Saturday, February 25, 2012

Is It the Place or the Relationships?

This past week while on winter break, I visited a place that was significant in my formative years from infancy through college.  As I anticipated the visit, my heart changed, a calmness spread and I could not help but smile.  When my family and I arrived and stepped off the plane, I was overcome by the familiar even though I had not visited this place for fifteen years.  The smells, the sights, the streets, I remembered it all as I piloted the rental car without any maps (of course my phone with Google maps was there if needed).  As I navigated my way to drive by childhood landmarks my eyes teared up as memories showered down on me.  I suddenly realized that it was not the place that held the significance, it was the relationships I had built there that caused the feelings I was experiencing.  Some of the relationships were with people and some of the relationships were with the environment, but the relationship was the key.  As the week progressed my relationship with the place changed.  When I arrived my heart was melancholy thinking of the people who have passed and the fact that aging has occurred.  As the week progressed the calmness came back as did the smile on my face.  There were new relationships forged and when I left I wasn't longing for the past as I had when I arrived.

Of course this made me think of school and my classroom - even on vacation (I know, pathetic!)  I have written in other posts about the importance of building relationships with kids in our classes.  I began thinking about the kiddos that struggle and/or are willful non-performers.  Which caused me to immediately jump to these kiddos as adults.  When they become parents, how are their attitudes towards school going to affect their children?

A few weeks ago I attended a Classroom 2.0 Live Saturday webinar that featured Joe Mazza a principal who is known for parent involvement.  Since listening to him and following him on twitter, I have been thinking about parent participation and getting parents on my side.  This week made me think about the parents who avoid school as a place because of the relationships they had while in school.

I have complained about parents not showing up for conferences, yet did I stop to think about why these parents may be avoiding coming back to school.  Just as my place had extremely positive memories flooding in, school for some has very negative feelings tied to it.  If a parent has these negative memories, could those feelings be passed on to their child who is in your class and struggling?  How do we get these parents to not let the place of school interfere with building new, positive relationships with the adults who educate their children?  If I think about it, these parents are usually contacted by school in regards to their child getting in some sort of trouble which perpetuates the negative relationship with school as a place.  How do we change that?

Just as struggling students need an advocate, school phobic parents need advocates who can build a positive relationship and help them to see school as a partner rather than an adversary.  I know I need to change my interactions with these parents and look for positive interactions.  How do we pull these parents in when they are masters of avoidance?  I will be pondering all of this for a while!  I would love ideas and suggestions!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Softy the Discipline Queen

Recently I have been struggling with discipline with my 6 year old son who is in kindergarten.  It is interesting because I have been known as the teacher who has a highly functioning classroom with regards to discipline.  In fact I have often been "punished" for my ability to turn unruly students into working students.  I say that I have been "punished" because there have been times when students have been moved into my class mid-year for a behavior adjustment because their teacher was unable to "work" with the student.  I felt it was a punishment because I would be given students who were unsuccessful with other teachers half way through the school year which would turn my classroom upside down for a while.  However, I should see this turn of events as a blessing instead of a punishment because the students that were sent to me received a second chance at success.  My administrators told me it was a compliment.  I still do not quite see it that way.

Anyhow, as I reflect on my past practices, I am ashamed of my actions when it comes to disciplining my students.  Luckily for me, my philosophy has always been to build a relationship with my students.  This has enabled them to forgive my unforgivable discipline practices from the beginning of the school year.  So even though I  have used coercive tactics to supposedly "control" student behavior, the students still respected me because I made a point to respect them.  I have to admit that I am not proud of my behavior in the name of discipline.  Fortunately I have always been the type of teacher who has to problem solve and talk out situations with her students.  So when I went overboard, I would almost immediately have a pow wow with the student to problem solve the situation and come to an agreement together.

So how have things changed in my classroom, and what does it have to do with my 6 year old son's behavior?  Here are my discipline beliefs:
  • I believe that all students want to be successful and "behave" in class
  • I believe that "behave" means different things to different students
  • I believe that some students come into my classroom unable to "behave" for a variety of reasons
  • I believe it is my responsibility as an educator to collaboratively problem solve with my students if they are having a problem "behaving" in class.
  • I believe that behavior is not a grade and if a student struggles to conform it should not reflect on their grade if he/she can prove understanding in a content area.
  • I believe that a student not "behaving" in my classroom is not personal, it is something that is out of my control as an educator.  It is my job to take time to build relationships and respectfully understand that there is most likely a plethora of things that could be going on in my student's life outside of the classroom.
  • I believe that it takes effort and time to cooperatively problem solve to build relationships with students and that it is much easier to write a referral or "punish" a student
  • I believe that referrals and punishment do not in any way improve the behavior of a student.
  • I believe that natural consequences for a behavior do provide a teachable moment for students and have the ability to change the students behavior
  • I believe it is important to remove the behavior from the student
I could go on but you get the point.  I have struggled this year because it seems as though I have gone soft.  I like to think of myself as enlightened.  I look upon my students differently for a variety of reasons, one being I am the mother of a six year old who has decided to be a willful non-performer and classroom disrupter.  As my husband and I contemplate taking every Lego and Star Wars toy away, I realize we need to cooperatively problem solve with my son just as I do in my classroom. 

So, the softy (my new name for myself) gives lunch money to kids who forgot their lunch, so that when they come to my class 6th period they can concentrate on math and not the fact that they are hungry.  The softy also squats down when a student is acting up and asks the kiddo what is going on and allows him/her to take a walk around the field to clear his/her head.  The softy lets students listen to their iPods as they work on math in class.  It is difficult because when my colleagues walk in and question what they see in my class, I start to question my jellyfishness, but I recover quickly.  They notice that I am letting the students break the "school rules" without noticing the engagement of my students with the math activities they are working on.  

So, I need to lighten up on my son - he is a great kid who is testing the boundaries of his teacher which shows intelligence and gumption.  I will leave it up to his teacher to give him natural consequences and he will get the picture and make adjustments.  As for me, I have a very loud critic in my head who questions everything I do.  I have decided to put duct tape on her voice and continue to embrace my new friend Softy.

Below is a nice post by Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher
School Fails Boys