Saturday, December 31, 2016

How to Have a Happy New Year / New Semester

     January always brings mixed emotions. If first semester was challenging (and when isn’t it?), beginning the final semester makes us feel some relief that the year is half over. (We should ask ourselves sometimes if this is any way to live? 😊 )

January presents a chance to start over, to a certain extent, especially with consistent management or discipline. I’ve already written a blog post about how to start over with classroom management in January.  If you need encouragement to step up and be more effective with establishing productive routines and handling misbehavior, please click this link to read January - When Teachers Get Do-Overs in Classroom Management.

     In this post, though, I want to focus on relationships – relationships with your work-able, manageable kids, but especially relationships with your most difficult kids. When teachers are not adequately supported with a building-wide discipline system, they are left with very meager means with which to protect themselves from further hurt – sometimes abuse – from disconnected or angry kids.

Leaders, please give your teachers the help of an effective school-wide discipline system. It will save your teachers and your students, and it will make your life easier as well. It’s not hard to develop and implement such a system, and January is a great time to start. You don’t have to nail it all down in a few days before second semester. Trying some action steps like teaching common rules for every classroom and enforcing a set of predictable consequences is do-able.

But that’s not really what this post is about.

     Even though I can’t promise you that your leaders will support you like you need them to, I’m asking you, teachers, to consider putting yourselves out there – yet again – to reach for students who have rejected you, rebelled against your attempts to manage your class, and maybe even blamed you for effects on their lives that are not your fault. 


     (Kids come to us with lots of baggage already. It’s really not probable that this year’s teacher or school caused their problems and failures.)

I know what I’m asking. I know how it feels to suffer trauma from hurtful interactions with troubled young people. Teachers are human. The temptation to protect our emotions is natural. Self-protection, unfortunately, won’t make our situation better. It only sets up enmity between us and our charges. As the adults, we’re called upon to find a way to be the wiser, more magnanimous, person in the equation.

Don’t let an 11-year-old, or an 18-year-old, make you feel inadequate. Enter your power struggles, if you must, and win them, because that’s the only way the kids can win, too. Implement all the consequences that student misbehavior calls for, but whenever you can, tell your students why you choose to hold them accountable. Tell them you can’t show that you believe in them if you don’t believe they can manage their emotions and behavior. Let them know that you want to help them work on those life skills.

Make every attempt to show patience and unconditional love. 
Be transparent, now and then, when you are struggling to remain calm. And be good to yourself. When you have done all you know to do, and you have given sacrificially (because that’s what the position demands), let the pain of any hurtful experience of the day leave you through the night. Greet each new day with optimism and a willingness to grow in this, the most difficult requirement of a world-class teacher – managing our own emotions and behavior.

 Here are a couple ways to be proactive with relationship-building in January:

  • Prepare a speech in which you formally welcome every class back to school for second semester. Tell your students you missed them while on break. Tell them you are excited about the time you have remaining with them.
  • Laughing together helps form bonds. Find a funny video or share a joke . . . just for fun. Obviously, don’t choose sarcasm. Play a game on the first day back.
  • Start a short personal conversation with every student through a conversation journal or just a sheet of note paper. Share your own hopes and goals for the second semester. Ask students to write a note to you about what they would like to see happen in school this semester. What are they looking forward to? What are they worried about? How can you help them?
    • Write back to every student in their conversation journals or on their note to you. Try to get these back to kids the next day. You may need to stagger the assignment across several days for your various hours or class sections in order to make this possible.
    •  Tell students that grading school work and writing lesson plans takes a lot of your time outside of school, so you can’t keep the conversation exchanges going long, but you want to do it for at least a round or two. You don’t have to write a lot in return. Just one line about what you like about the youngster, or a thoughtful response to their remarks is sure to make a difference.
    • Even if your disconnected kids refuse to write, make a point of writing a positive, warm note to them (with some kids, we have to start the conversation).
    •  If a student actually tells you that something you do or don’t do is a part of his or her struggle, try to show that you actually consider their remarks and will try to remedy the problem.
  • Relax and smile often (while not shirking your consistent response to misbehavior). Being calm and unruffled helps show that you enjoy your job and your students and that you are confident about your disciplinary decisions. Young people cannot enjoy you or your class unless they think you enjoy them, so put it on, if you have to. Act like you love teaching even when it's hard.

     I wish you a great second semester. 

       Here are some additional posts you might find relevant at this time of year:  

                  How I Came to Love Detentions
             What Rules Do We Need?
             The Four-Step Consequences
             Our Multi-Leveled School-Wide Discipline System


      Plus, I wrote the book on Building Your School-Wide Discipline System

      I hope you will check it out!

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