Friday, September 6, 2013

Creating Mountains Students Can Climb

cc flickr photo by azjd

A common struggle in many schools -- mine included -- is igniting the intrinsic motivation of students, particularly those who feel disaffected due to previous school experiences. I am currently reading, Motivating Students Who Don't Care, by Allen Mendler.  I have grown to appreciate the work of Mendler, and his frequent co-author Richard Curwin, because of their emphasis on the importance of relationships and meaningful connections with students.   In Motivating Students Who Don't Care, Mendler suggests five processes that can be used to connect with students and encourage active engagement in the learning process.
  1. Emphasizing effort
  2. Creating hope
  3. Respecting power
  4. Building relationships
  5. Expressing enthusiasm
While each of these strategies is very powerful, I was immediately struck by the importance of fostering hope for our challenging students.  I continue to be appalled by the number of times that I speak with students who honestly can not recall the last time they experienced success (of any kind) in a school setting.  These are twelve and thirteen year-old kids who see no relevance to education and have lost all hope that school will improve their lives. One way to begin turning the tables for these students is to actively generate opportunities for them to experience success.  As Mendler points out, "our challenge then, is to create mountains that students believe they can climb."  Just giving students a sense of accomplishment can be a powerful means of shifting their attitude toward school -- fostering a belief, that with some effort, they will be able to experience success.  We have to be purposeful about setting these students up to succeed -- not necessarily staging events, but certainly taking time to ensure that struggling students have multiple opportunities to experience the feeling of accomplishment.  This might mean calling on them when we are certain they know an answer, altering the way we address concerns (i.e. "I see you a majority of the assignment...that is great!  Is there something I can do to help you with the remaining problems?"), or just being cognizant of their little successes for celebration. As you work with students who seem to lack motivation, think about whether or not they have developed a sense of accomplishment and then consider what you can do to set them up for success.  How do you create mountains that students believe they can climb?

From the archives Molehills out of Mountains - originally published on October 11, 2012

Monday, September 2, 2013

5 Point Plan for a Great Day

cc flickr photo azjd
Let's be honest.  Some days we just don't feel like we have it.  We might be tired, stressed, overwhelmed -- simply not ready to face what the day (or week) has to bring.  It is easy to submit to those feelings, and chances are, things will go exactly as you expected (as Henry Ford said, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't -- you're right.").  Even if you love your work, it is human nature to have days like this -- for some of us, more often than others.

So, here's a "five point plan," that won't necessarily be easy to implement, but if done with fidelity, should leave you feeling good about what you have accomplished -- regardless of what actually gets done.

  1. No Whining - go an entire day without complaining. This one is going to take deliberate effort.  Truth be told, I shudder to think how many times I complain about something during a given day.  Start out by vowing not to verbally, or outwardly, complain -- then, if you're up for the challenge, get control of your mental whining. 
  2. Less Me, More Others - think a lot less about your personal problems and struggles, and a lot more about how you can help others with their challenges.  This might include friends, family members, students, or colleagues.  Make it a point to do something that brightens the day for someone else, and see if you don't benefit from the reflection.
  3. Slow Down - mentally, and physically.  As difficult as it is, try not to multi-task, but instead give all of your effort and energy to one thing at a time.  This is especially important when you work with people.  Make sure that you give those with whom you interact, your undivided attention.  Take breaks.  Take a breath.  Smile.
  4. Identify Your Big Rocks - be sure to focus on what is important (which is not necessarily the same as what is urgent).  As Goethe said; "Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least."  I need to be constantly reminded of this -- living that quote is one of my biggest personal challenges.   
  5. Be Thankful - let's face it, most of us have many reasons to be thankful.  Our health, our families, our jobs, our friends -- and the list could go on.  When I think about many of the students I work with, it is a wonder that they walk in our front gates at all.  Some face challenges and circumstances that would make many adults (myself included) wither.  Consider what you have to be thankful for, and refer to point #2.

Following the steps in this action plan is much more challenging than writing about them.  Even though I don't claim to have come anywhere near mastering this process, I do know that my best days happen when I am mindful of these five things.

Have a great week!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Addicted to "Busy"

my wunderlist account
Beware the barrenness of a busy life.  ~ Socrates
It's a three day weekend, but I feel like I am working (on school related stuff) more than I should.  I keep reviewing the goals I outlined in my first post on this new blog, and the reviews are mixed.  As I glance at my Wunderlist account, and the sixty-three tasks sitting in my folders, I can't help but wonder if I am a "busy" addict.

Does feeling busy, a great deal of the time, provide me with a distorted sense of importance?  The opportunity to be the victim of circumstances?  A potential excuse in the event of failure?  I'm also considering if I am really as busy as I think I am, or just overwhelmed by an inability to sift what's important from what is not.  

A reality check for me is when people with whom I work begin conversations with, "I know you are incredibly busy, but..."  When I hear that, I generally feel a tinge of guilt that comes with the understanding that I am projecting an air of importance based on busyness (i.e. don't bother me, I have too much too do).

We all have days when we feel like we have much more to get done than what is humanly possible to accomplish, but truth be told, in most cases it works out.  I know that the key to solving this challenge lies in identifying what is most important, and making sure that our "busyness" addresses those issues of highest value.  That, in itself, is a challenging task.

While I continue to struggle through this personal challenge, I'll do my best to heed my own advice from Do Over: 5 Things I'll Do Differently:

  • Take breaks
  • Minimize multi-tasking
  • Turn off my phone
  • Do less
  • Fill the day with what is important

In fact, I'm headed to the pool with my daughter right now.  That should address all five.  Feel free to share your thoughts, and strategies, for breaking the addiction to being busy.