* Crucial Conversations #3: Learn to look

crucial conversationsLearn to Look.  That’s chapter four in Crucial Conversations.  Look at my reactions, look at others’ reactions, and check for signs that we are moving towards “silence” or “violence.”

Why am I so much better at this with kids but not my colleagues?  I may miss kids’ signals at times, but overall, I am attuned to their mood, their body signals, their language, and their needs.  Other teachers and adminstrators?  My crucial conversations are best when I’m advocating for kids’ needs (at least I’m not being silent) but then I tend to go overboard and have to apologize for not listening, for interrupting, for saying the same thing over and over to COMPEL people to do what I think is best.  Arrgh.

As a teacher, I’ve been in perpetual training mode with kids, working to be effective.  If I want to be a successful teacher, I must understand my students and react in helpful ways.  I must make the environment safe so they can move forward.  I allow them to share their grumpiness and sarcasm without taking offense.  I allow them to be candid; in fact, I establish early on that I need them to be honest.  There are boundaries, but I permit a wide range of behaviors as they move towards improved self-understanding and improved self-control.  Another factor in my communication weaknesses with colleagues has been my isolation from the mainstream of education.  For much of my career, self-contained classrooms were out of sight and out of mind.  So were their teachers.  Kids from across the school districts would leave their “home schools” and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.  The Professional Learning Community (PLC) model was nonexistent.  I never learned from my mistakes in crucial conversations.

With colleagues, I am often defensive, fearful of criticism, and approval-seeking.  I haven’t moved very far from my early dysfunctional relationships.  As an abused kid, I said I would never treat children the way I was treated.  I believe Crucial Conversations will help me bring my collegial relationships into alignment with that childhood goal.  I had no voice and no safety in my childhood (not an exaggeration).  It is time for me to move to the next chapter of the book and of my life: “Make It Safe.”

* 7 Ways to Build Stronger Relationships with Students

Wouldn’t you like your child to have a teacher like this? Great post on building authentic and fun relationships with students. Read on….

Special Education Tools

It’s one thing to philosophize about students in the summer; the fall is when the pedagogical rubber hits the road.

I’ve mentioned that I want to strengthen my relationships with students this year. Why? Because as the late Dr. Rita Pierson said, “students don’t learn from teachers they don’t like.” And I want my students to learn. A LOT.

So, this year, I’m aiming to be a teacher students like. And no, not in a buddy-buddy way, but in a way that students know I have their best interests at heart.

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention. Start small. Lots of small gestures add up to big feelings for kids.

I’ve attempted to foster relationships, so far, in several ways:

1. I’m teaching a low-stakes computer science class through Exploring Computer Science. There is no regents exam connected to the course, there is no homework in the course, and students drive most of the…

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* Teacher-student relationships

My thoughts on teacher-student relationships:

1.  Teachers and students are not friends.  Wow, that sounds pretty harsh!  I thought teachers were supposed to care about their students.  Yes, indeed, but the relationship is NOT a friendship.  Friendship implies mutual affection and equality, usually with shared interests and experiences.  I may care deeply for my students, and they may reciprocate (or at least call me “Mom”), but I have no desire to become their friend.  For one thing, they are as fickle as the wind.  I recall setting limits for a student who responded, “Well, I’m not going to be your friend!”  I smothered my smile and simply redirected that student.  I have an authority and position which makes our relationship quite different from friendship.  I am not affronted when students disagree with me or don’t want to follow the classroom rules.  I am not going to sulk and say, “Well, you can’t be my friend, either!”

2.  Teachers are not despots and students are not serfs.  A despot could care less about the well-being of her subjects.  She makes the rules in order to best serve her own needs, not those “below” her.  She may change the rules on a whim with little regard for her subjects’ needs.  She is unimpeachable and above reproach.  Her subjects must obey, no matter what.  They have no say in anything of importance and any rebellions are quickly squashed.  This despot may appear quite friendly to parents and colleagues, but in her realm, she rules with an iron hand.

3.  Teachers are not surrogate parents.  Honestly, I have often felt like one at times, but here’s the rub:  I can’t be a parent and still maintain a needed emotional distance from my students.  You know all those buttons that kids can push with little effort?  How they can change a parent’s mood from blissful to hysterical with just the right words or actions?  As a teacher, I cannot afford to have those buttons.  I have learned this lesson the hard way.  Before I was a parent, I used to say the most outrageous things to parents.  I was truly perplexed. Why weren’t my classroom behavior techniques simply transferred to the home?  At first, I thought I needed to repeat my excellent words of wisdom.  Then I tried putting them in writing with lots of diagrams.  I shared sticker charts and graphs.  I even went so far as to host parent training sessions BEFORE I was a parent!  Ah, the arrogance of youth. (And I wasn’t all that young, either.)  Sure, I may have had a few good ideas to share, but I had no clue why it was so difficult for my classroom systems to work at home.  Then I became a parent.  After giving my niece $5 to teach my son to tie his shoes (which she did in a few minutes after I had labored with him for HOURS), I saw the light.  Oh, there is a difference between being a parent and being a teacher.  Duh.

If you do become emotionally attached to a student and you start developing buttons you never knew you had, I have one great suggestion:  ADOPT!  That was our solution to the problem.  I had this incredible student who won my heart and pushed all my buttons.  I even took her to the principal’s office when she swatted me on the rear with her notebook (which no other kid had ever done).  The principal was astounded at my reaction; I had never taken a student to him before (nor to any other principal, before and since!).  Here is that beautiful young woman we raised as our daughter.  Being a parent is awesome.Terlinda