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 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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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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Spring Fever – 7 Ways to Deal With It

The top definition of Spring Fever in Urban Dictionary is:

spring fever

  1. wanting the present moment to become summer
  2. slacking off in school because the year is almost over
  3. wanting to be outside every day rather than inside

Teachers encounter Spring Fever on two levels – we have it and our students have it. It seems everyone is tired, distracted, and just DONE. So how do we squeeze in those 500 remaining Lucy Calkins lessons before the end of the year without sparking a rebellion?

Ineffective Spring Fever Approach #1

Some teachers pretend Spring Fever doesn’t exist. They crack down extra hard and load students up with high-stakes assignments, projects, and tests. This definitely keeps everyone busy, but it also tends to keep everyone stressed-out. And there can be other unintended consequences, which I wrote about in a previous Sanity Boost.

Ineffective Spring Fever Approach #2

Other teachers just give up on getting anything academic done and facilitate the Spring Fever slacking. These teachers plan a lot of fluff activities like extra recesses, parties, and dress-up days. Their thinking? You can’t get the students to do anything, so you might as well have some fun. There are several reasons this approach is ineffective (besides the fact that you’re slacking on the academics.)

1- Students who struggle the most with behavior also usually need the most structure. If the structure is suddenly taken away, their behavior can get out of control, and there goes your low-stress, fun activity.

2- Unless you plan to let the students do literally ANYTHING, you will still need to plan the activities and set up your behavior guidelines. This can be even more work than continuing with the routines you already have set up.

3- Believe it or not, some of your students actually like to learn and will resent wasting time when they could be learning. (I know this is a rare one, but don’t we want to honor this attitude?) Parents and administrators may also want students to continue learning.

Finding the Balance

It is possible to accommodate Spring Fever and still complete important tasks. Here are few suggestions and things to try.

1- Let your students know exactly what still needs to be accomplished academically. Put a list on the board, or give them a calendar, list, or agenda. This can be motivating to both teachers and students. It also lets the students know you aren’t just giving them meaningless busywork.

2- Do a low-key countdown, such as writing the number of days left on the board. This helps prepare students for the transition for summer, and you can also say, “We only have ___ days left to get everything done before our end-of-the year party. Let’s stay focused now so we can play later.” You can encourage them to make their last __ days memorable and fun.

3- Refrain from taking down your walls until the second-to-last day. Taking down your decorations, posters, and anchor charts too early communicates that learning is over.

4- Integrate content and skills with activities that help students reflect on their year or look forward to next year. For example, students can write a letter of introduction to their next year’s teacher or a thank-you letter to a previous teacher.

5- Consider adopting a class currency, token economy, or incentive plan that students can use to purchase prizes (such as unused supplies or books) on the last day of school. This can be a good opportunity to learn about keeping track of money, as well as a way to keep students focused.End of the Year Jobs for Students

6- If individual students finish projects early or lose focus to the point of being unable to work, you can give them a sorting or organizing job to do. Often this short break helps them get their focus back, and it helps you get ready for year-end, too. Check our Awesome Teacher Nation Resource Library under “Educator Resources” for a list of possible jobs.

7- Take your class outside from time to time when the activity will allow it. You can do it “just because” or use it as an incentive or reward.

Now it’s your turn. How do you find the balance when dealing with Spring Fever in your classroom? Feel free to comment below, post in our private Facebook group, or send me an email. I always like to hear from you!

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Should Teachers Take Away Fidgets and Toys?

Whirling, twirling gadgets with levers, switches, and knobs

Troll-doll pencil toppers with fluffy pink hair-dos

Modeling clay that snaps, pops, and bounces

Spiky neon squeeze toys that light up and flash

Fidgets and Toys... Should Teachers Take Them Away?If you’ve been a teacher 2 minutes or so, you’ve certainly run across similar items in your classroom. Or if by some miracle you haven’t seen any of these, I bet you’ve seen the Artistic Water Bottle Flip, the Fabulous Ruler Spin, or the Paperclip Deconstruction Project.

A week or so ago I was assisting in a 2nd grade math class, moving from student to student to help them with their work. One cute little guy suddenly zoned off while I was trying to help him, distracted by his panda eraser. Without thinking I said, “If your eraser is going to keep you from listening, I’m going to have to take it away.”

He immediately pulled the eraser protectively to his chest and shouted, “No!” I realized I had just made an empty threat. There was no way I was going to wrestle Mr. Panda away from him, and it wouldn’t have helped him concentrate if I did. So I apologized, assured him I wasn’t going to take the eraser, and kept trying to help him with his math.

But now he was even more distracted. Even though he was trying to listen, his hand still curved protectively around Mr. Panda and he kept glancing at it while he was doing his work. Congratulations, Katrina, you just took a small problem and made it into a big one.

Taking stuff away can cause some of our students to fight us and others to withdraw or shut down

Is Taking Stuff Away a Good Practice?

This incident got me thinking about the common classroom practice of taking away distractions from students. I admit, I do it all the time, sometimes even without warning. That twirling ruler suddenly disappears off the pencil and reappears on my desk. The neon squeeze toy magically lands in my hand when it’s thrown into the air. Sure enough, taking away the distracting stuff makes the problem go away – most of the time.

Sometimes the cost can be high, though. Taking stuff away can cause some of our students to fight us and others to withdraw or shut down. Trust can be violated. Parents may become involved. Confiscated items (especially phones) can be lost or stolen. And what seems to be a little trinket to us may have an important emotional significance to the student.

Just to be clear, I never keep students’ possessions very long. I always give them back with a little lecture about putting them away or using them appropriately.

Still… is this a good solution? Even if the offending object is banned by the school, is it a good practice to confiscate it? Probably not.

What Should Teachers Do Instead?

If you don’t take the distraction away, the student is likely to get it out again, right? Is it fair to the other students who may be unable to pay attention while the distraction is going on? And what about our inability to teach effectively if we are worried about whether the fidget toy is going to spin off the desk and hit someone in the eye?

I think there are 3 reasons to take away distracting objects:

  1. When it is an immediate safety issue,
  2. When it has been specifically banned by the school, or
  3. When it pops up like Whac-a-Mole after you’ve asked for it to be put away.

Even then, we need to be careful how and when we take things away from students. Have the students been made aware of the problem and given a chance to fix it? If you must take something away, try to do it with as little drama as possible and be clear how and when the object will be returned. Then make every effort to keep your students’ belongings out of sight in your desk or other safe place.

What About You?

Do you take toys or other distractions away from students? If so, how do you handle it fairly? As always, I’d love to hear from you either in an email, in our Facebook group, or in the comments below.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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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

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What About The Student You Can’t Reach?

“Wheeee!” Savante screamed as he spun the teacher chair around in circles, narrowly missing several of his classmates and slamming into the bookshelf. A few of the second graders gamely tried to continue reading with their buddies, but most just watched him careen around and tried to stay out of the way.

What About The Student You Can't Reach?I pride myself on being able to handle most situations, but I couldn’t reach Savante. I called the office for help.

Two years later, Savante showed up in my husband Keith’s 4th grade classroom. Savante no longer spun around in chairs. Instead, he got in fights, destroyed office supplies, and yelled obscenities. My husband couldn’t reach him, either.

We’ve all tried to work with students we just can’t reach. The ones we stay up late worrying about and wish we didn’t have to face in the morning. The ones that can make us feel like failures. It’s easy to get discouraged and think maybe we don’t belong in education.

Have a Little Faith

And then something happens to remind us that we’re not failures just because we can’t reach every student, every time. We only have to do our best during the window of time we have with the Savantes of the world, and have faith that someone else will be there to continue the work.

You see, Savante showed up at Keith’s school a few years later to visit his elementary teachers. He was polite and well-spoken. He had an after-school job. He was passing all his classes in high school. And he came back to say thank you.

Have a Little FaithSo when you are tempted to give up on a student you can’t reach, just remember… Your job is not to fix them. That responsibility belongs to them. Your job is to do everything you can for them, and have faith that the right person will show up to take over when your part is done.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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3 Surprising Classroom Management Myths

If you are struggling with out-of-control student behavior, you may be buying into one or more of these common classroom management myths.

3 Classroom Management MythsMyth #1 – If you are struggling with student discipline, you need a stronger punishment to bring the kids in line.

This classroom management myth is totally untrue. Stronger punishments will only create an authoritarian atmosphere in your classroom that will eventually trigger outright rebellion.

What To Do Instead

Create reasonable expectations and proactively teach them to your students instead of just reacting when things go wrong. Be consistent and fair, and correct student misbehavior instead of punishing it. Learning how to do this takes training and practice.

Taming the ChaosTaming the Chaos, an entertaining video showing a step-by-step process for creating and teaching classroom routines, is now available in the Awesome Teacher Nation Resource Library in the “All Educators” section. Not a member? Join here for free!

Myth #2 – Some students will never change. It’s just the way they are, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

This classroom management myth is also untrue and is a dangerous mindset for educators.

Here’s the Truth

Every person on this planet is developing and changing at all times. No one is “set.” In order to be effective at classroom management, you must learn how to discipline behavior, instead of students. While bad behavior definitely exists, there is no such thing as a bad student. They all have hopes and dreams but need to learn a better way to get them.

Myth #3 – Some students respond best to frequent reminders and redirection

Actually, the opposite is true. Multiple warnings and repeated requests cause students to continue their misbehavior to test your limits.

What to Do Instead

Students are smart. When you give them multiple chances, they will take them. You need to prompt once and then follow through consistently so students will know you say what you mean and mean what you say.

So try replacing harsh punishments with clear expectations, labels and assumptions with hope, and multiple warnings with consistent follow through. You may be surprised how quickly your classroom goes from chaos to calm.

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

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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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.

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