prevalence of social issues/influences toward negative behaviors, and more students, from a younger age, living in families that undergo redefining throughout the child’s school years. All of these changes affect student behavior in one way or another, and therefore, we are wise to prepare for those effects by understanding our own role in the classroom, by preparing our classroom expectations with as much foresight as possible, and by striving to create a culture of caring and learning in the areas within our control.

With this in mind, I recognize a key area in which I would like to improve as I learn to establish a positive classroom environment for my students. I don’t face classroom management issues, per se, because I work with students individually, yet, as I look at my daily interactions, I ask myself if my words and actions are helping students to learn. For me, this means to not only know my students’ grades, but more importantly, to establish relationships with each student so that I understand how to best support their learning. I’m reminded of an illustration depicting a pot cooking over a fire on a tripod like one used when camping. The legs of the tripod are lashed together at the center to form a cradle for the pot, and the legs must work together to avoid collapse and the toppling of the pot. Student’s academic success is the pot and the three legs are the student, the parents, and the school; if we are missing one of those legs, we may lose the pot. As suggested in the earlier quote, I often can’t do much about the other two legs, but I can definitely take responsibility for my own sturdiness in supporting my students’ success. I want to show my students that I see their effort and I respect them…my role in this relationship is “one of engaging students in the hard work of school: the continuous cycle of studying, producing, correcting mistakes, and starting over again” as a coach, listening between the words for feelings of discouragement or doubt or even of accomplishment and always visibly respecting and accepting the student…this is the type of relationship that will “encourage both confidence and high achievement in students.” (Alderman, 2004, p. 14)

A by-product of the relationships established with students will be the influence I can have in helping them more effectively solve their own learning problems and conflicts. I do have the role of liaison between teacher and student, but I would like to do more with role-playing and showing students how to positively interact with their teachers to resolve concerns before I get involved in the situation. In the past, I have found myself engaged in conversations that really the student should have had with the teacher. My students may come to me flaming with indignation at the unfairness of a grade or classroom situation; I want to improve my ability to diffuse the anger and help the student work through the issue. Role-playing with the student will enable the student to vent, and if I play the role of devil’s advocate, the student may be able to better understand the teacher’s motives or reasoning. At that point, the student and I can brainstorm possible ways to handle the situation and practice what the student can say when talking with the teacher so as to avoid a confrontation. Many of my students need social skills training and do not realize that their approaches do put their teachers on the defensive, which rarely leads to positive resolutions. As Jones and Jones (2007) point out, although I cannot necessarily change my student’s attitude toward a teacher or situation, I can show him “more positive and productive methods for responding to corrections from” or differences of opinion with adults (p. 418).

According to Alderman (2004) “four broad conditions…clarity of purpose, fairness, personal support, and success—are integrated into a climate of caring” (p. 204). By continuing to study the social factors and school factors that influence behavior, by working closely with parents when possible, by communicating acceptance to my students, and by serving as a model to my students of conflict-resolution and problem-solving, I hope to more pro-actively meet the needs of my students and create that positive learning environment this year.

References

Alderman, K (2004). Motivation for achievement: Possibilities for teaching and learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Jones, V., & Jones, L. (2007). Comprehensive classroom management: Creating communities of support and solving problems (Laureate Education, Inc., custom 8th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Marzano, R. J., Marzano, J. S., & Pickering, D. J. (2003). Classroom management that works: Research-based strategies for every teacher. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Phelps, P. H. (2006). The three Rs of professionalism. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 42(2), 69–71.

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To Teach With Power, Tranquility, and Grace

To Teach With Power, Tranquility, and Grace

Kottler, Zehm, Kottler assert in On Being a Teacher: The Human Dimension  that “teachers who appear in charge of their own lives, who radiate power, tranquility, and grace in their actions, are going to command attention and respect. Their students will follow them anywhere” (Kottler, et. al, 2005, p. 22). This power, tranquility, and grace are the markers of self-efficacy and professionalism, and I strive to develop them through on-going reflective practice, continual renewal both personally and professionally, and in teaching from a deep-seated conviction that all students deserve my best no matter what looms on the political/environmental horizon.

Reflective practice may occur on the first day of school, after the first activity, when I pause and look out on the class and muse, “Yes, this is what it’s all about” or wonder “How can I involve more of the students” or the on the first day of summer break when I ask myself “what worked and what didn’t work this year and what do I want to create, develop, learn during this summer to improve next year?” Reflective practice takes place continuously within and beyond the classroom, as I reflect on what is being taught, why it is being taught, and most importantly, who is being taught. In fact, when I reflect on these questions, the focus becomes what do I “believe children should receive as a result of their educational experiences” and in turn, what do I want to give to enrich my students’ educational experiences (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 13). When I focus on what my students need, I reflect on what I am giving in terms of content-area skills, in terms of life skills and experiences, and in terms of my students’ confidence in their own abilities and potential. Reflection leads to the development of expertise in my subject area, and leads to self-efficacy – the belief that I can contribute to changing lives. One may teach for many years, and may indeed be considered a competent teacher, but truly experience alone proves  “hollow without reflection” (Nieto, 2003, p. 9). I think of musicians. When I listen to Yo Yo Ma play the cello, I am drawn into not only the music, but also the passion of the musician himself. This differs greatly from listening to the amateur who practices the cello, mastering the technique of bow and finger-placement, but who does not feel the music flowing through every part of him as he plays. When an artist with passion plays, every movement from head to toe exudes life; I not only desire to develop pedagogical techniques, but also passion for those I teach – then I will exude life – power, tranquility, and grace.

Reflective practice naturally leads to continual renewal of my personal and professional self. With regard to my personal identity, reflective practice motivates me to examine my own experiences when seeking vital connections with students. If my job is “not only to teach children, but first to interest them in learning” then I must be an interesting person with interesting experiences to share (Kottler, et al, 2005, p.17). Kottler, Zehm, and Kottler note that Parker Palmer state “We teach who we are” (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 19); I must develop my own identity in order to have anything worth giving to my students that will help them form their own identities. When I read for pleasure, attend cultural or sporting events, or spend time with friends on the weekend, I want to bring those joys into the classroom on Monday morning; then I will enliven whatever content is to be explored that day for I am clearly alive to the students.

Professionally, as I engage in ongoing reflective practice, I need to then seek out professional development opportunities both formally and informally. The reflective teacher sees student achievement and his/her methods as inter-related. The professional practitioner will hone his/her pedagogical skills; consequently, when I see areas of need in my students, I need to develop my own understanding of possible approaches by reading professional journals and attending conferences such as those provided by the California Association of Teachers of English or the Association of Supervision of Curriculum Development. In addition, I want to improve in taking the initiative in sharing observations with colleagues, problem-solving and creating with the informal group of colleagues with whom I teach. Phelps writes of this collegiality as a key aspect of professionalism when he notes “Conversations that are focused on improving situations and concerned with helping students are respectful and caring. Professionalism is thus mirrored in teacher talk that seeks solutions” (Phelps, 2006) Reflective practitioners motivate reflection in both their students and their colleagues, leading to continual growth both personally and professionally, and thus evoking respect from both groups, as well. This is my goal.

Finally, during the process of reflection and renewal, I reaffirm why I teach. The current political arena in which educators find themselves can seem much like a bull-fighting ring. I, goaded by policies and red-tape, may charge again and again, only to be struck repeatedly to the point of exhaustion. I will not only survive this fight, but I will stay on my feet; I will be resilient. I, as Bell Hooks encourages will be the one who is able “to teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students” providing “the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin” (Nieto, 2003, p. 37). This means that even if I do not have much influence on the number or types of state, district, and school-mandated assessments to be given, I can create an atmosphere of “team-spirit” among my students as we anticipate and prepare for these assessments. Curriculum may be determined by others, but I will present that curriculum in a way that specifically considers the learning needs, academic abilities, and personal interests of my students; and likewise, I will know clearly my own teaching style, personality strengths, and interests that will enable me to connect the curriculum with the students.

To teach with power, tranquility, and grace – to know myself so intimately that I can freely share with all, both students and colleagues – that is true professionalism – that is my desire.

References

Kottler, J. A., Zehm, S. J., & Kottler, E. (2005). On being a teacher: The human dimension (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Nieto, S. (2003). What keeps teachers going? New York: Teachers College Press.

Phelps, P. H. (2006). The three Rs of professionalismKappa Delta Pi Record, 42(2), 69–71.

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