Helping Students Manage the Social Cost of Doing the Right Thing

How many times have you heard thank you after you correct a student? Not many, I bet.

Have you ever had to separate students because they were distracting each other? Me too. In fact, it’s a rare day I DON’T find myself saying something along the lines of “Do you think you two can stay focused if you sit together? I hope so, because otherwise I’m going to have to separate you.”

That Was a Surprise!

So the astonishing thing that happened the other day wasn’t that I had to separate two students who were goofing around. The astonishing thing was what one of the students said after I moved her. She said, “Thank you, Mrs. Ayres.”

Thank you? How many times have you heard thank you after you correct a student? Not many, I bet. Now, it’s true this student is a teacher’s child. And it’s also true we had a respectful, problem-solving-focused discussion before I moved her. But still – thank you?

I wonder how many other students are thinking thank you even though outwardly they may be saying something very, very different.

I wonder how many other students are thinking thank you even though outwardly they may be saying something very, very different. How many are relieved someone intervened, set a limit, and changed the situation so they could course-correct without losing face in front of their friends?

Social Risk

It’s risky for students to tell their friends they want to work instead of talk. They may be afraid of looking like the teacher’s pet. Or they may be worried about hurting their friend’s feelings. By enforcing the rules and following through, we don’t just keep order in our classroom. We also give students a way to make the right choices in a socially acceptable way.

Even if my students sigh and complain when I correct them, I intend to help them out anyway. Who knows how many are silently saying thank you?

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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Rethinking Assigned Seating

Differentiated seating is all the rage these days, with students working at their choice of short chairs, exercise balls, wobble chairs, bean bags, stand-up stations, and traditional desks. In most classrooms utilizing this model, students are empowered to move at will, and their choices are only limited if they are off task or disturbing others.

Two years ago I wrote a Sanity Boost explaining why I thought assigned seating should be the norm in a well-managed classroom. So I started wondering… was I wrong? See what you think.

Should Students Sit Where They Want?

Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Where to Sit?No. End of story. Have a nice day.

Haha! Just kidding. I can actually think of two good reasons for students to choose where they sit:

  • As a reward or incentive.
  • So the teacher can learn which students are dysfunctional when they sit together and separate them when making a seating chart.

On the other hand, I can think of more than 20 reasons to assign seats. A few of the reasons have to do with making things easier for the teacher, but most make it better for the students in some way. Here they are, in no particular order.

  • Reduces anxiety for students – Most people like knowing what to expect. Your students are no different. When they don’t know where they are going to sit, they can feel insecure.
  • Cuts down on bullying opportunities – Some students intimidate other students to get preferred seating. Having a seating chart makes this less likely to happen.
  • When given a choice, the more eager students are likely to sit up front and the students who struggle will sit in back. The students who struggle will then struggle even more.
  • It’s real world practice for your students –In the real world, you don’t always get to sit by who you want (particularly on airplanes) and your students need to learn how to cope.
  • Allows for differentiation for multiple special needs, including:
    • ADD/distraction
    • Left-handed vs right-handed
    • Vision
    • Hearing
    • Movement needs (such as standing at their seat or walking around)
  • Saves steps for the teacher – Putting students who need extra help near the teacher saves steps for the teacher and allows the student to get help faster. (That’s really two reasons.)
  • Is usually perceived by the students as more fair than letting dominant student get the best seats.
  • Helps the teacher learn students’ names, a great way to develop positive relationships with students.
  • Helps a sub (assuming the students actually sit in their seats).
  • Makes attendance easier – No need to call out names or ask students to report who is absent. Just look for empty seats.
  • Can facilitate efficient paper passing – If you can create a seating chart that is aligned with your grade book, it can save you hours.
  • Can help students make new friends – I discovered one of my best friends in high school when we were assigned seats next to each other.
  • Tardy students don’t have to disrupt class to find a seat – They already know where they belong.
  • Can make sure desks and chairs are the appropriate size – Have you ever sat in a too-small chair or tried to write on a too-tall table? You can make needed adjustments when the student uses the same chair each day.

Do you agree that assigned seating should be the norm in a well-managed classroom? Why or why not? Feel free to email me with your comments, or go on over to www.Facebook.com/PositiveTeachingStrategies and leave your comments there. (April 5, 2015)


I still think there are many advantages to having students have a “home” area to sit in. Having an assigned seat doesn’t mean they have to sit in a traditional chair, or that every chair needs to be the same. It also doesn’t mean they have to stay in the same seat for the whole year, or even the whole class period. I often allow students to sit or lie on the floor, stand, sit on their knees, move to another desk to work with a partner, etc, during appropriate times of the day. 

I’ve also noticed that most teachers using the differentiated seating model require students to sit at a carpet area or other group meeting area for direct instruction and/or have different seating patterns for different activities. Some even have assigned seats during these times. This model is really no different than allowing students to move around the room once direct instruction is over.

The one difference I see is the “coffee shop” look. And I do think this is cool. Very cool.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

 

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How to Feel Better About Behavior Referrals

I sigh as I look at the behavior referral form. I try to minimize the number of students I refer to the office but I have no choice. The student grabbed another student by the throat which is an “automatic mandatory reporting” offence at this school.

My prep period drains away as I answer all the questions and fill in all the boxes. And then I get to the question I dread the most:

Behavior ReferralHave you contacted the student’s family? __Yes  ___No  You are required to contact the student’s family before submitting a discipline referral.

I think this is kind of unfair since I didn’t want to fill out the referral anyway. Plus I know this conversation will not go well. The parents of this student hate the school and all its horrible staff. They hate me most of all.

I am not in a good mood.

Hate Discipline Referrals?And then I remember the advice about five positive interactions for every negative and I think, “I wonder if I can apply this to myself? How could I have five positive interactions before facing this negative parent?”

So I make a list of five great students in my class. Actually, once I think about it, I have many more than five. Beside each name I write one or two positive things each of these students did recently. Then I pick up the phone and call their families, not to make THEM feel better, but to make ME feel better.

When I get those parents on the phone I tell them thank you for allowing me to work with their amazing kid. I give an example of something the student did recently that I really appreciate. And by the time I get down to the discipline referral call I’m in a much better mood.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m in the heat of teaching it’s sometimes easier to see what’s going wrong than to recognize all the hundreds of things that are going right in that moment. But noticing, acknowledging, and expressing gratitude for the positive stuff can give us the strength to deal with the negative stuff.

There’s an added bonus, too. When students see and hear us recognize positive behavior they often try harder, especially if we are specific about what we recognize. (“I see you helping your friend – thank you,” instead of “Nice job!”)

Now what about you? Have you ever tried “five positive for every negative” on yourself? Or have you ever made compliment calls to families? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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Poor Results From Your Classroom Management Plan?

Results. We all want them, and if you’re like me, you want them NOW!

Are You Sabotaging Your Classroom Management Plan?“I put Alicia on a behavior plan, but she still acts out constantly. Why haven’t I seen any results?”

“I work hard to build rapport with my students, but they still challenge me from the moment they walk through the door.”

“Teaching behavior expectations doesn’t work. We go over procedures again and again with no results. The students STILL do whatever they want.”

It’s frustrating when you try interventions that are research based and/or work for other teachers, but don’t seem to generate the same results for you.

Too often, we either blame the students, the intervention, or ourselves. No results? I must be a bad teacher.

One year I borrowed a classroom currency program from another teacher. She swore it was like magic for her. I borrowed her masters and printed up the class money and checkbook registers. I thoroughly studied the program. I set it up exactly like she did, only to find that my students’ behavior was still out of control. Not only that, but I had to deal with a few additional problems, like counterfeiting, extortion, and theft. Not exactly the results I was looking for.

Reasons For Poor Results

There are many reasons a system can work for one teacher or class and not work for another. For example, you may be trying to implement without understanding the underlying principles. (This was the problem with my classroom currency. I was trying to use it to manipulate or “bribe” my students, while the other teacher was using it as a celebration of their achievements. Looks the same on the surface, but the kids can feel the difference.) Or maybe the students aren’t developmentally ready for that particular intervention. Or possibly it’s not culturally appropriate. The list goes on and on.

But one thing I find again and again is that educators don’t give the system time to work. We put Alicia on a behavior plan, and if we aren’t seeing results in a couple of days, we’re off to something different. We think greeting students at the door or creating a “lunch with your teacher” program will instantly generate rapport. We think we’ve reminded them about the pencil sharpener enough times that by now they should get it.

And then we either blame the students, the intervention, or ourselves. No results? I must be a bad teacher.

Here’s the truth. Changing habits is hard, and it takes time. Whenever you implement a something new, you are not only trying to change your students’ habits, you are also trying to change your own. Sometimes you even need to increase your effort to maintain your program after the initial novelty wears off, both for you and your students. And that takes effort. A lot of effort. When you focus only on results, it’s easy to become discouraged and give up too soon.

Focus on Effort, Not Results

So at least initially, try focusing on effort instead of results, for both you and your students. Is Alicia turning in her behavior card, even if she hasn’t instantly transformed into an angel? Celebrate! She’s developing the habit that will eventually help her learn more effective behaviors. Give yourself credit for changing your habits and greeting your students at the door. Rapport doesn’t develop instantly, and it sure won’t happen if you have the attitude that you are only doing it for the results you’ll get. Are you still teaching those behavior expectations? Good for you! The habit of continuing to teach until it’s learned will pay off with academics, too.

Celebrate and focus on your actions and efforts, and the results will flow naturally.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – Would you like more practical classroom management strategies that work? Check out the Monday Morning Sanity Boost archives. If you like what you see, you may want to gain access to even more strategies that I only share with Awesome Teacher Nation members. You can join here. It’s free!

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How to Have a Better Class Next Year

I know it seems a little early to be thinking about next year already, especially if you are wondering if you are even going to make it through THIS year. But Spring is actually the perfect time to revisit classroom routines and procedures.

Make Next Year BetterFor instance, let’s say you don’t like the way your students act after lunch. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed by homework and are spending way too much time grading papers and chasing down missing assignments.

You have a few ideas you’d like to try, but is it too late in the year to make changes? Absolutely not! In fact, the novelty of a new routine can sometimes be a catalyst for improving student behavior.

A natural time to revisit classroom routines and procedures is right after  Spring Break. Add your new procedure into the mix, and see how it goes. You can even let your students know you’re testing out something for next year and ask for their suggestions.

Once you and your students have debugged your new routine, you can roll it out next year, confident that it works. And who knows? Your new system might even help make things a little better this year, too.

Whatever you do, don’t wait till next year to make needed changes. You don’t have to continue doing something that’s not working, just because you’ve always done it that way.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

PS – If you need help figuring out your new routine, I recommend two exercises from my book, The Take-Charge Teacher:

  • The What’s Bothering You exercise, where you make a list of things that are driving you crazy in your classroom, and
  • The Ideal Class exercise where you imagine everything going perfectly, and write it down, step by step.

TemplatesYou can get free templates for these two activities here, along with all the other resource materials from the book.

You may also want to ask your colleagues for suggestions, or search for ideas on educational websites or Pinterest. Or you could always ask your colleagues in our Awesome Teacher Nation private Facebook group. Ask to join here.

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An Unusual Approach to Stopping Student Misbehavior

Showing genuine appreciation for our students’ gifts, talents, and enthusiasms can melt away their defiant and disruptive behavior. I was taught this lesson not long ago by a high school student.

As a teacher, I’ve received numerous presents and tokens of appreciation, including countless drawings, a few daisy chains, and even a homemade snow globe or two. But one of my most unusual gifts was also one of the most heartfelt. It was a roll of gaffer’s tape, given to me by a student I had never even taught.

This student was kind of geeky. Actually, he was VERY geeky. His principal appreciated his geek skills, and asked him to come to school on his day off and be the “tech guy” for a professional development day where I was speaking.

He did a good job, too. Everything was set up perfectly and worked great. He wasn’t much on the social skills, though, and barely answered when I spoke to him. Until I asked him about the strange brown tape he used to secure the computer cables.

AppreciationHe immediately brightened up and told me all about gaffer’s tape and how great it is. How it doesn’t leave a residue on the floor yet holds the cord down. He told me to get the 3-inch kind, and gave me several suggestions on how to get the best price. He showed me the proper technique for pulling up the tape at the end of the day (you stand on the cable to hold it down, and THEN pull up the tape so that it won’t wrap around the cable and make a big mess.) I thanked him, and told him I appreciated his suggestions, because as a speaker I always worry that someone is going to trip on a cable.

He disappeared into a closet and reappeared with a brand-new roll of tape, which he insisted on giving me. He offered to help me pack up, and carried some of my equipment to the car.

This student’s attitude had changed totally. He went from being a bit surly to being friendly, open, cooperative, and generous. All it took was a little appreciation.

The Transformation

I have seen this transformation happen again and again. When students feel valued by a teacher, the defiance seems to melt away and the cooperation sets in. The key is being genuine and sincere in our appreciation. When you are fake, it will backfire.

So take a look at your disruptive students. What can you genuinely appreciate about them? Is there something they are into or good at that you can take an interest in? Sometimes this approach can take time, especially if there has been a lack of trust in the past. But sometimes it can be instantaneous, like it was with my geeky high school friend.

Would you like access to my free resource library for administrators, teachers, new teachers, and substitute teachers? Gain access now at PositiveTeachingStrategies.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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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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