Respond Instead of React

Maybe you’re A very patient person who responds 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.

My actions seem almost instantaneous and involuntary, and I react (like a chemical reaction) instead of responding (like a reply to a greeting.)

Watch Respond Instead of React on Awesome Teacher Nation TVLuckily, 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. Think about a recurring situation where you tend to respond with anger. Write down what you wish you had said or done last time 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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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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How to Be a Confident Teacher

This week’s Sanity Boost is in answer to a question that came in as an anonymous response to last week’s survey about topics to include in my upcoming book. If this is your question, THANK YOU for sending it!

Question: One thing I see over and over is students honing in on insecurities of new teachers. So, how do you feign confidence in your own classroom?

Answer: You don’t have to be a new teacher to feel insecure. All of us have felt that squishy nervous feeling in our stomachs that happens whenever you are in a situation you’re not quite sure you can handle. Your armpits and hands dampen. Your mouth gets dry. Your heart pounds, and you have trouble breathing. You may even get lightheaded or need to run to the bathroom.

Watch How to Be a Confident TeacherUnfortunately, kids are really good at detecting when we are feeling insecure and capitalizing on the situation to create drama and/or get out of work. You can try to fake confidence (breathing helps, as does deodorant), but wouldn’t it be better to actually HAVE confidence?

So what exactly is confidence, and where can you get it? One definition of confidence (from Dictionary.com) is “belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities.” And I think the best way to acquire a belief in your powers and abilities is to have a well-thought-out plan.

What could possibly go wrong in the classroom?I have a friend who jumps out of airplanes. He isn’t nervous about it at all, because he knows exactly what to do in just about every situation that can come up. There are protocols for what to do if the weather is bad, if the parachute doesn’t open, or if he starts to drift away from his target landing area. In other words, he has thought about what could go wrong, and made a plan to either prevent it (pack your chute correctly) or correct it (have a backup chute.)

Think of all the problems you could have in the classroomI recommend all new teachers (and experienced teachers, too) try to think of everything that can possibly go wrong in their classrooms. Then, make a procedure that will prevent that thing from happening, and teach it to your students. If I’m worried that students will sharpen pencils while I’m talking, I teach them what to do if their pencil breaks. If I think they’ll cheat on a test, I teach them how to arrange their desks. And so on.

Experienced teachers have a big advantage here, because they have had so many things go wrong already that they instinctively know what to plan for. But new teachers can do it, too. The problem is, many of them don’t. I know I didn’t. My idea of how to prepare for the classroom was to go to the teacher supply store and buy a bunch of thematic lesson plan books. What I should have done was think about the logistics of my classroom, and write a bunch of lesson plans to use at the beginning of the school year.

I always say “Confidence is natural when you know what to do.” And thinking it through ahead of time will help you know what to do.

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

In my role as a substitute teacher, my number one goal is the same as a doctor’s – do no harm.

I want the regular teacher to come back the next day with no messes to clean up or discipline issues to resolve, so that the class can move forward as if the regular teacher had never left.

Well, that’s the goal.

What's the BEST Classroom Management Strategy. Watch on Awesome Teacher Nation TV on YouTubeThis week I subbed in a really great class. The kids were calm when they came in. They seemed willing to give me a chance. They went along with my incentive program. They were flexible. They were helpful. They had to be patient because their teacher was unexpectedly sick and had not left very detailed plans. I was winging it and the students knew it. We got along pretty well the first day.

I thought the second day would be easy. I had a better idea of the routine and was able to be better prepared academically. But when I opened the classroom door I saw the students’ faces fall. Their beloved teacher was gone again! As the day wore on their behavior deteriorated. They were less focused, less flexible, less helpful. Less nice. I reacted by becoming more controlling, less understanding, and more negative. The class and I were de-evolving in lower life forms.

As you can imagine, this is a little disheartening for a classroom management “expert” like myself. Why didn’t my classroom management techniques and strategies work?

It’s because the regular teacher uses the very best classroom management technique there is. She builds positive relationships with her students. On her wall it says “In here we treat each other with respect and kindness,” and her students clearly know they are loved. As a stranger I could be politely tolerated, but my fancy-pants techniques and strategies weren’t nearly as effective as her yearlong quest to develop a positive relationship with each and every student.

Developing those relationships (especially with THOSE students) is not always easy. It takes time and effort, sometimes superhuman effort. But in the end, love is the best classroom management technique there is.

Now go make it a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Why Ignoring Misbehavior Won’t Extinguish It

Students who misbehave to get the teacher's attentionI had just about had it with one of my 3rd graders. All day long it had been one thing after another. Shouting out, clowning around, throwing things, making faces and fart noises, wandering the room… you name it, this student was doing it.

Students who get in your face while you are talkingI finally just about lost it when he walked up to me while I was addressing the class and interrupted me mid-sentence to show me his new watch. Couldn’t he see I was busy? And then I finally realized he was acting out to get attention.

Common wisdom says the way to “extinguish” attention-getting behavior is to ignore it. In my experience, this doesn’t really work. I find what usually happens is the attention-getting misbehavior will keep accelerating until you finally snap and react in some way. Once the misbehaving student gets a reaction, the misbehavior is reinforced, making it more likely to happen again.

Preventative Attention - attention you give a student to prevent attention-getting misbehavior
If you have students who tend to act out to get attention, shower them with attention the moment they arrive in your room, before they’ve had a chance to start misbehaving. Say hello when they walk in. Ask their opinion about something (anything!) Ask them to show another student how to do something. Notice and comment on something they are doing right. Do not be fake and weird about it, but keep it going as consistently as you can for as long as you can.

If your students are already acting out, do what you need to do to stop the misbehavior, then start the positive attention routine as soon as possible. For example, when the 3rd grader tried to show me his watch during direct instruction, I smiled and said, “Show me during recess, honey,” and gestured toward his desk for him to sit down. Then I quickly called on him to answer a question I knew he could answer.

It may seem like this takes a lot of time and energy, and it does. But it takes even more time and energy to deal with all that attention-getting misbehavior all day long while trying to stay positive and maintain your sanity.

Do yourself a favor and give your needy students a little preventative attention. It couldn’t hurt, right?
Why You Can't Extinguish Misbehavior by Ignoring It

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Why You Need to Spend 6 Weeks Teaching Classroom Routines

I remember the first time someone told me I needed to spend 4-6 weeks (4 to 6 WEEKS!) teaching my students how to do simple things like putting their names on their papers, bringing their notebooks to class, and closing the classroom door quietly.

Watch Behaviors Before AcademicsI felt overwhelmed and panicky, and my first thought was, “I don’t have time for that! I have too much curriculum to cover!”

Can you relate?

To answer your question, “Do I really need to spend weeks on classroom routines?” The answer is YES.

Out-of-Control ClassOne year I had a really great class, so I didn’t think I needed to spend as much time teaching behavioral skills. WHAT A MISTAKE! Their behaviors started getting worse and worse until I eventually completely lost control of the class – to the point that I reached the point of no return. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get my “nice” class back.

Behavioral skills such as bringing materials to class, putting your name on your paper, asking for help, sharing space with other students, and so on, are foundational to academic learning. Behaviors that facilitate learning come first – THEN you can cover your curriculum effectively.

Jumping right into teaching your curriculum without thoroughly teaching classroom routines is the same as trying to teach essay-writing before your students know the alphabet – it’s just going to be frustrating and counterproductive for everyone.

So take a deep breath, quell your panic, and commit to helping your students create positive learning habits that will serve them for a lifetime. The time you invest now will save you hours later on.

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading

Watch Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading on YouTubeWhen my class was out of control, I didn’t get much work out of my students. I was wasting so much time on power struggles, warnings, arguments, and waiting for the class to be quiet that there wasn’t much time left for class work.

Stop Taking Grading HomeOnce I got my class under control, I started to have another problem – how to keep up with all the work my students were turning in! Maybe you’ve been there, too – you give your students a few assignments, and suddenly, you have a huge pile of papers to sort, grade, and record.  It looks like hours and hours worth of work, and your weekend is looking like another boring round of sitting on the couch, watching TV and trying to get through it all.

Use Notebooks to Collect Student WorkOne way to cut through the clutter and possibly reclaim at least some or your weekend from the Paper Mountain of Doom is to have your students work in spiral notebooks or lab books.

For elementary classrooms, I recommend a different color notebook for each subject, say one for writing, one for math, and one for science or social studies.  For secondary, you can have one color of notebook for each period of the day.  That way you can tell at a glance what the notebooks are, and you don’t have to spend lots of time sorting all that paperwork out.

Kids can copy assignments off the document camera or board, or out of workbooks.  If the students are too young to do that, or if you need worksheets with lots of detail that would take forever to copy, the students can glue the worksheets into the spiral binders.

When you want to check work for completeness (but not for correctness) have the students open their spirals or lab books to the correct page and lay them flat on their desks. You can do this for homework at the beginning of the day, or at the end of the period as a dismissal procedure. The teacher, an instructional assistant, a parent volunteer, or student volunteer can go around and check for completeness while the students are occupied with the next activity, such as a reading assignment, small group discussion, or lab.

To check work for correctness, collect the notebooks from a quarter of your students every day, Monday through Thursday. Have the students stack the notebooks in a pile on your desk, open to the first unchecked assignment.  Then between classes, or when you have 5 minutes here or there, check one, make corrections to it, and close it up.  You’ll be surprised how many notebooks you can get done if you don’t have to get them out at put them away every time you want to work on them.

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Avoid Teacher Burnout

As any educator can tell you, the beginning of the year is the most time-consuming, crazy-busy time there is. It’s like moving in to a new house, starting a new job, finishing up your Master’s thesis, and hosting a big party all in the same week.

I’m not sure there’s any way around it. Everyone is busy the first six weeks or so, and everyone puts in extra hours – even educators who’ve been at it for years. But for some, the busyness becomes more manageable as the year goes on, and for some it doesn’t. And you don’t need me to tell you that the first-of-the-year level of activity just isn’t sustainable, especially if you want to have what’s commonly known in the non-teaching community as “a life.”

So how do you convert the crazy-busy time into a sustainable schedule? I believe it all comes down to habits – actions we take automatically in response to a situation.

Play Video ThumbnailThe cool thing about habits is they don’t require a lot of thought once they are learned. They just become what we automatically do. That’s why I believe the most important thing to do in the first six weeks of school is teach the students (and ourselves) habits that will automatically save us time. If we do this, we will eventually have a sustainable schedule instead of a burned-out-train-wreck schedule.

Think about it. If the students have the habit of running around for 15 minutes before class starts, you will be wasting time getting them to settle down – time you could be using to take care of all those little administrative tasks you need to do, like checking in homework.

If the students instead have the habit of putting away their things, preparing for the day’s activities, and getting started immediately on the first learning task, you won’t have to use your prep time for the administrative tasks. And the students will feel more in-control and successful, too.

So use these first weeks of school to create good habits and enjoy the benefits for the rest of the year.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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