Practicing Affirmation (Part 1): Why?

Recently, I was surprised to hear a student verbalize, “I don’t really feel like the teachers here are for us.”  Given the interactions I had seen and been part of with this student, I knew that was not true.  It was obvious that there was a “disconnect” in the communication process. So, I went on a quest to find a resource that could help me understand how to relate better to  my students, and I discovered Sam Crabtree’s book Practicing Affirmation.  This short, easy-to-digest book discusses affirmation through a spiritual lens and stands as a must-read for educators.  This blog post begins a series on this concept of practicing affirmation in our classrooms.

Before we can begin, we must first define our terms.  As Christians, when we speak of affirmation, we are not speaking of the worldly concept of building self-esteem.  (We’ll talk about that in a later post.)  We are speaking of, as Crabtree distills it, “truthfully declaring by complimentary word or action the goodness of something.”  In other words, we are affirming the goodness of our students, more specifically, the goodness of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives since that is the only source of goodness in their lives.

Why should we take time to contemplate affirmation?

It satisfies the soul.  If we’re honest, we’ll admit that we are all approval-junkies.  Our students are no different.  If we are going to meet their deepest needs, we need to grant them approval – of the right things.

God affirms.  God approved his Son, not for what he did but for who he was:  “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.”  God commended men of faith and approved them as righteous (Hebrews 11).  Jesus affirmed Mary for her heart in Luke 10:38 -42.

It refreshes our students.  Consider your own life.  When someone affirms the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, is it not refreshing?  Our students need that same kind of refreshment!

It opens our hearts and eyes to really see our students.  Affirming students about the right things forces us to see beyond their behavior, their grades, or their attitude.  We must really know our students.

 

Stay tuned to coming posts as we consider not just why we ought to affirm our students but what it is and how to do it Biblically and consistently in our classrooms.

 

 

For further reading:  Practicing Affirmation  by Sam Crabtree  ISBN 978-1-4335-2243-7

Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead! (Part 1)

Jump on board the S.T.E.A.M. train!

STEAM is a hot topic in education today. Interestingly enough, it is not a curriculum but a national initiative from mathematicians, scientist, engineers, and artist to integrate learning activities based on science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Education Closet defines STEAM as “an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking.” This approach to thinking and learning is critical to the future of our students.

STEAM encompasses five components – (Sprouts, 2011)

  • Science – observing, experimenting, predicting, discovering, questioning, and wondering
  • Technology – using tools, being inventive, identifying problems, and making things work
  • Engineering – solving problems, using a variety of materials, designing, creating, and building
  • Art – drawing, coloring, blending, imagining, charting, sketching
  • Math – sequencing, patterning, and exploring

Notice! All of the adjectives listed above are action packed! They are hands-on activities with a twist. STEAM is problem solving in a creative way. STEAM is not an additional class added to your day. STEAM should be integrated into every subject; it is cross-curricular. STEAM shows a student how every topic inter-relates. STEAM time is more than just a science experiment or an art activity or math problem; it is the integration of all the subjects. This approach resembles real life. Real life does not compartmentalize subjects. Life weaves all “subjecyd” together.

There are certain components that make up a STEAM activity –

  • Problem to solve or question to answer
  • Collaboration among students
  • Drawing/sketching ideas
  • A design challenge
  • Communication of findings
  • Reflection of solutions
  • Opportunity to redesign

The components are developing 21st century skills in each student. They learn how to problem solve, collaborate, create, reflect, and redesign. A student is never “done early” because the redesign stage makes them continually ask, “How can I improve this?”

Education Closet describes the end results “are students who take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem-solving, embrace collaboration, and work through the creative process. These are the innovators, educators, leaders, and learners of the 21st century!”

Stay on board as we barrel down the track full STEAM ahead in part 2 when we discuss the design challenge of STEAM.

School Culture Rewired:

How to Define, Assess, and Transform It

“The book is intended to help you better understand the general concept of school culture, learn the strengths and weaknesses of your school culture, and—perhaps most important—influence your school culture or, if necessary, shape a new one,” so write Gruenert and Whitaker in the opening of School Culture Rewired: How to Define, Assess, and Transform It (2015, p. 3). The authors explain what to do, what to expect, and what things to look out for when trying to improve or change your school’s culture.

Gruenert and Whitaker pose the fundamental question: “Is school culture something we can predict and control, or does it control us? Put another way: Is it the sentry at the door or the monster under the bed?” (p. 17). The book presents strategies for ensuring your school’s culture is healthy and adaptable to change.

Cultural changes are difficult to put into practice because they involve people, and people are not as cooperative as things. The culture of most schools is the status quo. People are satisfied with the way things are, and thus, prefer not to change. Consequently, cultural changes are more difficult to articulate, to implement, and to assess; however, when the administration and teachers collaborate and work together as a team (Amos 3:3), even though some teachers may not fully understand the worth of a change initiative, the change is usually a positive one for the school.

Gruenert and Whitaker’s observation on structural and cultural change is insightful: “The effectiveness of a new culture depends on the strength of the people behind the change and the strength of the pre-existing culture” (p. 4). Emphasizing the importance of teachers in the rewiring of a school’s culture, the authors assert that “when teachers feel they are making a professional contribution to their school, they enjoy their work more” (p. 71).

In conclusion, Gruenert and Whitaker focus on the importance of school leadership in bringing about needed change. Change never happens without a visionary leader, whether in the school or in the classroom. Effective leaders focus on future opportunities and use problems and past failures as stepping stones to future successes.

Reading this book will give insight for how to approach rewiring the culture of your school. Although Gruenert and Whitaker write from a secular perspective, Christian school educators can gain ideas for how to improve our Christian schools and better educate our students for the cause of Christ.

What are some ways you can improve your Christian school?

Resource

Gruenert, S., & Whitaker, T. (2015). School culture rewired: How to define, assess, and transform it. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Copyright Journal for Christian Educators, Fall 2016 edition.  Reprinted with permission of the American Association of Christian Schools.

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?

Summer Break

Good Afternoon,

Today’s blog post will be our final one for this Spring. We will return with some exciting blog posts this Fall. Have a wonderful Summer. May the Lord bless you as you pursue a life that honors Him.

 

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?

Finish the year well!

This year at school we chose the theme “Running the Race”. The students memorized several verses of scripture about running the race for Christ. I Cor. 9:24 states, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” Each week we discussed how we should run the race – with patience, love, endurance, strength, etc. Songs, devotions, specials, and messages all encouraged the teachers and the students to run the Christian race for Christ effectively and fervently.

During chapel the kids would sing “The Race” at the top of their lungs!

Before I was born into history and time, 
You planned creation with me in mind.
You formed my heart; you saw my face.
I was made in your image; I’m no mistake.

You chose my family, the place of my birth.
You knew all about me; you thought I had worth.
I was called out to serve you doing your kingdom work,
And all of my days are written down in your book.

I’ve fallen down in this race of life,
But you came to my rescue time after time.
You told me you loved me, you weren’t counting my sin.
In you I found courage to rise up again.

I know you are for me you want me to win.
I give you my soul till the very end.
Out there before me I see the prize.
Jesus is standing at the finish line.

I’m running the race down to the last minute.
Mercy and grace are keeping me in it.
There’s a fire in my soul. I’m fully committed.
I’m running the race, and I’m gonna finish!

Each week as we all sang the song, I found myself mentally reaffirming my fervor to run the race and serve the Lord.

School is almost out for the year! 180 days have come and gone. Did you do your best? Did you accomplish all your goals? With just a few short days left, evaluate your school year to see if anything else needs to be accomplished before the end. Phil 3:14 encourages the believer to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Do not finish early! One last time – encourage the single parent, work with the struggling child, have patience with the naughty child, make one more phone call, present the gospel to a lost parent, and so on. Gal 6:9 encourages us to “not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” Finish well!

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.

Presentation Does Matter! Go for the Garnish!

Kids growing up today live in a…600-channel television universe, 10,000-station radio universe, 1,000,000,000,000 page internet.

“Constant exposure to digital media has changed the way the digital generation processes, interacts, and uses information. As a result, they think and communicate in fundamentally different ways than any previous generation” (Jukes, McCain, Crockett 2010). How have teachers adjusted their teaching style to engage this new type of student? Many teachers still teach and assess the same way they always have. “As a result, the digital generation, who are accustom to the twitch-speed, multitasking, random-access, graphics-first, active, connected, fun, fantasy, quick-payoff world of their video games, MTV, and the internet, are incredibly bored by most of today’s education” (Jukes, McCain, Crockett 2010).

Each teacher has a style. A teacher is in complete control of his or her teaching style; therefore, a teaching style can be changed. Take a look at the teaching style of Jesus. Jesus’ messages were “common yet classic, plain yet complex, simple yet revolutionary, childlike yet ageless, ordinary yet multifaceted, and familiar yet unforgettable” (Scarborough, 2007). How do your lessons match up to His?

Presentation matters! Students need to be engaged in the lessons. Every lesson needs a lure to ensure a student is attracted and lured into the lesson. Lesson lures include …

  • chants
  • songs
  • startling statements
  • questions
  • visuals
  • props
  • pictures
  • stories
  • involvement
  • humor
  • role play
  • games
  • writing.

Incorporate as many of these elements as possible into your lessons. Many teachers are consumed with following and finishing a curriculum that they forget to add lures to their presentations. Lesson lures help students engage in the lesson and then remember the material when test time comes. With the use of the internet, teachers can find these lesson lures for every topic. A teacher must be willing to take the time to work them in to each lesson. The more lesson lures are used, the greater the student recall.  Check your lesson presentation. Do you need a style change?