Don’t Get Mad; Get Creative.

Margaret had a classic class clown in her second grade one year. Ruben was smart, active, inquisitive, and made the class laugh several times a day, disrupting Margaret’s lessons. She found him infuriating, but fury was not recognized as an acceptable professional approach. By the third week of the year, she was sending him into the hallway for a “timeout” as a regular practice. That Friday, she lost her temper and sent Ruben to the principal’s office.

Over the weekend Margaret worried, thought, wondered, pondered, stewed, and talked to a friend about what she should do to fix this problem. Only three weeks of school! It just couldn’t go on like this. Nonetheless, Monday morning she arrived at school without a plan. Continue reading

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What Is Great Teaching?

How do you know a good teacher when you see one?

In his TED Talk conductor Benjamin Zander says that his definition of success is “How many shining eyes do I have around me.” The same test should be used to determine the success of a teacher. Walk into a classroom (any grade)
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School Reform: Time for a Creative Revolution

Are Kids Failing in School or Are Schools Failing Our Kids?

The third grade teacher posed five questions to her class: “What is your favorite color? What is your dream job when you grow up? When I grow up, I hope to live in…. What is your favorite sport? What is your favorite pet?” The students wrote down their answers on a piece of paper. Then she handed out a one-page form that asked the same five questions and under each they had two choices with boxes to check: Red or blue. Doctor or carpenter. Chicago or London. Tennis or fencing. Rat or fish.

When they were done, she asked them how they felt when neither box was right for them,

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Learning Disabilities: diagnosing what’s wrong or discovering what works?

Nancy’s art classes were famous for helping students of all ages discover their creativity, and in the process, become proficient at using a variety of media to express their artistic visions. But, Harry, age 10, was a challenge for her. He plunged into each project energetically and worked quickly with great focus, but after fifteen minutes would lose interest. Encouraging him to stick with it did not work.

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Are You Overparenting?

Are you an over-involved parent, or are you a “slow parent?”  Do you make yourself known to the teacher on the first day of school or do you think it is better to just watch and wait? How involved are you with your child’s homework? Are you pushing your child too hard or not enough? These days parents are criticized for being “helicopters” or “snow plows” on the one hand, and on the other criticized for being “unengaged” in school–sometimes in the very next breath. These questions all reflect that our eye is on the wrong ball.

The question isn’t: “Is your parenting slow or fast,” but “Whose foot is on the accelerator?”

Last week, a proud mother wanted to show me how beautifully her fifteen-month-old daughter was progressing. “Show Mr. Rick how you can walk,” she said. When the child refused, the mother said, “She doesn’t do it when we want her, too.” That’s right, I thought, and that is something for you to be proud of and nurture. She is on a mission, and it comes from within, but pleasing you is not it.

There is a natural tendency for parents to want to have their children meet or exceed the benchmarks of “normal” whether it is walking, talking, reading or learning algebra. This is often taken too far. In many of our schools it is taken for granted that more, faster, sooner is better. Those who are “below average” are examined for some sort of dysfunction.

As a parent, grandparent and long-time school principal I am happy that many parents are feeling the need to stop pushing their children and are attracted to movements like “slow parenting.” But we are still asking: How slow should we go? How hard should we push? Those aren’t the right questions. What’s this “we?” It’s not about us; it’s about them. Carl Honore‘s titles distract us from the real issue. His son has it right: “Why do grownups have to take over everything?”

Children naturally to want learn? Schoolwork is play for them. Ask most kindergartners what they looking forward to in first grade and they will say: “Homework.” We take their love of homework away from them by owning it. It’s their homework.

Our children’s success is going to be a function of their comfort with and self-discipline in pursuing goals, not how fast or slow they move through the curriculum. Overparenting is forgetting who the chief decision maker is

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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.

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