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

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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?

 

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?

 

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.

 

Engaging Lessons; Life Lessons

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I read a great article recently about the value of real life teaching.  I’d encourage you to check it out…

Obviously, it got me thinking about the degree to which I teach for real life and the ways in which I do it.  Sometimes I am like Teacher A but I strive to be more like Teacher B.  Let me give you a recent example of some life teaching that happened in my room.

Now, we know that young adolescents can be passionate beings, connecting on a deep level with injustices and offering creative solutions (though sometimes misguided or limited by their understanding).  To tap into this and to further their exploration of the issues facing people living in disadvantaged locations, I ran an introductory activity with the help of two of my students.  They were asked to role play with me but in secret.  They were my targets at which I threw every inappropriate teacher behaviour I could think up, disciplining them unjustly in front of their peers for half an hour.  The two kids did a great job of copping what I asked them to do, moving seats, standing up, being sent from the room, being told they were silly for not knowing something I felt they should know (even though the rest of the students didn’t know it either).  You get the idea.

At the end of the time, I called them both to the front of the class and we ‘confessed’ our role playing and allowed the rest of the class to discuss their feelings about what had happened.  Wow!  We certainly did a great job.  There were so many discussion-starter comments from the class about injustice, their feelings toward me during the activity, and their feelings toward the kids who were unfairly treated.  From there we looked at the UN Charter of Human Rights which, all of a sudden  became a living document to the class as they related what I had done to what happens in places around the world, and what we should do in response.

I’m convinced that what could have been a dry, stand-alone lesson on the Charter, had suddenly taken on new depth and meaning.

 

What activities do you do in your classroom to create real-life learning?

 

First Day… Keep Calm…

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It is the first day back with the students tomorrow (after my term off) and I’m feeling a bit like I can relate to this Keep Calm statement.  I have returned to find I have dropped a subject and picked up another, and across the three subjects I will be teaching, the content for all is basically new.  It’s taken a bit to get my head wrapped around the big picture let alone the daily break-down of content.  But I am truly excited about getting into the classroom with the kids.  There has been a lot that’s happened with them while I have been away, including the death of one of the dads just two weeks ago and some behaviour issues that, honestly, I’m surprised have come about.

But all of this is, in part, the life we signed up for when we became teachers.  And working with young adolescents makes it even more unpredictable and fun.  The plans I have will remain the general guide for what we’ll do together, for I truly hope that the kids and I will create some wonderful, unexpected, unprecedented learning together.

It is going to be a great semester.  There will be challenges.  We will succeed, together.

Bring it on!

 

 

Making my world bigger

14 weeks is a heck of a long time, but it has been that long since I last sat at my desk at school and, today, I am back here trying to get my thoughts together in preparation for the onslaught of the semester ahead. And it has been a mixed bag of success.

During my time of leave I travelled overseas for four weeks and then renovated large swathes of our house. In the middle of it all there was the death of my father-in-law and the process of grief for all of my immediate family. While I had been checking my school emails and kept a small part of my brain linked in on school stuff, I have had a wonderful time of doing something completely different.

What did I learn? I guess the most significant thing was that there is a lot of life we rarely have the opportunity to experience and that, for teachers especially, the routines of education can become a rut which might run so deep that we lose sight of other, equally valuable and interesting aspects of life. And this is an important thing to remember (or be reminded of). I am a firm believer in education providing as broad a scope for student learning as possible and so teachers must maintain their own life-exploration in order to ‘be the world’ to their students.

To annotate just one aspect of this… I have had several weeks of project managing trades workers. I have a better appreciation of their levels of skill and knowledge and their ability to do a job (which was taking me quite some time) effectively with the right technique and tools. I especially enjoyed working with my sparkie who took it upon himself to become my electrical mentor, passing off jobs to me instead of simply doing them himself, saying, “Why pay my boss $100 an hour for me to do something I reckon you could do yourself”. Not only did I learn about wiring and installing lights and powerpoints and switches, but I have the satisfaction of bragging that, “I hooked up those lights all by myself!” (Don’t worry; he did check my work before we switched the power back on.)

Does that make me a better teacher? Of course it does. My world is bigger. I have more I can draw upon when teaching my kids. I have increased appreciations and understandings.

 

 

Questioning Students

 

I’ve been reading through the book Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov. It’s a great prompt and reminder of the qualities of teaching that help students achieve their best. I’ll mention and unpack some if the techniques on the blog in weeks (months, if it takes that long) to come.

I am a teacher who questions kids a lot. I use questioning as a way of discovering what they know, of challenging them to think further or deeper, and at times as a way of contradicting an opinion fort he purpose of higher-level thought (evaluation or justification).
But I have to admit that there are times when I don’t push the students enough and accept an answer that is less than complete.
Lemov challenges us to only accept answers that are complete and correct and to certainly not complete or compliment the answer for our students. Don’t wake it too easy. By all means, acknowledge the effort and accuracy, but if there is more that could or should be added, seek it.
One other aspect that Lemov mentions about questioning is the need for correct technical language when answering. I won’t allow the more simple language of explanation. I’ll stop a student and ask for a better word or invite others in the group to provide the word.
Questioning can take time. Sometimes I just want to get the content delivered. But I am so aware that the process is usually more important than the end result. I am striving to be more conscious of that on a daily basis.

Howe about you?  How do you promote both questioning and quality answering in your classroom?

Shouldn’t we be working?

 

Wednesday afternoon. Library. Research time. Double lesson. Year Eight.
All Middle Years teachers will understand…

I decided that we all needed a break so, without too much explanation, I got the kids to leave their books and laptops on the desks and walk outside. Once we had gathered on the side of the oval, I started my narrative: I love big trucks and diggers, I had not yet had the chance to look at the construction work (a new road on the other side of the oval), I need some sunshine and fresh air, we were going for a walk…
At this point I expected cheers of delight (part of the reason I told them this outside and not in the library). Instead, I was met with some blank looks and confused faces. One girl asked, “Shouldn’t we be working?”
I was flabberghasted! Are you serious? You are shocked that we’d take a break in the middle of a double lesson?

It got me thinking about the busyness of our classrooms and our curriculum. I have to admit that I don’t take a break like this one very often (this was the first time in the 5 weeks of teaching these kids) and it would seem no one else does either. Yet I remember a time where I’d head out for a 15minute run-around quite often. It cleared the head and burnt of excess energy and was just a lot of fun.
But today, 2014, would we do that? Highly unlikely. And how sad that is. We need to take the time to have fun, to explore, to build relationships.