What is going on? Why are my students acting this way? Have you ever caught yourself justifying why the way students (and maybe the adults in the building) are acting a certain way at a certain time of the year? Like: “Oh, it is a full moon”, “The barometer is dropping”, or “We haven’t had a break in a while” or “You can tell a break is coming up”. I know I have and it wasn’t until recently I started to ask myself why was I feeling that way and were my students also feeling that way?
At a recent New Teacher Training, a colleague shared the following graphic with new teachers.
It made me think that it may not just be new teachers who feel this way. It is also true for veteran teachers (at least I know it is true for me) and I am guessing it may be true for our students as well.
I think if we know this and think about which phase we and our students are in, we can approach these times of year differently than we have in the past. One thing to think about as you look at the graphic of how teachers/students feel during the year is, “What would I like/need from my colleagues to help me deal with how I am feeling?” I am a true believer that many times, what we need from those around us, is the exact same thing that our students need from us and their peers.
It could be as simple as a kind word in passing, a note given anonymously, time to talk with others, one-on-one time with a friend or colleague, the sky's the limit and it doesn’t have to be anything huge or spendy. One area I know that I turn to when I hit my lows, either in teaching or life in general, is plugging back into relationships with my colleagues, friends, and family. I think we also need to do the same with our students because, let’s face it, the relationship-building we do with our students doesn’t end after the first week of school. Just like the routines we use in the classroom that need to be revisited and retaught, the relationships we build with our students need to be nurtured throughout the year.
It’s true that we start the year getting to know our students, but there are many ways to keep building upon those early steps. Some ideas can be found at the following links:
To sum it up, do for your kids what you want others to do for you: make you feel special and loved.
This post brought to you by Jen Coenen, Secondary Implementation Associate and STEM Village Director
Take a moment to imagine the following classrooms . . .
This classroom is focused on procedures and routines. Students come into class and check their homework for the right answers. The teacher records homework in the grade book (could be a score on the number of correct answers or could be for completion). Students do an opening activity for the day's lesson, the teacher teaches the lesson/concept, and students get some work time on an assignment until the class is done.
This classroom is focused on what the students know/don’t know. Students come into class and immediately star two problems from the homework that they want to discuss with their table group. Table groups work together on the problems that each starred, sharing how they solved/attempted the problem. The teacher asks groups to share out with the whole class any problems that are still unclear. The class works through these problems, and then the teacher gives a formative assessment with similar problems students were just doing to check for individual understanding. The teacher collects and sorts the formative assessment as students work on an opening activity for the day’s lesson. The teacher introduces the lesson/concept for the day and then, during work time, meets with groups of students broken into groups according to the formative assessment sort.
After reading about these two different classrooms, what do you notice? What do you wonder?
I know when I think about my own education, I had many classrooms that were exactly like classroom A and very few like classroom B. I also know that when I started teaching, I ran my classroom very much like classroom A; it is what I knew and was successful in. I wonder: If I had learned in more classroom B experiences, would I have started running my own classroom that way?
Academic Safety--encompasses the social and emotional safety of the student and the student’s perception of his/her ability
The classroom scenarios above have different levels of Academic Safety. Some may think that students in classroom A have more academic safety than classroom B. However, after reading the book as well as these articles (see below) it becomes evident that it is actually classroom B that has more Academic Safety.
Alber, Rebecca. "20 Tips for Creating a Safe Learning Environment." Edutopia. September 2011.
Gonzalez, Jennifer. "Is Your Classroom Academically Safe?" Cult of Pedagogy, October 2, 2016.
Dance, Rozlynn & Kaplan, Tessa. "Talking in Math." ASCD Express, July 26. 2018.
A closer look suggests there is more academic safety in classroom B. The book and the articles, mentioned above, summarize key ideas teachers should think about to foster academic safety in their classrooms. Below are seven ideas to try in your classrooms to build academic safety for your students:
By incorporating even one of these ideas into your classroom, you will be helping to support the social-emotional well-being of your students and as we know, this is huge undertaking. If we build trust among our students and ourselves, we instill the importance of being ourselves, in both the good and the bad moments. By teaching and showing students that it is okay to vulnerable and take risks, we are providing them with the academic safety they deserve. This can lead to empowering them to achieve to their highest potential and lead to better life long outcomes. What are you willing to try this month to build academic safety in your classroom?
This post brought to you by Jen Coenen, Secondary Implementation Associate and STEM Village Director
The memory is vivid. I was sitting on my couch, color drained from my face, flanked by two sleeping dogs unaffected by the gravity of this news I was trying to absorb.
What? No way.
I mean...I guess I can be stubborn. I do believe very much in the unlimited strength of women.
And I am loyal to my family….
I would have been fine with Jon Snow. I would have been ecstatic with Samwell Tarly. I too appreciate devouring books and good food. What about Brienne of Tarth? There wasn’t a height question, was there?
It wasn’t like I was expecting Sansa, or even Arya (hoping, yes). But Cersei?
As time passed, I started seeing the potential in this new reality.
I settled in, prepare to accelerate through the acceptance stage. Ten minutes and three retakes later, I finally got Jon Snow. Fine. I can live with that. And die. And then live with it again.
Except now it all felt like a fraud--I didn’t feel comfortable cheating my way to a Jon Snow, which I might argue was an ethical emotion rarely exhibited by Cersei.
Naturally, this is just a silly online personality quiz that means nothing.
I should call my friends and see what they got; maybe everyone gets Cersei the first few times--just to mess with us.
I realize this is a long time to wrestle with such a ridiculous (and clearly unfounded) quest to better know the inner cobwebs of my personality. I also realize that few of you may openly admit to taking these pointless personality quizzes. I myself have taken only a handful (Ross Gellar, both Stevie Budd and David Rose, Pam Beesly, Samantha Baker, the music of U2, and apparently I should be living in either San Francisco or Germany), as I find them fodder for self-reflection. Of course, there are other, more scientific, sources of self-reflection: INFP/Mediator (Myers-Briggs) & Individualist/Peacemaker (Enneagram).
The world is rife with opportunities to learn and reflect upon various aspects of our personalities. And perhaps I might be taking Simon Sinek's advice of “Knowing Your Why?” a bit too seriously. However, I might argue the Delphic Oracle was on to something with “Know Thyself” -- though I’m clearly choosing to ignore the “Nothing in Excess” suggestion.
It is hard to ignore, however, that educators are in a position of influence. Deeply understanding why I continuously choose this role and identifying how my values are visible in my classroom or work space have a considerable impact on the community I’m creating and the lives I’m influencing. One might argue that the most important work we can do is best understanding our own decisions about, actions within, and reactions to the world around us. These practices have a place and impact in our classrooms and work spaces.
a. 15 Reflection Strategies to Help Students Retain What You Just Taught Them
b. The Most Important Question Every Assessment Should Answer
While we are facilitating the learning of our students this year (no small feat), I hope you will join me in taking silly and serious opportunities to self-reflect and to guide students in their own self-reflection
This post brought to you by Stefanie Whitney, Secondary Implementation Associate
When teachers are in these situations, stress hormones course through the body. When these hormones stay elevated for long periods of time, the result can be teacher exhaustion and burnout.
That has certainly been true for me. I've been a teacher for 25 years and I love the profession. But at different points in my career, I have felt intense stress and exhaustion from the demands of the job. It usually hasn't been the heavy workload that gets to me. Rather, it's the emotional labor of the work that I have found to be particularly draining. We all have students coming to our classrooms with high levels of stress, trauma, and mental health needs. These issues affect our ability to teach our content material.
I finally realized what might seem obvious. I could only control myself- my reactions- the way I perceived these challenges and the way I managed my stress. And, so I turned to a practice that I thought might provide some relief- mindfulness. Not only did it make a difference in how I handled stress in the classroom, it helped me slow down and rediscover my happiness in being a teacher. Mindfulness is not a panacea, but it can be an incredibly useful tool for teachers.
Here is the classic definition of mindfulness from Jon Kabat Zinn: "Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." He also says, "The real practice is living your life as if it really mattered-moment to moment."
Here is a video that I think sums up mindfulness in a fun, perfect way:
Students cannot learn unless they're emotionally regulated, and it follows that they won't learn from a teacher who isn't emotionally regulated. This is why a mindfulness practice has the power to be transformational for teachers. Mindful Schools teaches, "Children and youth reflect the nervous systems of adults around them. Your nervous system is the intervention." When students feel secure physically in your classroom and experience an emotionally safe relationship with you as a teacher, learning is most achievable. A mindful teacher can bring out the best in a student's ability.
We all feel stress, and it can get the best of us in the classroom. Learning how to notice strong emotions, pause before reacting, and calming down our own nervous systems can be hugely beneficial to teachers. You don't need any special cushions, bells, or clothes to learn mindfulness. All that is required is an open mind and a little time every day. Teachers deserve rest, relaxation, and renewal, and mindfulness might just be the tool to help.
Here are a few tips and resources for beginning to learn about, and experiment with, mindfulness:
Start small and go easy.
Start with 1-2 minutes a day of mindfulness practice. Or focus on taking 5 deep breaths when you're feeling stressed.
Don't go it alone.
There are a ton of resources out there. We all need guidance and support when learning a new skill. You are not alone.
Instant gratification is the enemy.
Mindfulness practice is not Candy Crush or Instagram. You're not going to have a huge hit of dopamine every time you practice or become instantly calm. So, take the long view and be patient with yourself. Over time you'll notice a difference.
Bring your mindfulness practice into your daily life.
Formal mindfulness practice (where you sit and pay attention to the breath) is the practice, the training, the bicep curl for real life. The idea is for this training to transfer to your daily life and kick in when you need it. So, the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, your brain can remember to take a deep breath instead of going into a state of road rage (as depicted in the video above).
My journey with mindfulness started with committing to a personal practice to reduce stress. Then, I noticed how much it was helping me in my professional life. The students were just as challenging; the systems were just as difficult, but I was different. Then, I took the next step and began training through Mindful Schools to learn how to bring these techniques to students to help them with focus and emotional regulation.
Last spring, I found myself speaking to a group of 343 high school students about mindfulness at the SE MN Student Government Conference at Century High School. I had been presenting on mindfulness quite a bit at that point, but this gig was slightly terrifying to me. Not only was it a huge group, but they were all high-achieving teenagers. They had invited me, but I was worried about the message resonating with them. They were the best audience I had have ever had. Not only were they responsive to the concepts and practice of mindfulness, they were hungry for it.
At the end of the session during the Q and A, one student pointedly asked me, "Why aren't we all learning this?!" I didn't really have a good or satisfying answer for that question, but I told him I was working on it.
What I am confident about is that the first step in bringing mindfulness to our students is for teachers to bring mindfulness to their own lives and the way they teach and relate to students. As Thich Nhat Hanh says in the title of his book, "Happy teachers change the world."
I have to admit, winter is not my favorite time of year. I love summer! I love being out on the water fishing, sitting on a deck, or basking in the glow of the warm sun. Those enjoyable moments are not as easy to do in the winter (by the way, even though I am from northern Minnesota, I am not a fan of ice fishing!).
On a brisk walk one abnormally cold, Sunday, November afternoon, I realized I don’t just like summer because of those lovely activities, but because I find myself able to stop, breathe, and take a few moments for myself away from school and teaching. Then I began to wonder, why don’t I stop, breathe, and take a few moments for myself during the school year? A recent conversation with a fellow teacher reminded me that as education speeds up, we keep trying to keep up. Why don’t we try to slow it down? How can we slow down during the school year? Here are some ideas that I am going to try in the next few months. I know that life is just going to get busier, so hopefully these will help me to stop, breathe, and slow things down.
Take a calming breath
According to the website The Best Brain Possible by Debbie Hampton, “your breath is your remote control to calm your brain and body”. Here is an effective breathing technique that slows oneself down.
Here is a 30-second video that is a great guide to a breathing technique.
Visualizing, sometimes known as guided imagery, is a great tool to add to the calming breath. Visualizing a place that brings you peace, even for a few moments, can help to re-center a person. According to MentalHealth.net, visualizing creates “an element of distraction which serves to redirect people’s attention away from what is stressing them and towards an alternative focus”. This can be especially helpful for assisting one’s sleep, so it is a well-spent five to 15 minutes prior to bedtime. My favorite imagery is sitting on my Dad’s boat, hearing a loon call, seeing the calm blue-green water and smelling the fresh scent of pine trees in the air. This image, along with the calming breaths, is a great way to slow down after a busy day.
If you need a place to start, you can try this video which is a guided imagery tour in a mountain forest.
Ask for Help
Anyone who knows me knows that asking for help is not one of my strong suits. I have found that it stems from expecting perfection of myself. However, this desire for perfection and lack of asking for help actually increases my stress. Asking for help and dividing large tasks between colleagues can make those stressful, large tasks seem much more manageable. Then it doesn’t just fall on one person to complete. Seek out colleagues with whom you feel comfortable asking for help and let them know you appreciate their assistance.
Know your limits
The old phrase of “just say no” applies here. As educators, we are dedicated to doing everything for our students and families. However, there comes a time when you need to know your limits and just say no to a new task or project. This simple word can be a huge stress-saver. Obviously, there are some tasks we must do, but there are other times I find myself adding things to my plate without realizing it. I have to remind myself that I can do a few things well, or many things poorly. Let something go, for now, and come back to it when you have more time to dedicate to it. Sometimes it isn’t “no”, but rather “just not now”.
Reflect on what makes you laugh or smile
According to the website The Science Alert, researchers at the University of Maryland “have linked laughter to the healthy function of blood vessels – something that can lower your chance of heart attack”. Furthermore, the same researchers found that laughter could boost ones’ heart rate and the production of certain antibodies, which can strengthen ones’ immune system. Considering how it is quite easy to get run-down and sick in education (especially since those of us in the education field are exposed daily to many illnesses), couldn’t we all use a few more antibodies? Each day, I try to find one thing that a student does that will make me laugh and remind me why I love teaching. I sometimes even jot down the funny statements students say on a post-it note and stick it on my computer. That way, when I am stressed and feeling overwhelmed, I read that little statement, smile and remember why I love what I do!
In the next few months, as the winds blow colder, the snow falls heavier, the workload gets crazier, and my stress is high, I hope that these five simple stress-relieving techniques will help me to slow down and enjoy life more.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
I am no expert on mindfulness, let me be clear; however, I do find joy in reading blogs and articles around the power of the mind and the impact of one’s attitude. At a leadership meeting, Superintendent Muñoz asked us each to name three positive things that happened the day before. I will be honest, it took me a bit to identify three things! I decided right then and there I need to get into the habit of reflecting at the end of my day. I intentionally identify three positive things from the day before I go to bed each night. This has made a difference both in how I sleep at night and how I feel in the morning when I wake up.
Blogger Leo Babauta of Zen Habits writes the way to change our mental habits is “with awareness, with honesty, with an open heart, and with appreciation of the immense joy of life in the midst of chaos.” I find this exceptionally helpful, empowering even, to know that during the busy holiday season, during hectic times at work, when I feel pulled in too many directions to count, I can find joy in my life.
Images taken by Heather Lyke
As you prepare for your winter break, let me encourage a few simple mindful activities that you may try (shared from ‘6 Mindfullness Exercises You Can Try Today’ published by Pocket Mindfulness). I like this list as the activities are simple, can be done quickly and anywhere, while yet having the potential to make a big difference!
Be well. Be good to yourself and others. And remember, you make a difference.
This post brought to you by Jayne Gibson, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Rochester Public Schools
Connect with Jayne Gibson via email or by calling 507.328.4301
If you’d like to explore mindfullness more fully, consider starting the new year off strong by joining one of these two upcoming PD Express courses:
Both begin in January. Connect with facilitator Laura Lenz if you have further questions.
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