Oh Catherine, how right you are.
The last couple weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster for me at work: I’ve been irritable, short-tempered, exasperated, shocked by the bad attitudes of my students. I have been at my wit’s end trying to figure out why my class had become so ill-behaved. Nothing seemed to motivate them and they didn’t seem to care they were losing out of activities. Kids have been losing recess left and right for not following directions, not being ready to work, being sassy with the teacher. I’ve been making way too many “your kid was naughty at school” contacts with parents.
Apparently, I keep forgetting that I work with eight year olds. If you’ve never worked with kids, you’ve never experienced the joy of seeing the worst parts of yourself reflected back twenty (or thirty!) fold. I guess this is what parents feel every day of their lives.
If I’m short-tempered, critical and judgmental, guess what I get back. If I am kind, confident and respectful – you get the picture. Recently, I’ve seem an increase in sassy, sarcastic responses – shocking, I know and really, really unattractive in a third grader. So I decided to alter the only thing I can – my attitude and my classroom management system.
Just to test my boomerang theory of behavior, I reinstated team points in my class. This has worked wonders in years past as well as with this very class until a month ago when I decided they were so great that they didn’t need it anymore. (Remind me of this, should I ever need to take mood altering drugs…. “I feel great! I don’t need to take those pills anymore!”)
I explained to my students that every time their team was ready to work before the one minute timer went off, they would earn a team point. Since their off task behavior during transitions was DRIVING ME INSANE, I thought I would just focus on this one part for now.
I made a chart paper point sheet, hung it on the easel in the front of the room, gave them their task and set the timer for one minute. POOF! Like magic, every single one of my students had all their materials out and were ready to work – BEFORE THE TIMER WENT OFF!
Thinking this may have been a fluke, I tried it again with the next transition. I gave them their task, set the timer and off they went to gather their materials. Another successful transition!
What was the big change you ask? Me. I was looking for what they were doing right, rather than what they were doing wrong. This shift in focus helped alleviate the negativity in the room. One other component I added to our “new” system was the “nag wall” – every time I nagged someone about something they weren’t doing right, I had to give myself a negative point.
Before recess we met as a class to debrief the new system. I asked them to think about what went well, what didn’t go well and if they felt better than the day before. Many students explained that we got a lot more work finished than usual because no one was getting in trouble, that they worked together to be ready, they helped each other and the teacher wasn’t mad anymore. I asked my most previously non-compliant kid why he was suddenly able to be ready and work and he said, “Teacher, I didn’t want you to have to give yourself a negative point because of me!”