"Whether at the start of the school year, the re-start of school after the New Year, or at any time when we want to strengthen our students' engagement in school and learning, it is valuable to have tools at our disposal that help us effectively reach students."
I'm going to close my grade book now. I'm taking it to the top of a snowy hill. I'll sit upon it and go sliding down the hill. It's the only good use for that book, now that December is here.
Christmas is coming, and my students can't think about schoolwork. They're too busy wiggling in their seats, tapping out Christmas carols with their toes, giving each other reindeer names, and Googling this year's "Santa's Bad List."
As we near the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, my first thoughts are of that awful day -- how I felt sick to my stomach learning about the tragedy and, as a teacher, how I worried. These could be my students; this could be me. What would I have done? What would I have told my students to do? Would they have been prepared? My second thoughts are of today -- what have we done to make schools safer? What I have I done as a teacher to make my school and my students safer?
As we edge towards the end of the calendar year and the first half of the school year, we can benefit from taking stock of what has happened thus far and also, put aside regretful events or actions that might hold us back from a good start in the new year. I have explored these aspects of reflection with staff members, and my dear colleague, Rachael Kessler, of blessed memory, used it with students.
I had been trying to start class for several minutes. Our normal post-weekend check-in had failed. Instead of hearing updates from each other, students were having side conversations about the school dance. Once I regained everyone's attention, two girls walked in late and the whole class stopped to watch as they gave each other a consoling hug before they moved toward their seats.
I was losing patience. This was not the strong start I had envisioned for the first in-class workday of our project. "Who is ready to share the main question for their project?" I asked in an attempt to refocus everyone and manage the energy emanating from 33 frenetic 15- and 16-year-olds.
If you're looking for something to read this winter by a woman author, something that'll engross you, take you to new worlds and introduce you to characters you'll never forget, I have some suggestions. These books are among my all-time favorites -- to be included, they had to be on my list of favorites for at least a decade.
Jake's hands were clenched and he had a weak smile on his face when he told me the joke his friends were laughing about. "I laughed, too," he said, "but inside I was filled with fear, fear that they might find out." Jake, a tall, slender high school junior, was referring to a gay joke that while not malicious, was a degrading word play. Jake is not alone.
The jury is in and the verdict is that gratitude should be set free. It no longer has to be reserved for special occasions and amazing circumstances. Researchers, led by The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has Robert Emmons and Jeffrey Froh, have shown that there are benefits to expressing gratitude, even to "counting one's blessings." But doing so takes a bit of practice.
It's time for the leaders of the social-emotional learning (SEL) and character education fields to jump in the sandbox together and create a set of common guidelines for implementation in schools. This is a variation of the "Manhattan Project" called for years ago by Tim Shriver, a founder of CASEL.
I was recently in a third grade classroom and was struck by the presence of rules that were posted for how to have a conversation. The poster said, "Each person must contribute to the discussion but take turns talking. Ask each other, 'Would you like to add to my idea?' or 'Can you tell us what you are thinking?' Ask questions so that you understand each other's ideas. Say, 'Can you tell me more about that?' or 'Can you say that in another way?'"
Having visited many middle and high schools, I think these same rules could -- and probably should -- be posted there as well.