Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wayback Wednesday

So, picture fourteen-year old Tracy. Literally. See below. (eeep! Hahahahah!!!) When I was a teenager, grunge was awesome. I wore flannel daily (Yes, even in Florida. What?! The A/C is always on!). I didn’t wear glasses yet. I was a little artsy/drama-y and no teacher really understood what I was all about. I may have crushed on a boy or two. I may have had a home perm. I thought I was Daria. I was really this.

IMG_20150224_142111054.jpgBe nice! I bet your pictures from age 14 are just as dorky!

So I definitely wear less flannel in 2015. I am a little artsy but more craftsy. I am pretty sure that some of my teachers definitely DID understand (at least) part of where I was coming from. I 

don’t crush on anyone but my awesome husband.

But as I sat in a not-so-hot training recently, I was suddenly zoomed back to being fourteen again. Here are the thoughts in my head: “Ugh! Why do we have to do this? Is this teacher aware of how much I don’t want to be here? How can I make the clock move faster? All this stuff is stupid anyway... I have so many better things to do!”

Have you ever had a WONDERFUL professional development/training? (please don’t tell me whether or not I was your presenter)

Have you ever had a so-so one? How about a lousy one? (No, REALLY don’t tell me if I was involved!

Recently, I sat in that that training and tried to be a good adult learner, and not a little punk of a teenager. But, it turns out, that I’m not always a good adult learner. Sometimes, the snotty brat of a teenager still comes through.

Since I didn't really love the training, I slacked off. I tried to multi-task. I checked my email. I checked my phone. I whispered to the person next to me. I looked up the book the presenter was talking about on Amazon to see if I could order it. I tried to put the strategy into practice immediately and started to write a lesson or an activity to use it. I giggled and got off task. I used to grade papers; now I just make To Do lists and plan future stuff.

It occurred to me that sometimes, I have a motivation problem. Sometimes, I just don’t know how I will use a Thing that I am learning -- and so I don’t know WHY I have to learn it!  So instead, I don’t give it my all.

So what makes me BEHAVE better and LEARN in a training?

1.    I like/respect/have a relationship with the instructor
2.    I can figure out how to use the info. It’s relevant.
3.    The training is engaging. It’s interesting. It’s fun.

Then, it occurred to me that many of our students have motivation problems, too.

I wise colleague once said, “a well-crafted lesson can prevent a good chunk of behavior problems”

It’s true.

Teenage Tracy acted better for some teachers than others. So does Adult Tracy. It’s all about relationships.

Teenage Tracy acted better when the lesson or skill was useful and relevant. So does Adult Tracy. It’s all about relevance and usefulness.

Teenage Tracy acted better when the lesson was engaging and interesting -- for the learner, not just for the teacher. So does Adult Tracy. It’s all about engagement.

We know about building strong relationships with students. It’s the other two pieces our kids are begging from us -- with every under-the-desk-text and every daydream and every conversation-with-a-neighbor.

So why do kids misbehave? They’re not that different than I was.
·         Sometimes kids misbehave because they don’t have a strong relationship with the teacher. It’s hard to work for someone you don’t care about or respect
·         Sometimes they misbehave because they have “stuff” going on -- home issues, boyfriend/girlfriend issues, friend drama, hunger, bullying, illness, frustrations in other classes with other teachers. Maybe they didn’t make the soccer team or their dad is in the hospital or they didn’t get the job they wanted or they fought with their mom or their baby niece kept them up all night. Outside stuff.
·         Sometimes, they misbehave because they’re lost or frustrated. They can’t keep up with the reading or the assignment or the content. They aren’t good listeners or readers and they don’t know what’s going on. So 

they act up.
·         Sometimes, they misbehave because they’re bored. They’re not interested in your content. Or they’re tired of the usual class routine. Or they don’t like to sit quietly for that long (neither do I -- that’s why I’m a teacher!). Or it’s too easy.

So how do we make an environment where kids are more likely  to behave? I say more likely because I cannot control everything and I can’t do much about the boyfriend/hunger/flu/home-drama issues. I also know that despite my winning personality and huge relationship effort, I will not connect in a powerful way with EVERY kid who crosses my path every day.

1.    Keep trying to build that relationship. Even if it’s almost March. Even if the kid drives you nuts. Keep trying. You might be the only teacher who hasn’t given up on that kid in March. Or improve the relationship you have already begun.
2.    Make it relevant. I know, I know. Ancient History is tough to make relevant and useful for 6th graders. 7th graders are not going to vote for another few years. To 10th graders, the Cold War IS ancient history. Seniors can’t yet figure out how to use a lot of economics other than personal finance. But all of these things tell us why WE are the way WE are and how humans are alike (and different) over space and time. So help them see the connections -- how WE (today) are like THEM (back then) and how WE (today) have hopefully learned and changed and grown from THEM (back then). Help kids see the beauty and contributions of different groups. Help them understand how the world works today.
3.    Give kids choice.  Even choices that don’t seem that important to you can be empowering and engaging to a kid. Work with Devonte or Ashley? Make a poster or a power point? Use a Venn Diagram or a T-chart? Giving kids a little choice can go a long way toward their engagement. It’s amazing how far this can go toward engagement.
4.    Let kids talk to each other -- about content. Even the most boring topic is more interesting if you can debate or negotiate your way through it. Let them turn and talk, argue, construct, and discuss the content.
5.    Hook them. If you can find a hook -- a good question, a 3 minute video clip, a song, a funny story, an embarrassing picture of yourself (a-hem!!) -- then you can “reel them in”. A good hook can make the whole “so-so” lesson worth participating in simply because it’s more fun and interesting.
6.    Challenge them. Your “low performing” kids are not usually as low performing OUTSIDE the classroom as they may be INSIDE your classroom. A level one reader can be VERY clever and creative if the question is “Can you find a spot in the school with no cameras to get up to trouble?” instead of “What is the main idea?”. Challenge these kids with a task or problem that includes competition and higher level thinking.

How can you help engage kids in your class? Is it bad Wayback Wednesday (or Throwback Thursday) pictures? Are you digging my home perm Way Back When? As always, I love to hear how you engage kids! Email me at

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