Five Tips for Teachers (and Parents)

One day Iliana (age 6) seemed to want to strike up a conversation as she was leaving school with her Mom.

“Goodbye, Mr. Rick.”

“Goodbye, Iliana.”

“You’re the principal.”

“That’s right. I am the principal.”

“You are in charge of everything.”

“That’s right.”

”You can DO anything you want.”

At that point I realized I was in a different conversation—not the usual pleasantries in which mutual affection is communicated, but a conversation with substance. Continue reading

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Listen to Your Genius

After returning from a stint in Japan teaching English ten years ago, Paul Greenwood found himself walking on Ocean Beach in San Francisco looking for inspiration as he pondered what to do with the rest of his life. Suddenly, feeling something on his right thigh he looked down to see a Jack Russell Terrier looking up at him. Having loved dogs since he was a child, Paul bent down to stroke his head, and turned to look for an owner. Sure enough he saw a woman walking toward him.

“He likes you,” the woman said with a smile. Continue reading

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Teacher as Learner

The direction that I would give to all teachers is: Watch the child, watch his attitude of attention. Is it spontaneous? Is the light of pleasure in his eyes? Is interest the motive which controls him?

–Colonel Francis W. Parker

Maggie Doyne’s story shows that self-actualization is not the end game (as I once thought when I studied Abraham Maslow years ago.) Self-actualization is a quality of experience that each of us can have, and we can have it at any age.

At the age of 18, Maggie launched herself off into the world with only what she could carry in her backpack. In the course of the next five years she discovered depths of human suffering and joy she didn’t know existed, built an orphanage and a school for 200 children, and “…got my passion back to live and to learn and to be human on this earth.” Continue reading

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Taking Responsibility

The Story of The Three Little Girls has generated a great deal of conversation (on and off line) about the role parents play in getting their children to take responsibility. More than one parent has talked to me about the difficulty of trying to be fair and listen to both sides of a conflict.

While it is true that each party in a conflict usually bears some responsibility, our job as parents and educators is to teach children how to take full responsibility for their actions. Otherwise, they can give themselves a pass, and not do the hard work of learning new behavior. They can’t control what other people do, but they can gain mastery of self.

I like to use a trip to the principal’s office as a place where students can learn those new behaviors and develop their social skills. When a student is sent to my office for disrespectful behavior the conversation often goes something like this:

“Why are you here?”
“I don’t know. Mr. Soandso sent me. It’s not fair.”
“Well, what did you do?”
“Well, Mr. Soandso…”
“Wait, I don’t want the whole story, I just want to know what you did that caused you to be here.”
“Well, Johnny…”
“No. First you say ‘I’ and then there is a verb.”
“I threw the ball over the fence.”
“That doesn’t sound bad enough for you to be sent here. Why would Mr. Soandso send you here?”
“Because he told me to put it away in the ball bin.”
“Well, that makes sense. Do you think that makes sense?”
“Yes, but…”
“Don’t go there yet. First I want you to tell me what was wrong with that and then what you are going to do about it.”
“He said it was disrespectful.”
“Well, do you agree?”
“Yes, but…”
…and so on until he gets it.

I don’t allow the conversation to drift to the faults of the other party. I don’t concern myself with what is fair or unfair. I simply insist that the student identify the part he played and then take full responsibility for his behavior. That’s a teachable moment.

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The Story of the Three Little Girls

Once there were three little girls, Kathy, Lilly and Susan. They were all new to my school in the seventh grade and had come from different schools. But in eighth grade, when they were together, they turned themselves into a gang that was mean to other kids with increasing frequency and ferocity. Teachers knew it was happening, but the girls were clever and slippery. We could rarely catch them in a teachable moment or a punishable act. The most we could do was talk to them. As you can imagine, that didn’t change anything.

Continue reading

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