Friday, February 14, 2014

Something to Hang Your Hat On

Years ago I remember doing a project with my 5th graders.  I loved this project. It was titled the Career Project (I know, real catchy).  Students went down to our computer lab and took a 30 question survey on their interests.  When they finished they received a printout of 40 possible careers that they may be interested in.  My expectation was this: Students had a tri-fold board, each section was designed to highlight a different career.  Section 1 was any career of their choice.  Section 2 was a career I chose for the students that was on their printout.  Section 3 was a career of a family member.  These projects typically turned out extremely well.  Students shared the boards with classmates and explained lots of interesting information that they learned about each career.  The boards were aesthetically pleasing and often contained pictures, objects and colors that pulled in the audience.  I was very proud of these projects.  In fact I saved many over the years.  Recently I bumped into a former student who has made me super proud.  She is headed to college soon to become an engineer.  Recently she was recognized for her work on the Career Center Robotics Team.  This got her an invitation to the State of the State with Governor Snyder ( @onetoughnerd ). I wanted to surprise Holly.  I found her 5th grade Career Project and took it to her current job.  She couldn't stop smiling!  I look back very fondly at the Career Projects, but I also remember the students that struggled to choose a career.  The idea was to get students thinking of their future.  The premise was a good one, but I've also learned over time that not every student is ready for this in 5th grade.

I say all that as a lead into what I've been doing with students all year.  I've taken a new approach when students come to the office for a "not-so-positive-reason".  I've always been a believer in understanding, not simply punishing.  My routine is to sit down with students.  I first try to figure out two things:  1- Is the student in a State of Mind to discuss the issue? 2- Is this a first time chat or is this a repeat offender?

Once we begin to talk I have taken a new approach.  I now ask a series of questions that give me deeper insight into the student.

Question 1:  What is your favorite thing about school?
Question 2:  What do YOU think is YOUR best quality?
Question 3:  What is one thing you hope for when you get older?

These questions are powerful. I get real insight into how students see themselves.  What these conversations have taught me is this:  Elementary students often don't dream of a specific career (except the few that say they will be professional athletes or singers).  I can sum up what they do dream of...they dream of happiness.

My students have taught me an important lesson.  The goal is happiness, how we get there is unique to each individual.  I do believe it's important that students understand certain qualities can help them be successful and happy.  These qualities are:

1)  Effort/Hard Work
2)  Honesty
3)  Communication
4)  Perseverance
5)  Drive

Now the aha moment.  I used to push students into thinking long term.  Now my goal has shifted.  I believe it is more important to help students find something to hang their hat on.  That is, a skill, quality or activity that they feel is theirs.  For some it may be reading.  For others it may be dancing or ballet. For even others it could be a sport.  Students that excel at something learn valuable qualities.  They learn to work hard, to persevere and they have an internal drive to improve.  What I typically find is...Success breeds Success.  I rarely worried about my students that put in good effort, persevered and were driven to succeed.  The students I always worried about were the ones that didn't.  The ones that couldn't name a good quality about themselves.  The ones that never were willing to work hard.  The ones that had nothing they were proud of.

Instead of asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, let's shift the conversation to what are you passionate about?  What are you proud of?  What is the best thing about you?  Let's try to give our students something to hang their hat on.

This Week's Big Question(s):  When you were a student, what did you hang your hat on?  What was the best thing about you?


Monday, February 17th:  No School/Presidents Day
Tuesday, February 18th:  9am Admin Meeting
Tuesday, February 18th:  Minecraft Club Kicks-off after school 4pm-5pm
Wednesday, February 19th:  Minecraft and String Team After School Clubs 3pm-4pm
Wednesday, February 19th:  2nd grade to JCC
Wednesday, February 19th:  Tennis Assembly Grades 3-5 in the Gym 8:45
Thursday, February 20th: 1:15pm Crisis Response Meeting
Thursday, February 20th:  CP Federal Credit Union 2pm - 3pm
Thursday, February 20th:  4:15 after school meeting
Friday, February 21st:  Lock-In 5:30-9pm
Friday, February 21st:  Mrs. Gibbs to the Cascades Humane Shelter

*  All-Staff - please schedule a time to meet for mid-year meetings.

Articles Worth Reading:

This Sucks! by @Jonharper70bd

Wrestling with Feedback +Jessica Johnson @PrincipalJ

Clutter Free Classroom (Anti-Bullying Ideas) shared by +Breanna Davey @studiobree

Improvement is the Goal +Shannon Degan @shannondegan

Best & Next in Education +A.J. Juliani @ajjuliani

EDUTECH Musings by @cfanch

Being Normal +Tony Sinanis @TonySinanis

The ONE quality that distinguishes great leaders shared by +Joe Sanfelippo @Joesanfelippofc

The Best Teachers Don't Do What They're Told +Terry Heick @TeachThought

What becomes of the Lonely Teachers? +Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp

Where are all the dads? +Justin Tarte @justintarte

9 Good Signs You Are In The Right Relationship +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

This kid is cool!  It's all about 3-5 likes. (4 min)

Lego Movie Trailer.  I first thought this movie was completely odd.  Now I must admit, the message is powerful.  I didn't get it until the next day.  (Made me think)  (3 min)

Be Kind To One Another!  Wonderful Story on +TheEllenShow  (5 min)

Whoa.  What. A. Week.  On the bright side (and I always try to look at the bright side) I learned a lot and that's what is truly important.


  1. You know, it is completely OK to tell the adults you come in contact with every day that YOU ARE SICK. Let US help you , like YOU help us...... Just saying......

  2. You make me smile Susan. Thanks for always understanding and being supportive.

  3. Hey Ben. I like the question about passion. I recently heard Jaime Casap speak and he shared the following - "Don't ask a student what he/she wants to be when they grow up, ask them what problem they want to solve." Your post reminded me again of this thought. Keep being great my friend! - jimmy

  4. Appreciate your friendship and continuous support Jimmy.

    It's funny how things change over time. Seven or Eight years ago I believed those Career Projects were, "The Next Best Thing To Sliced Bread". Over time my views changed. As educators we need to be willing to evolve and adapt.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Ben, WOW! I am certainly going to take a different approach when the next student comes into my office. Thanks for pushing my thinking!

  6. Things changed for me with one particular student. The light bulb went off that my approach needed to be adjusted. I also believe in Stephen Covey's 7 Habits...Seek First To Understand...

    Thank you for reading and for your support. I'm glad you can take things away from this post. I'm glad you are a valuable part of my PLN!

  7. Ben, what a profound concept: focusing children on discovering their passions in the here and now!

    I've found these conversations with students over the years to be restorative to me as well, especially on the most frenetic of days. Even though I may have set out to redirect their thinking, initially, these discussions tend to re-center my thinking on what it most important: growth, improvement, self-awareness, and personalized goal setting.

    No doubt, the way in which you model this mindset with your students, parents, and staff has created a very healthy learning climate for all who are fortunate to be part of it!

    Ben, I really enjoy your blog, the format, and reading the way you express your vision for your students. Keep inspiring us!


  8. Dennis,

    Thanks for the feedback and support. You are so true when you state, "redirect their thinking...tends to re-center my thinking..."

    Just yesterday I struggled to get through to a student and our conversation re-centered me.

    Thanks for sharing Dennis!