Put your students into your lessons

Look guys! It's me! In the yearbook!!!
Look guys! It’s me! In the yearbook!!!

What is the first thing you look at when you get your yearbook?  What is the first thing our students look for when they get their yearbook?  For most of us, the answer is most likely ourselves.  Don’t lie – you know that includes you! 🙂  When our students post something to Instagram, what is it that they are concerned with?  The number of likes they get!  How can we use that knowledge to increase engagement in our classes?

Have you ever put your students into the materials you use in class?  In language arts you could insert a student or group of students into a story you are modeling.  When you create an assignment in word, make your students the stars of that content.  Then through the use of find and replace it is easy to adjust your activities to different classes or different rosters of students.  The main idea of the assignment is the same, but each class will have students and friends from that class who appear in the assignment.  It’s even better if you can integrate a student’s interests into the assignment.  If you know that Sarah plays soccer, and Michael plays the violin, use that knowledge to pull them in even more!

Group of school children in the classroom - http://blog.selectmytutor.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/happy-little-math-students-uk.jpg
Group of school children in the classroom – http://blog.selectmytutor.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/happy-little-math-students-uk.jpg

Getting personal with students also allows us to build relationships with them.  You can add your own personality and interests into the assignments alongside your student’s interests.  They will feel a connection (just don’t allow your interests to overpower the kids!).  Building relationships is one of our school improvement goals.  By working to make classes more personal and relevant, students will be more connected to the content, which will help them internalize the content and how it matters to their lives.

What have you done differently this year to connect with kids?  Share some of the strategies that seem to be successful for you this school year.


Student Behaviors

Robert Temple Ayers - https://www.flickr.com/photos/42787780@N04/4975296555
Robert Temple Ayers – https://www.flickr.com/photos/42787780@N04/4975296555

I have recently been reading the book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell.  I’m not sure if any of you have ever read anything by him, but he often picks a story to share, and then spends the rest of the book talking about the psychology behind what “really” happened.  He does a ton of research, interviews a wide variety of people on a wide variety of topics, and then puts it all together in a way that ties back to his original message.

If you remember the story of David and Goliath from ancient Palestine, you will remember that David miraculously felled a mighty warrior with nothing more than a pebble and a sling.  Now, any rivalry game where one team is hugely favored and the underdog wins is often referred to as a battle of David and Goliath.  What I have taken away as one theme of the book is that sometimes there are times that the win by David is not as improbable as you might have suspected.

Let's hope your class doesn't look like this!!! http://gatheringbooks.org/2011/05/10/miss-nelson-is-missing/
Let’s hope your class doesn’t look like this!!!

In one portion of the book, Gladwell is talking about classroom management skills.  He describes walking into a classroom that appears to be absolutely in chaos.  The teacher is at the front of the room doing a read aloud.  One student is standing next to her and they are taking turns reading from the story.  Kids are making faces, one girl is doing cartwheels, and several students have turned their back on the teacher.  The situation is unpacked a little more greatly in the book, and it becomes obvious that the teacher in this situation is using some very poor classroom engagement strategies which lead to the classroom management issues, but something that Gladwell said struck a chord with me:

“We often think of authority as a response to disobedience: a child acts up, so a teacher cracks down.  Stella’s classroom, however, suggests something different: disobedience can also be a response to authority.  If the teacher doesn’t do her job properly, then the child will become disobedient.” (Gladwell, pg 339)

A view of some of the projects in Brownsville - https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/22/Qbridgenycha.JPG
A view of some of the projects in Brownsville – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/22/Qbridgenycha.JPG

In the same chapter, Gladwell then shifts to a story about a program based in Brownsville, a residential neighborhood in eastern Brooklyn, NYC.  If you were to visit, you might be inclined to refer to this area as the projects.  In 2003, a police officer took charge of the city’s Housing Bureau, and their primary responsibility was the Brownsville projects.  In an effort to try something new, they started trying to help the troubled youth in the area.  They identified all the juveniles in Brownsville who had been arrested in the previous year.  They reached out to those kids and their families.  Kids who were brought into the program were told that the cops in this group (called the Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program – J-RIP) would do everything in their power to help.  They would get them back in school to get a diploma, bring them needed services for their family, find out what’s needed in their household, provide job opportunities, educational opportunities, medical – everything they could.  The program would work with the kids, but there was one circumstance.  The criminal conduct had to stop.  Kids were told that if they got arrested for anything, the cops would do all they could to keep them in jail.

The cops in the J-RIP program seemed to be everywhere these 106 kids went.  They’d show up at their home, find them hanging out in other parts of the city, walk up to Facebook friends and talk to them about what they’ve been up to.  These cops lived in the world of these kids.  Initially things did not go well.  The kids didn’t want to interact, the families didn’t want to interact.  The cops had the best of intentions, but they weren’t getting anywhere.  Finally they had a breakthrough one November.  One of the cops decided it would be a great idea to help out one of the kids they were most worried about losing.  One the Wednesday before Thanksgiving this officer went out and bought a Thanksgiving dinner for the kid’s family and delivered it.  They knew they might not be able to get through to the main target, but maybe they’d have a breakthrough with the kid’s seven siblings.  That year, through the efforts of the commander of the unit, they were able to get funds to be able to deliver a turkey to the home of every kid that was on their list for Thanksgiving.

The reason they were so persistent in trying to meet the families was because police in Brownsville were not seen as legitimate.  A large percentage of the families in Brownsville had only had negative interactions with the police, and multiple people in most families had spent time behind bars.  By taking turkeys to the families of the J-RIP kids, the cops were saying to the families “we really do care about you and your family, and we want to help you make the most of yourself, and most important, we want you to have a good Thanksgiving.”

After this, things in Brownsville began to turn around.  The trend line on all crime in Brownsville dropped significantly in the following 5 years.  Kids who were in the J-RIP program went from a total of over 350 arrests in the year before being added to the program, to less than 40 arrests.  Gladwell argues that what this proves is that

“the powerful have to worry about how others think of them – that those who give orders are acutely vulnerable to the opinions of those whom they are ordering about.” (Gladwell, pg. 356)

As teachers, we are clearly in a role of power.  Some of our parents are scared to be involved in school because they may have had bad experiences when they were in school, or maybe their child has had bad experiences in the past.  Some of our students are nervous in the classroom because of things beyond our control, maybe a bad experience in another class, or their perception of the teacher.  As people in power, what actually matters are the hundreds of small things that we as the powerful do – or don’t do – to establish legitimacy.  When power is not seen as legitimate, it can often have the opposite of the intended effect.


We are dealing with the minds of 10, 11, and 12 year olds.  Sometimes they struggle to understand the things we say, the jokes we make, or the ways we interact with them.  Things like sarcasm and a sense of humor that may make perfect sense to the adults in our building will fly right over the heads of our kids, and instead they will feel that you are actually being serious, or possibly making fun of them.  For some of our kids, the direct approach doesn’t work because it only leads to a shutdown.

Think about what you do to build legitimacy with our students.  Keep in mind that what works with one kid may not work with another.  Also keep in mind that without legitimacy, our students may not see us as people who care for them, but rather as the person who’s trying to keep them down.  If you want to build better legitimacy with your kids, give them a voice.  Also, give them the time to talk about their interests.  Think about the J-RIP program – they took a small group of kids living in Brownsville and truly showed those kids that the cops cared about them, and many of them changed their ways.  It also had a larger effect of changing the culture of crime in the entire neighborhood.  Who are the kids that you would identify as needing to know you care?  How can you show them that you care?  How can you build greater legitimacy so that your power has the intended effect, and doesn’t lead to unintended consequences?



growth word cloud

What is your mindset?  Do you see the glass as half empty, or half full?  Attitude and mindset are two of the greatest determinants of success.  Having our minds open to new approaches can allow huge changes in schools, which in turn could make life easier for all of us.  In the coming weeks we’ll be talking about various mindsets that may be affecting us in our classroom, and by extension be affecting our students.

Growth Mindset

Today I wanted to share a short YouTube video that shares the results of a study on praise and mindset.  The video has a run time of just under 5 minutes.


Something like this could help our students change their fixed mindset ideas into growth mindset thoughts.
Something like this could help our students change their fixed mindset ideas into growth mindset thoughts.

If you’d like to see the TED Talk that relates to the research by Carol Dweck on growth mindsets, here you go:

A swift kick in the butt

How can this knowledge of mindsets impact your teaching right now?  Share something that you might do differently based on these videos.

Preparing our Students for the Great Unknown

lennon-quote-with-photoWhen you were in 6th grade, what did you want to be?  When you talk to our students, what jobs do they want to have some day?  The amazing thing is that some of the jobs that my classmates are in did not exist when I was in 6th grade.  How many jobs that our students will end up doing don’t even exist yet?  In a previous post I shared the following quote from Thomas Friedman:

“Today’s workers need to approach the workplace much like athletes preparing for the Olympics, with one difference. They have to prepare like someone who is training for the Olympics but doesn’t know what sport they are going to enter.”

Matt Miller - http://ditchthattextbook.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/jobs-that-didnt-exist.jpg
Matt Miller – http://ditchthattextbook.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/jobs-that-didnt-exist.jpg

A quick search of the top jobs for 2015 lists things like computer systems analyst, software/app developer, information security analyst, and IT manager.  These are all relatively new jobs.  A couple weeks ago, I talked about the importance of being able to learn, unlearn, and relearn.  What does this look like when we don’t even know what jobs may exist when our students enter the job market?

To me, there are a few skills that will always be valuable.  These are the skills that are most important for our students to learn.  Here is a list that Matt Miller shared of a few skills that will help our students be better prepared for the real world when they get there:

  • Adding value
  • Creating content online
  • Continuously listening and watching for new ideas
  • Glamorizing hard work
  • Turning wasted time into productive time
  • Cultivating relationships
  • Being financially responsible
  • Staying on the cutting edge
  • Maintaining a balance between professionalism and being a real person
  • Becoming a twenty-four-hour worker

Some of these may be hard to visualize in practice in the school building.  If you’re looking for further description on any of these skills, let me know and I can share a more detailed explanation.Peanuts-happy

Are there any skills that you feel are left off of the list above?  What would you add?  Share in the comments below!

Gatekeepers or Travel Guides

Prior to the development of written language, the gatekeepers of knowledge were the village elders who could tell stories about the history of a village or society.  Those elders would teach the “smartest” members of the village the old stories so that the history could live on.  Once societies began to develop a written record, this role began to phase out.  In more recent history, the gatekeepers of information were the librarians, teachers, and college professors.  They gave the knowledge to their students through lecture format and rote memorization.

Today the role of a teacher is changing.  Our students don’t need gatekeepers to provide them with the knowledge they need.  Our students won’t quit playing a video game because they get stuck, they watch a YouTube video to show them how to go further.  If they see a reference to someone and they want more information, they grab their phone and find out more from Wikipedia (for base level knowledge, it does a pretty good job!).  If they are arguing a trivia fact they can find the answer through a Google search – for some of our kids, the Google app is one of the most used.

When we provide more students the opportunities to share in the classroom, we are building bridges to the world instead of placing them in a silo. https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14749002232/in/album-72157645530010989/
Matt Miller – https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14749002232/in/album-72157645530010989/

Even though students have the ability to find the answer to their content questions, they still need our help.  They need us as mentors and guides who can help them discover their passions, and then investigate those passions using the skills that will be valued by our changing world.

How have you noticed your role changing in your classroom as it has become easier for students to find the answer to their content questions?  Share some thoughts in the comment section below.

The “Typical” Day

What does a typical school day look like?  Get to school on time, go to class, sit quietly, do your work, write all your answers down, listen and take notes, leave at the end of the day, do more work when you get home.  This sounds pretty routine, and is exactly the model that Ken Robinson was arguing against in his “Changing Education Paradigms.”

Matt Miller - https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562421540/in/photostream/
Matt Miller – https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562421540/in/photostream/

In a recent MIT study, researchers identified two categories of work that have been in a fairly consistent decline since 1960.  Those are the jobs that are defined as routine and manual.  The jobs that have been growing are the non-routine tasks.  Those are the tasks that require problem-solving, intuition, persuasion, creativity, situational adaptability, visual and language recognition, and in-person interaction.

In our school improvement plan we say that engagement and inquiry should be in the forefront of our planning.  I believe that it is much more important for our students to know how to ask the right questions, and then how to find the answers themselves, rather than simply answering the questions we ask.  In the book Future Shock, Alvin Toffler said “The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write.  The illiterate will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”  This applies to education just as well as it does to any other part of society.

Matt Miller https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562423080/in/album-72157645530010989/
Matt Miller https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562423080/in/album-72157645530010989/

I think that as teachers, many of us think that our classroom should somehow resemble the classrooms of our childhood.  When I first started in education, I thought it was a good thing for my students to be quiet – especially when my principal came in the room.  Now I don’t feel that way.  When a classroom is silent, my first reaction is “are they taking a test?”  Collaboration and problem solving rarely involve silence.  I’m not saying that it should never be silent in a classroom.  There’s a time and a place where that is necessary.  However if we are trying to meet the concepts of the Best Practice Model, should it be silent most of the time?

Reflect on your own classroom.  What does your class look like most of the time?  What changes have you made, or will you continue to make, in order to help your students be ready for the non-routine tasks of their future?  In the comments share some of the things you’ve tried before, or share something that you feel like you want to try soon.