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Character Education

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Digital Learning

Mean Girls

Whenever I was about to begin a new chapter in my life, my dad would always remind me that there was an easy escape back to the safety and security of my childhood home. When I went off to elementary and middle school, he made sure that I knew that I was a quality kid and that if I encountered anyone who might seem not to like me, it was their issue, not mine. If I was uncomfortable, I should just come back home and talk about it. The only time I remember using that escape plan was when the eighth grade girls decided that the only way that the seventh grade girls could be in their club was to sing an embarrassing song on the bus, and to allow the eighth graders to roll them down a hill in our playground inside of a (somewhat) empty trash can. I opted to quietly walk home for lunch every day for two weeks rather than subject myself to that insanity. My mom was not wearing pearls and heels when I got there, but she made great lunches and reminded me that I was a pretty great kid. They still asked me to be in their club. I declined and started a new one.

The escape plan was offered to me once more on the eve of my first day in high school. Remember, if you meet someone who doesn't like you, that's their problem and their loss. Find another friend. This way of thinking served me so well through high school and college. I made lots of friends, have many great memories, and never walked home for lunch again. My parents never had to engage in problem solving or conflict escalation because of another kid who was treating me unfairly. This plan extended to the eve of my wedding day. Daddy reminded me once more that if it didn't work out, I could always go home. Many years, two children, and six grandchildren later, we're still together. I guess it worked out!

A keen observer of people and what they do, I acquired enough undergrad credits for majors in anthropology, sociology, and psychology. I then went on to earn my graduate degree in education, where I thought that all I already knew about people and how they behave in groups and individually would be a great resource to draw upon. Imagine my surprise when I encountered the chaos of a first year teacher who was handed the key to an overcrowded and out of control group of kids. They were not only mean to each other, but some of them were mean to their teacher too. They sure weren't even all girls, but the term "mean girls" seems to work for me as I try to make sense of behaviors that aren't exclusive to girls. The behaviors that I call mean girl stuff are exhibited at all ages and all walks of life.

From a nursery school boy who prompts other kids to do things that he has calculated will get them in trouble with the teacher to a group of 80 year old women in a retirement home who tell the 90 year old that there is no room at the dinner table for her, mean girls are all around us. We can't control them or change what they do, but we can control our reaction to them. They can't hurt us if we refuse to internalize the hate.

I kind of encountered a mean girl today. It made me think about my reaction, at first stormy, and then much more controlled and peaceful. The storm never reached her, and she'll never know. It wouldn't have changed anything or hurt her at all anyway, but the anger surely would have changed me. I chose not to engage and moved on. Can't return to my childhood home, but I don't need to. I have built in safeguards in place now for life. This is the gift that I choose to bring to my students. They need to truly believe that the bad behavior of another really has nothing to do with them. They can chill and move on.

My thoughts today wandered to the toltec philosophy of the indigenous people of long ago Mexico. This philosophy is summed up so beautifully in the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I fell in love with this book in 2003, so much so that I bought a pile of them and gave them to everyone in my school as a holiday gift. Some adored it and still refer to its lessons today. I'm sure  that some were not as thrilled, but I can't let that take away from the joy I felt in giving it. My experience today sent me in search of a review of this ancient wisdom.

The four agreements (that each of makes with ourself) are:

1. Be impeccable with your word.
     Say what you mean. Words have so much power. Use that power in the direction of truth and love.
2. Don't take anything personally. This is the lesson my dad taught me so long ago.
    The things others do and say are all about them, and actually have nothing to do with you. When  
    you realize this, the words and actions of others can't hurt you. You give them no power over you.
3. Don't make assumptions.
    Listen. Ask questions. Make sure you truly understand what the other person is trying to              
    communicate. This one can eliminate needless drama and save so much time!
4. Always do your best.
    If you have truly done your best in every situation, the judgments of others can't touch you, and    
    you won't second guess and over judge yourself.

Pretty simple, and yet potentially life-changing. These are challenging times that we live in. Mean girls may show up any time. How to communicate these four simple agreements to our kids? How can we build the kind of self-talk and self-healing strategies that will serve our students in life? In my opinion, this stuff is more important than sight words and the multiplication tables. Life skills. Don't leave school with out them. Please.

Maybe I can help. I've created a set of posters for big and little kids too that I believe will help us as teachers to start some conversations around the wisdom of the four agreements. You can find them here:

For people who understand the power of the four agreements, the mean girls have no power. We carry our spiritual home inside of each of us.

For more posts like this one on Empathy, Equity, and Empowerment, be sure to check out this new blogging collaborative with lots of lesson ideas, free resources, and ideas to ponder.


Kindness in the Classroom

I happened to be in Michael's yesterday, feeding my insatiable craft addiction. This week my search was for the perfect colored pencils (found 'em!) I hadn't traveled more than 10 steps into the store when I was surrounded by an explosion of Valentine crafting materials. Rather than feeling as if the season had been rushed, I was instead filled with warm fuzzies, remembering all the Valentine's Days in my life, both inside and outside of the classroom. Sigh....Valentine's Day....when even the air seems tinged with pink and silver, when our hearts are filled to bursting with warm thoughts for others. And, because most thoughts lead me back to the classroom, I recalled many pleasant memories of students filling my desk with candy and valentines, and eagerly checking their own mailboxes for kind thoughts and affirmations that their classmates care about them.

"Why can't we have those same warm fuzzies floating around our classrooms every day?" I thought. "Well, why not?" I answered. (Yeah, it happens all the time. I talk to myself and I answer.) But truly teachers, why not?  As I continued my trek to the fine arts section (Yes, I was interested in serious colored pencils - suitable for me and my favorite five year old artist to test out!), I brainstormed some ways that the infusion of kindness and warm fuzzy thoughts might be a part of our classrooms every day. I could not wait to get back here and share some of them with you!

Work Hard. Play Hard. Keep Kindnessin' Like It's Your Job!

Borrowing lyrics again here, and not even sure where I heard this one, but kids will often party like it's their job. Sometimes right in the middle of that amazing lesson on finding common denominators in fractions. What if they saw being kind and becoming role models of kindness as their job? What if it really was a job in your classroom? A job with as much importance attached as line leader or lunch counter? Starting here, because this is my number one idea! I fairly danced into the fine art section, singing (probably not too softly) to myself, "Work hard, play hard, keep kindnessin' like it's your job!" over and over. Ha! The aisles cleared for me! Sometimes I wonder why they even let me shop there anymore! I did notice that people were smiling as I passed by. The mention of the word kindness seems to make most people pretty darn happy!

As a teacher, I've had a positive response to kids having classroom jobs. Kids respond well on all levels when they feel that they have a voice, when they feel that things are happening WITH them, rather than TO them. People in general appreciate having a voice in matters that affect them.

Try this: Assign one to four students per day or per week to act as “Kindness Ambassadors”, “The Kindness Crew” or even “Captains of Kindness”. Create a title together for students whose job it will be to spread kindness throughout your school day. 

Your Kindness Crew can model kindness all day long: greeting visitors to your room, sitting with a classmate who seems to be struggling with something, just offering a smile wherever needed, including others at lunch/recess. The kindness will be contagious. After a few rounds, try offering the badges to a few kindness-challenged kids and watch them change before your eyes!

If you'd like your kids to try kindnessin' like it's their job with this free badge, click below:

Contemplating Kindness

Reflection can be very helpful when we are about to try something new. Have we ever tried anything like this before? Did we learn anything? If acts of kindness have been more random so far in your classroom, and you are thinking of making them more intentional, a kindness journal might  be a helpful and fun tool tool for your students to try. 

Try focusing on kindness for a week in your classroom, using one of these prompts as a quick write each day. You may also print lots of pretty pages and assemble some fun art/writing materials at a center and let kids create their own kindness journals as a center activity. Either way, reflecting on what kindness is, and how each student has experienced kindness will take your classroom community a little farther down the road to a group of people who are kind to each other every day.

Try this forever free journal to get the reflection started:

Thanks for stopping by, and considering kindness as lesson-worthy! For many more amazing forever free resources to share with your class, be sure to search TpT with the hashtags #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths. I'm sure you'll find several new lessons or support materials to love. I know I did! And for more resources and blog posts about kindness and justice, be sure to check out the blog linky posted below!

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Gifts of the New Year

A new year, and yet another chance to get it right. Another chance to be the teacher they'll always remember, and to have the class that will stay in your heart for the rest of your life. Wait, what? You're dreading your return to school, worried about an unruly class of kids who have forgotten "how we do things around here", worried that they'll never settle in enough to pack in all the standards that you will need to cover before the next round of testing, or just worried that the peace and serenity that you found over break is about to crumble before your eyes. I've heard teachers talking about all that. Really. In many ways, the January return is just as anxiety-producing as the first day of a new school year. We've all just had too much time to get really used to not doing school.

Here are some resolution suggestions to help you and your students ease back in!

The Gift of Time

Time! Don't you wish you had more of it? So do I, and so do your students! Why not resolve to schedule some more choices into your day. I know! You don't have time! Right? I seriously always found that the time added to give kids a voice and a choice in activities was easily made up by subtracting the time I might have had to use to wait for the class to pay attention, stop talking, or just settle in.
Try giving your students a little more time in the day to read. Just read. Any book they choose, without a book report or reading log dangling from the edge of it. Just some time to indulge themselves as readers. You just might build a beautiful lifelong habit here!

Have you tried Genius Hour or any type of Project Based Learning yet? You could resolve to stretch your students' brains with a little more open-ended and less time-urgent work this month. They just might amaze you with all they can be motivated to learn!

Do your kids enter talking and keep it up all day long? Try surprising them with an occasional "conversational opportunity" during the school day - a time when it's a-ok to just talk with each other. Walk around and listen. Awesome sauce amazement!

The Gift of Kindness

Do you wish that your students were kinder to each other and maybe even to you? Why not make the teaching of kindness a standard for your classroom community? Infuse it in your lessons by finding examples of kindness as a theme in reading novels, biographies, and in studying current events. Find or write some math story problems in which the theme is kindness. (Hmmm... I think I'll do that myself!)

Remember to model kindness too. Please don't ever be afraid that another teacher or an administrator will think that you are being "too easy" on your class or that you are weak as a teacher because you are too kind. Been there. Heard that. My thirty six years of classroom experience tells affirms that you can never be too kind. Never. How can choosing to let other human beings know that you care about them and are there for them be wrong?
Talk about acts of kindness every day, maybe at a morning meeting, or just in passing as you notice them. In a kindness-focused classroom, the noticing will become more and more frequent over time!

The Gift of Peace

Aaah... Peace! Remember: You in your pjs or yoga pants, your coffee or tea or hot chocolate, the fire softly sighing in the background, soft music playing... CLASSROOM NOISE!!!!!! Ugh, back to reality! Well, maybe not. Why not try to recreate a little of that peace in the immediate environment of your classroom every day? Play some soft music while kids are working. Use music for your transitions. You might even bring up a screen saver fireplace video on one of your classroom computers. Remember to have a thermos of a warming and soothing drink that you enjoy, and let the kids have a thermos of their favorite on their desks. (Spillproof please! Contigo makes some inexpensive and great ones.)

Here's an idea you might or might not have tried yet. Speak in a very soft voice. Even when your class is talking loudly all around you at first. Watch the fun as they strain to hear, nudge each other to listen, and then just focus in on what you're saying. Even if you think this is nonsense, how will you ever really know unless you give it a try? So many kids only know one volume level. They hear it at home, and they hear it all around them every day at school. Show them that the volume level is adjustable, and they have the power to turn it down.

Try bringing the elements of peace you have at home into the space where you spend most of your waking hours each day. Try a yoga break, a breathing break, or a short meditation time. Before you know it, school just might not be the place you need a break from. It might be yet another peaceful spot in your life.

The Gift of Safety

Everyone needs to feel safe and secure in the space where they are. Kids who feel threatened and under stress can't learn. You need to provide a safe zone within your classroom. You can do that by making sure your kids feel that they are noticed and heard and respected and cared for. Give them a voice. Show them that things happen WITH them, not TO them.

Make sure that your students feel safe in expressing their opinions and feel safe answering questions, even if they aren't really sure they have the exactly right answer. They need to feel safe to explore learning and new ways of thinking and looking at things.

 Home and neighborhood aren't the safest-feeling places for many of our kids. Make sure you know who your kids are and what challenges they find outside of your classroom. Then provide that place for them where they will feel safe and valued.

The Gift of Significance

Ownership. Authorship. Knowing that the work that you do is important and that it matters. This is a resolution that you can make today and give as a gift to your students every day. Frustrated that kids rush through assignments, turn them in looking sloppy, often with no name on it? You might want to try finding ways to lessen the paper load. Find some other ways for kids to respond: discussion, graffiti boards, individual and group performances, computer work. When people believe that work is valued and important, they don't forget to put their name on it. They're proud to announce that it is theirs!

Don't forget to celebrate the achievements of your kids often. When planning a unit, make sure that you add a plan for how you will celebrate the works produced by your students. Will you invite parents/community in to view your work, will you have a panel presentation, set up a fair, will kids make videos for students in future years to view, or will you invite another (perhaps younger) class in to be an audience? Celebrating at the end of unit is a great way to pause and say, "Hey! Your work has significance! You have made a contribution! Thank you!"

The Gift of Wisdom

Finally, you can resolve to give your students and yourself the gift of wisdom this year. Wisdom is an elusive and slippery little creature. You won't ever hear its soft voice unless your mind is quieted and you are listening carefully. Acquiring wisdom takes time and reflection. We can't stuff our heads full of facts and equations expect to emerge with wisdom.

You can share this gift with your class by offering plenty of reflective time for the lessons you are teaching. If you haven't tried Interactive Notebooks yet, this might be a good time. Just please, please, please make sure that your Interactive Notebooks are truly interactive. They really shouldn't even be about cutting and gluing. (Although that's the first vision that comes to mind for most teachers when they hear the term "Interactive Notebook". Admit it - that's the vision you had just now, too!) Don't make you Interactive Notebooks cutesy fill the blanks and color receptacles. Make them a place to collect valuable notes on the lesson, and then a space for reflection and individual responses to the learning. Time + Quiet  Reflection = Wisdom.

Here are some resource suggestions to support your use of any of these gifts this year!

                   TIME                                                                                                       PEACE          


               SAFETY                                                                                              SIGNIFICANCE   



I hope you found an idea or two here to make your New Year even better! Wishing you a year ahead filled with all the joy that makes you remember why you chose to be a teacher!

For more ideas to make your January easier, cozier, and filled with learning, be sure to check out these bloggers talking about teaching.