Thanksgiving Amnesia

Thanksgiving Amnesia – it’s going to happen, so you might as well plan for it.

I looked around at the chaos in my room with disbelief. What had happened to my class?

In September and October I spent weeks teaching my class how to be successful students. By November we had routines for everything.  Transitions were smooth. The noise level was manageable. The students could work in groups without fighting. And they turned in their work most of the time with their name on it!

After Thanksgiving I was ready to jump back into the curriculum exactly where we left off, but it didn’t work out that way. Instead I had to break up arguments, remind students to raise their hands, chase down homework, and wait for it to get quiet. Transitions took forever. Tardiness was rampant. Everything seemed to take longer than I expected.

Thanksgiving Amnesia – it’s going to happen, so you might as well plan for it. During Thanksgiving break, your students will forget everything they have learned so far this year, including every academic thing you have taught them, plus how to put their name on their work, where to turn in homework, and how to work with a partner. (This is only a slight exaggeration.)

Don’t do what I did. Don’t plan a lot of fancy lessons for the week after Thanksgiving. Instead, set aside ample time for review, both of academics and classroom routines. Before you know it, your students will be back up to speed, and you’ll be able to roar through the winter.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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How to Control Your Temper

Teachers are human, and humans get angry. When you’re dealing with students, parents, and possibly administrators and colleagues who are experts at pushing your buttons, it’s inevitable. Most of the time, we can deal with it pretty well, but what about if you are not just angry, but furious and in danger of losing it entirely? What then?

Yelling, Throwing Things, and Getting Physical is a Bad IdeaI think we can all agree that yelling, throwing books, breaking things, punching walls, and getting physical with students will only lead to more problems. And of course you would never do any of that if you were calm.

The problem is, in this moment of rage you are not thinking rationally, if indeed you are thinking at all. Your head is buzzing, your vision has narrowed to a little pinprick, your teeth are clenched, and all you can hear is your pounding heart. This is a true emergency, and what you need is an emergency plan.

Emergency plans need to be put in place before there’s an emergency. You think about what you can do to minimize damage and keep everyone safe. You have a backup plan and a way to get help, and you practice it ahead of time. Once you have a plan, you no longer have to make decisions during the emergency. You just follow the plan.

Watch How to Control Your Temper on Awesome Teacher Nation TVWhile creating your plan, be sure to take into account how you will de-escalate yourself. Some common ways are breathing, drinking water, clasping your hands behind your back, and so on. Also think about how to escape the situation gracefully. I like to tell the student I can’t talk right now and then go to my desk or step out into the hallway.

You might also find it helpful to have a trusted colleague you can call for help. That colleague can take the student away for a minute or two, or take over your class while you go to the bathroom or go to the drinking fountain.

Even if things don’t go perfectly, you will have a much better chance of success if you have planned ahead. So go ahead, take a minute and think about what your best self would do in that situation. And just know that no one is perfect, and everyone gets angry – even teachers.

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Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work

My second grade teacher took the authoritarian approach to classroom management. She had lots of rules and lots of penalties when the rules weren’t followed.

For a long time I lived in fear of getting in trouble. The threat of having to stay in at recess and write sentences was enough to make me stop doing whatever fun thing I was doing, such as making fingernails out of Elmer’s glue.

But then one day it happened. I got the penalty. I had to stay in at recess and write sentences. And guess what? I realized it wasn’t the end of the world. Sure, I would rather go to recess, but staying in wouldn’t kill me. In fact, I actually like writing, so it really wasn’t that bad.

What Happens If I Don’t?

After that I started weighing the consequences of my decisions. I started asking (either out loud or to myself) “What happens if I don’t?”

If I was late to class I would have to write the sentences. But my friend had a new toy that I wanted to play with before school. Which was worse, not getting to play with the toy, or having to write sentences? Hmmmm.

Bigger and Bigger Threats

My teacher noticed her consequences weren’t working as well anymore, so she upped the ante. Now I would have to miss TWO recesses. Then THREE. When that wore off, she threatened to call my parents, which worked for awhile. Then she tried to force me to do something I thought was totally stupid and wrong. She told me I had to do my assignment over again, because I colored the sky gray instead of blue. And any fool knows that the sky isn’t blue in November in Portland. It’s gray.

At that point, I decided I wasn’t going to comply, and I didn’t care what she did to me. I decided I would rather die than lie about the color of the sky, and I felt I was justified in taking my stand. She had just lost control of me, because I discovered that I always have a choice. If I want to do something, I will do it and if I don’t, I won’t.

This is why, as teachers, we look weak when we resort to threats. Sure, there may be a surge of power for a minute or two if the threat initially works, but if that’s our only strategy, it will eventually fail.

So What Do You Do Instead?

7 Things You Can Do Instead of Threatening a ConsequenceTell the truth. Acknowledge that students have a choice, and help them make good decisions. Let them know the reasons behind what you are asking them to do. Build a positive relationship with your students so they will trust you and do what you ask. Help them feel great when they make a good decision. Make sure any consequences are logical, reasonable, and teach a lesson instead of merely causing pain and suffering. Listen to them. Maybe they had a good reason for making their choice. Or maybe they didn’t. Either way, help them clarify their thinking so they can make a better choice the next time.

What have you noticed about threats in the classroom? As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to share either by email, or in our Awesome Teacher Nation Facebook group.

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

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When Incentive Programs Backfire

This time of year, I see lots of incentive programs going on. Marbles in a jar to earn a class party. Table points to earn an extra recess. Class money that can be spent at a “store” at the end of the year. Tokens that go into a drawing for big prizes.

4 Ways Your Incentive Program Can Go Terribly WrongIncentives can definitely help students regain their focus, but they can also backfire big time, because incentives can feel like threats. “If you do X you will get Y” also implies that if you DON’T do X, you WON’T get Y. This can lead to all kinds of problems, including:
Incentives Are Only For Good Kids

  1. The perception that the incentive program is only for the “good” kids. Students who struggle with their behavior anyway will have a hard time earning the incentive. They may decide to give up without even trying.Incentive Feels Like a Threat
  2. A damaged teacher-student relationship. Students often associate the bad feeling of the threat with the person who made it (the teacher.) This is especially true if the student’s behavior keeps the whole class from winning the reward.The Spoiler
  3. An opportunity for attention-seeking behavior. Many times the student will get more attention from the teacher and the other students for NOT going along with the program. Think about it. Which student is getting lots of reminders?Students Who Cheat on Incentive Programs
  4. Cheating, stealing, and bullying. I once had a counterfeiter in my room when I had a class money system. I’ve also had reports of missing money, bribes, and extortion. If it can be done with real money, it can be done with fake money or tokens. Marbles can be added to that jar when you aren’t looking, too.

Watch Classroom Incentive Programs That Backfire on Awesome Teacher Nation TVIf we are going to use them, incentive programs need to be failure-proofed as much as possible. One way to do this is to avoid programs that encourage students to compete against each other. I prefer systems where individuals earn points that go toward a whole class reward.

Another failure-proofing method is to allow for partial credit. Instead of offering all-or-nothing rewards like “If everyone makes it to class on time, you will earn a class point,” offer two points instead. Then even if everyone doesn’t make it, you have the freedom to say, “Almost the whole class was here on time, so I’m going to give us one point this time. Thank you to those who made it.” This takes the attention away from the students who came late and acknowledges those who came on time.

Then if you want to take it a step further, you can offer a side deal for students who struggle. Take them aside and offer a bonus point for the class if THEY come to class on time. Do this privately so they will not feel threatened. Now they can’t mess it up if they fail AND they can help everyone if they succeed.

Have you ever had an incentive program backfire? If so, what did you do about it? As always, I’d love to hear from you!

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