School Week Round-Up: Week Six

Only 149 days of school left!

LessonsThird grade is getting to a point where they’re figuring out how to be more independent, sometimes by necessity and sometimes because they are really motivated to. One class kept themselves so on task that they had ten free minutes at the end of the period. I put all the “time filler” activities into a Google Doc and put the Doc in the “About” section of their Google Classroom. So now whenever they have free time, they can go to the Doc and see what they’re permitted to do. The other class that did well this week did so out of necessity. I needed to finish a task for the principal and I didn’t have any prep time left, so I told students they needed to work as independently as possible and I would still help them if they really needed help. This, I really enjoyed. They didn’t get done in the same amount of time, but if I told one student a tip, they passed it along to other students who needed help. I think I should give them commendations next week of some kind.

Support: We have one of those approved vendor assessment systems to keep track of student growth measures in our district. The tech department has been trying to sync it with our online gradebooks. It’s the kind of thing that’s going to work so well once we actually work out all the kinks. But we’re still in the thick of things for the moment.  It’s going to be so rad, eventually.

Things I Did Well: I’m working hard to get my seating charts settled. This in and of itself hasn’t been a priority, but I need to do seating charts to make another task work. It’s a tedious task but I won’t procrastinate any longer! In case you were wondering why I didn’t have seating charts ready to go at the beginning of the year, it’s because out of 28 seats in my room, around five were at computers that were not functioning, or functioning so slowly that it would be cruel to force a child to use it. I also had some other routines I wanted kids to get used to first, like new and beautiful headphones, the optional cardboard privacy screens, and so on. Also, our school district has a lot of student movement, so rosters at the very start of the year are very rarely accurate. Finally, I took some advice I saw on Twitter about letting your students choose their seats first. That way you get a sense of who gravitates towards whom, for good and for ill. I realized after a couple weeks that some friends need to be separated, some kids need to be alone to focus, some kids need a buddy beside them that they can ask for some help. And rather than revise seating charts, I find it easier to go with the flow and then make them. And even then, I often have to adjust them on the fly, because one computer decides to freeze or something like that.

Things I Will Do Better: I’m continuously working to improve our school’s morning announcements. There are many ways they are imperfect. Last year students could run it very independently. We’re not there yet with this group. But I started doing pre-produced segments so it’s less of a panic in the mornings! We’ll see how it goes. If you want to check them out, click the link — I’m very open to feedback!

Cold Prickly: I needed to talk to a student about something and found her feeling the lowest she’s maybe ever felt at school. She told me she had just failed a test, and she’d never failed before. It was a speed test on the three times tables. Having known this child for a while, I know she’s very bright and one of those kids who is naturally good at school, and accustomed to success. So when she failed she took it really, really hard. I relate to that — I was a student who succeeded pretty naturally at school, and the first academic subject that brought me to tears was also multiplication. We’re trying to foster a growth mindset culture for our students, though, so I chose carefully what I said to comfort her. “So you didn’t do as well as you wanted to. That doesn’t mean you’ll never get it. It just means you don’t have it yet.”

Warm Fuzzy: I’ve allowed a colleague’s thirteen-year-old son to have some influence on my classroom decor. I like where he’s going with it. (Toriel would be so proud she’d make a butterscotch-cinnamon pie.)

Snap ‘Em Outta That Funk

On Not Always Right, a submitter tells the story of how they turned a cranky regular into a smooth customer. The submitter, who works at a sandwich shop, admits from the start that she “pretty much hates” the customer, who frequently snaps and groans. But one day when she sees him coming, “instead of bracing for the worst, I physically relax myself and put on a big, tired smile.”

“I’m glad you’re the next customer… you’re pretty low key when someone messes up because you totally get that it’s not on purpose… I’m just glad I’ve got a pleasant friendly face to deal with right now. You’re one of my easy customers, and I appreciate it.

The submitter admits she is lying, but her words have the desired effect anyway. “Every other time after that he came in, he WAS, FOR REAL, the most low-key, pleasant customer I had.”

She changed the customer’s attitude towards her by telling him that he was low-key, friendly, and pleasant. The customer then saw himself as low-key, friendly, and pleasant, and changed his behavior to match his new perception of himself. It’s a case of the Benjamin Franklin Effect in action.

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The title of the story on Not Always Right is, “It’s a Retail Thing,” but I would argue that it’s an education thing, too. I can’t be the only teacher ever to turn a disruptive student into an trusted one by giving them extra responsibilities around the classroom. Or to help a struggling student keep going by telling them how impressed I am with their persistence.

How have you used the Benjamin Franklin Effect to help you out in your classroom management?

I Was Wrong About Some Other Things

Yesterday I wrote about how you can lose an argument even if you’re correct.

You can also win an argument, even if you’re wrong. Or, at the very least, you can make it so you don’t lose that argument. You can stop the argument.

  • You can stop the argument by distracting from it.
  • You can stop the argument by placating others and going along with what they want.
  • You can stop the argument by laying out loads of blame on everyone and everything.
  • You can stop the argument by making it extremely uncomfortable to continue arguing.

I cop to having used these methods from time to time. But, overall I do not recommend them. Students will never learn to resolve interpersonal conflicts on their own if we interfere by distracting them. (Don’t fight, guys, let’s go play on the swings wheee!) They learn not to respect a teacher who’s just trying to make it to dismissal, so yes, fine, we’ll just watch an episode of The Magic School Bus. Students won’t be honest with a teacher who thinks that everything is somebody’s fault. (Would you trust someone that ready to censure?) And, yes, you can grind all sorts of monkey business to a halt with the threat of serious consequence (at our school, that would be the dreaded WHOLE CLASS CLIP-DOWN), but that kind of intimidation quickly loses its power when you employ it one time too many times.

So I’m not saying that doing any of the above makes you a bad teacher. It’s just what you do in a bad moment, when you’re not your best self. However, if the bad moments keep on coming, and these strategies comprise the most recently used file in your classroom management folder, then it might be time to step back and reflect on what’s not working. And by “reflect” I literally mean “take a look in the mirror.”

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(Because it’s you. You are the element that is not working. And causing other things to also not work.)

Maybe it’s just me, but I always had the mindset that disagreeing was a problem, therefore arguments were a problem, therefore arguments are bad. It’s okay to argue. And it’s okay not to win an argument. It’s even okay if an argument has no winners! Don’t shy away from conflict just because you’re scared of it. And don’t feel like you always have to come out on top — it’s a cliché, but pick your battles. And don’t pick the ones where you think you can prevail; pick the ones that really matter to you, even if you have as much chance of winning as a chicken has of having teeth.

And so, when I have a bad moment and am not my best self, I admit it. I think about what I could have done in the moment instead. And then I forgive myself and move on. I can’t go back and undo my mistake, but at least I can carry it with me, ready to deploy what I’ve learned in the next bad moment, when I have a new choice and ability to keep trying to be my best self.

My Computer Lab Pet: Qwerty, the Leopard Gecko

This is the first year I have had a class pet, which is indeed an interesting choice for someone who operates out of a computer lab. (I do not have a homeroom this year.) Some are born with pets, some achieve class pets, and some have class pets thrust upon them. In my case, a friend of mind (not a teacher) needed to find a new home for his pet lizard and, after doing some research, I accepted responsibility.

My little dude is a leopard gecko.
20150918_124745(Isn’t he so pretty?)

He was originally called Leo, but I renamed him Qwerty, as he lives in the computer lab now. The moment when a student first realized where the name comes from was unforgettable. “QWERTY is right across the top of the keyboard!” he cried. “HIS NAME IS AT THE TOP OF THE LETTERS!”

A leopard gecko makes a great class pet. He is super chill and basically all the time quiet. He defecates in only one area of his tank, so it’s so simple to spot clean. (His whole tank does get a thorough cleaning once a week, and his reptile carpet goes through the washing machine the custodians kindly let me use.) Sometimes he sheds his skin and then eats it. Dang, dude!

He does also have the quirk of eating only live insects. Actually, keeping crickets alive long enough to feed to him is probably more labor-intensive than the lizard himself. Luckily, I can get live crickets at the local pet store for a dollar a dozen that don’t chirp. He only needs to eat some every few days. I stash them in what’s called a “cricket keeper” which makes feeding Qwerty super easy, and I don’t actually have to touch any crickets or risk them escaping.

Actually, let’s talk about cost. Crickets and treats like mealworms run pretty cheap, but his little habitat did not. However, I did not purchase his home sweet home — he came with the whole kit and caboodle from my friend’s house. (I did buy him some additional fake plants, because who can resist spoiling their pet?) My understanding is that the whole tank and accessories can run very expensive, especially since, as a nocturnal reptile native to the desert, Qwerty needs both a heat lamp and a light lamp. My friend had also custom-made a totally sweet electronic set-up where the heat lamp and light lamp turn themselves on and off. I just have to make sure the bulbs still work from time to time. I also keep a thermometer in the tank to make sure it doesn’t get too hot or cold. (According to my research, leopard geckos like it between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit in their environment – fine by me, since the computer lab skews warm normally.) So luckily I saved a lot of money by inheriting this particular pet plus his swanky digs, rather than starting from scratch.

But let’s talk about how he fits into the class. When I first got him, the kids were extremely interested in him. They learned quickly, however, not to crowd around – he didn’t like it so much. They learned to be quiet around him, because he will come out to watch what they’re doing. At first he wouldn’t eat when he knew kids were watching, so I set up a few “Lizard Lunch Live Cams” so kids throughout the building could tune in and watch him hunt. (Especially a big hit when second graders were learning about ecosystems.) He has become more comfortable around them as time goes by, and he certainly isn’t a distraction in class.

Having a class pet can be a classroom management strategy. The kids are very empathetic towards an animal. “Qwerty is a nocturnal animal; he sleeps during the day and is awake at night,” I told the kids. “So if you’re quiet enough for him to fall asleep, then you’re being very kind and very respectful of him.” Sometimes I tell students that Qwerty is cranky (on days when I’m cranky), or he has a headache (on days I have a headache), and they react very compassionately and try to be on their best behavior. This goes both ways — one time a student came in, looking to be on the verge of tears. I pulled him aside and said, “Hey, Qwerty’s upset today because I cleaned his cage. He’s mad at me. Could you talk to him for me and see if you can make him feel better?” I gave them both some privacy, but I could see the student from across the room exhort Qwerty to try and improve his mood and forgive me, because I had good intentions. He gave a full-fledged pep talk and I think sold himself on having a better attitude; when he was done talking to a lizard he was ready to get to work. We project on pets, and when we are aware of that, we can reap some benefits from it.

(Of course, when students are driven to distraction by Qwerty, I shoo them away saying Qwerty has been grounded; mostly I accuse him of playing with his food.)

Overwhelmingly, I have had a positive experience so far with having a class pet. I would definitely recommend a leopard gecko for relative newbies in the class pet department. I think if you raise one from a baby, they can even become accustomed to human handling. (Alas, this is not something Qwerty can do right now — he clearly does not like human touch, though he tolerates very light petting on occasion.) With a reptile, you do need to have hand sanitizer at the ready, because they can have salmonella bacteria on their skin — it’s a precaution you would probably take with any class pet, plus students don’t normally have food in the computer lab, so that’s all fine by me. He’s small, he’s docile, and he is less maintenance than the copy machine we have in the library. (Seriously, who keeps jamming that thing and then walking away!?) Qwerty the leopard gecko earns an A+ for being a fabulous classroom pet!

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