Taking the personal out of the equation

“My kids did…” “My students made me feel…” “My class has no…” So often we talk for our students and generalize a situation. As teachers, we conjecture an understanding of what happens in our class. We take our observations as empirical evidence. We assume, we justify, we impose our beliefs, we make it personal. We often live on the front lines and in the trenches and unfortunately our times. We are trained to understand development, and knowledge acquisition. We have theories drilled into us as to how kids act, learn. change. Sometimes, it just isn’t what needs to be done. This post I am about to share has been brewing on my mind for quite some time but I never had the courage to share my thoughts until now.

I witnessed an interesting vlog recently on social media. A parent had taken issue with broken toys. She was disappointed with her children’s lack of respect towards the things that have been bought for them. She felt hurt and disrespected as a parent. Her emotions took a hold and she expressed her thoughts and feelings about her discovery of boxes for new toys crushed by little feet and could not be sold for the higher prices she had hoped for, lost pieces of a game, and toys that were no longer functional as they had broken. In the heat of the moment, she felt hurt and she was going to make sure her kids learned a lesson on respect by taking away all these toys that were no longer being used as much as they were previously. No more toys until they could show respect.  It was personal and the hurt was deep inside her.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with her choice to take away the toys and have kids earn them back,  she was living in the moment while her kids were away at day camp. She may change her mind in a few hours, she may be more upset when she goes in their rooms and finds clothes shoved in closets and books under the bed. Her reaction is not the point.

How does this relate to teaching? Based on what I watched and listened to, she never looked at the whole picture. She did not consider the circumstances leading up to the situation. She was busy living in the moment and not looking at things from 30,000 feet. Often as teachers, we become entrenched in what is happening in our classes. We care and give so much of ourselves to our kids, we forget that despite being emotionally invested, we need to sometimes take ourselves out of the equation.

The kid who tells you they hate you because you insisted they use a pencil instead of a pen? It is frustrating and time-consuming. At 30,000ft, their last pencil (that was donated at the beginning of the year) was stolen off their desk and they are embarrassed can’t afford more and don’t want to be picked on for tattling that it was taken.

The kid who is struggling in class and made you a bad teacher because they say you’re not able to help them? It hurts, it makes you feel like a horrible teacher but from 30,000ft, we remember that they have a learning disability and have amazing ideas but struggle to develop them within the contexts of the requirements for the assignment.

The kid who fails your tests yet never asks for help? They moved from another country, are trying to learn a new language, work a job, make friends, and figure out social norms and expectations in school. They are scared because they don’t know what they don’t understand until it is too late and they are scared to ask because they see how busy you are each day.

One of the best lessons I’ve learned is that we cannot take things personally all the time. Kids are going to be kids. They are going to struggle to learn something, get frustrated, break things, lie about things, push boundaries. That is part of growing up. In the heat of the moment, we forget our training and understanding of child development and pedagogy. We focus on how we feel because we know that to be true when we can’t understand what else is going on around us. This is fine to feel that way, but it is how you react. Take the personal out of it. Focus on the facts.  Look at the whole picture.  I highly doubt those kids intentionally set out to break the toys, the students set out to lose the pencil, or not understand and become frustrated.

I thought about why I was writing this post. I realized that so often we take things personally because we care so much. We spend so much of ourselves to see success in our students, we don’t have the opportunity to press pause.  We need to allow ourselves the opportunity to acknowledge our feelings and the situation. We need to align ourselves with the goal and students in a delicate balance.  Most importantly we need to assure our students we care, and assure ourselves that sometimes it is okay to put aside the emotion to focus on the fact. Our emotions our perfectly valid but the best advice I ever received was from a student of mine who had the courage to tell me “I need you to put aside your own feelings about what is happening and focus on a solution that will help us get past this.”

It took away the ‘I’s and the ‘You’s and it because a ‘We’, What can we do together? The goal was simple. We wanted to figure out a solution for the lack of homework completion but I had to get over my own pride of feeling hurt I couldn’t teach my way out of the situation and instead we had to work as a team. We had to be on a level playing field. It was a humbling moment and a difficult pill to swallow as I learned that my fancy piece of paper meant nothing if I couldn’t bring myself down to their level. My pride was hurt, I was upset by the fact I’d find their homework in a crumpled ball at the end of the day instead of being take home. When I put that aside, I realized I cannot change circumstances. I had not considered they would be testing our relationship based on their own reality of no support at home after a 1-hour bus ride where they needed to make their own dinner before being yelled at for using up the last of the milk. When I was called names I wouldn’t dare repeat, it wasn’t personal, it was a defense mechanism to prevent getting hurt from another person giving up on them.

With a bit (okay a lot) of reflection and starting backwards, I’ve learned that once the emotion is out of the picture, a team that included the student can accomplish more than my experience and education ever could. Now that is a hard thing to internalize and put into action for anyone. Still, even with the intentional focus on taking my own feelings as a human being out of the equation, I’m not always successful.

How do you love the kids who make it the hardest to love them? How do you teach the kids who make it the hardest to teach them? How do you balance the emotional and personal investment?

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Using Technology in the classroom

I really thought about this post and what I wanted to say about it. My past is filled with a love/hate relationship with technology. In my 3 years in my Education degree, 2 of them were written exclusively on an iPad or on my computer. My last year, I started to fall in love with paper and pen again.

I am bad with paper. I don’t like paper and I try to minimize paper the best I can but unless each of my students had their own iPad and Chromebook at their disposal, I will never get rid of paper. I like seeing what the students are thinking by writing things down. It is a different part of the brain. That being said, I am a huge fan of Google Drive submitted work. I can digitally hoard everything. I can give feedback as a student is working, They can collaborate, give and receive feedback to and edit and I can track everything they say and do. I really like the accountability.

What I don’t like is this: When technology is no longer the tool but the means of something. I love using Google Maps for geography. Sure we could make our own maps but this is fun and easy to explore while creating. What I don’t like about it is that I spend 1 hour teaching the students how to use Google Maps to do the assignment. The point isn’t that they can use the application rather that they can understand the learning that is happening.

I also don’t like when my technology doesn’t work. I have a SMARTboard in my classroom. I’d probably use my SMARTboard every day if I could figure out how to make it work. Instead, it is a glorified projector screen. Sad but true. It isn’t even mounted straight so that also bugs me. I could do without it. Actually I have. I would love to pull up a PDF and write all over it but instead I have become a fan of document cameras. They are amazing. I honestly think every classroom should have one. Once again, not needed. I am really good at quickly recreating things on a whiteboard. I have colours there as well. Don’t take that away from me… PLEASE! I love my whiteboard.

About 60% of my kids have their own tech that is useable for the majority of what we do in a day. I have access to Chromebook Carts all over the school if I need one. We are probably at about 75% of the way to being 1-1 between those who BYOD (bring your own device) and the ones at the school. I try to make use of them the best I can. I like having technology at my finger tips and finding ways for students to use it but I have to remember to balance it. We have our blogs but we also have a paper journal. I alternate using them based on certain activities, the point of what we are writing about and the classroom climate. Sometimes blogs just are not needed.

One of my favourite things about having technology at my finger tips is that I can record conversations, assessments and reading. I can look back at it and really know what is going on with my kids. I don’t have to be there every second but I still get the feedback as if I was. I take pictures, I tweet, I record videos and voice memos on a regular basis. The kids are used to it but what they don’t realize is their work becomes more important to them. I don’t have to find a fancy hook or wear a funny hat to do it but they want to show off their best work for the camera.

From Class Blog: Mixtures vs Reactions

Today in Science we learned about mixtures and reactions. Students were given 2 different substances to add together in their groups and were to decide if they caused a reaction or a mixture. They needed to explain what they saw in order to justify their classification.

Ms. Albrecht then showed the class what happens when you mix Vinegar and Milk. To the surprise of many, the milk curdled – creating a plastic-like substance (also know as a precipitate). We expected it to smell kind of funny – It was like a hot summer day on the farm according to Ms. A. We also noticed a colour change and bubbles (caused by a gas that was created). This checked off almost all the possible visual and olfactory clues that it was a reaction and not just a mixture.

A big thank you to the student volunteer for cleaning out the bowl from the experiment. That one was a mix of “Yuck” and “Cool” all at the same time. Here’s a picture of it on the projector for you to see, if you dare!

Milk and Vinegar

Milk and Vinegar = a Reaction