Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dealing with Avoidance

"Please don't call on me, please don't call on me, please don't call on me."  I would whisper these words in my head as a 7th grade Algebra student.  Up until that time I enjoyed math, shoot I liked school.  Then in 7th grade it all changed.  Algebra.  I was a mess.  What happened over the course of that school year I'm not proud of.  I continually remember wandering the hallways, complaining of stomach aches and continually trying to escape class.

What's sad is that this became a bad habit.  Eighth grade was not much better, I got out of class every chance I could.  Even as a freshman I still avoided math class.  Then as a sophomore I started to bounce back.  I was put into a remedial math course and my teacher was Mr. Brockie.  I knew Mr. Brockie and I had mixed feelings about him being my teacher.  I was scared he would realize I wasn't smart in math.  But on the flip side, I liked him, he was a golfer, he liked sports and he kept things real.

Starting day one with Mr. Brockie I was locked in.  I participated in class, I raised my hand and I was really trying.  Unfortunately for me the damage had been done long before.  Since 7th grade I had checked out. You can't lose 2+ years and not expect a sharp learning curve and some harsh learning pains.  I was working hard, but math was really tough.  I remember vividly asking underclassman for support.  The good news is they did help me.  The better news is they helped me by teaching me...not doing it for me.  I look back and a few things made a difference in me refocusing on learning and stop avoiding my struggles.  The first was Mr. Brockie.  The two of us had a relationship and I simply didn't want to disappoint him.  I worked harder for him than I did for myself.  The second was Mr. Brockie's sense of humor.  In this class he used humor to get his students to relax.  Once we were relaxed the participation improved.  The third and very critical point is, my classmates didn't enable me.  They pushed me, they taught me and they didn't let me cheat. That year I busted my tail for a C+, but this was the beginning of the turnaround.

I start with that story because I have come to notice something.  As I peruse the hallways and travel from room to room I always notice the same faces at the drinking fountain.   The same faces trudging towards the restroom.  The same faces coming to the office with a headache or upset stomach.  This repeated behavior is tell tale Avoidance Behavior.  We all know it, but how do we stop it?  How do we turn the ship around?  How do we break the bad habit?

As a 5th grade teacher I had a young man named Tyler.  Tyler was a little guy and to be candid, he was pretty immature with his behaviors.  Within a few weeks I felt as though I knew Tyler.  I knew that each morning he would come in and share a story.  His stories would be about playing with his puppy or fighting with his brother.  Tyler's energy level was sky high, the enthusiasm he came in with usually diminished by midday.  Around 11am Tyler would begin to show major avoidance behaviors. What was Tyler avoiding?  Roughly 11:15 each day as a class we began writing.  Tyler despised writing.  I quickly learned if I didn't let Tyler use the restroom his avoidance behaviors would escalate.  Tyler would cry and after the tears came anger.  

It took weeks to slow down Tyler's avoidance behaviors.  I met with Tyler's parents, I had conferences with Tyler and I tried strategy after strategy.  The good news is I never gave up.  The bad news is Tyler never completely stopped avoiding writing.  As I reflect, I believe most of us have a student that is using avoidance strategies.  How can we stop this bad habit, this negative behavior, this fixed mindset?

Let's begin to right the ship by looking at the research.  Dr. Julianne Turner says, "The classroom that places greater emphasis on getting an answer correct, with little explanation and understanding, will see more avoidance behaviors."  Turner added, "Teachers that seek correct answers and move from student to student until the answer is correct often see students disengaging from the learning." Because the teacher typically did not respond to mistakes and misunderstandings with explanations, the students may have felt vulnerable to public displays of incompetence and adopted more avoidance strategies.

How can it be remedied?

Turner gives great insight into assisting the student that is avoiding.  "In classrooms where students use fewer avoidance strategies, the teachers tend to model, hint and elicit support from other students to help their students learn."  Those classrooms have students as active participants and stress understanding and explanation.  The research also points to these traits:

One - Teachers that use humor as a part of the lesson often see a more relaxed learning environment. The humor needs to be appropriate and not sarcastic.  We've all heard the saying, "Laughter is the best medicine!"

Two - Teachers that see less avoidance strategies were often viewed as master motivators.  The teachers understood the importance of inspiring and motivating students to actively learn.

Three - Classrooms that have a culture of learning.  Learning is different than simply giving and receiving correct answers.  It's not about getting all answers correct, it's about continuous growth. This is where we focus on F.A.I.L - First Attempt In Learning, as an everyday way to develop a growth mindset.

Four - Connecting.  Teachers that connect with students, build relationships and care for their kids on a deeper level often see less avoidance behaviors.  It goes without saying, kids don't want to disappoint teachers that care about them...and that they care about.  

I believe we all have a student or know a student that uses an avoidance strategy.  We've seen that student wander the hallway, revolt in the classroom and just flat out check out from the learning.  It's never too late to save a student.  I'm grateful for Mr. Brockie.  His classroom helped turn me around. Without him I'm not sure where I'd be.  Teachers make a difference in lives, I hope you will begin to reach out to your student that is often avoiding learning.

This week's big question:  How will you help a student that is showing avoidance behaviors?


Monday, Sept. 29th:  Y5 - 2nd grade Curriculum Night from 5:30-7pm
Tuesday, Sept. 30th:  9am Admin Meeting
Tuesday, Sept. 30th:  3rd grade Field Trip to Chelsea Milling Company
Tuesday, Sept. 30th:  Happy Bday to Lori Phillips
Wednesday, Oct. 1st:  No AM assembly for grades K-2
Wednesday, Oct. 1st:  Happy Bday to Brad Lenhart
Wednesday, Oct. 1st:  5th grade students to Mystic Lake Camp
Wednesday, Oct. 1st:  Count Day
Friday, Oct. 3rd:  5th grade students return from camp
Sunday, Oct. 5th:  Happy Bday to Jeff Kinney

Articles Worth Reading:

12 Apps for Smarter Teacher-Parent Communication @TeachThought

Embracing Vulnerability @Joe_Mazza

6 Principles of Genius Hour in the Classroom @TeachThought

My take on the #Bammys  @TechNinjaTodd

What our fear actually inhibits @gcouros

101 Things I've learned so far in teaching @TeachThought

A Tale of Two Libraries @E_Sheninger

Our Invisible Rich by Paul Krugman

20 Things to Remember When you Think You Aren't Good Enough @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

5 Second Summaries... (5 min)

Derek Jeter's last game... (1 min)

Do Dogs Get Depressed? (3 min)

Get out of your own way! (10 min)

Ellen improves your airplane seat (3 min)

Derek Jeter granting a WISH! (8 min)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Connecting with Families Through a Focus on the Students

"Every single family can make some contribution to the school.  Recognize all forms of family engagement and offer different outlets for involvement.  Send thank-you notes or little certificates of appreciation." (Henderson, Mapp, Johnson and Davies 2007)

The above excerpt is from the book, Beyond the Bake Sale.  I participated in a book chat with my #PTCamp friends this summer.  

This quote takes me back to my days in the classroom.  Each school year I had "the binder."  This folder was my right hand when it came to my students.  I kept notes on each child, I documented information and I also saved notes from families.  One important piece in the folder was a questionnaire that I asked all families in September.  This form gave me some critical information on students and their families.  Here are some of the questions I used:

1 - What are your child's strengths?

2 - What is one thing you hope your child improves on this year?

3 - Describe your child's hobbies and interests outside of school.

4 - How often would you like to be contacted?  Daily? Weekly? Bi-Weekly? Monthly? As Needed?

5 - Is there anything you would like to share that you believe would help me be the best teacher I can be for your child and your family?

The questionnaire contained roughly eight questions, but this gives you the overall idea.  Question number four was a big one for me.  Each year I had a handful of families that requested weekly phone calls.  On the surface this looked like, "One More Thing."  Yet deep down, I enjoyed it.  I typically carved out about an hour or two between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon.  I contacted families, shared successes and listened.  These weekly phone calls truly helped me bond with several families each school year.

That brings me to this weekend.  Every week I encourage students to let me know when they have an event and I tell them I will try my best to make it.  This past Saturday I attended a Flag Football game in Jackson and I had the opportunity to watch three of our Warner students.  I really got a kick out of watching Justin break a long run and score a touchdown!  Then I got to see Gavin put himself in just the right spot to grab a flag.  Finally, young Derek was playing center...he made me smile when the ball skidded across the ground.  It was nice talking to the families at this event, but more importantly you could clearly see the glimmer in each child's eye!

As I chatted with one parent about the beginning of the year I was beaming with pride!  The first thing she did was bring up one of our amazing teachers.  She pointed out to me that the teacher had called and left the most positive of messages.  She said, "My son asks to listen to that message each day."  WOW! What an impact, a thirty second message that is replayed daily to create smiles and build self-confidence.  The mom went on to introduce me to the boys grandparents.  As we began chatting, she then told me that she had also heard the positive message and that she was so impressed with the level of care and kindness from the teacher.  Those moments make me smile.  I continued to walk around and cheer on our Warner kiddos, and deep down I just felt good inside.  

When we look back at the quote from Beyond the Bake Sale (see above), it's important to focus on ways to connect with families.  My experience has taught me, parents want to help in some way. Some parents would love to volunteer in the classroom or school, some parents relish sending in supplies and some families are simply trying their best.  As September winds down, think to yourself and reflect...have you shared student successes with your families?  Have you looked for a way to allow each family a way to connect and contribute?

As I begin another fantastic week at Warner Elementary, I'm going to be reaching out to our new families.  I can't wait to start building relationships and develop a lasting partnership.


Monday, Sept. 22nd:  NWEA testing begins
Tuesday, Sept. 23rd:  TEAM Meeting 9am
Tuesday, Sept. 23rd:  9am Bible Release
Tuesday, Sept. 23rd:  3:45pm 3rd grade Mackinac meeting
Wednesday, Sept. 24th:  Grades 3-5 Morning Assembly
Wednesday, Sept. 24th:  3pm Engineering in the Elementary with Mr. Lloyd Hilger
Friday, Sept. 26th:  Picture Day
Friday, Sept. 26th:  PM Lockdown Drill
Friday, Sept. 26th:  8am Staff Meeting

Articles Worth Reading:

The Letter From School That Stopped Me In My Tracks @HuffingtonPost

Why Some Kids Try Harder and Some Kids Give Up @HuffingtonPost

25 Signs You Teach in 2015 @TeachThought

I Reached @JonHarper70bd

How Does Physical Activity Affect Academic Performance?

Why Girls Tend To Get Better Grades Than Boys

The Best Classroom Management Develops Classroom Leadership @gcouros

A Bright Idea for Building School Morale Through Compliments @Angela_Watson

Videos Worth Watching:

Oh My Word!  Funniest answer I've heard. (1 min)

Apparantly Kid talks Kindergarten... (4 min)

Lets teach kids to FAIL FORWARD (14 min)

This is a cool App...the Looper!  Check out how Jimmy uses it. (4 min)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tough to Admit

Those of you that know me know that I have a soft spot for some of our most challenged students. Several years ago I was teaching 5th grade and I had a boy that was in my class.  I had been hearing about him for a few years.  For privacy purposes we will call the boy Robbie.  Literally since the boy was in 2nd grade I had heard the murmurs.  I watched other educators shake their heads and I listened to people write the boy off.  Deep down I thought, hmmm, I think he could be a "year ruiner".

The summer before he entered 5th grade I saw Robbie's name on my class list.  I had heard so much negative talk surrounding the boy that my immediate reaction was one of disappointment and defeat. After that initial feeling (which lasted a couple weeks) I decided to change my perspective.  I began to self-talk and read books that talked about teaching the whole child.  

As school was getting ready to begin, I intentionally skipped his CA-60.  I intentionally skipped meeting with his previous teachers.  I knew Robbie's best chance for success was going to be a clean slate.

The first time I met Robbie was at our Back 2 School Night.  He came down with his grandparents and his blonde hair nearly covered his eyes.  The next thing I noticed was Robbie grinning ear to ear. As I mingled with parents and met students I glanced Robbie's way a few times.  Each time he appeared happy.  I didn't see the anger or the defiance that had become synonomous with the young man.  

As the night came to an end, I reflected on the evening.  I began to get angry with myself for thinking the worst.  Shame on me.  Shame on me as an adult.  Shame on me as a professional.  I had listened to the worst and I was the one with a negative mindset directed toward this child.

As the school year kicked-off I met with Robbie frequently.  I discovered his love for riding quads and being outdoors.  I also found out that Robbie didn't like to sit still and learn about subjects and predicates.  I began to see why he caused others grief.  Robbie didn't care to learn what he didn't consider valuable.  He essentially checked out of the learning and disrupted the class.  When he was spoken to he got an attitude and the situation would quickly escalate.  I discovered this within the first few weeks of school.  So, as the professional, I decided to get ahead with Robbie.  I went to one of his football games early in the year.  I called grandma and grandpa once a week and I celebrated Robbie's successes.  What I was finding was that Robbie was a neat boy, but his story was tragic. Robbie didn't have a dad in his life, and mom was struggling to be a mom (her visits in and out of jail were not viewed as strong parenting).  

The more I learned the better I was with young Robbie.  I still look back and kick myself for thinking the worst.  But I feel good about the year Robbie had.  At our final conference in the spring I remember grandma telling me that this was Robbie's best year in school.  I remember the principal commenting to me, "I hardly saw Robbie this year, he must have grown up in 5th grade."  Those remarks wouldn't have happened if I had simply believed everything I had heard.

Most of you are still early in the school year.  I bet you have at least one student that is a "challenge". I'm turning the challenge back on you.  Here is my three tier challenge:

1)  Don't give up on kids!  Whatever you do, find something that is worthy of celebrating.  That child needs you more than you may ever know.

2)  Ask for help.  If you have exhausted your best tactics and nothing seems to work, ask for help. You could have a colleague sit in and watch.  You could meet with a family member.  You could read a book that gives you fresh ideas.  You could meet with other specialists that may offer insight into how to best move forward.

3)  Focus on yourself.  I often see educators showing displeasure through body language and through words.  Our kids see that and our kids hear that.  We must rise above and not tip our hand.  As professionals we need to show a positive disposition.  

For some, you may only be a couple weeks into school.  Have you already thrown your hands-up? Have you tried everything there is to try?  Does the student know when he or she has disappointed you?  The school year is a journey, and what I know is that the best educators are the ones that you cannot tell whether they have a good group or a bad group.  They are the ones that find the greatness and celebrate the small moments that make the difference.

This Week's Big Question:  After the first few weeks of school, can others tell if this is a "good" class or a "bad" class?  If you answered yes, how do you feel about that?


Monday, Sept. 15th:  PM Fire Drill
Monday, Sept. 15th:  NWEA Testing Window Opens
Tuesday, Sept. 16th:  Admin Meeting
Tuesday, Sept. 16th:  Nicole Kelly will be at CPI training in the MS
Tuesday, Sept. 16th:  Final day to submit videos for ClassroomCribs.com
Wednesday, Sept. 17th:  Grades K-2 Morning Assembly 8:45am
Wednesday, Sept. 17th:  Constitution Day
Friday, Sept. 19th:  Happy BDay to Marcia Etters

Articles Worth Reading:  

Are You a Reflective Teacher? +TeachThought @TeachThought

Expanding EdCamp Leadership +Joe Mazza @Joe_Mazza

Thoughts on Homework... +Jeff Zoul @Jeff_Zoul

Findings: Positive Relationship Between Family Involvement and Student Success +M.A. Stewart @MAStewartMA

Mike Rowe Gives Life Advice  (This is Fantastic!)

9 Signs it's time to take a Step Forward @marcandangel

How to dig deep when you want to quit @ShutUpRun

Why Sharing Your Good Work is Necessary, Not Boastful! +Kristen Swanson @kristenswanson

A Pre-Mortem for EdTech +Brad Wilson @dreambition

It Starts Here +Shannon Degan @shannondegan

Videos Worth Watching:

Can't wait to get a 3D Printer at Warner! (2 min)

Classic Ellen. The POWER OF PAYING IT FORWARD! (5 min)

Pay it Forward...just because. (3 min)

Where did that ball end up? (2 min)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Cooler Heads Prevail

Years ago my parents wanted to begin a new family tradition.  They concocted the plan of skipping family gatherings and going to the Thanksgiving Day Detroit Lions football games.  On the surface you would think this would be every sport-loving boy's dream...but then you take into account that I love turkey and I'm not a Lion fan.  Well, let's just say the idea was... okay.

So the first year we decided to go the Lions were playing the Redskins.  We sat in the end zone and I was pulling hard for Barry Sanders.  The first half was very competitive.  I found that the game was a little tough to follow from the end zone, but the gigantic big screen definitely helped.  One memory I cannot get out of my head was the number of fans that booed.  I sat amongst hundreds of Lion fans in the end zone and every poor play was booed mercilessly.  I sat back and thought, "These are Lion fans?"

As the game progressed it became obvious that Washington was going to win.  My brother was a few years younger and I could tell he didn't really care, but he did want a souvenir of some sort.  So we walked a bit and looked for various items he was interested in.  When we returned a group of rowdy fans sitting behind us began throwing anything they could get their hands on towards the field.  I was embarrassed to be associated with any Lions fans.  Then my dad turned around and instead of asking politely to stop, he got angry and frustrated.  The next thing I know there is a full out brawl in the end zone bleachers and I'm pulling people off of each other.  How about that for Thanksgiving?

I tend to reflect on moments like this with thoughts of, "How could this have been handled differently?" It always concerns me when I see moments like this or I read about a road rage incident. Our society reacts with violence and anger.  Everyone would benefit from being patient, understanding and simply choosing kindness.

What I have come to learn is that most people rush to judge, panic and lose their cool when life becomes stressful.

Nothing like that happened at Warner Elementary this past week, but what I did notice is that both students and adults were lacking a consistent routine.  The week was very good, but it did have some interesting moments.  Early in the year we all lack that routine and procedure, and the research tells us we have... The Need For Routines and Procedures.

I expect anxiety, stress and people feeling overwhelmed.  It's important to let cooler heads prevail.  I also try very hard to keep things in perspective.  I read The Last Lecture a couple years ago and it really helped me with perspective.

Here comes a new week. Let's focus on continuing to build strong lasting relationships and let's also focus on establishing the consistency that our students crave.  You should all be uplifted by the fact so many parents have raved about the mood and atmosphere of Warner.  Our kids are excited, we are focusing on the right things and we have each other!  This year is going to be great, so let's keep calm and stay positive!


Monday, Sept. 8th: Happy BDay to Jennifer Schaible
Tuesday, Sept. 9th:  First PTO meeting at 7pm
Wednesday, Sept. 10th:  First Early Release, dismissal at 2:35
Wednesday, Sept. 10th:  Grades 3-5 assembly at 8:45am
Friday, Sept. 12th:  8am Staff Meeting
Friday, Sept. 12th:  Happy BDay to Kristy Soper
Saturday, Sept. 13th:  Happy Bday to Colleen White

Articles Worth Reading:

How can we all keep the Kindergarten Spirit? +Amber Teamann @8Amber8

It's September. Don't Worry Teaching Gets Better. +Angela Watson @Angela_Watson

The Best Back To School Apps +Erin Klein @KleinErin

A Teacher's Impact +Jeff Zoul @Jeff_Zoul

Be The Dinosaur +Brad Gustafson @GustafsonBrad

Birthing a Revolution #nerdybookclub

Videos Worth Watching:

Bengals Show True Empathy (2 min)

Cracks me up!  Nice trick Ellen. (5 min)

It's not about the notes on the page.  We must help kids find their passion. (7 min)