Counting Sheep

I recently read an article about mounting data that indicates a relationship between attention disorders and sleep problems.  While to this point no causal relationship has been discovered, it is clear that students with attention disorders also have sleep problems.  It is often forgotten that children aged 5-12 need 10-11 hours of sleep.

Educators have long recognized that sleep deprivation negatively affects student performance.  Research shows that students with sleep debt are impaired in many facets, including:

  • Decreased Alertness and Ability to Maintain Focus
  • Extreme moodiness and mood swings
  • Decreased energy and motivation
  • Decreased bodily control & coordination
  • Impulsiveness

 

Are you alert to students with the signs of sleep deprivation?  What can a teacher do to address the problem?  Here are several suggestions that might help.

  • Discuss the problem with parent(s)

Parents may not be aware that sleep debt is adversely affecting classroom performance or attitudes. Ask parents to consider making schedule adjustments so that the child can get more sleep.

  • Teach students (and parents) about healthy sleep habits

While some schools used classroom instruction time to stress healthy habits, often additional instruction is needed.  Often the hardest change for parents to make is limiting screen time.  Experts suggest that children should not engage in screen time—laptops, tablets, phones, etc.—for two hours before bedtime.

  • Warn parents about the negative effects of caffeine
  • Stress the importance of routine—encourage a regular bedtime and bedtime routine that foster a consistent sleep schedule
  • Encourage parents to make sure the child’s room is conducive to sleep

The room should be dark, cool and quiet.  Keep televisions, computers, and any other personal electronics out of the bedroom.  Surveys indicate that many students, even those as low as elementary age, spend hours “on screen” after laying down in bed.

The importance of establishing good sleep habits should not be undersold.  It is vital that young children establish these routines so that their transition into the teen years and then adulthood can be healthy and happy.  Adults with poor sleep habits are usually those that never establish good sleep routines as children and teens.

What other things that you suggest to parents to help a child develop good sleep patterns?

Summertime–Educator Reboot

For years it was said tongue-in-cheek that the favorite months of any teacher’s year were June, July, and August.  As a result of a bit of a time warp, those months have been trimmed to a few weeks shy of three full months.  However, the idea is still the same.  Teachers love, and I should add need, the summer months.

Why are these months so important? In a word–REBOOT!

That’s right! Control, Alt, Delete!

Reboot is defined as “start up again after a computer crash.” Hence, “reboot” has the connotation of starting a process over again.

While you might not look back at May and consider it a “crash,” any educator can understand the beauty of being able to start the process over again. Having completed the school year, the summer season allows us to revert to our default settings.

What do we mean by default?  (of a computer program or other mechanism) Default is when something “reverts automatically to a preselected option.” It allows something that is not functioning as designed to be reset to operate as designed.

And that’s exactly what the reboot does for the educator. It lets you return to the default settings and begin the process over again.  So if things last year began to slip or slide, maybe even leap or tumble, just know that summer is here and it is time for educators to reboot and return to default settings.

So what settings should we check for our default mode? Let me suggest several:

  • PHILOSOPHY – This is a very important part of our reboot. During the school year, educators are busy preparing, teaching, dealing parents, students, fellow teachers, etc. Activities abound. And, our philosophy is on autopilot. Summertime is a great time to reboot! The default settings to frame our new year must include teaching all truth as God’s truth, teaching all students, intentional biblical worldview training, teaching critical thinking, etc.

 

  • PROCEDURES – Review what worked, what worked very well, what needs refined, and what needs scrapped. That’s right, it is time to reboot! Thomas Edison proclaimed, “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work.” Perhaps you need to strategize to keep most procedures, tweak a few, and then add some to your very own list of those that don’t work. It is all part of summertime’s return to default.

 

 

  • PASSION – Hear me out! We all have something that we enjoy doing that we have to forego during our hectic schedules for the months of school. Let me encourage you to return to the default position. Reboot! Maybe it’s reading a novel, camping, blogging, travel, or just enjoying your coffee on the deck each morning, whatever. Use your summer months to start the process over again.

 

  • PEOPLE – The poet proclaimed that “no man is an island.” And it is true. Often an educator’s schedule during the school months crowds out time for furthering relationships with family and friends. Many its aging parents, sometimes living a distance away, or maybe its children or grandchildren. It could be friends, neighbors, or some other person that is important in our lives. Summertime is the educator’s opportunity to reboot our relationships. Our default settings with these important people can allow us to reset many relationships that need attention.

 

  • PHYSIQUE – Before you write me off as maniacal, let me finish. You do not need to become a bodybuilder or spend extra time in front of a mirror. But part of every educator’s summer reboot should include giving attention to one’s physical needs. The school months are very demanding on an educator. Stress often weakens the immune system, sleep deprivation is common, and even balancing the demands of the profession with the familial duties can cause physical strain. Use the summer to reboot!

 

  • PRIORITIES – Use the summertime for reflection; perhaps you need to re-order some priorities before beginning next school year. Reflection shows you that a schedule tweak here and a minor adjustment there will be the impetus to help you better meet your spiritual, family, and professional responsibilities. Reboot!

I remember when I first heard the concept of “year round school.” I heard students moan and groan at the concept; however, as an educator, I also immediately resisted. It was not a lack of commitment to the job. It was not a disdain for school. No. It was the realization that every educator needs time to REBOOT! The summer months are needed to give the educator an opportunity to find again the default settings before embarking on a new school year. So have a great summer. And, REBOOT!

What do you find that is a must for your summer months?

The Top 10 To-Do List for Summer

I was recently reading a professional journal when I ran across an article that shares the same title with this article. It was written by a head of school from the Midwest.  He had several interesting ideas which sparked my thinking.

While my list might be a bit different than yours, it would be good for you to prepare your own list as we head into the summer months. You might borrow some of my thoughts and blend them with your own (like I did with my list).

So, what items make my Top 10 Summer To-Do List?

  1. Read. Effective leaders must block time to read. The mind needs re-invigorated with new ideas and perspectives. Don’t succumb to the temptation to “pleasure” read only.
  2. Send surveys—to parents, to faculty! Ask purposeful questions to discover areas of strength and weakness.
  3. Plan. Someone has well said that “if you fail to plan, you must plan to fail.” Effective planning time in the summer months will bring success during the school year.
  4. Turn off the world. Try to find at least two different 2-3 day spans where you can “disconnect” from your email, twitter, facebook, etc. No fair counting Saturdays and Sundays.
  5. Review. Look back over this past year. What worked? What did not? Learn from both the success and failures.
  6. Listen. Spend some time talking with faculty and parents. Ask them to complete the statement, “To improve our school, the leader should ___________.”
  7. Expand your horizons. That’s right! Do something new. Maybe something that you have wanted to do but have not taken time to pursue. Look for something that will allow you to relax without great expense or time demand.
  8. Grow. Whether taking a grad class, developing new tech skills, or pursuing mastery of some skill or subject, don’t see summer as a time to “veg out.” Growth makes you stronger and pays great dividends during the long months ahead.
  9. Write. Maybe begin with something small—an article on the school’s website, a blogpost (be a guest writer). Part of leaving a mark is making a mark (literally). Writing is an exercise that can benefit both the doer and hearer. Take the plunge and write.
  10. Chill. Can’t believe I said it, not because I don’t enjoy it, but because I don’t normally use that term. It is very important that educators use the summer break to enjoy a vacation time with family. Even if you do not travel to some far away land, take time to “Chill!”

Now, what did I forget? What would you add to my list to make it more complete?

Constructive Criticism – Being Lovingly Honest

The following suggestions are offered to guide the educator needing to offer constructive criticism to students, co-workers, or employees.  Because most educators seem to not enjoy an activity that feels confrontational, constructive criticism is often avoided to the detriment of the student(s), co-worker, or employee.

Proverbs says much about dealing with others, even in difficult or contentious situations. For example, Solomon says that “a friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (17:17).”  Later he reminds us that “faithful are the wounds of a friend (27:6);” so even in tense times when we must offer constructive criticism, we should be faithful to honestly and lovingly critique students, co-workers (if we are responsible to do so), and employees.

Several years ago I shared some notes that I jotted down nearly three decades ago about this topic. Through the years I have leaned on these principles to help me.  I share them below as

10 Commandments for Constructive Criticism

  • Constructive criticism is both a positive and negative evaluation.
  • Constructive criticism is motivated by love for and desire to build up a student. 
  • Constructive criticism is built on a foundation of a previous relationship.
  • Constructive criticism does not label students.
  • Constructive criticism must be designed to fit the individual—one size does not fit all.
  • Constructive criticism should be given at the right time and place.
  • Constructive criticism needs effective interaction. 
  • Constructive criticism offers solutions rather than only identifying problems.
  • Constructive criticism is calm and caring, not confrontational.
  • Constructive criticism assumes an ongoing relationship that will continue to nurture.

Successful teachers learn quickly that the privilege of criticism must be earned; a student must trust a teacher before criticism is accepted. Successful teachers come to understand that the ability to teach requires the ability to critique, both positively and negatively.

So, effective teachers are either building a trust relationship so that criticism is accepted or they have already established a trust relationship and are using criticism to advance student learning.

Perhaps you have had to complete the phrase “constructive criticism….” Take a moment and share an idea to add to the list.

Watch out for the Either/Or Trap

I continue to see articles comparing teacher-led and student-centered learning.  While not rising to the level of the chicken or egg, the discussion about how to structure the classroom learning environment continues.  Many educators fall prey to the temptation of either/or, failing to achieve balance in the classroom; research shows that classrooms need active student learning to improve achievement.  Are you intentionally seeking to improve student engagement and create an active learning environment in your classroom?

In the traditional classroom, information largely flowed from teacher to student. Students had a smaller portion of designated work time to absorb and apply the knowledge gleaned from the teacher.  The problem is the skew towards teacher-led instruction, with averages often above 75 to 80 percent of allotted class time devoted to teacher talk time.

The truth is that students only stay engaged in listening for short bursts of time. One study I saw recently noted that students could recall about three-fourths of what the teacher taught in the first 10 minutes of a class; however, retention dipped to 20 percent of material presented in the last 10 minutes.

Jensen (2005) noted in his Teaching with the Brain in Mind that appropriate amounts of direct instruction time for kindergarten to adults only varied from 5-18 minutes.  While lower grade levels obviously have much shorter attention spans, Jensen found that direct instruction time for new content even for high-school age students should not exceed 15 minutes.

So what are you doing to improve student engagement in your classroom?

Here are a few reminders as you plan upcoming lessons:

  • Plan multiple short bursts during the allotted instruction time. Research shows student achievement and retention increase when instruction is segmented into smaller, “bite-sized” time frames. Early childhood teachers should think in burst of 5-8 minutes, grades three to eight in segments of 8-12 minutes, and high school teachers 12-15 minutes.

 

  • Plan multiple types of activities designed to engage various learners. Like Peter in encouraging believers to “add” to their faith, virtue; to virtue, knowledge; etc., teachers should add to their verbal (linguistic) approach, visual (pictures, images, objects); and to visual, aural (auditory) or music; and to aural, kinesthetic (physical).

 

  • Plan multiple strategies to deliver important concepts. Teachers should remain aware of how students are grasping concepts so that concepts can be repeated, reinforced, or perhaps lessons can be accelerated when students “get it.”

Some say that “variety is the spice of life.” Some educators, however, seem to take refuge in “consistency;” change and variety seem to scare them.  Immutability is part of the nature of our God; however, it should not be part of our instructional model.

Are you intentionally structuring learning activities in your classroom to control the teacher speak time?  What learning activities are you including in your instructional planning to increase student engagement?  What instructional strategies do you find effective in reducing students entering a zombie state?

Promoting Literacy in School Culture

"You get what you honor"

The disheartening truth is that as students grow up they read less.  For a teacher this should sound an ear-splitting alarm.  As a teacher desiring that students mature spiritually, the shock of the alarm must be even greater.

As far back as I can remember in my professional life, educators have advocated and emphasized programs for literacy; writing across the curriculum; targeting reading “drop outs,” especially male students in junior high and secondary grades; as well as informal journeys led by educators seeking raise the educational bar for their students.

But alas, the days are jam packed with curricular activities and other worthy endeavors.  So what’s a teacher to do?  I recently read an article that provided some ideas to promote reading in all classrooms.  While some of the suggestions were obvious and perhaps already done in your classroom, some of the other suggestions could be used as tools to “build skills and joy in literacy” (Gilmore).

Help build excitement about reading!

  • Publicly celebrate reading

Reflecting on the adage “you get what you honor,” teachers should give significance to reading.  This can be done by posting student reading lists, helping students develop lists of books that they want to read, or perhaps asking students to write brief book reviews.  Model and teach students to share things learned from reading.  Excitement is always contagious!

  • Share word walls

Keep words walls dynamic and as interactive as possible.  Word walls provide a model for high frequency words as well as help students see patterns and relationships in words.  Word walls provide reference support for students during reading and writing activities.  Make sure that students contribute and use the word wall regularly.

  • Read and write across content areas/Value disciplinary literacy

It is important that students learn to write in all content areas.  Do not fall into the rut of having all writing done in a language arts class.  Keep students reading and writing in every academic discipline. Teachers can help their cohorts, especially those teachers that struggle to assist students with writing.

  • Provide authentic writing experiences

Help students escape the tendency to write for the audience of one.  Students that write just for the teacher soon lose a love for reading and writing.  Provide students with opportunities to write for different audiences—letters, op-eds, book reviews, information captions for graphics, etc.  Teaching literacy greatly improves when we “keep it real.”

  • Promote reflection and goal setting

Reading success is not measured by how many books a student reads or even complexity of the book that is selected.  Reading success is seeing the student use the reading—support writing, improve critical thinking, etc—to enhance overall literacy.  Students must be taught to habitually reflect on their reading and develop greater aspirations as a result.  Praise reflection and goal setting and it will flourish.

Are you doing everything that you can do to improve the overall literacy of your school’s culture?  Can you use some of the above ideas to make your classroom a better development ground for literacy?

If you have other ideas that you have found effective, please share them in the comments section below.

 

Gilmore, B.  (2017, February). 10 ways to promote a culture of literacy.  Educational Leadership, 74(5).  ASCD: Alexandria, VA.

 

Extra! Extra! Read All About It

As I was perusing a recent issue in Education Week (March 1, 2017), a terrifying thought kept racing through my mind—the front page had five articles that were competing for my attention and only one of them was related to the educational process of students.  I reviewed the page to make sure that my eyes were not deceiving me.  Alas, my initial concerns were verified.

The front page introduced two articles that focused on social issues, one as it related to teachers and one as it related to students.  The top article on the page centered on the angst among many educators about the “scrapping” of the Affordable Care Act.  Yet another prominent front-page feature was devoted to efforts to prevent laws that could allow school staff to carry firearms on campus. The most obscure of the front-page articles featured the implementation of technology into civics instruction.

The cumulative effect of these attention-grabbers got me to thinking about what is really going on in a Christian school today.  More specifically, what is going on in each classroom within the school.  How about your classroom?  If a newspaper recounted the top five things that are happening in your classroom today, what would be the focus of the articles?  What kind of graphics would grab the reader?

Below are several considerations that might help as we edit a weekly front page for the classroom.

  • Academic Instruction – When I recently asked one teacher about his lesson plans, his response was “Overrated!” In other words, he did not value lesson planning.  However, lesson plans give a snapshot of what is going on in the classroom.  A group of these “photos” makes up each school day.  These lesson plans provide insight about what is important for that particular day.  After all, classrooms are epicenters of a school.  Schools should be focused on instruction—well-planned, sequential, rigorous instruction.
  • Biblical Worldview—Would a front-page review of your educational plan for this week include intentional inclusion of worldview instruction? Are you relying too heavily on the textbook for worldview instruction? Have you fallen into the trap of environmental worldview, believing like many parents that a change of environment is enough to significantly impact a student’s worldview? Research indicates that just placing students in Christian school classrooms does not make a significant difference.
  • Character Development—The 1828 Webster’s Dictionary defines education as “the bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners.” However, Webster did not stop here.  A further explanation is included that reads:

Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations.  To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.

What article about character development is included on the front page for you this week?  A good teacher not only instructs the mind but also trains the will.

  • Innovation—That’s right! What are you doing that is fresh and new in the classroom this week.  I spoke with a teacher recently that complained that after many years of teaching the same grade level that her job had become mundane. Yep, just plain ole’ stale! As teachers it is our responsibility to not allow the classroom to become a rut (heard one person describe a rut as a “grave with the ends kicked out”).  I hope that your classroom’s front page would include some article or graphic showing excitement and a love for learning.

As you consider what would be included on your classroom’s weekly front page, spend a moment to measure the impact on the reader.  Parents, as well as other stakeholders, are looking and reading every week to see what your classroom is all about.  Does your front page make the reader exclaim Extra! Extra! Read All About It!?

Questions, Questions Everywhere

For some reason my recent reading has taken me to several selections that discuss the art of questioning.  Experience reminds me that questioning is often friend or foe, depending on who is asking the challenging question.  Even in reading the New Testament, I have again noticed that Jesus’ teaching included adept questioning.

Research shows us that questioning is closely linked to critical thinking.  For that reason, teachers should give attention to the questioning techniques implemented into the teaching process.  Observation reminds me that many times teachers carefully prepare to teach a lesson but that preparation does not include carefully crafted questions.

So when I happened upon an article in Education Update about questioning, my interest was piqued.  Jeanne Muzi, a teacher from New Jersey, began the article by connecting classroom questioning to critical thinking.  However, upon closer examination, I noted that she took a completely different tact than I had taken to that point.  Her article was entitled Five Ways to Strengthen Student Questioning (emphasis mine).

She offered apt reminders like “all students need to generate purposeful questions” and “a significant instructional shift takes place when a classroom culture is transformed from one where the teacher poses the majority of questions to one where a community of curious wonderers offer up their own.”

Improving Student Questions

What are you doing in your classroom to improve student questioning?  Muzi offered five classroom activities that a teacher can use to improve student questioning; I have shared on three below:

Pass-Arounds

Circulate a unique object (photograph, antique, item from nature, etc.) around the classroom.  Ask students to develop questions that “uncover more information about” the object, not identify it.  After students have put together their list of questions, discuss which questions will be most helpful in learning about the object.  Of course, take time to answer the questions.

Q-Stems

Using a set of sentence-stem cards developed by the teacher, students draw a stem card and try to generate as many questions as possible about a concept using a single Q-stem.  Stems could include starters like:  Why…? What is another way to describe…? Are there…? How…? Is it possible that …?  After questions are developed, take time to go back and answer the questions before moving on to another stem.

Whose Eyes?

Distribute or project a copy of a photograph (famous illustration, historic setting, current event) and allow students to thoughtfully look at the item.  The, ask students to develop a set of questions that might come from any character in the photo.  It could be a prominent character but might work better to choose a lesser character.  Then ask students to pose their question(s) to the class and provide a rationale for the question.

As teachers, we must continually hone our questioning skills.  Why?  Because effective questioning cannot be separated from the critical thinking.  However, as we seek to improve our questioning skills, let’s not forget to strengthen student questioning skills as well.

Can you share a technique that you use in your classroom to strengthen student questioning?

 

Muzi, J.  (2017, January).  Five ways to strengthen student questioning.  Education Update, Vol. 59, (1).  ASCD: Alexandria, VA.

A Teacher’s Soliloquy

“To be or not to be, that is the question”

This is the initial line in the third act of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The soliloquy is the most famous verbalization of a character thought used by the Bard of Avon, perhaps the most famous of all soliloquys.

Hey, teacher, do you recall your most recent soliloquy?  Perhaps no fellow laborer was within earshot or maybe even your verbalization was muddled and barely audible.  Perhaps you have not even found time to stop and re-think the musings of that moment.

So take a minute to review what might have been or not have been your most recent soliloquy.  Whether it was the most recent or perhaps some previous verbalization, every teacher grapples with motivating students.  Motivation is a common theme of teacher soliloquys—motivated or not motivated, that is the question.

I was reading recently in Kingdom Living in Your Classroom (McCullough, 2008).  The author presented a thought-provoking challenge for the reader (teacher)—is our focus on controlling students’ performance or stimulating students’ motivation?  While effective classroom teaching necessitates a measure of classroom “control,” the author suggests that often the teacher soliloquy does not ask the right question—am I effectively motivating my students?

Principles for Motivating Students

McCullough suggests eight (8) principles for motivating students; a brief summary indicates that teachers should:

After reviewing the suggestions of the author and considering her challenge to re-think the approach that most teachers take into the classroom, I am sure that many times the teacher soliloquy could be different if the approach to classroom management were different.

1)  Consider what motivates students to behave a certain way.

2)  Manage their classrooms to be efficient learning communities.

3)  Provide opportunities for student success at tasks they view as valuable and challenging.

4)  Focus learning activities around worthwhile academic objectives.

5)  Systematically encourage students to replace negative thinking about themselves with positive truths about themselves.

6)  Help students recognize the relationship between effort and outcome.

7)  Show moderation and variation when using motivational strategies.

8)  Develop lessons that are relative to students, model enthusiastic learning, and provide a variety of learning strategies.

A Motivating Soliloquy

So the next time you find yourself “talking to yourself” after a long day in the classroom, ask yourself if you were over-focused on classroom control to the detriment of student motivation.  Let me suggest that a healthy balance of these two will go a long way towards making your next soliloquy one you want to remember.  To control or to motivate, that is the questionHopefully the answer is a resounding YES!

McCullough, J. D.  (2008).  Kingdom living in your classroom.  Purposeful Design Publications:  Colorado Springs, CO.

How to Be an Eternal Thinker

For a society that seems enamored with futuristic thinking, the youth of the present generation could be described as excessively fixated on the present.  In spite of the media bombardment that casts dispersion on

global-thinkingthe past and glorifies the unknown beyond, educators work daily with young people that seem to embrace the here and now.

The secular educational culture of the 21st century seeks to develop global thinkers.  In a recent article published in Educational Leadership, Veronica Mansilla, part of a team from Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, discusses “ongoing research into global competence and how we can best nurture it in our schools.”  She explains that a significant outgrowth of the project has been the establishment of a definition of global competence that has been embraced on multiple continents and by the U. S. Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO):  the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance.”

As I read the article, I questioned the goals for Christian education.  What kind of attention and effort is given to develop eternal thinking?  As I read on, I realized that as Christian educators called to live in this present world, we are also called to develop eternal thinkers.  Mansilla stated confidently that “nurturing global competence will require more that adding more [content] to our already full K-12 curriculum.”

In order to achieve global thinking, Mansilla proposed that educators cultivate four global thinking dispositions into their students—

  • A disposition to inquire about the world
  • A disposition to understand multiple perspectives—others’ and their own
  • A disposition toward respectful dialogue
  • A disposition toward taking responsible action

Mansilla continued to explain that to assist teachers in help teachers succeed in the quest to develop global thinkers, her group is working to develop global thinking routines.  Why?  Because research screams that “students cultivate dispositions not through occasional lessons, units, or . . . events, but through ongoing participation in classroom cultures in which these dispositions are visibly valued and extensively practiced.”

The author’s concluded “when teachers make these routines habitual practices—part of “the way we do things here”—they pave the way for the kind of learning need[ed] to prepare . . . youth for our interdependent world.”

Wow!  I conclude that Mansilla in “spot on” in her message.  To develop global thinkers, the secular educational system is diligent in integrating global dispositions into the fabric of the secular classroom, and it will be successful.  The system will produce global thinkers.

But what about Christian educators?  How focused are we on developing eternal thinkers.  Are we distracted from the quest to produce students that “seek first the kingdom of God?”  Have we become so focused on teaching material and educational excellence (and I understand that both of these have merit) that we have lost sight of the eternal mission of our calling?

As I reviewed Mansilla’s four dispositions, I found a renewed energy to develop eternal thinkers.  Truly, if our students “gain the whole world” and do not learn to think with eternity in mind, the educational process is vanity.  What “routine habitual practices” are a part of our Christian education classroom that will ensure that we develop eternal thinkers?  We can succeed, but we must be intentional in our efforts.  Eternity is at stake!

Can you share a disposition(s) for developing eternal thinkers that you have made part of your classroom or school?

 

Mansilla, V. B.  December 2016/December 2017.  Educational Leadership.  How to be a global thinker?  ASCD:  Alexandria, VA.