#1164 Praise or Punish for Better Behaviour?

He abruptly raised his hand as if to hit my lovely dog. My dog just looked at him, unsure what to think. My dog-walking, human acquaintance looked at me and said “You’ve never hit your dog, have you?”

“No need…”
There are two ways to raise a dog – either through praise or punishment.

My first dog, trained with praise.

We got in a discussion about training dogs. He came from a farm background where discipline was instilled with a heavy hand. I had taken another path, decades ago, inspired by a book called “Training your Dog Positively.” In a nutshell, it promoted praising positive behaviour in a big way while acknowledging challenges with brief but succinct and mild corrections.

Both our dogs were very well-behaved and could walk off leash by our side. The difference was his dog worked from a basis of fear – “I better be good or I’ll be scolded or hurt.” My dog functioned based on positive reinforcement – “He’s nice to me when I work well.”

Dog #2 praise and support

The two mindsets create vastly different beings – one is fearful, one is positive:
• Opening with positive expectations and intrinsically positive outcomes creates an atmosphere of wanting to perform well.
• Coming in with a “Do this, or else!” attitude creates a tougher environment resulting in less (positive) risk taking and community cohesiveness.

Extrapolate these two mindsets to the classroom and you create two different learning environments.

What positive reinforcement might look like:
• To help establish expectations and positive outcomes during transitions I offer drumming opportunities to students (and the whole class) when they transition quickly. The drumming creates a positive outlet for the whole class to work towards. See my drumming transitions featured in Professionally Speaking, “Get Creative” on page 32-34.
• Praise positive behaviour publicly: I draw class attention to a display when it exceeds expectations – “Wow! I love how Djenane has organized this science project.”
• Address missed expectations / poor performance privately, quickly and with support: Quietly at their desk “Hi Robin, I notice your science project is missing parts. Are you ok? What do you need to make this better?”
• Praise positive changes, however small: “Thanks for getting your shoes in the right spot today!”

The two dogs cast in clay by Carol Froimovitch

Sometimes, stronger corrections are needed but they should be brief and effective before returning to positive praise in the classroom.

Recently, I saw an article sharing quantified studies that recognized the positive effects of praise and positive mindsets in teaching.

The studies saw significant effects of positive teachers in controlled studies.

Praise the positives publicly.
Manage the challenges quietly.

That’s good news for my dogs and for students in the classroom.

#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.

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.

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.

#1162 Maslow Moment: Which Would You Choose?

Your plane crashed in the wilderness...
You’re the only survivor. You walk for 3 days with no food other than the few blueberries you find. You’ve only drunk water from creeks and swamps (that you hope is clean.) You have blisters on your blisters. You’ve slept poorly – shivering under your ripped plastic sheet and frightened by the midnight scufflings – you hope they are just raccoons and skunks. You’re alone. You’re scared about the other passengers’ families who are not as lucky as you.

You finally get to a road. Someone stops to help.
They offer you four choices:
• food and clean water.
• a hot shower and fresh, warm dry clothes.
• a dry, safe, indoor bed where you can sleep, uninterrupted, for 8 hours.
• a math lesson on geometry.

My guess is you do not choose the math lesson first.

Abraham Maslow developed a theory in psychology – the hierarchy of needs –  that suggests people are motivated by base needs (survival) before pursuing more lofty goals like education. The hypothetical plane crash illustrates your desire for basic needs before academic advancement.

And so it is with school children.

Some children in our schools are not ready to learn because:
• they haven’t eaten enough today, this week or this year.
• they’ve lost someone close to them.
• they’re frightened of their neighbours, the bullies, or a family member (who is violent, abusive or suffers from mental illness).
• they keep having to move because they can’t afford rent.
• they wake up with nightmares every nght about what they experienced last year.
• they’re quietly suffering from a hidden illness – OCD, depression, cancer.

Children are good at hiding uncomfortable truths. If they are pre-occupied by a lack of food, shelter, safety, love they will not be able to soak up (or pay attention to) school lessons.

The causes for their inattention may be their ‘normal.’ Some kids (and adults) are not ready or able to absorb the education offered at our world-renowned public schools. They’re too busy trying to process or access more basic necessities – food, shelter, love and belonging, safety.

What can be done?
• Recognize a red flag. This can be tough. The challenges can be well hidden or disguised.
• Once a challenge is flagged, investigate the root of the behaviour (unexpected low academic scores, falling asleep at school, unexpected behaviour…) That can require support from other teachers, administrators, parents, multidisciplinary team (psychologists, social workers, etc.) It starts by building a relationship in the classroom. This step can be perplexing and require detective skills, compassion and empathy…
• Develop a support plan. This can involve social services, breakfast club, food bank, counseling, interpreters, doctors, and financial aid.

Listen, support and follow-up.

#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!

#1160 Growth Mindset – Making Changes

Life can be tough.
Making positive change is easy.
Or is it?

I spoke to a veteran teacher recently about the idea of making positive changes.

Me: “Change is tough.”

Other Teacher: “It’s just a decision people have to make.”

This was a tough discussion for me.
Change is easy, technically. Instead of A you choose B.

But overcoming entrenched barriers and obstacles takes more than a flick of a switch. Change is harder to overcome if life has been traumatic or decades of obstacles have become entrenched.

How you approach the obstacles has a significant impact on your success at getting around them. Recognizing the need for, and accessing, support is another piece of the puzzle.

Obstacles will always be there. Some will be tougher than others.
Growth mindset – along with support – can make the difference to create change.

Fixed Mindset:
The way is set. It’s always been this way. It will always be this way.
“I’ve never done well at ________ (school, love, interviews, tests…) That’s the way it is.”
With a fixed mindset obstacles turn into barriers that become insurmountable.

Growth Mindset:
The past has been set. But it can change. Anything is possible.
So far, my success at ________ (school, love, interviews, tests…) has been limited. How can I get better?”
With a growth mindset, obstacles turn into puzzles that become possible with perseverance.

It’s true, some people have innate abilities that make (some) tasks or changes easier. And some people have external negative influences that increase the challenges.

But, with a growth mindset, the outcome is a challenge or puzzle that just needs to be navigated for success. Anything is possible. Nelson Mandela said “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” 

Listen to Carol Dweck speak about the power of yet.

Finding effective mentors or support for those with a history of recurring obstacles or entrenched barriers will also be one important key to success and positive change

Back to my discussion with my teacher colleague…
Change is tough. History can repeat itself unless you make the decision to choose a growth mindset – perhaps with support – to allow the change to happen.

#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…

#1158 Real Superheroes

Real superheroes are often in disguise…
They are real people who do extra-ordinary things. I like to bring the superhero ideas into the classroom…

Last year I wrote about superheroes in the classroom.

Below I share:
• Three real superheroes
• A CBC clip about a teacher who brings superheroes to her classroom
• Ideas for using superheroes to meet curriculum expectations

Like Gladys West, who developed the mathematics behind GPS technology. She overcame enormous hurdles to set the groundwork for technology that many people in North America and Europe take for granted. Hurdles? She’s an African American woman who grew up in the 1920’s when women and people of African heritage were not supposed to shine. She shone brightly in the world of mathematics but did not receive much recognition for her work until recently.

Who is YOUR real superhero?!
Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Or mild mannered Mr. Rogers and “Officer” Clemmons who battled racial segregation on mainstream television in a gentle and welcoming way by sharing the spotlight and a pool in the children’s tv show. Today, that’s not so unusual. In 1969, in America, that was unheard of. But it helped challenge deep seated bigotry in the USA.

Or Cecilia Payne, born in 1900, who proposed groundbreaking astrophysical theories against all odds. Her mother refused to pay for her education. She was a woman working in a man’s field. Other scientists denounced her theories. But she persisted and lay the groundwork for modern understanding of our universe.

I like using real superheroes in the classroom. Links to literacy, art and character education offers all kinds of unit plans with backward design.

Start by finding the end result – a real life superhero – and work backwards to research who they are and what makes them tick. Extend the activity to connect to the student’s self – what are the student’s hidden superpowers?!

Others, like Marjorie White (featured in the CBC clip below), use superheroes to motivate students:

Who are your real life superheroes?
Who do you admire?
What is YOUR super power?!

#1157 School’s Out! … Summer Learning

School’s out!
Summer is in full swing.

That doesn’t mean literacy and math learning need to stop.
It also doesn’t mean you need to pull a chair to a desk and do some worksheets.

Let the learning continue – but hide it in summer activities! See some literacy/numeracy learning ideas below:

Summer Literacy
These games are geared to elementary children and can be played anytime there’s some downtime, not just on roadtrips:

• I spy literacy games– “I see something beginning with t and ending in e.” … “TREE”… “What letters go in that word?”

• Story circle– Each person adds a sentence, verbally, to an ever-growing story. The story will be silly but reinforces communication and connections.
Person 1… “We arrived at the beach and jumped in the water when suddenly…”
Person 2… “a submarine floated up beside me.”
Person 3… “The submarine opened and out came 26 cats…”
Person 4… “…Who did not like getting wet!”
Person 1… “My Dad rolled his eyes and said ‘Why are cats driving a submarine?!’”
Person 2… “We HAVE to help the cats!”
Person 3… “But, how?!…”

• Visit your library! There is hours of adventure found in a library. There’s still time to join the TD Summer Reading Club.

• Read to your children. Anytime, anywhere. Research supports that reading to your children is a very good idea.

Encourage children to count money to practice math.
Counting allowance money is (hidden) math!

Summer Numeracy 
• “Who wants some money?!”

My son’s day camp had a cantina. He wanted $2 for a treat. I gave him my loose change jar so he could collect the $2 himself. With a little support and guidance you have a motivated mathemetician!

“Who wants cookies?!”
Bake some cookies (or anything!) with your children. Get them to read and measure from the recipe = literacy and numeracy (and cookies!) Motivated mathematician strikes again!

• Tables turned…
Get children to try to stump YOU with their hardest math questions.

Hehe… Who likes to stump their moms and dads?! Their questions may be silly and not illustrate perfect math. This math inquiry offers a chance to build on their math curiosity and engage math ideas and interest:

Child: “What’s a billion times a gazillion?
Mom/Dad: “Yikes, that’s a tough one! A boozillion?
Child: “No, a gabillion!
Mom/Dad: “Wow, that’s big! How big is a million?… Do you have a million hairs on your head?… Do you have a thousand hairs on your head?… etc.” 

Their ideas and curiosity can be more important than a perfect answer. 

• Hiking math
Plant some math inquiry into hiking (or whatever you are doing.):
How far have we gone?
How old is that tree?
How many bugs are in that tree stump?
“How did you figure that out?…”

Again, the math ideas and discussion can be more valuable than perfect answers… Keep the math conversations going.

Science, art, social studies, physical activity, can all be disguised as fun activities, too.

Summer (hidden) learning will keep them sharp!
Keep it up. 

#1156 The Forced Apology

A young student does something wrong.
They’re told to apologize.
They do.

And then nothing changes…

There’s a lot wrong with this scenario.
The student upsets someone or something. Yes, that’s unfortunate but it happens. I like to think of these ‘oopses’ as potential for learning. Often the student is asked or told or expected to apologize and, usually, the student knows the easy way out – “I’m sorry…” 

The trouble is – in many cases – the student is not sorry. They want to get out of trouble quickly, go through the ‘sorry’ steps and get back to what they want to do. The greater injustice is that, oftentimes, the student’s undesirable behaviour does not change or is reinforced.

This winter a student from another class routinely stepped over the boundaries of school rules and general decorum. He was a high-flying prankster constantly pushing the envelope of acceptable behaviour. He’d been trained to keep playing his get out of jail “sorry” card. 

The last time he said ‘sorry’ with his big goofy grin and an expectation of absolution, I stopped. 

“I don’t think you are sorry,” came from my mouth. His smile faded with the recognition that his normal routine had hit a snag. He stood quietly, unsure what to say…

“If you were sorry you wouldn’t keep running and yelling in the halls between classes.” More silence…

“I would know you were sorry if you at least attempted to make a change.”

And I let him go…

That was the start of a slow change.

The next time I taught his class I met him at the door. I asked why I should let him in. “I could just give you your work. You could do it in the office… I don’t like it when your behaviour disrupts others. How do I know you’ve changed or are willing to change?”

That was the start of a gradual evolution. It required time and consistency and more energy than demanding ‘sorry.’ It required our relationship to grow.

The end result was better. But the cost was higher. 

Most people think teachers teach math or language or science, etc. They do, but the more important job is to develop the whole person. That takes more time and effort – often more effort than the teacher has time for.  

Don’t accept a meaningless apology. It’s the extra step that makes the difference to a student and a community.

#1155 Trees in the Classroom

Last fall, I carted six trees into my classroom. 

They fit nicely on the window ledge.

They also fit nicely into the curriculum:
• We wrote about the differences and similarities of the leaves.
• We compared the mathematical patterns and measured their sizes.
• We studied the science of trees as oxygen producers.
• We included them in art.
• We discussed the social impact of trees on neigbourhoods.
… And then we planted two trees as a lasting memory of the learning and gift to the school/neighbourhood.

Trees - curriculum links to language.
Trees in the Classroom

In the current state of our climate – more frequent floods, big storms and weather anomalies – bringing attention to the carbon capturing potential of trees at any grade level is a good thing.

I’d like to see trees planted as many places as possible. Schools and students are a great place to plant the seeds, metaphorically and literally. Growing trees in your class is possible and easy:
• Plant some apple seeds from a student’s lunch apples and see what happens.
• Contact groups like Ecology Ottawa and ask about their free seedling giveaways.
• Collect seeds in the fall and explore the process of seed germination (this can be challenging.) 

Trees for life!

Trees - curriculum connections
My tree nursery – to be planted in schools, parks and yards…