Saturday, March 28, 2015

To Flip a Card, or Not to Flip a Card? That is the Behavior Chart Question!

One afternoon, when Thomas was tiny and had just learned to  toddle around in his Nanny’s garden, I stood chatting with a neighbor who suddenly shouted, “Get out of the flowers before someone smacks your bum!” My baby burst into tears, and I experienced my first moment of righteous parenting anger.  No one had ever shouted at my son!  This led to a conversation about corporal punishment in which I assured Nanny’s friend that I will never spank my children - not to keep them from touching a hot stove, or even to teach them to stay out of the road. 

Several years later, I was having a heart to heart with Thomas the teen about cleaning up the kitchen.  I just couldn’t understand. How can I explain, ask nicely, and gently remind day after day and still come home to warm mayonnaise on the counter, and crusts of bread?  He can watch me wipe away tears of frustration and still leave a mess the next day.  But when an angry voice booms down to the basement all the boys come running to clean the mess, and the kitchen is clean for a week.  Why did an angry voice work more efficiently than my rational words?  There are times when I feel that if I were to slam a door, I would get a better result than if I try to rationalize using words. And I this leaves me so utterly disappointed.   

Punishment works!  Humiliation too.

Afraid to make Mom mad, the boys keep the counter clean.
Ground them for a month, no more t.v. bad guys get squirted with water guns.
A walk of shame to turn in the cell phone, no more texting in class.
The flip of a card, no more sassin’ the teacher.

But.  Instead.
We have boys who drive to Taco Bell to spend money for their afternoon snack.
Stir crazy kids somersault off the back of the couch.
Now, she leans back in her chair to reach around Chris and tap Maritza on the shoulder but crashes to the floor.
No more smart talk, but a grudging conformity.

I have heard, that negative reinforcement can extinguish an undesired behavior.
I’ve read that it is most likely replaced with another.
I’ve noticed, that this seems to be true.

I have also done some research, and been inspired by educators who’ve been doing this work before me.  I believe in the philosophy of Restorative Justice, and our community circle meets every day after lunch.  When we build a classroom community where each person is valued, kids are eager to do the hard work of coming back to the circle.  We bring our concerns and our frustrations to the group, and great ideas come from these kids!  They reassure one another that team work is hard, and make suggestions for what to do when a disagreement turns into an argument.  “Instead of coloring on her castle, you could ask if you can make the rainbow.”  They suggest compromise and practice listening.  “I heard Hayden say he wanted to make a puppet show in the snow, and I think that would make a good part two to your story.”

I’ve seen skill building work.  My student who can’t stand to be excluded will sometimes push or hit her way into the group.  Now, she refers to the chart on the wall to select a sentence frame to fit the situation.  “Would it be ok if I play wall ball with you at recess?”  “Will you be my partner for __?” And she has been rewarded with acceptance.  

This student is one smart little girl!  When we sit together before she heads to recess, and acknowledge that this is a difficult time, she can brainstorm three or four ways to get other kids to listen to her ideas.  They don’t work every time, and she still makes mistakes, but she is not giving up because she is also finding success!  What joy when two girls asked her to sing their made-up song during sharing time. The Think:Kids approach on OHSU Department of Psychaiatry’s website describes the underlying shift in mindset that comes with a Collaborative Problem Solving approach: We used to think “kids do well if they want to” but now we believe that “children do well if they can”.  We trust kids to do their best, to be their best.

So, I remain true to my ideals.  I resist the pressure to conform.  I try to work within the system that my school has adopted, but sometimes I feel like I am alone.  I defend myself when someone says, “I know you don’t make them flip cards.”  I assure my colleague that I am following the guidance I have been given… I will ask a child to flip his card, if after meeting and reflecting, talking and some teaching, the behavior continues.  The only students who continue the misbehavior after plenty of teaching are those who are on their own special plan, and are exempt from the card chart.  So… my chart stays green.

The terrible consequence…. the punishment, the humiliating walk of shame… only comes to those who have been instructed well, and still have not learned their lesson.   And, well… I am a teacher after all.  That is what I do.  I teach.  And, I think I do it pretty well.  They are kids.  They make mistakes and they learn from them.  And, I think they do it pretty well.  Nice job kids.  No card flips around here.


OHSU Medical School: Department of Psychiatry, Think:Kids

Lives in the Balance, Changing the Conversation about and with Behaviorally Challenging Kids

Peace Circles: Listen to the Children

Restorative Justice Online

Saturday, March 7, 2015

What if ____?

Two questions inspired my imagination this morning.

The first question was, “What if we stopped giving homework?” 

This question came to mind after reading an article by Heather Holland about a school in New York that decided to stop giving homework.  Here is a link to the article:

The second question of the day was “What would happen in your school if kids could go to any class they wanted to, all day long?” 

It came at the end of today’s #satchatwc on twitter, guest-hosted by @McLane_Ryan.  I was thinking that this should have been the only question because it could have inspired so much interesting discussion.  Maybe it will be a future stand-alone topic, you never know!  Then, Shelley Burgess shared a link to Ryan McLane’s blog post about what happened when he really tried this in his school.  Here is the link that she shared .  And, just to be thorough in citing my sources of inspiration and thinking… McLane’s Teach Like a Pirate day grew from the book by Dave Burgess who blogs at

What if we trusted kids to be who they were created to be? 

These two questions really come down to one idea for me.  I am an idealist at heart.  My feeling is that we are born with some innate sense of right and wrong.  It is also part of human nature to be curious and inquisitive.  I want to believe. I want to trust that people will be good, will do good.  I know that to be human is also to be a learner. It's who we are, it's what we do.  So, I wonder what would happen if we assumed these things to be true about our students.  I think, they will find and sense the intrinsic value of these pursuits.  What if… 

Out there on the playground. 
What if we let kids… build things, climb things, go UP the slide?
What if we let kids… solve their own problems, create their own games?

I don’t mean leave them alone. I mean give them space and time and tools. I think we should be available to help and support and to provide.  People out there on the internet, in schools, and even on Facebook, are talking about, writing about, and advocating for more recess.  And, parents and teachers are protesting the withholding of recess as punishment.  We want kids to move.  We're concerned about the over-diagnosis of ADHD. We are fighting an epidemic of obesity. Maybe it starts with our concern for healthy movement and the need for exercise, but I think the benefits of recess freedom and more recess are even bigger. I think recess is about brain development, creativity and innovation. Have you read about open playgrounds?  When I was a head-start teacher, a pre-school teacher, we were encouraged to provide props for play on the playground (pieces of hose, a sheet, logs or boards, wheels…). Wow! The power of creative play, and hours of open ended problem solving!  What if older students were given (trusted with) the same kind of freedom?

Some schools are trying it! Read about Recess Without Rules at

In the classroom.
What if we let students… choose their books, their activities, their projects?
What if we let students… ask the questions, find the answers?

The idea is not new.  Educators have known about the power of choice for a very long time.  When my sons were in elementary school, they had an Imagination Celebration every Halloween.  It was a time when teachers offered a classroom activity that was creative and inspired by their own interests.  Kids got to choose where they went, what they would learn about, and they loved it!  When they were in middle school, they had elective classes offered during a time of the day called X-Block.  Teachers offered interesting classes around ideas that may have nothing to do with their academic topic, their area of endorsement.  Students decided whether to help run a sporting event for the Blind School, to make movie, or to build a sculpture in the art studio...  I believe this elective option of choice (for both teachers and students) is still in place. I hope so.

But, it is easy to get caught up in the expectations, the curriculum goals, and the tests to come. It’s easy to forget about choice as we map out our lessons for the year, with the content standards spread across the teacher desk. 

I also know, that hours can disappear as I search for knitting patterns online, or talk about a book with fellow curious teachers in an edchat on twitter.  If the desire to learn comes from a genuine driving question, a need to know or a true curiosity, we simply have to find the answer!  We can spend hours researching, experimenting, learning…. when the question comes from a genuine passion or need to know.  That is why I was eager to create a maker-space in my classroom.  That is why I love free choice time.  This is why my next goal is to begin some form of “genius hour” and why I am reading Pure Genius by Don Wettrick.  Want to know more? I have read, and you can read about project based learning and choice at  I know that I need to remind myself to make a time and a place for students to choose their own learning adventure.

At home.
What if we let families… spend time as they choose?
What if we let families… make family time their own?
What if families… were responsible for the learning that happens at home?

A few years ago, my school re-worked our homework philosophy.  There was a lot of discussion about the importance of homework, and the need to form responsible habits.  Teachers talked about how kids need to spend more time practicing skills.  We developed a recommendation that students spend 10 minutes per grade level on homework (10 minutes per night in 1st grade, 20 minutes in 2nd grade etc…) but, we also included a nice list of things that could be considered “homework”. The policy, signed by all of the teachers and sent home, included a list of enrichment activities.  It included things like practicing an instrument, discussing a movie, or going for a walk.  Some teachers interpreted this policy to mean they have permission to send homework that will take the suggested time; this math page should take my 3rd graders 30 minutes.  I like to interpret it to mean it’s not necessarily my responsibility to send work or to enforce completion. I offer open ended writing prompts, and reminders that reading is important. I send links to to practice math skills.  I am happy to offer suggestions, lend my books, and give homework.  But, I want to encourage families to use family time to reinforce their own values. The family value being reinforced during homework time might be the pursuit of an academic task, but it also might be something else entirely!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Can You Describe Your Teaching Philosophy in a Tweet?

This week, I was asked to describe my teaching philosophy… and I was caught a little off guard. Can you believe it?  I stumbled a little, hesitated over words. Me, who is happy to talk about teaching any time, any day.

I think it was a hard question for me to answer because I haven’t tried to summarize it, to make it into a brief statement, for a very long time.  Probably, the last time I intentionally described my teaching philosophy was in a PSU class maybe 12 years ago. 

I guess it’s time to update, if only so I can answer this question without thinking, next time.

So… the 140 character, tweet might go like this…

Teaching Philosophy:  Encourage students to discover their gifts, to find joy in learning and confidence in self expression.

And the elevator speech… my one minute teaching philosophy, the what’s most important to express and impress upon the potential employer or customer would go like this…

I am an educator.  It is my job to create an environment where students learn how to learn.  I plan opportunities for my children to interact with ideas, and the world. I give them skills to ask questions, develop ideas, and test their theories. I establish a safe place for kids to make mistakes and keep trying.  I give students opportunities to create, and to share their thinking. I build a community of learners who trust one another and believe in possibilities.

And the essay question response, maybe to present in a class when I decide to go for my phd or my administrative license…

We are all learners, all the time and everywhere.
My teaching philosophy is rooted in the idea of learning as a life long pursuit and process, it is what we do every day as we interact with the world.  We are learning all the time! Some lessons are intentional and carefully crafted, some are sought after, and others are the result of luck or environment or accident.  It is my role as educator, to create a framework for this learning.  I want my students to have the skills needed to seek out and take from these life lessons what is important and relevant, for them to be in control of the lesson learned.
  1. Teach reflection (exit slips, learning logs, journal, blog)
  2. Make connections between home & school (communication, project based learning, invite experts, flexibility in making curriculum connections)
  3. Offer choices (maker space, free choice, discovery time)
  4. Act gently with patience and kindness (reflect on what students are learning about self-worth and identity while in my care)
Each person is unique and special.
I firmly believe that each person is gifted with unique talents and will contribute in a special way to the world we live in. It is my job as a teacher to help my students discover their gifts. I want them to see that they are important members of our community.  I want my students to know that we are better because they are part of this group.  Each of my students is missed when absent, and we are happy to greet each other in the morning, and share our day together.
  1. Teach with learning styles and multiple intelligences in mind (make it visual, auditory, interactive, kinesthetic, independent, quiet, structured, open ended…)
  2. Offer choices for showing how you know (write, draw, sculpt, act it out, answer questions, discuss, present…)
  3. Give opportunities for highlighting non-academic skills (sharing time, community building activities)
  4. Make time to connect with each student every day (confer, check-in, a hand-shake, a smile, keep the door open & make time to talk)
I can teach skills for inquiry and discovery.
I teach my students how to learn, and give them opportunities to practice skills in  meaningful and relevant contexts.  I teach students strategies for decoding and reading comprehension. I teach habits of mind and interaction for mathematic problem solving. I guide them in discovering strategies for making connections and for metacognition.  I teach them the process of scientific inquiry; and isn’t it wonderful that this applies to all of our learning about the world?  Observe. Question. Hypothesize. Research. Experiment. I want my students to find relevance at the end of all this, to tell why this discovery or idea is important to them or in the world.
  1. Integrated curriculum planning (read and write about science, use math to solve problems and answer questions, show understanding in creative ways)
  2. Teach skills explicitly (with guided & independent practice) and give opportunities for decision making about which skill is most efficient in this real context.
  3. Provide access (supports & scaffolds) and extension opportunities in projects and lessons.
We are social beings who need to communicate.
We live in a wonderfully diverse world full of ideas and perspectives, ways of being and interacting.  We want to be understood, and should seek to understand.  Literacy skills are fundamental to our ability to communicate with one another.  Students need to practice listening, speaking, reading and writing in everything they do.  
  1. Listen to students, parents and colleagues.  
  2. Watch for, listen and respond to non-verbal communication.
  3. Celebrate and value the multi-lingual and multi-cultural community in which I live and work.
  4. Share my perspectives, teaching methods & philosophy with students, colleagues and parents (in various ways & in the home language).