Friday, May 15, 2015

Year 5: Week 34 – Bringing Joy Back

I’m not very good at being a stern teacher. I’ve observed teachers as a student and a professional who are good at motivating student through a stern and serious tone. Over the years, I’ve gotten better with my “teacher face” and once in a while I can turn it on and get kids back in line. However this is more of a “get your butt in line”-move than a motivational tool.

What I am good at is creating a whirlwind of positive energy that makes students want to participate and contribute because of how much joy is being created through an activity. My students are much more receptive when I tell them how I’m excited about the potential of something and the few things that need to change for it be even better.

This seems like one of those “positive reinforcement is more effective” ideas, but it’s more than that. It’s not that simple and it is really hard to keep positive energy flowing, because you are not getting positive energy back.

When you first start working with a group of kids you are pumped up, you can jump around, redirect misbehavior quickly and keep moving without too many issues. But as the year goes on and you have to deal with more and more issues with students, sometimes you find yourself in a place when it seems like the only way to deal with a group of kids is to address the negativity you are getting from a few kids with a more stern tone.

This is very necessary at times and can easily become a default, because it makes sense. A kid is having a negative attitude, so you have a serious talk with that student about how they need to shape up and contribute to the class. Often this works, but sometimes having this direct of a conversation doesn’t gets you nowhere. In the same way as Gandhi said "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind,” responding with negativity with a similar tone back to the student sometimes gets you nowhere.

It’s actually easier to snap at kids and lecture them with an angry tone than lead with positive energy. I had a not so good day on Monday and Tuesday with some of my classes and I was really stern and hard on my kids. It didn’t work. Then I realized that I’m not good at that and more importantly, I wasn’t having any fun.

I came in Wednesday, dug deep and was super energetic, engaging and positive and the kids who weren’t with me earlier in the week, got involved with the class because they wanted to be part of the positive energy in the room. After every class I taught I was exhausted, I felt like I had just run a race but it was a good kind of tired. And at the end of the class my students and I left the classroom smiling.

I find that I slide into moments when I forget that it's the joy of learning that best motivates my students, because there are times I'm worn out and I don't see my positivity reflected in my students.  In those moments it's important to remember that just because they aren't showing it, it doesn't mean that students aren't getting it.

Dig deep y'all.  The year is almost done.  Bring your kids energy and joy.  Have some fun.  Yes, a lot of the kids are checking out, but stern lectures aren't going to get them on board as effectively as your smile.

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