And then they break your heart…

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In my last post, I felt it necessary to share my thoughts on handling students in turmoil. One of my points was to not take the actions of our students personally as it often has nothing to do with us.

Sometimes I finish a post and then realize some things are much easier said than done, and often far more grey than they are black and white. Life has a way of throwing things back in your face and that definitely happened to me.

It is easy to say “Don’t take it personally” but it is impossible to actually do completely. We care about our students. We go the extra mile for them. We spend our own time coaching their teams or directing their plays. We spend our own money making sure our classrooms have everything they need. We plan extravagant and thought-provoking lessons for them. We do everything it takes to make sure their experience in our classrooms is a rewarding and life changing one. And then they throw it back in our face…

AHHHHHHHHHHH! Ok so it wasn’t THAT bad, but trust me I learned my lesson a mere one day after that post. I found an AMAZING documentary to show to my students, about a group of young brothers who travel the world and “Through one on one interviews and real life encounters, the brothers are awakened to the beauty of the human person and the resilience of the human spirit.” It is a great film that really speaks to the ideas of altruism and volunteerism and really gives you perspective on how lucky we are to have what we have and to live where we live. I was very excited to have my students see this film and experience its message, and I was really hoping to have one of those lessons during which the teaching transcends curriculum and really gets to the idea of humanity. Not so much…

About 20 minutes into the movie, 80% of the students were involved in their own conversations, stealthily (or so they thought) using their cell phones, throwing things around the room, sleeping or simply tuned out. I tried a couple times to refocus them but it wasn’t happening. I was crushed. I had previewed the film, found myself at times in awe, other times in tears, and was moved by having seen it. I was so excited about the impact it would have on my students, and they acted like I just showed them a 1950’s black and white film on photosynthesis. I couldn’t help but take this hard, as my anticipation and enthusiasm was at an all time high. Funny how only one day earlier I had the audacity to tell everyone not to take things personally and yet here I was beside myself with my students.

Now I am no idiot, I know that this wasn’t a collective effort to try and drive Mr. McLean to early retirement. I know these students did not have me in mind when they ignored the film and spent time on other less productive endeavors. I misread the impact the film would have on them. I was wrong about how they would react to its content. I am sure some were turned off by having to reflect on how good they have it when others have it so rough. I know others may have been burned out by previous classes, by the events of their lives outside of school or their relationships with family or peers. But, it doesn’t mean it isn’t hard to take.

This timely reminder has made me reconsider my earlier statement and rephrase it this way…

TRY not to take things personally when kids treat us like garbage, because the more of your time, energy, enthusiasm and interest you give to your students, the more you open yourself up to experiencing difficult days and situations that feel like you have had your heart ripped out of your chest and stomped on by adolescent feet in skateboard shoes… to vent  little.

You want to be a caring, compassionate, dedicated and electric educator that gives everything he/she has to their students? Great! You will be a testament to the profession and change the lives of young people throughout your career. BUT, if you do, you have to remember that sometimes they won’t respond to your kindness and dedication the way you would expect them to. They will break your heart, but they’ll come back the next day and put it back together. That’s life as an educator, and its hard, but its also pretty great.



Ask Why

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by SashaW

One of the great things about my job is that I often have the ability to spend as much time as needed with a student in crisis. If they are having a difficulty, maybe one that has led to behaviors that helped get them to my office, I can sit and talk with them. At the same time as I reflect on my years in the classroom, I always tried to find the time to talk to my kids one on one and find out what was causing the issue. Kids will act out, that will never change, and if we focus on the behavior we miss the bigger issue. We need to ask the important question: Why?

If we see a kid crying, we are always so quick to ask “What is wrong?” or “Why are you crying?”. When a kid tells us off, or is disrespectful to a classmate or staff member we jump to discipline. Why the difference in our response? Are we not curious what has brought about this behavior? Are we not concerned with what might have driven a student to act in this way? We should be. Not because we want to find an excuse for the behavior or a reason to let the kid off the hook but rather to identify the trigger and help them understand their response. Anger, like sadness, is an emotion we can’t just stop because we are told to or because its not “acceptable”. Our students are going to go through times of anger and how they deal with that anger is something we can help them with.

To do this we need to remember some important points:

1) A great deal of the time the anger our students are directing towards us or towards a classmate has nothing to do with us. We need to remember that our students don’t all have perfect home lives or perfect relationships with their parents or siblings. They may not have food on the table, they may not have slept the night before, they may be ill, they may be hungry, they may be scared, they may be hurting. We can’t take things personally because when all is said and done, its not about us, its about our kids.

2) We are the models for our students. How we handle our emotions teaches our students how to handle theirs. Do you we react emotionally when confronted by a student? Do we hold grudges? Do we belittle or attack when provoked? We can’t very well demand respect from our students if we aren’t giving them respect in return. We can’t expect them to show up the next day and start fresh if we never wipe the slate clean as well.

3) Take your time. I know I have made this mistake a number of times and constantly need to remind myself. If a student is acting out, we often start the discipline flow chart in our heads very quickly. We start deciding on the punishment before we even finish with the conversation. What’s the hurry? Put the kid somewhere they can cool down, take care of what you need to take care of and then give that student the time they require and when its all said and done involve them in how to resolve the issue.

When I think about how we handle discipline in our schools, I wonder if detentions or suspensions have ever really helped a young person develop better anger management or emotional control. What I don’t doubt is that a great teacher CAN help students with developing these skills. By taking the time to ask our students why, we show them we care more about them then the discipline. We build a connection based on trust and care and through that connection we can help them develop skills to become better people. I believe that is far more important than developing compliance.

Do We Involve Our Students Enough?

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I have always wondered just how much we could involve our students in the planning and operations of our schools? As the year winds down and we start the planning for next year I spend a great deal of time working on things like timetables, schedules, student handbooks and class groupings. I work on these things alone or together with my principal, but never even speak to a student about how we might improve the way we run our school. Our school will plan an entire year, hire teachers and spend thousands of dollars without the input from the real customers. Is that right?

You hear those stories of schools that include students in their teacher interviews, schools that have a student representative at staff meetings etc. but they of course are a rarity and not many of us have worked in these types of situations. I know, for me, the more I involve my students in the planning of their classes, the decisions about consequences and even for advice on my own job performance, the more they feel a part of what we are doing and are more willing to give my lesson and me as an educator more of a chance.

So much of what I do, and probably what many of you do, is trying to predict what our students need to learn, how they would like to learn, what kind of school they want to be a part of. Funny, we are trying to predict what they are thinking, or maybe even tell them what is best for them. I HATE when people do that to me. There is no doubt our students feel more entitled, more independent and more empowered then they ever have. With this type of student wandering our halls we must be crazy to keep dictating to them how our schools will look, act and work.

I am always open to a kid telling me, in a respectful way, a rule is “stupid” or “pointless” and a lot of them time they are right. Most of the time the question they ask me about a rule is “Why?” and sometimes I am just not able to provide a good enough reason to satisfy their question. I am starting to think if we really want to get students to embrace their school, take ownership of it and be proud of being a student there, is to really involve them in as much as we possibly can.

Kids are smart, and capable of more than we give them credit for. I think we dismiss them from the planning and operating of our buildings because we believe they are too young, too naive and too irresponsible to be a part of the process. I am pretty sure kids can be part of it, and slowly we may allow them more and more input, and I doubt we’ll ever be disappointed with the results. We should let these little superheroes help us with the problems we can’t always solve.


cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by ryanmickle

Pride. It is an interesting emotion. It can push us to great things or lead us in to difficult situations. I have been struggling with my pride over the last month and it is probably why I haven’t felt inclined to post during that time. As those of you who know me or who have read my recent posts, I have decided to take on a coaching job which will require me to leave administration and return to the classroom full time. I am very excited about returning to teaching, but of course I will miss some of the great parts of my assistant principal position.

Watching our staff do the amazing things they do day in and day out, you can’t help but be proud of them. I draw an immense amount of energy from witnessing the work they do, and the connection they create with our students. Recently, I was able to take two of our teachers to a division meeting to showcase some of the technology presentations they have shared with staff and students in our building. Watching them talk to administrators and technology leaders from all over our division, I was filled both with pride and a bit of regret, knowing that come September I won’t have the same opportunity.

To some degree we all define part of our identity through the work we do and position we fill. I know that I love to tell people that I work in education, and I love to talk with others about the joy of working with young people. I have enjoyed my year as an administrator, and I am sure I will return to administration fairly soon, but come June 30th that chapter of my career will close. A position I aspired to achieve, then worked diligently to fulfill, and I will walk away. It’s a little tough on my pride. I have been struggling with my identity as an educator. I have to change my position, which requires me to change my role in the school and also my relationship with colleagues, students and parents. Its not an earth shattering move, I know, but it is still a very big change when you have spent the better part of a year struggling to solidify your identity as an administrator.

At the division meeting I mentioned earlier, Brad, a first year teacher from our school presented his Facebook class page. He spoke about how quickly 100% of his students were accessing the page, how he was able to use a tool that kids already were familiar with and enjoyed using, and how his connection with his students had been strengthened through the use of this site. Later on in the week as we were on supervision, he told me about his favorite moments in his class this year. He talked about how the “Ah ha” moments when his students finally connected the dots and understood a concept really made his day. He also talked about trying to ensure he didn’t get distracted by the minor details and miss out on those moments with his class. Brad is an excellent teacher, but maybe more importantly, he is proud to be a teacher.

I have been distracted by the minor details of changing jobs and forgotten that I am proud to be an educator. Administrator, teacher, EA, coach, your role isn’t really important if you really care about connecting with students. There is no greater feeling, no prouder moment than when you help a young person achieve something they couldn’t before. I have been walking the halls of our school, watching our staff connect with our kids and yet I seemingly forgot what it felt like. I let my pride blind me as I focused on my silly job title.

My conversation with Brad helped me see what I couldn’t. Who I am, what defines me as an educator will never be my title, my salary or whether or not I have an office. What will define me is the care and dedication I give to every student who enters my classroom. In September, when I have that first “Ah ha” moment with a student, I will be reminded of what drives us as educators. And when people ask what I do I will proudly tell them that I am teacher.