I know you’re busy but… 10 ways to be present for your students

busy_teacher

I got pulled up recently by a passing comment from one of my students… “Mr Wilcox, I know you are really busy but could I come and talk with you about my work?”
For some reason (guilt?) the ‘really busy’ bit was the barb in her words.

Why did she perceive me as busy? In what ways am I communicating that to my students? Sure, there are always plenty of things going in my professional life, but the most important of them must always remain my ability to be present for my students and their learning.  Teaching is a very busy career but it is a profession  founded on the needs of the students.  We must never put the cart before the horse.

Here are some things I have observed that will likely communicate the wrong message to students about your availability. (Some I confess to, others are not ‘me’.)

1. Using technology
Technology is an important part of teaching and should be seamlessly integral to what we do. Sometimes, however, it can become a distraction and a time-drain. Be sure it never gets in the way of solid student relationship.

2. Tweeting, texting, emailing in class
Seriously?!
I am aware of people who will do this during a class they are teaching.  It’s time to disconnect from your online world and connect with the kids in front of you.

3. Getting stuck at your classroom desk
It can be easy to set a task that engages kids and then find yourself, as the teacher, working on something else. But consider how this looks to the students. Be 100% present in every element of your student’s learning, wandering and questioning and encouraging.

4. Frequently focusing on what you (or they) need to do by a deadline
Deadlines are real and necessary but an over-emphasis on them will communicate a one-dimensional approach to learning: the busier you are the more you are effective. Take care not to let your own deadline pressures to complete things or have kids complete tasks get in the way of quality time for engaging, relational learning.

5. Being late for class
This is obviously poor form and can easily communicate that something else is more important that your presence with your class.

6. Leaving class quickly
Very much like point 5, this yells ‘too busy’ to the students. Or, even less desiringly, ‘I’m done with this teaching stuff’. Frequently, the after-lesson time will be when students will hang back and chat about learning or life. Be present for them.

7. Turning up with a coffee or cookie in your hand
Personally, I hate it when teachers bring coffee or food to class. I know there will be times when you have duty and don’t get a chance to have a break, but let’s be sure that we don’t become so relaxed about our class setting that we lose a professional, attentive approach toward our kids. By all means, have a snack time with the kids if you want. But be careful not to inadvertently communicate that you are so busy you can’t even take a break during break times.

8. Brushing kids off
I guess this is the ultimate way of communicating you’re too busy to care. If you cannot speak with a student immediately, negotiate the soonest time possible to catch up. And then, don’t forget.

9. Not providing good eye contact and attention when speaking with students
This is akin to brushing kids off. Your body language is critical in communicating positive, healthy, connected communication with your students. If you can’t give them your full attention, don’t try to give them just part attention. Either stop what you are doing or negotiate another time when you can give all of your attention to the student’s needs.

10. Not being able to be found by your students
I can think of a few teachers I have worked with who did a very good job of disappearing during break times or spare lessons. Sometimes, these are the best times for students to access you and work through issues.

Let me finish by saying again: teaching is a very busy job. There is a lot that goes on and many things that demand our time. But I believe that, in reality, many of the tasks can wait so that our students remain our main focus.
What’s your opinion?

 

Begin with the End in Mind

keep-calm-and-begin-with-the-end-in-mind-11

I was re-reading sections of Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion recently… particularly the part where he reminds teachers of the need to begin with the end; in other words, to ensure you have a firm understanding of where your lessons are going and to what purpose the teaching is being done before you plan your daily content.
While I wholeheartedly agree, I also started thinking about the need for this to happen with and for my students. They need to be able to see the reason for every lesson; for every activity. At no time should they be wondering why we are doing something. At no time should they feel any disconnect from the clearly identified themes are purposes of their learning.
For me, this will happen through constant conversation. We will start a unit of work by exploring metanarratives and global themes (I will however vehemently avoid putting any content in the context of ‘it’s in the curriculum’). I want my students to own the purpose of their learning. Maybe this is through real-life or life-like learning. Often it will be through topics that I know will be of interest to them, or ones we have negotiated. Once the big picture is established, I will work toward providing links to these purposes at the start of each lesson. I find this helps students to connect the daily learning with the whole unit; it helps to avoid students compartmentalising a lesson in isolation from the unit. Ultimately, it helps students keep their eye on the big picture and the purpose for all their learning.
We are coming toward the end of a whole-semester unit of work on asylum seekers and aid agencies. It would be easy for the students to become focused on the intricacies of tasks like writing orals and creating videos and building presentations spaces. I find, however, that as I remind them of the deep, over-aching reasons for their work, they maintain a more focused attitude toward their work.

6 things teens need to hear every day…

Listening-Ear1

Tomorrow
As in, “You were to have this completed today.  Let’s work toward tomorrow”.
Grace is needed with teen learners and sometimes there are very good reasons why something needs to be put off for a day or two. Teen’s lives are complex. The reason why the task is not complete today might be as varied as the sky and the earth. Listen to the reason, evaluate, then show grace when you can.  Give them until tomorrow if you can.  But then hold them to account.

 
However
As in, “You’ve done well here, here and here however what do you reckon about this part?”  Students crave balanced feedback on their work. Providing just the positives eliminates the need for improvement. Providing just the negatives is crushing. The balance of the two provides the goal and the improvement needed to get there.

 
I believe you can
Advocacy is invaluable.  Our positive encouragement is vital.  Helping teens see the pathway to further success is enlightening.

However, never should we leave them to flounder in finding that success.  Scaffolding is necessary and cushioning their failure-fall is imperative.  Which leads to…

 
You made a mistake
Mistakes are normal, needed and need to be noticed.  Celebrate the growth that comes from the discovery of a mistake. And make sure you show your mistakes and your growth too.

 
Yes
How often do we restrict learning because of our preconceptions.  We need to listen to suggestions from students and say yes more often. Creativity and thought are based on permission and exist beyond the boundaries of restriction.

 
In other words
Adolescents require explanations to be given in various way, as many times as needed. Don’t become frustrated by their lack of understanding. Be the adult. Be the teacher. Find new ways to explain. And this is not just about new words to use, but also new methods and process to demonstrate and engage in learning.

 

What would you add to this list?

 

Little Things before Big Things

 

I love serendipitous moments that get you musing…

These two posts appeared close together in my Facebook feed the other day:

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 8.44.16 pm

I think all the pressure that I put on myself has been paralysing.  When I graduated from high school, a lot of people wrote in my yearbook: ‘You’re going to do great things,’ or ‘I know you’re going to make it big.’  I realized that with all the time I spent trying to figure out what my ‘big thing’ was going to be, I passed over a lot of small things that could have really added up.  The moment I became content with taking small steps, I started moving forward again.

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 8.45.13 pm

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”
 

Do we, in our adult / teacher ‘wisdom’, assume too much of our adolescent learners and throw them headlong into our version of their adult life without taking time for them to learn life as kids?  I am a firm believe in the lesson of the little things.  They are the foundations on which great things and extraordinary lives are built.

 

Apologies of the poor quality graphics  Here are the links: I love lots of the stuff from ‘Humans of New York‘.  The second quote is attributed to William Martin.

 

Fighting the New Drug

20140921-175518.jpg

As educators, we must be aware of the social twists and turns that will have an impact on our students. Whether we like it or not, our students will frequently become a slave to societal elements and this will, likely, have an impact on who they become, what they bring to the classroom, and on their ability to develop healthily. We must also recognise that we, as educators, have a social responsibility to challenge unhealthy influences in the lives of our students.
The greatest influence and, potentially, the greatest destructive force in the lives of adolescents today is pornography (for both males and females). Teens have access to pornography in ways unheard of 15 years ago. Indeed, one statistic says that 90% of 12 year olds access porn on a regular basis. Porn has both an addictive and a paralysing effect that we must be aware of. Often boys will become imitators and/or aggressors in response to what they see.
And the impact and seduction of girls in this area of culture is just as dangerous and impacting.
Please take the time to watch this TedX video  (be warned, there are some confronting matters that are discussed, but no graphic images, and I’m not advocating you show it to younger teens). It is important that we are educated about the impact of this ‘new drug’.
Which brings me to a second web site I strongly encourage you to connect with, Fight the New Drug.
You can see an introductory video of the organisation here.
This nonprofit organisation deserves your attention and their web site contains powerful information that you, the educator, must have at your disposal.
Whether it is deliberate and intention teaching on this topic or incidental hidden-curriculum references, I believe we all have a responsibility to inform and educate about the dangers of this new blight on our society.
I value the individuals I teach too much not to do something about it.

 

Knowledge in 60 seconds

I’ve just discovered a great little website that I reckon I’ll be able to use as lesson starters and thinking challenges. Griffith University hosts this site: http://www.knowmoreinsixtyseconds.com
As the name implies, it contains a number of videos where ‘something’ is explained in 60 seconds.
Ever wondered whether the sunset is an illusion? Or where sand or water comes from? Or how soccer helps refugees?
These answers, and others, are on the site.
Check it out sometime.

Student Voice

One of the highlights of last week’s APCAS conference in Singapore was the student forum. We sat wrapped as seven students from the Australian International School spoke about life on their side of the chalk-face.
These students from Year 6 to 11 were articulate, witty, wise and engaging.

Here is a snapshot of a few of the things they said and explored…

About self-directed learning a Student said: ‘we had relationship with the teacher so it was easy to ask them when we needed it’.

When asked, ‘what if there were no grades at your school?, the kids were initially stumped. They admitted they were motivated by grades but then considered what else might motivate them.  It was interesting to see how engrained the educational process was for these adolescents.

There was a mixed bag between the desire for written and verbal feedback. But all said that the feedback from their teacher was what they sought most and that it needed to be authentic and linked to how they, the student, could improve.

Regarding attention and interest in class: ‘We listen for a while but then lose ingested when we are not able to take control.’

On time tabling: A 5 minute break between each 50min lesson. The Kids thought 50 was optimum.

When speaking about the reason and motivation for doing assessment: ‘If it was an essay, you’d give it to your teacher and it wouldn’t matter any more. Having a real audience makes a difference’.

While I could unpack these comments on he his post, I actually think that would be pointless. What is most important is for you, and me, to take their statements and consider what should be our take-away message in relation to our classrooms, our teaching practices and our students’ learning.

As always, I’d love to get your feedback and opinions.

A Fork in the Teacher’s Road

woods[1] - Copy

 

I was made aware of a fork in my road yesterday and it is worth sharing.  It was one of those moments when you realise that, as a teacher, the little decisions can become significant beyond the immediacy of the moment.

It was after the bell for morning break.  I was pretty keen for my morning coffee (please don’t judge me too harshly) and ready to head for the door straight after the students.  One of the girls sitting right in front of me hesitated for just a moment then said, “My mum will be home from Alice Springs tomorrow”.

While I don’t believe I showed a hesitation to her, I had a distinct moment of debate in my head.  Do I respond with a brief but (to be honest) dismissive reply or do I ask the leading question that would open her up and give permission for her to share what was behind the question?

I trust you know me well enough to know which road I took at that particular juncture…  Yes, I asked her why mum had been away and why she was in Alice Springs.  And then came the wonderful intersection of time and opportunity and connectedness that makes all teachers et up in the morning.  She shared about the award her grandfather had received, the excitement in her family and her mother’s trip to be there for the ceremony.  it was genuinely interesting information and I’m so glad I asked.  And, of course more than that, I created a point of commonality and relationship with the student that is vital and lasting.

And I still got time for my coffee!

 

I trust my decision at that fork in the teacher’s road is not ever the road less travelled.

Have you a similar story to share?

 

 

Appreciate. Expect.

appreciated

This quote piqued my interest when I saw it on a post recently.  I’ve written about this sort of topic a couple of times before, but let me hone in on the two key words from this quote…

Appreciated.

I want my kids to know that they are appreciated: for who they are, for what they do, for how they contribute, for their very existence as a student in my class.  This is, obviously, the core of relationship.

So how do you do that?

Get to know your students in any way possible.  What sports do they play?  What hobbies or jobs do they like?  Where do they fit in their family’s dynamics (remember, birth order impacts many parts of life)?  What are their greatest struggles and fears?  All of these questions will help to shape our understanding of a student as an individual.

As you get to know your students, you will find ways to appreciate them using the language and methods that work for them, individually.

But appreciation goes deeper than just knowing a student.  Often it becomes and act of will.  Sometimes we need to be the adult and draw from our maturity to look beyond the behaviour and character to the deeper things of life-connection; to that place of ‘appreciating because ‘and not ‘appreciating for’.  ‘Appreciating because’ is about appreciation that is not driven by what a students does.  It is driven by the very fact that they are a fellow human being with wants and needs; that we as teachers have been given a huge responsibility to speak into this life for a period of time.

Expected.

What do you expect of your students?  I fear that with the tyranny of time teachers experience daily, we can easily slip into the mode of teaching that expects a little less than we might hope so that we know there will be a level of success.  The reality is that adolescents, especially, will have far more to offer than we expect.  Given the right opportunities and learning environment, adolescents can and will come up with wonderfully surprising outcomes.

Projects and open learning environments and discussion forums and real life learning and engagement with community programs will all provide a platform for exploration and growth.  I can assure you that, when I’ve run such activities, the outcomes have far exceeded what I expected.

I trust you will seek out new ways of blending your appreciate and your expectations of your students.

 

Middle Giggle

 

Just a little story to make you smile today!

(I’d love to hear if this has ever happened to you…)

:-)

Walking through the hallways at the middle school where I work, I saw a new substitute teacher standing outside his classroom with his forehead against a locker.

I heard him mutter, “How did you get yourself into this?”

Knowing that he was assigned to a difficult class, I tried to offer moral support.

“Are you okay?” I asked.  “Can I help?”

He lifted his head and replied, “I’ll be fine as soon as I get this kid out of his locker.”