The Importance of Ritual

Have you ever seen some of the things teachers do when they’re hoping for a snow day? They suddenly change from rational human beings to superstition machines. One of my friends sleeps with her pajamas inside-out and a spoon under her pillow. My principal wears special snowflake earrings.

We all know that snow dances don’t affect the weather, but there is still a powerful something about rituals that can’t be denied.

Rituals Are Everywhere

You see it everywhere-in the bowler who does the high-five-low-jive with his team members after a strike; in the way you line up your colored pencils in ROYGBIV order before working on your art project; in the special extra words your kids add to the Happy Birthday song.

I believe it’s important to use rituals in the classroom to encourage positive actions, build community, and celebrate achievements.

Classroom Rituals That Build Community

Here are a few examples:

  • Fist pump for every correct answer when correcting a math facts test
  • Positive and/or funny good-bye call-and-response protocol to end class each day
  • Students sit in the teacher’s chair when sharing their writing with the class
  • Joke of the day to start class
  • Special music for cleanup and other transitions
  • Hand jive or secret handshake as the students leave
  • Secret word that means it’s time to pack up

Increase Academic Achievement With Rituals

Inside jokes and shared routines tell your students they belong. When students feel they belong, they are less likely to skip school. When their achievements are recognized and celebrated (even with a silly fist pump) they try harder. And of course, attendance and trying harder are directly related to academic achievement. Plus – the more they feel they belong, the less they will challenge your authority!

Rituals do not have to be complicated, long, or even funny. They just need to add a little touch of meaning to the everyday happenings in your classroom.

Give it a try! You may be surprised at the difference it makes.
Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more

Tattling and Advice-Seeking

Tattling Students“My friend lied to me!”

“My parents are getting a divorce!”

“My boyfriend broke up with me!”

“Everyone’s gossiping about me!”

“He cut in front of me in line!”

When students come to us with personal problems it’s easy to fall into one of two extremes—dismiss the problem as unimportant (“I’m sorry. Go play with someone else.”) or get drawn into the drama and spend hours counseling and problem-solving (“Who’s gossiping about you? What did they say? Let’s have a meeting and work it out.”)

On one hand, as trivial as some problems may seem to us, they are still important to our students, and it’s disrespectful to minimalize them. On the other hand, as important as some issues sound, we may be making them even worse by intervening.

Of course your response will depend upon the maturity of your students and the severity of the problem. But in nearly every case the goal should be to help our students develop problem-solving skills instead of solving the problem for them.

Questions That Empower StudentsNext time a student comes to you with a problem try asking these three questions:

1—What have you done about this problem so far? (You can skip this question if they’ve already told you a long story.)

2—What do you think you’ll try next? (Helps them own the problem and empowers them to solve it.)

3—What can I do to help? (Clarifies their motivation for coming to you, expresses sympathy, and defines your role as a concerned adult, not a magic problem-solver.)

Sometimes you don’t need all three questions. For example, for outright tattling, question #3 might take care of it. And sometimes when you ask question #2, students will realize they really don’t want to do anything about the problem—they just wanted a sympathetic ear.

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

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more

Explaining Yourself

I personally love it when a principal says, “Because I said so,” when I ask why I have to do some seemingly illogical task, such as wrapping my bookcase in paper at the end of the year. “Because I said so,” makes it SO much more likely I will happily follow the directions. (I hope you hear the sarcasm dripping from every word I am saying.)

Have You Ever Said “Because I Said So?”

Yet… I have been known to occasionally utter those dreaded words myself. Sometimes I’m just tired of constantly explaining myself and justifying my decisions to someone who has only been on the planet a fraction of the time I have. (And sometimes I’m just tired. After all, it IS May.)

Student-Centered Reasons

You can inoculate yourself against the temptation to say “because I said so” by creating a student-centered rationale for your classroom routines, procedures, and rules. The important words here are “student-centered.”  The question to ask yourself is: How will it benefit the students to do whatever it is I am asking them to do? The more you can tune in to what the students want, the more likely they will want to do what you ask.

Consider these examples:

Task Bad Reason Teacher Centered Student Centered
Put your name on your paper Because I said so I’m tired of figuring out who turned in what You want to get credit for all your hard work
Line up quietly Because I said so You’re giving me a headache with all your noise You want to get to lunch on time, don’t you?

You do not have to explain yourself every time you ask the students to do something. But it’s a good idea when you are first teaching them a classroom routine, and it’s also a much, much better reply when challenged than “Because I said so.”
Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more

A Bribe or a Thank-You?

Henry was on a behavior plan. If he attempted his work, used respectful language, and kept his hands to himself during a class, he received points. If he received 12 out of 18 points during the day, he got to listen to music on his headphones the next day.

Ineffective Behavior Plan

I had Henry the last period of the day, so my class was make-or-break time. If he came to me with no possibility of making it, he would act out in class. What did he have to lose? If he already had it made, he would act out. What did he have to lose? And if he was close… I found myself giving him a lot of warnings.

“If you don’t get to work, I’m not going to be able to give you your point. So get to work.” Henry was smart. He knew I was trying to give him a point. So he would push the edge to see what he could still get away with, and earn his points.

Please don’t get me wrong. Incentives can definitely be effective in helping our students learn positive behavior, both in the short-term and long-term. In fact, we re-designed Henry’s plan so that every time he earned 20 points (no matter how long it took) he would receive his prize. That way, even if he fell short one day, he still had a reason to keep trying. Once we did that his behavior improved markedly.

What Works Better Than Incentives

But there’s something that works even better than incentives for most students, and it’s a lot simpler too. It’s acknowledgement.

Instead of telling students you will give them something in exchange for certain behavior (aka bribing them) look for positive behavior that is already occurring and give an unexpected prize, reward, privilege, or just plain “thank you.” The more random you can make it, the better.

For example, on Monday give a token to each student who is on time to class. On Tuesday allow students who are on time to class to be dismissed first for lunch. On Wednesday give a new pencil to every student who cleans up their area without being asked. On Thursday quietly and privately thank students who are working quietly at their desks, and allow them to choose where they want to sit. On Friday announce Listen to Music Day for the whole class because “almost everyone” turned in their homework on time.

Random Rewards, Consistent Expectations

The thing that should NOT be random is your expectations. Those should be consistent. For example, you always expect students to clean their area and work quietly at their desks when asked. You just choose different things to acknowledge in different ways.

The more you can become a Random Acknowledgement Machine without being insincere or lowering your standards, the more your students will learn positive behavior. And there’s a great side benefit, too. It’s fun!

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

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more

Changing One Word Can Make a Huge Difference

Have you ever had one of those backhanded compliments? Like, “Wow! You actually smell good today!” Yeah, me too. And yet, too many times I see educators giving backhanded compliments to their students without even realizing it.

“You did a great job on that writing assignment, but you need to work more on your spelling.”

“You got 99% of those questions right, but you need to do the last one over.”

“You got ready for dismissal quickly, but you are still too noisy.”

What “But” Really Means

Do you notice what each of those sentences has in common? It’s that nasty little word “but.” My 5th grade teacher taught me that whenever someone uses a sentence with the word “but” in it, you can ignore whatever came before the “but” and just pay attention to the rest of the sentence, because that’s what the speaker really means.  And in truth, that’s exactly what happens with our students. Many times, they give much more weight to the criticism than they do to the praise.

As educators, we make statements like these because we want to soften bad news or criticism, or we want to let our students know how they can continue to make progress. Unfortunately, using sentences containing “but” doesn’t do what we want, and may actually feel manipulative and dishonest to our students, which will cause them to resist us.

A Simple Fix

So what can we do instead? I suggest a simple word substitution. Any time you want to use the word “but,” substitute “next.”

“You did a great job on that writing assignment. Next, let’s work on some of those spelling words.”

“You got 99% of those questions right. Great job! Next, I’d like you to work on that last one again, and see if you can get it right, too.”

“You got ready for dismissal quickly. Thank you. Next, I’d like you to wait quietly.”

Words are important, and sometimes small changes make a big difference. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.

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

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more

When Students Bully Teachers

I dreaded 5th period. A student in the class seemed to have the mission of humiliating me in front of the class.

The attacks were personal and persistent and touched on subjects such as my bad taste in clothing, my stupid assignments, and my boringness. This student mocked my words, made jokes about me to other students, and refused to follow my instructions.

I felt powerless and bullied.

Can Teachers Even Be Bullied?

Many school districts have bullying prevention programs in place, but usually these programs focus on student-to-student bullying. In fact, it is controversial whether or not a teacher can actually be bullied by a student, since one component of bullying is the bully’s power over the victim. Since teachers technically have authority over students, it is difficult to argue that they are the victims of bullying.

But what if we feel bullied anyway?

6 Ways to Deal With Bullies

Last week I got the chance to see an excellent anti-bullying lesson, taught by the school counselor. She showed a video that gave students six ways to avoid being the victim of a bully. Here were the strategies (as I remember them):

  1.  Avoid the bully.
  2. Use body language to avoid looking weak.
  3. Agree with the bully, possibly using humor.
  4. Gather friends around you.
  5. Tell an adult.
  6. Confront the bully (verbally, not physically.)

Could these ideas be adapted to help teachers who feel bullied by students? If so, what might these strategies look like in a teacher-being-bullied-by-a-student situation?

Avoid the bully. Some teachers attempt to do this by kicking the student out of class or escalating the situation so the student will be suspended. I don’t recommend this, because it will only make the situation worse. But could you avoid situations that tend to trigger disruptive behavior? For example, does the student always disrupt direct instruction? If so, could you structure your lessons differently? Could you avoid interacting with the student by using aides, student helpers, and parent volunteers?

Body language. Bullies tend to pick on people who appear weak. Do you have a confident posture? Do you speak with a strong voice? Do you dress in a way that shows you value yourself?

Agree. I think this one can be fun, especially if you apply a little humor. Here are a few examples:

Student: You’re boring!
Response:  Thanks! I’ve worked for years to become this boring.

Student:  You’re stupid!
Response:  Oh my gosh, you’re so right! I guess I was too stupid to realize it until now.

Student:  (Mocking, eye-rolling, negative body language)
Response:  I think we all get it that you don’t like me, but telling me over and over is getting a little boring. Can we just agree to disagree, and move on?

Gather friends. If you are struggling with this student, chances are good others are, too. Instead of suffering in silence, talk about it and make a plan. Enlist the help of other adults in your building, such as last year’s teacher or other teachers in the student’s schedule. Is there an aide or volunteer who could pull the student out for one-on-one tutoring? Could you form a time-out-room agreement with another teacher? Could you form an emergency response agreement with a few other teachers and staff? Ask the counselor to visit from time to time? Ask the custodian if she might need a helper? Have the hall monitor/security come in, not to intervene, but just to be present and “see what the class is doing?” Could the parents of your bully be asked to volunteer? (Some of these suggestions will not be possible or allowed. Please follow your school’s rules!)

Tell an adult. Since we are adults, to us this could mean “tell an authority.” Supportive principals are an often-overlooked resource. Ask them for suggestions. Same goes for the counselor and/or behavior interventionist. Let the student’s family know what’s happening. Maybe a behavior support plan or an IEP is appropriate. Start documenting, and investigate your options. Your union may have resources, or be able to offer suggestions. Your state may have harassment laws that apply.

Confront verbally. I don’t recommend confronting students. However, I do think there is some power in having a conversation with the student to name what is happening. This can take many forms – a private conference, a class meeting, a behavior conference, a Restorative Justice circle… Just make sure to do this when you are not angry and when you have thought about what you want to say.

Have you ever felt bullied by a student, or seen a staff member struggle with this issue? How did you respond? I know this is a complicated topic, and I welcome your suggestions. Feel free to comment in our private Facebook group, or send me an email. You are not alone!

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

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more

Are Your Students Defiant?

You may have noticed that, upon occasion, students do not do things exactly the way you want them to.

Just the other day I asked a class of elementary students to work on an assignment without talking. Not even one second later, more than half the class started chattering with each other.

Angry TeacherThe heat moved up my neck and into my head. My ears started ringing. I was furious. Not even a pretense at doing what I asked! The disrespect! I was about ready to let them have it.

But then I took a deep breath, a practice I recommend frequently, and asked myself two questions.

  1. Would yelling, blaming, or punishing make the situation better or worse? (Answer: There is no situation that will not be made worse by yelling, blaming, or punishing.)
  2. Had I ever explicitly taught these students MY definition of “without talking?” I knew what I meant, but did the students?

(I know.  Without. Talking. How can you get THAT wrong? But stay with me…)

Since the answer to Question 2 was I had not explicitly defined “without talking,” it was possible they didn’t know what I meant. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and teach them.

I got their attention and then in a very quiet, calm, non-sarcastic voice I said, “I’m sorry. I guess I never actually taught you what I mean when I say, ‘without talking.’ ‘Without talking’ to me means your lips are completely closed and your throat is not making any sounds.” And then I showed them what “no talking” sounded like, as well as a few anti-examples, such as talking loudly, murmuring, quietly asking to borrow a pencil, and whispering. And when I repeated my request for them to work without talking, the room was silent.

Why did this work? I think there are two possibilities. Either they really didn’t know what I meant (for instance, they thought it was okay to talk as long as they were talking about the assignment) or they didn’t think I was going to enforce it. By stopping the lesson and making my expectations clear, I took away any excuses and let them know I meant what I said.

Remember that, at times, talking to a young person is like having a conversation in a foreign language. The expectations you bring to the conversation may be different than theirs, and even the words you use may have different meanings. Before blaming the students, try teaching a lesson instead. After all, you ARE a teacher!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more