#1163 The Inner Workings of a Bully (or a Shooter)…

What would make you:
Punch someone?
Explode in a rage?
Go on a shooting rampage?

I’m fascinated by what makes people tick.

And so an article caught my attention exploring the inner workings of an ‘almost’ mass shooter – “Trunk” (short for “Trunk full of guns”) was thankfully stopped before any shooting could happen. And he subsequently spent years in prison for what he had planned.

In the article, Trunk shares what was going on in his life at the time he was planning to cause destruction.

Illuminating.
He was a good kid. He was shy (or ‘bashful.’) He felt alone. He didn’t feel heard. This boy was the invisible child in the class that was often overlooked or asked to be quiet. 

I see this often at schools:
• Two years ago I wrote a blog post with a story of a Grade Six good student who exploded at recess one day – hurling a discarded bag of dog feces across the school yard. 
• One of my kind students uncharacteristically hit a classmate. Where did that come from? It took some investigating to find out.
• In another school, a gentle boy punched a classmate. Hard. Why? It seems he had been quietly internalizing taunts for a long time from a vocal boy with behavioural challenges.

In the article, ‘Trunk‘ expands on the idea of feeling like an outcast: “If you’ve ever been on the side of the fence where you are an outcast, it hurts. Why me? Why do they get to have all the fun? … He wanted so much to be accepted, he was willing to kill other people.

The article bluntly summarizes: “A threat-assessment team could have intervened before [Trunk] had to begin his life as ‘Trunk Full of Guns.’ But no one came near him—no teacher, no school psychologist, no parent. The threat that he presented remained un-assessed.

And there lies a clue to avoiding further explosions in the classrooms, schools or workplaces:
• Listen. 
• Take time to notice little things. 
• Connect with all individuals.

One teacher made this connection and she spends time each week looking for patterns in behaviour to support her students needs.

How?
She asks her students to write 4 names with whom they would like to sit  to develop  the weekly seating plan. Why? It helps her define social patterns in class – who is left out… who wants to be included and who is being excluded. 

Her process is time consuming in an already busy schedule but helps ensure students are heard, included and supported. The benefit is huge. Societal well-being supports the whole community. If people feel included and worthwhile their need for destructive attention seeking activities is minimized.

When governments cut resources – including teachers and support workers – the true cost is often hidden. Missing the needs of the overlooked, lonely, disgruntled or “quiet” student has enormous costs down the road, as Trunk’s story suggests.

Supporting people (and students), properly, costs money. The cost of not supporting people properly is greater, by far.

#1161 Enough!

I wear a different button everyday to school.
Last week one button on my shirt said “You are enough.”
During circle time an eight-year-old boy gently asked “What does that mean?”

I paused for a breath and the following fell out of my mouth:

So many people are told they are not tall enough, fast enough, big enough or smart enough.
Lots of people believe they are not good enough at math or art or reading. 
Some people wish they were strong enough, kind enough, tough enough…
But you are enough. 
You’re enough at SOMEthing. 

You just need to find out what your thing is.

There was a pronounced pause and the boy quietly said, “That is wise.
I’m not sure where those words came from, exactly, but they floated around in my head for the rest of the day.

My Button of the Day – thanks to Ifs Ands or Buttons

We spend so much energy in school and life focusing on narrow outcomes:
• excellence in math and literacy
• being stronger and faster
• attaining a university education

These are excellent goals. But many other traits or characteristics are overlooked or under-valued.

Ken Robinson describes a story of a student whose passion and skills to be a firefighter were spurned by a teacher as not good enough until, years later, his student saved his life in a car wreck.

A teacher at my 1980s high school was well known for rejecting a student’s desire and talents in music. Later, the student, Bryan Adams rocketed to fame and fortune.

As a boy, Ingvar had a tough time in school. His father told him he wouldn’t go anywhere in life. He was dyslexic but had an aptitude to think differently. Despite his challenges, he was good enough to build IKEA from a tiny business to an enormous company.

Stephen Wiltshire, as a child, would not speak. His language abilities were minimal. He didn’t socialize well. But he had an amazing ability to memorize enormous details – enough to reproduce cityscapes on paper from memory. He is now a world-renowned, architectural artist.

Many real superheroes start out with enormous challenges.
With support, tenacity and/or good fortune, they discover their (sometimes hidden) talents were more than good enough.

As a teacher, I support students’ challenges.
More importantly though, I seek to recognize students’ true talents and help them shine. They are enough. We just need to discover their true strengths to let them shine!

#1159 Teaching Climate Change

People around the world banded together recently to urge for change to help earth.

At school I see a wide range of views from young students. Most are keen to help but can be limited in knowledge and resources. What can you do to help young people help the planet?

• Lead by example! 
Children are sponges and mimic those they hold in high regard. If you compost, recycle and pack lunch with re-usable containers, it’s likely they will, too. Our son came home and told me he needed a container to bring his lunch/snack compost waste home. He made me smile. His teacher is making a difference.

Tree planting – every tree counts!

• Talk
In class we talk about factors affecting the environment. Discuss options for getting around: using bikes, public transit, electric/hybrid and gas car.

Discuss the benefits? Costs? Modelling critical reasoning is a valuable skill for youth to experience (and adopt.)

It doesn’t take a lot for young people to understand and appreciate .

• Bring nature to the classroom
I love trees!

I bring trees and plants into classroom learning. Trees can be used in science (soils, life, photosynthesis) and in literacy (describe/compare, narrative, read aloud…)

In math, trees can be used to recognize and create patterns as well as measurement.

After a month of learning, we plant the class tree somewhere at the school. I asked one student if she ever went to see her class tree. Without hesitation she beamed “Everyday!” 

Trees can be a powerful learning tool! Bring your own environmental passion to the classroom.

Trees in the Classroom!

• Goals
Set goals with your students/children. Every little positive environmental action helps… 
Will you:
1. Plant trees?
2. Walk, bike, car pool?
3. Reduce/eliminate purchases with excessive packaging?
4. Compost
5. Choose alternatives to fossil fuels?

Help the earth.
Teach the children…

#1151 The Active Classroom

Overheard at my son’s school:
Parent: “How’s my child doing sitting still in your class?”
Teacher: “I don’t know. We don’t sit still for very long.”

That was music to my ears. I don’t sit still well. I took this brief excerpt to heart when it comes to developing my teaching.

Gardner’s Intelligences
Howard Gardner hypothesized there are many different intelligences reflected in people from math/logical, verbal/linguistic and bodily kinaesthetic perspectives. In the article above it is suggested that “Providing students with multiple ways to access content improves learning.” (Hattie, 2011) Sitting still at a desk is just one of many ways to access learning.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
UDL looks at ways to improve student learning by offering flexible options to support student success. Options include alternative assessment, flexible workspaces and regular feedback. One common UDL phrase is “Necessary for some, useful for all…”

Active options in and beyond the classroom stimulate success in students who struggle sitting still and can benefit all students in the class.

Classroom Options
I use “vertical, non-permanent work spaces” (white boards) all over the class to get students working together sharing, problem solving and brainstorming. We go outside to explore science and math in the real world. I incorporate drumming in transition times.

The Art of Sitting Still
While I am an active learner I benefit from developing the ability to sit quietly with my mind. And I see the value for all kids. So, while I work to keep the class moving I also build in quiet time where we practice sitting still to accomplish tasks.

Sometimes that is disguised as trying to beat our own world record for independent silent reading – as in how long can the class be engaged in reading without developing wiggly bums or chatty mouths. Or a quiet, meditation exercise like the 60 Second Fix after recess or DPA (daily physical activity.)

Progress
School is traditionally designed for quiet, diligent worker bees. That works well if you or your child is a quiet, diligent worker bee. More and more I am seeing more UDL and active options in classrooms – bike desks, Forest School inspired outdoor learning, flexible work stations…

That’s moving in the right direction!

#1150 The Hidden Power of Band-Aids

“17 yrs ago, I had little patience for a boy named Cedric. He was defiant and belligerent. He was what we called, “hard.” One day in my office, I asked him what his challenges in life were. He said, “I don’t have anyone to take care of me.” This is a moment I will never forget.” Danny Steele (@SteeleThoughts) 

Cedric needed a band-aid.

True power of a band-aid

Most teachers keep a pack of “band aids” close at hand. Little scrapes, scratches or boo-boos can send students in need of the healing power of a band-aid. The true healing goes beyond the scratch…

So often, I find students like Cedric need emotional support or caring. The application of a simple band-aid provides the initial caring and support sometimes missing in a student’s life.

I worked with a young student – “Peter” – who ‘trashed’ his class, twice, causing his main teacher to evacuate students.

What triggered his rage? With some digging we found the boy had a tough home life. His mom was gone. His life was unsettled and he craved attention, love and security – the lower layers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Peter’s homeroom teacher was worried he was falling behind academically. However, he could not progress academically without developing a stronger base layer from which to grow.

Many people take a hard line with students like Peter (and Cedric.) “Conform, or else.” Their behaviour, however inappropriate, is often a cry for help. A hard line of consequences can add to the hidden challenges and trauma that lead to greater problems we sometimes see as tragic headlines in the news.

What is often needed is a “band-aid.” Someone to listen, teach coping skills and build resilience so the student will start climbing towards success.

With Peter, the school support team came together. We helped him develop the social skills and resilience he needed. When I first met him he clung to me physically – craving attention. As he developed new skills he started ignoring me. That’s a good sign – it means he was finding the attention, love and security in a more appropriate way. As he develops Maslow’s base layers he will be ready to learn traditional academics.

Provide the band-aid. Find the behaviour triggers. Support.

#1149 Hidden Challenges

• “I’M GOING HOME…” and he stormed out of class.
It was the end of the day – unexpected behaviour for a young student in class.

• The young student was struggling with reading. He had support from home and school. Everything else seemed to be tracking well. Parents had had his eyes checked a year before.

• A young student was (often) found crying in the bathroom at recess. Anxiety, awkwardness were presented but no reasons could be found for the distress.

These three real scenarios perplexed parents, teachers and students themselves. What was causing the behaviour or performance? Often, there is no obvious explanation. It takes a team of people (teachers, support staff, parents, students) to find a solution to challenges.

Hidden Challenges
Hidden challenges are often at the root of unwanted behaviours or performance but cannot be detected easily on the surface.

Hidden challenges can obscure the cause of a predicament. Sometimes the student is an expert at hiding details that cause them distress. Why hide information? Embarrassment, fear or lack of understanding can cause people to obscure information.

Hidden challenges can include ailments that are not visible or obvious (physical, mental or emotional), societal pressures, personal or relationship distress, economic or cultural factors. All can consume the person and alter behaviour without any outward signs.

Solutions?
Listen
Listen to the student, parents, other teachers, support staff. There will be clues.
Observe
Observe routines. Changes can shed light on changes in behaviour or performance.
Document
Keep notes of anything unusual or out of the ordinary.
Seek help
Ask for support from others who may have connections.
A big part of a teacher’s job is to find solutions… part teacher, part detective.

What really happened?
Scenario number three above describes a 12 year old boy who slowly developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – he was tormented by his own thoughts and fears of what might happen if he did not act in a certain way.

At its worst he was crippled and unable to perform on tests or active play. From the outside there was no obvious trauma or cause. His parents and teachers were baffled.

That 12 year old boy was me, a long time ago. With proper detective work and support I was diagnosed and received help to overcome the OCD and related anxiety I developed when I was in Grade 7.

Under stress, I still feel the effects of OCD and anxiety. I (usually) have the tools to manage the symptoms reasonably but I’m also good at hiding the observable behaviours that used to grind my life to a halt.

The experience has also helped me recognize clues when I encounter puzzling behaviour from students with hidden challenges.

Listen.
Support.

#1148 The Power of Classroom Music

I’m not an accomplished musician.
Or a drummer.
But my drum has the power to move people and change behaviour patterns in elementary classes..

It’s magic, almost.

cross curricular lesson

Drumming in the classroom for classroom management.

With a new group of students the drum is the one that does the talking. As students enter the classroom a simple drum-beat greets the students. And then there is silence. And repeat. Student intrigue kicks in. Students gather quickly. Someone risks clapping the beat in response. I smile. The drum beat repeats and more students join the beat in response.

The drum sets the direction. Everyone quickly engages.
It’s a lovely tool to help with transitions and attention.

As familiarity develops, I choose a student that follows expectations to take over the drumming transitions.

I have met few students that have not been excited about the opportunlity of drumming. The drum turns into a powerful tool that helps shape student behaviour and experience.

I’m still a novice drummer but the music it performs is magical.

The Ontario College of Teachers found out about my drumming and included a segment in their journal “Professionally Speaking.” See page 32/33.

#1147 Local Superheroes in the Classroom

I can’t keep up with my son when it comes to Superheroes. He corrects me when I get my Justice League characters mixed up. But I often ask my son and my students to dig deeper about “real” superheroes and real superpowers…

Real superheroes?
Yep, no x-ray vision, supersonic strength or flight capabilities.
Just the ability and courage to help people when faced with adversity.

How about Dr. Najma Ahmed,Toronto emergency room doctor, who pieces people back together.

Or firefighters who routinely support people in trouble?

Or the person who phoned to say they found your wallet at the coffee shop?

Real superheroes are everywhere and they deserve some recognition!

classroom project

Real Superheroes are everywhere!

Real Superhero Project
In the classroom I like to do a unit or project exploring real superheroes. We start with a read-aloud and progressing towards the students discussing and defining what makes a superhero. As a culminating task, students seek out and report on real life superheroes in their communities.

The project is easily cross curricular – touching on literacy, social studies, visual art and can include math and science on some level. Students can present their project in many formats – written, spoken, through a dramatic presentation or visual media.

Personal Superpowers
A related or separate unit can be on superpowers. Starting similarly as the superhero project, the class relates to traditional superheroes to recognize their superpowers. Through inquiry, group or independent study, students discuss and define the idea of a superpower. As a culminating task, students present their own superpowers or recognize superpowers they admire in someone else.

What I love about this project is the emphasis on young people recognizing what they are good at (their own superpower!) Everyone is good at SOMEthing. Some students just need some help to recognize and accept their excellence.

So, who is YOUR local superhero? What is your superpower? Or a superpower you admire in someone else?

#1146 Secret Learning

Shhh!
Don’t tell them they’re learning.
But keep up whatever keeps students excited.

A Finnish teacher describes her kinder class’ “secret” learning as they learn early math and literacy through very non traditional activities such as stomping puddles. I’ve seen children gleefully learning traditional material in puddles, mud and snow with full engagement. If they are enjoying their activities, they will be learning.

Before modern school, people supported their life through trades, skills or professions for which they had aptitudes. They learned what they liked to do or where they had skills. And the learning was not a chore. In essence they were experiencing secret learning – following their passions or skill sets…

And so secret learning can support many modern students – challenged or traditional. Allow the student to learn through their passions and the learning becomes easier…

learning

What learning expectations relate to frogs?
Photo courtesy https://pixabay.com

What early learning expectations relate to frogs?
• Math – Early numeracy: Count the digits (fingers/toes).
• Language – Vocabulary: Describe how the frog feels.
• Science – Habitats / Life.

For more advanced learners more complex passions can draw out their learning.

The biggest challenge of “secret” learning? Time and resources to connect with students…

#1145 Fall Down Seven Times

I was paralyzed on a rock wall, not by the difficulty of the climb, but by the fear of falling. What if I made a mistake? Would the ropes save me from pain or death? I could not go up because I could not face falling (and failing.)

The Downside of Success
Recently, I attended a STEM conference with a small group of students that regularly achieved exceptional successes. Their small team was pitted against similar teams of students. After the morning’s challenge I reacquainted with our team. One boy grumbled “We needed a chemist on our team…” Translation: “We didn’t do as well as I wanted. I am disappointed.”

He always did well. It was expected. He didn’t know how to cope with failing (or even not excelling)…

education

STEM conference – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

Learning to struggle
In 1984 I wrestled my way through Grade 10 Electronics. I regularly got stuck & frustrated. I pushed my way to a lack lustre average-ish mark. My teacher recognized my struggles.

One day he came up to me and pointed to the students that, today, are likely brilliant electrical engineers. He said “They’re really smart. This is easy for them. One day, though, they’ll get stumped and they’ll be in big trouble… You, Harry, are learning a valuable skill – to challenge yourself to get through tough work…”

Life has thrown me many first world challenges – small business challenges, technological disruptions, loss, grief, etc. That tough electronics class was an early lesson on how to get through tough times.

Learning to Face Challenges
Similar circumstances affect students in the classroom. I’ve seen students, young and old, who either expect to score at the top or choose not to participate. They’ve never learned to handle mediocrity (being average) or to fail.  Excel or abstain is their way. Why? Possibly fear of failing? Or being seen to not exceed?

A parent told me once their son’s Forest School experiences expanded his horizons enormously. He was the oldest in his traditional school class and an only child. Things came easily to him. But in adversity, he crumbled quickly… Tears flowed, tempers flared and he was quick to quit.

In our class that year he was in the middle of the class, age wise. Skill wise, he was also in the middle. At the beginning of the school year he was afraid to try, quick to quit and his wobbly chin announced the frequent arrival of tears. He wasn’t used to not being the best, easily.

Throughout his school year his defeats were supported, his emotions were coached and he learned how to pick himself up and try again. His smile (and confidence) grew two sizes by the end of the year.

success

Climbing and success

Paralysis
Back to my paralysis on the rock face – a guide gently came to investigate my disabled state. He realized my predicament. He told me to “Allow yourself to fall (fail)… See what happens.”

Trepidatiously, I climbed until gravity peeled me off the granite.
Petrified, I fell.
In that failure, I learned I could climb higher next time.

Nana korobi ya oki” – Japanese proverb.
Fall down seven times. Get up eight.