Thursday, September 27, 2007

What a difference a dive makes...

I was so surprised to see the PE teacher coming into my room with a stern look on his face this morning. He marched in and stated firmly, "I need to talk with you- privately- about one of the students."

Immediately my heart sank. One of my students with an emotional disability, J, is in his class and has had a couple of incidents this year. I let my mind race to what could have possibly occurred in PE class that would warrant the teacher coming to my class directly.

I had a feeling it wasn't going to be good. J had come to us last year petrified of the water- any water- and it caused him some anxiety. While he did conquer his overall fear of water and swimming in 6th grade, there were some definite areas that caused him angst. Two of these being the deep end and, especially, the diving board. He made it clear that even though he was a 7th grader that the diving board was not going to happen. The idea of jumping off into the unknown and relying only on yourself to fight your way to the surface was not something J was willing to try. I wondered if weeks of swimming had pushed J over the edge. I took a deep breath.

Immediately, the teacher broke into a smile. "J dove off of the diving board twice today! I haven't been able to get him to try that since we started swimming at the beginning of the year. The kids were so proud of him. It was great! I could barely get him to go into the locker room to change for class and when he finally did his head was down. When I asked him what was wrong he replied, 'I just wish I would have gone off the diving board earlier since this is the last day of swimming and it was so much fun!' "

I thanked the teacher for sharing with me and gave J lots of praise and celebration when he came into my class. He was exuberant and so proud of himself. It was wonderful to see such pride and excitement from this student who doesn't think he can do much well. We celebrated for a good 5 minutes and let all the members of the class ask him questions and give him words of encouragement. It was a wonderful moment for all of us, but especially one for J. J realized that he could do something he never thought possible, succeed at it and rely on himself. What a great lesson and one I couldn't teach him.

Way to go J- you did it!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Less is More!

This week we've been engaged in ISTEP testing in our school. One of the positive things that has come out of this process is that I've been given a reminder about the power and benefit of using non-verbal communication with my students. Too often I want to verbally tell them or engage in a conversation about they should be or should not be doing. I tend to get wordy, repeat myself and even go on for a bit (at times- imagine!). Because of the nature of ISTEP, I have been limited in my ability to direct with the spoken word. This week I've noticed how the negative verbal behaviors of some of my students- like arguing, having the last word or whining- have reduced by me substituting non-verbal dialogue or less wordage of my own. Enough said. :)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ella's Enthusiasm...

This is Ella on her first day of preschool. Her mom sent me this picture to show me how excited she was! If you take a good look, Ella's face shows us her excitement and enthusiasm. It looks as if she's about to burst with glee at arriving in this new place. This is priceless and I hope she continues to wear this emotion each and every first day of school.

So it got me thinking... what makes Ella so excited about her first day of school? I didn't have the opportunity to ask her, but I'm guessing that the idea of a community of peers, with opportunities to play, interact and learn seems pretty appealing. I can imagine the smile on her face as her teacher and classmates sit in a circle learning about new things, each other and the world around them. I can imagine that she will make life-long friends and establish a foundation for what school will be like for her in the years to come. I did ask her mom if she still likes school and her response was, "Ella LOVES school!"

So now I ask two other questions.
~How can we keep kids like Ella this enthusiastic about school?

~Or better yet, how can we turn students who aren't this positive about school around so that they really want to be with us in the classroom?

I don't have all of the answers, but as I think about Ella's enthusiasm, a few things come to mind.

1. Build Community- Establish a sense of community and belonging in each and every classroom and in all teaching opportunities. Not only will students feel safe to learn, but also, safe to make mistakes. Community seems to be well-established in younger grades. I believe it is as equally important in all grade levels and something that is pushed aside to easily. Building rapport with students has been my greatest tool in helping to foster student success.

2. Play- I believe that there is a correlation about students attitudes towards school and the reduction of recces! By the time students get to middle school, they are not allowed to play or be kids. Some of my most memorable moments with my students have been in times of play. Now, that doesn't mean that having fun can't be educational! But, I try to play learning games each week and encourage students to develop social and academic skills. They need to know that not all learning comes in only pencil and paper format.

3. Celebrate the Small Stuff- Show genuine excitement when acknowledging student gains or successes of any kind. Too often, students are celebrated for the little things and don't feel good enough. Celebrating can mean anything from a writer's celebration that shares all student work to a private, 1-minute conversation with a student praising them for a job well done. Too often we don't stop to appreciate what a student CAN do. It's grabbing these opportunities that helps students continue to move forward. It's PMA at it's best!

Can anyone think of any other ideas that might help to encourage enthusiasm in students in all grade levels? What else can Ella teach us about what makes kids love about school? :)