How to Respond When You’re Angry

Maybe you’re a very patient person who can respond calmly in almost every situation. You don’t get upset no matter what your students say or do. If that’s you, you probably don’t need to read any more. Just go on with your peaceful day, smiling beatifically at me as I stomp down the hallway, fuming about some crazy thing one of my students just did.

No matter how hard I try, sometimes I say or do things in the heat of the moment I would never do if I wasn’t upset. My actions seem almost instantaneous and involuntary, and I react (like a chemical reaction) instead of responding (like a reply to a greeting.)

Luckily, even those of us lacking superhuman patience can learn to respond more and react less when we’re angry. Here are a few suggestions:

1- Plan your response ahead of time. Write down what you wish you had said or done and picture yourself saying and doing those things next time. You might even rehearse. It’s especially powerful to actually practice in place, such as in your “teaching spot.”

2- Be conscious of how you tend to feel before, during, and after upsetting events. How does your body feel? What kinds of thoughts do you think? For instance, when I’m angry I usually feel a heavy stomach, heat on the back of my neck, tense shoulders, and clenched teeth. I think things like “here we go again” and “you better not mess with me.” When I notice myself starting to feel these sensations and think those thoughts, I know an angry reaction is likely unless I can shift to my planned response or give myself time to cool off.

3- Try to notice patterns, not just in the “trigger moment” but before it happens, too. For instance, I am 2.7 million times more likely to react in anger if I’m tired or hungry. So I make an effort to get a good night’s sleep before teaching and to eat healthy snacks throughout the day.

4- Practice positive self-talk before, during, and after upsetting events. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself. Remind yourself that you are learning, growing, and getting better.

Even those of us who aren’t super patient can learn to respond instead of react. It’s not easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But it’s totally worth it.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

 

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The Humiliating Day I Forgot to Show Up For My Sub Job

At the end of the school year, after the books are boxed up, the walls are stripped, and the furniture is stacked, it’s natural to reflect back over the year and think about what went well and what didn’t.

Sometimes these memories are invited, and sometimes they sneak up and pounce on you when you least expect them – such as when you’re cracking open your first-of-the-summer trashy paperback novel or I-don’t-have-to-do-lesson-plans-this-weekend beer.

For me, the unwelcome reflections usually involve some embarrassing and/or completely inexcusable mistake I made. The Humiliating Day I Forgot to Show Up for My Sub JobLike the one I made last week when I totally forgot about a sub job I had committed to. I felt so horrible! I kept blaming myself and reflecting on how much I had inconvenienced everyone from the teacher I was supposed to work for, to the school secretary, to the rest of the staff at the school, to the kids.

Not helpful, really. My self-blame just made me feel worse, and did nothing to make the situation any better. But I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

Then I started thinking about our students. How do we coach them to deal with mistakes? If it’s an academic mistake, we may ask them to erase it and do it over. If it’s a social mistake, it might be to apologize and find a way to “make it right.” This is great, if it’s possible. But what if it’s not?

Maybe we can take the artist’s approach. I was taught that there are no mistakes in art. If something shows up that you didn’t intend, you try to see what it’s telling you and integrate it into the project in some way.

That’s what I’m doing now by writing this. It’s also what I encourage you to do if you look back over your year and notice some things that didn’t go the way you had hoped. Were there some actions you wouldn’t take again? If so, and if it’s possible, take the academics approach and correct it for next year. If that’s not possible, take the artist approach and ask yourself, “In what way could this mistake become a healthy part of my teaching practice? How could I use this story to help myself and others?”

Our profession isn’t easy, and it’s inevitable we will make mistakes, sometimes big ones. Luckily we don’t have to be perfect to be effective. It takes courage to continue on, and faith to see that you ARE making a difference in the world. Thank you for all you do and for your willingness to try it again next year.

And now, break out that book or beer and have an amazing summer! We’ll see you next Fall!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies@gmail.com

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The Hidden Opportunity in “Throw-Away Days”

I was frantically busy getting ready for the holiday, and frankly, my mind just wasn’t on academics. My students weren’t focused either, and quite a few of them were absent because of their own family stuff.I knew my students would forget anything I taught them in the two-day week leading up to Thanksgiving, so I decided to plan two days of holiday-themed activities with little academic value. They were the Throw-Away Days of Thanksgiving.

You might not call them “throw-away days” (at least not where your principal can hear you) but it’s an open secret in education that the days before major holidays may be a just a smidge less academically rigorous than usual.

I’m not saying this is bad. It’s actually part of the natural rhythm of the year. I’m just saying balance the word searches, videos, class celebrations, and construction-paper-based crafts with something that will make your life more sane the week after the holiday, too.

Activities like:

  • Invite your students to reflect on what’s going well in your class and to offer suggestions for improvement. Depending on your class, this could be a Google Form survey, a drawing, a class discussion, a word cloud, or a writing project. Let them know you will be implementing their best ideas after the holiday.
  • As a class, revisit and revise your rules/agreements/norms.This will give you a natural way to reteach and review when you return from the holiday.
  • Revise your class jobs. Ask your students to help create the job descriptions. They can then apply for the jobs in an age-appropriate way (such as filling out a sentence frame, writing a persuasive essay, creating a resume, or making a video explaining why they would be the best person for the job.) Again, this gives you the perfect opportunity to reteach and review classroom routines when you return.
  • Do a lesson on “organization” (otherwise known as cleaning and purging.) Have your students clean out and organize their desks, work spaces, and computer folders. Early finishers can reorganize common areas and bookshelves. When you return after the holiday, the fresh new environment will support your fresh-start activities and procedures review.
  • Further support your “fresh start” theme with a new room configuration. Ask for student input (diagrams, written suggestions, etc) and then roll out the new setup right after the holiday.

Activities like these can turn the after-holiday review into a new beginning instead of a boring rehash of the same old rules. Asking for student participation creates community and buy-in. And YOU won’t have to spend a lot of time this week on prep, or take work home to grade. It’s a win for everyone!

How do you leverage “throw-away days” constructively? I’d love to hear your ideas! Please comment in our private Facebook group or send me an email.

And now, go create a great day for yourself and your students (and have a fantastic Thanksgiving!)

Katrina Ayres
PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Improve Student Behavior With Your “Magic Clipboard”

I didn’t lose my cool. I simply invoked the power of the magic clipboard.

Let’s face it. Our students are smart, especially when it comes to figuring out how to “get away with” attention-getting misbehavior. For one thing, they know timing is everything. If you want the maximum attention with the fewest consequences, you need to pick a time when adult attention is divided, or your campaign will be shut down before it can attract enough attention.

For example, why make fart noises in class during the day when you’ll simply be sent to the buddy room to fill out a reflection form? Why not do it at the end of the day when it’s too late for the buddy room and the teacher doesn’t have time to deal with it? And better yet, why not get two of your buddies to do it with you to maximize the effect and make it even harder for the teacher to stop you?

Instead of ignoring the behavior, trying to send the students to the time-out room anyway, or losing my temper and yelling at them, I simply put the reflection forms on clipboards and calmly asked the students to fill them out at their seats.

Yes, this happened to me this week in a lovely 4th grade class that is the terror of the school.

But I didn’t lose my cool. I simply invoked the power of the clipboard.

Instead of ignoring the behavior, trying to send the students to the time-out room anyway, or losing my temper and yelling at them, I simply put the reflection forms on clipboards and calmly asked the students to fill them out at their seats.

Two of them immediately finished the forms with the fastest writing I had ever seen.

When they started goofing off instead, I said, “I’m sorry you’re having trouble getting done with the forms. Don’t worry! We can just take them with us to the dismissal area, and the three of you can work on them there. If your family is already there to pick you up, I’m sure they won’t mind waiting until you’re finished.”

Two of them immediately finished the forms with the fastest writing I had ever seen. The third one still hadn’t finished when it was time to go, but he instantly developed the superpower of being able to write and walk at the same time (even though he’s barely coordinated enough write his name on his paper the rest of the day.) I went over the completed forms with each student at the dismissal area, said a friendly goodbye, and sent them on their way.

Without the Clipboard

What would have happened without the clipboard? Either they would have gotten a lot of attention from yelling, begging, and pleading; or there would have been no consequences when I ignored them; or they would have had delayed consequences the next day when they had forgotten all about it; or they would have held the entire class hostage while I waited for them to complete their reflection forms. None of these solutions would have helped them learn more appropriate behavior, and several would have reinforced their behavior by giving them what they wanted – power and attention.

Clipboards are an essential classroom management tool!

Uses For Clipboards

Clipboards are an essential classroom management tool! You can use them to separate students who are having difficulty working together. You can use them as an intervention for students who have trouble sitting still, so they can walk and work. You can use them as a reward or incentive. (If you do ___ you can use the clipboard and work on the floor, cushy chair, or counter.) You can use clipboards to give students a legitimate choice – do the work now, or work on the clipboard at recess.

Please Share!

Do you have a magic clipboard trick to help with student behavior? Or something else that works for you? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina@AwesomeTeacherNation.com

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How to Work With Parents

Once I was literally backed into a corner by a ranting mom. She yelled and waved her arms while I was trapped with my back to the wall, wondering what to do. There was no one to help me in my isolated computer lab. It was just the two of us. Every time I opened my mouth to answer one of her concerns, she would shout me down. I was finally able to extract myself from the corner and walk to a populated area, but for awhile it was a little scary.

I don’t know any teacher who doesn’t have a parent story or two.

I don’t know any teacher who doesn’t have a parent story or two. There are stories about intimidation, public criticism, lack of involvement, too much involvement, and more. It seems parents can “misbehave” in just about as many ways as their kids. Kind of makes you wonder… could classroom management principles be applied to parents? Let’s take three powerful classroom management principles, and see how they might work with parent interactions.

Clear Expectations 

One of the most powerful classroom management strategies I know is to clearly, explicitly, and systematically teach our students how things work in our class. How can students know what we expect if we haven’t taught them?

Same goes for parents. What do you expect them to do if they have a concern? Make an appointment? Email you? Text you? Write you a note? Is it okay for them visit the class? If so, when and how do they do that? Is it okay for them to interrupt your lesson? How will parents know how their kids are doing? What are your homework expectations? What is the best way for them to team up with you to help their kids succeed? Is volunteer work available in your classroom? If so, how do they sign up and what are the volunteer expectations? Is it okay to come any time, or do they need to be there at a certain time?

The truth is, most parents have no idea how much energy and attention it takes to run a classroom and they can’t understand why they can’t just show up and talk to you for awhile.

When I first started teaching, I offended a few parents by ignoring them when they showed up in the middle of class. Couldn’t they see I was busy? Well, no, they couldn’t, so they decided I must not care about them or want to listen to their concerns. The truth is, most parents have no idea how much energy and attention it takes to run a classroom and they can’t understand why they can’t just show up and talk to you for awhile.

I recommend teaching parents these expectations as many ways as you can. Put them in every newsletter, on your website, in your voicemail message, and in the signature line of your email. Use email and text autoresponders to tell parents how to contact you, and where they can go for information.

Develop Rapport Through Positive Interactions

Another powerful classroom management tool is rapport. When students feel like you care about them as human beings, they are much less likely to act out in class. The best way to build rapport is to learn who they are and share who you are.

Parents like knowing that an actual, caring person is teaching their child.

The same is true for parents. The more you can learn about them and develop a friendly relationship, the better.  When they show up for back to school night, conferences, or class activities, try to learn a little about them before getting down to business. If they don’t show up, use whatever contact information you have to send a friendly message from time to time BEFORE any problems or concerns arise. Some teachers use a family communication journal to help them keep track of when and how they have reached out to parents.

Use your newsletters and online communications to share personal information about yourself, such as favorite sports teams, hobbies, and so on. Parents like knowing that an actual, caring person is teaching their child.

Avoid Power Struggles

The ability to avoid power struggles and remain calm is a critically important classroom management skill. It’s also important in interactions with parents. Parents are emotionally involved with their kids, and are used to making important decisions about them based on their culture, family traditions, and parenting philosophy.  Teachers are used to making decisions about their classrooms based on their professional training, experience, and district mandates. Hmm… I wonder what could possibly go wrong here?

The ability to avoid power struggles and remain calm is a critically important classroom management skill. It’s also important in interactions with parents.

No matter how great you are at building relationships with parents and setting up expectations, conflicts are going to happen, and emotions may run high. If you are feeling angry or threatened, it is best to withdraw. Don’t answer that email until you’ve cooled off. If the parent is there in person, offer to make an appointment to talk about it another time. Pretend you have to get to a meeting, and go where there are other people.

If you are feeling calm, listen first and try to repeat back both their words and their emotions. “So let me see if I understand. You are feeling ____ because ______.” Ask them what they want, and try to meet their needs if possible. Many times there is some sort of miscommunication, and when you listen the problem will disappear. This is another good time to use the family communication journal, so that you can document any agreements.

Do you have a great strategy for working effectively with your students’ families? If so, I would love to hear about it. Please feel free to comment below or email me. I always love to hear from you.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Who Cares?

My second grade teacher had some sort of behavior incentive program involving points. I was never really clear exactly what it was. I knew she carried around a clipboard and made notes on it with her pencil (usually with an angry expression on her face) but I really had no clue whether points were being taken away or given out or both. I also didn’t really know what I had to do to earn points except “be good,” or how many points I needed to get to see the movie on Friday, or even how many points I had at any given time. Sometimes I got to see the movie, but more often I didn’t, and in my mind it had nothing to do with me. It was completely up to the teacher.

This is what is known as a bad incentive plan.

Because I didn’t understand it, I didn’t really care about it one way or another. My teacher, on the other hand, really cared about it a lot. She talked about it all the time and seemed to think I would instantly snap to attention when she threatened to take away points or give points or whatever. Meanwhile, I just muddled along, being an impulsive kid.

As I teacher, I’ve done incentive programs, too. I’ve done whole-class incentives, individual behavior contracts, group table points, and many others. And the one thing they all had in common was I really wanted the students to earn them.

Think about it. If I’m offering 30 minutes of game time on Friday, I won’t have to do lesson plans. In fact, I might be able to get a good start on my planning for next week while the students are playing Yahtzee or dominoes. Also, I know that if students don’t earn the incentive, they will feel like losers and might blame me. So I might tend to stretch the rules or offer extra chances or lower my standards to make sure the students make it. This, of course, teaches the students I don’t mean what I say, or causes confusion about what they are expected to do, or both.

Incentives can be great tools for acknowledging our students when they are exhibiting positive behavior. They can also be a helpful motivator for students while they are learning habits that will help them succeed, as long as they are carefully designed. Here are four things to consider:

1 – Is it clear to the students what they need to do to earn the incentive? Or is it left up to the whim of the teacher? “You’re too noisy, so I’m taking away a point” can seem arbitrary and unfair. “Your group will earn a point if you don’t talk for the next 5 minutes” is clear.

2 – Do the students know why you want them to learn or do this behavior? Why is it important that they get started on their work within 2 minutes of coming in the room? Or turn in their homework? How will this action benefit them and help them grow?

3 – Does this incentive program create winners and losers? Will some students feel like this program is not for them, so they won’t even try? Instead of offers that expire (such as getting to see a movie if you earn 5 class points by Friday) try offering an incentive for being successful, no matter how long it takes (for example, if the class cleans the room in under 5 minutes three times, the class will get to leave 1 minute early the very next day.)

4 – Do the students care as much about this incentive as you do? As I mentioned before, when you care more, you will be inconsistent, and your incentive won’t work.

Have you used an incentive that worked really well for your students? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Please leave a comment or email me.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

 

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Teach Them to Remember

I have to admit there are times when I just don’t think I can say “without talking” or “please get started immediately” one more time without screaming.

We all know the importance of giving clear prompts and directions to students. In fact, I believe the ability to give clear instructions is one of the most important skills for a teacher to have.

But I have to admit there are times when I just don’t think I can say “without talking” or “please get started immediately” one more time without screaming. Why can’t our students remember how to do simple things like getting ready leave, especially since we do it every single day?

They’ve totally learned the routine, which is: Goof around until the teacher tells us to stop and reminds us what to do.

And how many times have I given “the lecture” outside my door after lunch? “Welcome back from lunch. When you get in the room, please go straight to your seat and begin reading silently.” Don’t they know by now?

Well, they do. They’ve totally learned the routine, which is: Goof around until the teacher tells us to stop and reminds us what to do.

One way to avoid this trap is to teach students to do the routine without being reminded. If I am using an incentive, I make sure they understand they will only get the incentive if they do the routine without me having to tell them how. If they seem to be forgetting, I sometimes say, “I wonder who is going to get (incentive) by remembering what to do without being reminded?”

If we expect our students to remember what to do, we also need to teach them how and when to remember it.

If we expect our students to remember what to do, we also need to teach them how and when to remember it. In other words, we need to teach them the trigger. We can’t expect students to do a routine without being reminded unless they know when to start.

In the lunch example, the students WERE following my routine. They were coming in and reading silently. It’s just that the trigger was me telling them to do it. After I trained them to remember it for themselves, the trigger was coming through the door after lunch.

They had been just as bored and frustrated hearing those phrases over and over as I had been saying them.

Side benefit: I actually had a few students thank me after I trained them to remember instead of waiting for me. They had been just as bored and frustrated hearing those phrases over and over as I had been saying them.

Have you successfully trained your students to be self-starters? How did you do it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or in an email.

And now, as always, go create a great day for yourself and your students!

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Consistency or Flexibility?

As a student, one of the things I hated most was when a teacher would say one thing and then do something else.

In college I was incensed and outraged when one of my professors added an assignment that wasn’t on the syllabus. “She said our grade was going to be based on five papers and two tests,” I complained to my friends. “Now she adds in another assignment. It’s not fair!”

In high school, I hated it when a teacher would fail to enforce a rule or policy.

In high school, I hated it when a teacher would fail to enforce a rule or policy. Like the time my Spanish teacher threatened lunch detention for anyone who arrived late to class. So I went out of my way to arrange to keep my books in a friend’s locker so I could make it in time. And then she didn’t give detention to anyone who was late. I was angry and lost all respect for her.

As a young child, if my teacher said something and didn’t do it, I felt betrayed.

As a young child, if my teacher said something and didn’t do it, I felt betrayed. Mr. Nicolas said we were going get to do an art project on Tuesday, but when Tuesday rolled around, there was no art project. He lied to me! How could I ever trust him again?

Fast forward to me as a teacher. Do I always do everything I say I’m going to do? No, I don’t.

Fast forward to me as a teacher. Do I always do everything I say I’m going to do? No, I don’t. Sometimes I’m not allowed to do the thing I said I was going to do. Or sometimes I realize it really wasn’t such a good idea after all. Maybe I made a threat out of anger. Maybe I ran out of time. Maybe I tried it, and it wasn’t working.

But yet… Our students need to be able to count on us, and consistency is a crucial way to build trust. So how can we balance the need for flexibility with the need for consistency? In other words, when is it okay to change your mind, and when do you need to stand your ground?

It’s important to model for our students that making a mistake isn’t the end of the world and that sometimes we need to cut our losses and move on.

I believe you need to change your mind if you realize you made a mistake, particularly if your mistake involves impulsiveness, anger, or just plain old miscalculation. In fact, it’s important to model for our students that making a mistake isn’t the end of the world and that sometimes we need to cut our losses and move on. Apologize if necessary, explain your thinking, and lay out your new plan. And then make every effort to be gentle when your students make a mistake that involves impulsiveness, anger, or just plain miscalculation. Use it as a teachable moment. We’re all learning, right?

Sometimes students will test the limits to see if we mean what we say. When they do this, they are really asking, “Can I trust you?”

On the other hand, we should stand our ground if the decision is a good one, but we are getting pressure from students, parents, or others. Change can be hard, and learning new skills takes time. Sometimes students will test the limits to see if we mean what we say. When they do this, they are really asking, “Can I trust you?” We need to show them that they can by following through with what we said we would do.

How do you balance the need for consistency with the need for flexibility? Please leave a comment or email me with your suggestions and thoughts.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina@AwesomeTeacherNation.com

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You Can Be a Struggler Without Being a Failure

If you’ve been reading my Sanity Boosts for awhile, you know I’m not always about sunshine and flowers. I share my struggles as well as my victories, and I know(believe me, I know!) that teaching is not easy.

What if we could re-frame our struggles into something beneficial and powerful?

Even after a few successful years of teaching we can still struggle at times. In those moments it’s easy to blame ourselves, the students, the administration, the families, and/or society in general. It’s tempting to give in to feelings of helplessness and anger.

What if we could re-frame our struggles into something beneficial and powerful instead?

Once I learned to accept the challenge of productive struggle, I learned that I could improve through my own efforts.

Yesterday I attended a conference, and in one of the breakout sessions I watched a video of a high school AP calculus student explain about productive struggle. She said, “This year I learned you can be a struggler without being a failure. I learned you can get something out of struggle. I used to hate math because I looked at struggle as something bad that I needed to avoid. Once I learned to accept the challenge of productive struggle, I learned that I could improve through my own efforts.”

But let’s face it. Sometimes struggle doesn’t feel that way. It just feels hard and frustrating. It feels like failure. And maybe it is. I’ve had plenty of “failures” in my teaching. In fact, I had several just last week. But as we tell our students, mistakes are how we learn. It’s the Edison quote about no mistakes, just 10,000 things that didn’t work out.

Here’s the thing with teaching. There’s always more to learn. There’s always an approach you never thought of that might work. And if you try something new and it STILL doesn’t work, at least you learned that new thing. Maybe it will come in handy next year.

Stop the failure self-talk and ask yourself, “What’s the next best step I can take?”

So stop the failure self-talk and ask yourself, “What’s the next best step I can take?” If you don’t know the next best step the question becomes, “How can I find out?” Break your problem into parts. Can you solve one part? How can that help you solve another part? If a solution doesn’t work, what can you learn for next time?

As teachers, the stakes are high. We want to do the “right” thing for our students. But I think we also need to remember what we tell them all the time: mistakes are how you learn.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina@AwesomeTeacherNation.com

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