I Never Had a Bad Class

I Never Had a Bad Class

I never had a bad class.

I’ve had classes that present unique challenges, I had students who test my creativity in my efforts to connect with them, and I’ve had classes that really didn’t need me very much. I beat myself up trying to figure out how to help students succeed, yet I never blamed the students for my failure. I blamed myself.

I never had a bad class because things are what we think they are–a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative generalizations, full-moons, or my personal issues do not determine the type of day my students have. 

If we believe it, it will be.

I have had amazing and interesting classes full of amazing and interesting students. And I don’t think it was luck.

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.              Buddha

Image source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9173533/Bad-behaviour-in-schools-fuelled-by-over-indulgent-parents.html

Communicating trust while correcting students is a beautiful thing

Picture yourself as a first grader–smart, curious, and full of excitement about learning.

You are just forming your perception of who you are as a student.

You need a reminder about expectations. 

Your teacher says to you, “Ms. Smith needs you to quiet down and get to work.”

You feel guilty, knowing you should not have been talking. You crouch into yourself a bit, worried that your teacher will think of you as a bad kid now. She doesn’t even think you know her name!

Now, picture another scenario. 
Same characters–you as your amazing first grade self, needing a reminder about expectations.

Your teacher says to you, “Is that a ‘smart spot’ for you?”

You know what a ‘smart spot’ is because your teacher taught you what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like. 

Your teacher trusts that you know what a ‘smart spot’ is, and gives you freedom to choose a spot in the room to work. She believes in you–believes you are an amazing first grader who is smart, curious, and full of excitement for learning. 

I love watching first grade teacher Lauren Huisingh do her thing, this week I was able to see the power of the shared vocabulary she has with her students. One of their secret phrases is ‘smart spot’. Not only do they know what it looks like, sounds like and feels like, they also learn the amazing things they can create when they chose the perfect smart spot for themselves. Now, three months into the school year, they all know exactly what it means. 

In talking with Lauren about why she manages the classroom this way, she shared that she feels a great responsibility as a first grade teacher because she knows that first graders begin to develop a sense of who they are as students in this all important year. She develops this “secret language” in the form of shared vocabulary to communicate and uphold expectations in a way that embraces who these little people are. The trust in the environment is palpable.

During that same visit, Lauren asked a student if she needed a clipboard. However, that question was not about the clipboard. She asked the question because the student was not working. In that simple question, Lauren reinforced expectations and demonstrated to the student that she was there to help if she needed it. She could have said, “Let’s get to work,” to the student, but implied is an accusation that the student doesn’t know she should be working. How we correct students can can damage relationships and contribute to students thinking of themselves negatively.

There is such a better way to communicate and uphold high expectations, and Lauren has nailed it. She actually contributes to relationships while she “corrects” students, she explicitly teaches the expectations, and she communicates trust all the while. It is a beautiful thing.

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Being thankful for my own struggles

Being thankful for my own struggles

During this season of gratitude, I join the masses in taking stock of all the blessings in my life. There are many–my sons, my husband, my work, my extended family, my friends, our home, time spent with loved ones, my dog, my feral cats (wait, scratch that, they are still very mean to me), this list could go on and on.

In my effort to squeeze every bit of joy and appreciation out of life, I began to think about all the things that have gone wrong. I have a sense of duty to learn from the struggles and to appreciate them because…well, why not? Here are some of the challenges in my life that I am very grateful for:

My own self-doubt...

I am plagued with self-doubt and I am so hard on myself. I even had a dream this week that one of my beloved staff members told me that I was doing a terrible job and suffering from hallucinations. I woke up so grateful that it was just a dream, but wondering what it meant. Have I been hallucinating? In the end, I determined that it means that I still have lots of self-doubt, even though I have grown so much in accepting myself for who I am, flaws and all.

Why am I thankful for this? I am thankful that I have the same self-doubt as so many people I work with. It allows me to understand how hard they are on themselves. So, instead of contributing to their self-doubt, I try to raise them up with a focus on strengths. Then, we determine our next step toward continuous improvement together. I treat them how I want to be treated.

My sons’ struggles…

My boys are amazing young men, each in their own different way. They are smart and strong-willed and funny and sensitive and I love being their mom. They face challenges in the classroom, in relationships, in understanding how humans work, and they don’t like to do their chores or their homework. I love helping them work through their challenges, and I appreciate the perspective they give me. I am such a better educator because of all the lessons their struggles have taught me. Oh, yeah, and they could throw some amazing tantrums as toddlers. They taught me great lessons in humility back then. The blessings they bring me go way beyond their warm hugs and the pride I have in watching their successes.

Losing my mom…

I did not know the beauty of life until I lost my best friend…my mom. The journey to her death was the most difficult thing I have ever gone through and it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever gone through. Her death taught me that life is so precious, even the most challenging days, and not a single second should be wasted. She died four and a half years ago and still tears rush to my eyes when I think of her. I miss her every day and I hope I always will. I cherish that pain.

Oh boy, don’t get me started on all my husband has taught me…

When we took our vows for better or for worse, I did not think the worse would really happen. Oh, it happens. The ups and downs of a marriage are like the ups and downs of a marathon. Every marriage has them, every relationship has them, we just have to decide if the ups are worth the downs. Living with someone for nearly 18 years can teach you a lot. 

One of the best lessons I learned through my relationship with Jim is this:  we each have different needs and we must not take offense at each other’s attempt to meet his/her needs. For instance, Jim has a high need for freedom and a low need for belonging. I have a high need for belonging and a low need for freedom. See the conflict there? We have learned that Jim’s need to go off and snowmobile, or golf, or bowl, does not mean that he doesn’t want to be with me. My need to hear affirmations, to get hugs, to say “I love you” one hundred times a day does not mean I want to smother him. We have to support each other in our attempts to meet our needs and understand what each other needs. 

Beautiful people do not just happen…

I aspire to have the kind of beauty that radiates from within. Years ago a parent of some of my students gave me the quote below and I have shared it with many people over the years, especially as they are working through their own struggles. I may have extra gray hair and wrinkles because of my challenges, but I also hope that I have an extra depth in my eyes and an empathy that comes out as a “deep loving concern”. Because I do. Love you.

A podcast of this blogpost can be found here: http://q-crew.madewithopinion.com/serendipity-in-education/

Does unity imply full agreement?

Does unity imply full agreement?

Does unity imply full agreement?

If so, I might argue that unity is bad for students.

Questioning, wondering, disagreeing is part of the journey to excellence.

When this topic was assigned to the #CompelledTribe of bloggers this month, I paused before writing about it and really thought about where unity fits in at Quincy Elementary. There are many ways we are united. Among those ways are:

  • Making decisions in the best interest of students. 
  • Assuming positive intentions
  • Focusing on strong, positive relationships
  • Helping each other
  • Finding joy in our work

Yet, there are places where we are not united. This ebbs and flows based upon get the information we have at the time. Our students deserve us to not blindly follow for the sake of unity. Nor should we question for the sake of being disagreeable. 

    Our students need us to have a perfect balance of push and pull. 

    They deserve unity in our quest to serve them better and better every day.  

    You don’t get unity by ignoring the questions that have to be faced. -Jay Weatherill

    Are we willing to follow our own advice?

    I noticed something the other day.

    I noticed that sometimes we are reluctant to go to each other with problems. Not all problems, just the ones that have to do with hurt feelings.

    I wonder…do we expect more out of our students than we expect out of ourselves?

    What do we often do when a student approaches us about a “hurt feelings” situation? If we perceive the issue as quite minor, we send them back to their offender and ask them to work it out. We give guidance and ask them to let us know if it doesn’t get resolved.

    Are we willing to follow our own advice?

    Why not?

    One hypothesis I have is that we don’t trust ourselves, our feelings, our instincts. We do not trust that we can handle a difficult situation in a way that will make it better. We fear that we will make it worse.

    Educators also have sensitive servant hearts. We don’t like to have uncomfortable conversations. We like to be kind. What we forget is that likely the kindest thing to do is to gently bring the issue to the person’s attention.

    Let’s challenge ourselves to have a growth mindset about our colleagues. Let’s assume they don’t know that they have been hurtful. Let’s assume they would feel terrible about hurting someone’s feelings and would want to know. They deserve to know.

    What if you did “handle it” the next time someone hurt your feelings? The next time you heard a staff member talking to a student in a way that didn’t feel right? But, what if you handled it this way…

    1. Assume positive intent–not many educators I know like to hurt feelings. Many people don’t realize how they are coming across. Assume the person doesn’t know that his/her behavior was hurtful. Start with something like, “I know you would never mean to…”. Or, “It seemed like you were upset…”

    2. Ask how you can help.

    3. Encourage the person for his/her self-reflection.

    Chances are, the person you are talking to will self-evaluate and not make the same mistake again. If not, repeat this process. If you don’t feel like you are getting anywhere, let the person know that you think the principal could help. Then, you will have done all you can and the principal can take it from there.

    The danger in not addressing concerns are many, and the problem becomes a little bit bigger every time you don’t address it. Do the students and your colleagues a favor and follow the advice you give your students–work it out.

    Have you ever noticed a problem that goes on for years, yet no one addresses it? What it your hypothesis?

    The Story Behind that Pesky Parent Email

    The Story Behind that Pesky Parent Email

    “Hey mom, did you see the grade on my recent quiz? I got a 10% and I am not sure why. I asked the teacher and I am still not sure why or if I can do anything to improve. My grade dropped from an A to a F after the quiz was put into the gradebook.”

    As the young man shared this with his mom, she listened carefully. He usually avoids talking about school. Up to this point in the new school year, he had actually been very conscientious about turning in his assignments. That was a huge improvement over other years, where sometimes he didn’t even bother to get the “free” points by turning in a signed syllabus.

    “Man,” the mom thought to herself, “I am worried that he will get discouraged and stop trying. I wonder how a grade could drop from an A to a F in one day. I could understand if it was the second week of school, but this is a month into the year.”

    “I bet this teacher doesn’t know my son very well because he has so many students to get to know. Maybe if the teacher knew more about his story, he might be able to connect with him to help him improve. I wonder if I should contact the teacher?” The mother debated how to best help her son.

    The next day, when they had a chance to have a deeper conversation, they talked about what he could do to improve. They also talked over the idea of sharing some information about her son’s history and struggles with the teacher. After much discussion, the son agreed to think about his mom emailing the teacher.

    The mom composed an email to the teacher, sharing that her son had always struggled in school and how impressed she was with his effort so far this school year. She asked the teacher for guidance on how to best help him. She hoped that her email would also pull at his heartstrings a bit so that he could make a connection with her son and encourage his success.

    “Well, there are a few ways this could go,” she thought to herself. “The teacher may reach out to my son and help him. Or, he could get defensive and things would not get better. Worst case scenario, in his defensiveness, he would look for things my son does wrong and things would go further downhill. My son is not easy to get to know and sometimes he is impulsive, the teacher might not like him already. Oh boy, maybe it is too risky. Maybe I should just delete the email.”

    She shared her thinking with her son, and the risks the email posed. He thought the outcome would be positive, and he told her to send the email.

    “You are right. Let’s assume the positive. I am sure this teacher went into education to help kids become better people and because he loves all students. That is why all teachers go into education, right?”

    I will let you finish this story…how do you think it ended?

    Think of teachers you know, what action plan do you think they would come up with?

    Can you imagine a teacher getting defensive, making the situation worse? How could we support a teacher like that?

    Can you imagine a teacher helping the student turn things around? How might they go about doing that?

    Image source