What I’m thankful for…

ThankfulAround this time of year, I think it is natural for all of us to take a moment or two to reflect on the things that we are thankful for.  As I was thinking about a post for this week, I decided that the most sensible thing to do was to share some of the things that I am thankful for.

  1. The staff at RSI – First and foremost, I want everyone here at RSI to know how much I appreciate all that they do!  I’m consistently amazed by the commitment, time, and passion that you all put into everything that you do.  It is a rare day that I am the first person here, or the last person to go home.  When I come in on the weekends, I often see several of you here.  The dedication to your craft and your students shows in all that you do, and it makes me happy to be able to come here and be a part of that!
  2. Our students – Here in HSE we have some awesome students.  Every day that I’m here, something happens with a student that makes my day.  Whether it be watching something click in their learning while they are in a classroom, counseling them through a difficult situation, or providing them with tools that will allow them to learn and grow more successfully, I love it!  One of the consistent messages of my posts this year has been the importance of relationships with our kids.  I look forward to the opportunity to continue to build meaningful relationships with the kids who walk through our doors each day.
  3. Our families – It is rare that I have anything but positive interactions with the families of our students.  Most of the time I am able to pick up the phone, have a positive conversation about their student, and come up with a strategy that will allow them to learn and grow.  I always remind myself that the kids I’m talking to are just as important to someone as my kids are to me.  If I keep that in mind, and help the family understand that my goal is to help the kids in our school learn and grow, we tend to end up with a positive outcome.
  4. FamilyMy family – I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my family at home.  They help keep me centered.  No matter how difficult a day is here at school, I know that I can go home and see my wife and kids, and that stress just melts away.  The support they give me, the laughs we have, and simply time together is such an important part of my life!

I could probably continue this list, but it is almost Thanksgiving, and I don’t want to take too much of your time!  I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving break that allows you to get just what you need to recharge for what’s left of the first semester.

What are some of the things you are thankful for?  Feel free to share in the comments below!

How to influence students

Why did you become a teacher?  Why do you choose to spend your days with kids?  Money and fame don’t generally go hand in hand with education, so that was probably not the motivator.  For most of us, we do what we do because of a desire to make a difference in the lives of children.  We want to be a positive influence on their lives.

Matt Miller - https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/15133710045/in/album-72157645530010989/
Matt Miller – https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/15133710045/in/album-72157645530010989/

One of the most well-known books on influencing people was written in 1936 by Dale Carnegie.  In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People there are 6 lessons that could help you to be able to better make a difference in the lives of your students.

  1. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely – “good job” isn’t quite enough here. Give true feedback that helps students know that you value the work they are doing.  Remember that an assessment is ultimately about feedback, especially formative assessments.  Let students know what they are doing well , and let them know where you are seeing their struggles.  Work together to set goals to improve in the area they are struggling!
  2. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically – given that each of our students has an iPad with easy access to Google, the odds of making a mistake and being caught in it are high. Admitting to it shows students how to take responsibility for mistakes will help them do better in their own future.  Also remember that mistakes aren’t always just about the content.  Sometimes our mistakes are in how we might react or treat our students (or others for that matter).  I can’t tell you the number of times I have apologized to kids because I didn’t have the full story, or was acting on assumptions.  If the apology is heartfelt and emphatic, it will smooth over the conflict that may have existed otherwise.
  3. Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately – the more times someone says yes, the more positive of a mindset they are in. Ask some simple questions with yes as the answer to get your kids in a positive frame of mind.  I’m currently reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.  He discusses the idea of priming the brain.  In one study, people were asked to hold a pencil in their mouth.  Different groups were told to hold the pencil in different ways.  Some held the pencil with the eraser pointing to the right.  Others were told to hold the pencil so that the tip was pointing away from them.  Try it!  You’ll find that one way causes you to frown, while the other way causes you to smile.  People were then asked to look at The Far Side comics while holding the pencil in their mouth.  People who were smiling while looking at the comics reported that the comics were funnier than those who were frowning.  What’s happening?  The fast part of your brain is taking over and telling you that if you are smiling, you must be happier, the comics are funnier, etc.  We all have probably experienced a time where we were having a tough day and we just tried to smile through it, and things actually got better.  That old adage of “grin and bear it” may actually hold some water!  If you can prime your students to a positive state of mind at the beginning of class, they will be in a better mood, more likely to work, and more likely to report that they enjoy school.  All are wins!
  4. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing others – did you struggle with your math facts? Could you never correctly diagram a sentence?  Share your struggles with your students so that they know they aren’t the only ones to make a mistake.  Not only does it show that others have challenges too, it is another way to connect with your kids!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared with students about the time I got busted cheating on a timed test in math in 3rd grade (Sorry Mrs. Langhoff!).  The kids always have a laugh, but then we are able to come up with a strategy so that they can feel successful!
  5. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders – adding the words “would you” to any request makes it seem to our students as if they have a choice. It’s a small change, but it allows them to feel as though they have a choice, even if they don’t really.  The 2 + 2 method can also help with this: If you do this then…, if you do that then…  When we list the positive choice and the positive consequence first, most kids make the choice that we want them to make.
  6. Dramatize your ideas – a visual lesson will stand out to our students much better than any lecture.  If you want your kids to learn something well, act it out!  Or, even better, have a student or group of students act it out!  It accesses a different part of the brain and leads to more long term memory transfer!

Have you ever used any of these methods without intentionally or unintentionally?  What have been your results?  Share some of your thoughts in the comments below.

Put your students into your lessons

Look guys! It's me! In the yearbook!!!
Look guys! It’s me! In the yearbook!!!

What is the first thing you look at when you get your yearbook?  What is the first thing our students look for when they get their yearbook?  For most of us, the answer is most likely ourselves.  Don’t lie – you know that includes you! 🙂  When our students post something to Instagram, what is it that they are concerned with?  The number of likes they get!  How can we use that knowledge to increase engagement in our classes?

Have you ever put your students into the materials you use in class?  In language arts you could insert a student or group of students into a story you are modeling.  When you create an assignment in word, make your students the stars of that content.  Then through the use of find and replace it is easy to adjust your activities to different classes or different rosters of students.  The main idea of the assignment is the same, but each class will have students and friends from that class who appear in the assignment.  It’s even better if you can integrate a student’s interests into the assignment.  If you know that Sarah plays soccer, and Michael plays the violin, use that knowledge to pull them in even more!

Group of school children in the classroom - http://blog.selectmytutor.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/happy-little-math-students-uk.jpg
Group of school children in the classroom – http://blog.selectmytutor.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/happy-little-math-students-uk.jpg

Getting personal with students also allows us to build relationships with them.  You can add your own personality and interests into the assignments alongside your student’s interests.  They will feel a connection (just don’t allow your interests to overpower the kids!).  Building relationships is one of our school improvement goals.  By working to make classes more personal and relevant, students will be more connected to the content, which will help them internalize the content and how it matters to their lives.

What have you done differently this year to connect with kids?  Share some of the strategies that seem to be successful for you this school year.

Technology to Make Life Easier

Last week I talked about how living in a digital world makes it easier to connect with people all over the world, or in your own backyard.  In addition to allowing us to communicate so easily, technology can make us all more efficient.  While there are times that technology might seem to make life more difficult, there are so many benefits that it’s hard to ignore.

Its easier to go down a hill

Here are just a few ways that tech can help us transform teaching and learning:

-Field trips – instead of spending weeks planning and preparing for a field trip (think scheduling the trip, collecting money, permission slips, scheduling buses, etc.) you can create a field trip experience during a class period without leaving the room. Skype or Google Hangouts can let you chat with people almost anywhere in the world.

-Grading – instead of sitting at your desk with a stack of papers, you can use online methods to assess your students. In the case of simple assignments, they can be auto-graded through apps and websites.  Something more complicated can be assessed and returned to students anytime of the day.

-Materials – no more digging through file cabinets, folders, or binders. Now you can do a quick keyword search in Office 365 or Google Drive to find the document you need.

-New ideas – you don’t have to spend hours flipping through books to find new ideas, now a quick search on Google or communication through social media could come up with new ideas in a matter of minutes.

To understand their world we must be willing

Those of you who know me well know that I am pretty “techy.”  If any of the ideas above sound like something you’d like to learn more about, let me know.  I can help you find resources to use the digital world to allow yourself to be more efficient.

What tech have you used to make life easier in your classroom?  Share some ideas in the comments below so that others can learn from you!