Discipline Ourselves First

Classroom management.

I have complicated relationships with all of those terms. Too often I feel schools and teachers define those ideas as being about controlling students rather than helping students learn to be responsible for themselves. (I feel this is true because I know I’ve done it and will likely do it again and again even as I try hard to avoid it.) Also, note, I’m not saying students need to learn to ‘control themselves’ instead of us controlling them. Control is another term, when talking about students having control, that is complicated and often used poorly.

When I read about schools doing ‘innovative’ things when it comes to discipline I am immediately skeptical. I expect, and sadly am often right, that what the schools are doing looks more student-centered or innovative, but is really simply a twist on the traditional and doesn’t actually upend anything that matters. It isn’t actually innovative.

Mindfulness is one example of this. I am a strong believer in what mindfulness can offer our students but only if it is done in a way that respects and trusts them. There are many schools using mindfulness as a tool to keep kids more compliant with rules and expectations that are unreasonable. Kids are taught to practice mindful breathing rather than get upset. But sometimes they should be upset! Sometimes their reality is unfair and absurd and they shouldn’t have to learn to deal with it calmly.

So when schools are unwilling to question their structures and the adults in the building are unwilling to analyze their beliefs and biases, then ‘innovative’ behavior ideas are of little interest to me. It’s unsurprising, given that attitude, that I was hesitant to read this article, One Ohio School’s Quest to Rethink Bad Behavior: Rather than enforcing a top-down mandate, the school trains teachers in the science behind trauma and leaves the rest up to them. The subtitle did give me hope as understanding how trauma affects students (and adults, if we stop to think about it) is an important piece for teachers to have.

This quote also gave me some hope.

“If the focus is on what the adults are doing, that’s where you get the bang for your buck. We can control what the adults do,” explained Olympia Della Flora, the school’s principal, when I visited this spring. “How are [the children] going to learn a positive way of dealing with conflict if we’re not the ones showing it?”

There’s a lot to unpack there and I have many thoughts about it, most of them positive.

Every adult in the building has received training on how children respond to trauma. They’ve come to understand how trauma can make kids emotionally volatile and prone to misinterpret accidental bumps or offhand remarks as hostile. They’ve learned how to de-escalate conflict, and to interpret misbehavior not as a personal attack or an act of defiance. And they’re perennially looking for new ways to help the kids manage their overwhelming feelings and control their impulses.

The article does address the fact that many punishment systems in schools impact students of color far more than white students. That’s an important piece to acknowledge. It goes back to the first quote and focusing on the adults.

Managing student behavior has long been seen as a student issue. I believe it is as much, or even more so, an adult issue.

Sometimes it is because adults don’t know how to support children who are facing/have faced trauma.
Sometimes it is because adults take behavior personally.
Sometimes it is because school policies are harming children.
Sometimes it is because adults have biases that impact how they view children and what they expect.

Children are learning and growing and facing challenges. They are children. As the adults in the building and in their lives we have to act like adults. We have to recognize that we are a player in this issue and our beliefs, actions, and language impact the children. We have to look at ourselves first.

(There is a second article that is almost a photo essay. I saw it first. I think that may have increased my skepticism.)

Sexism and Critical Literacy

It has become crystal clear to me recently that at least a few boys in my class have some significant issues with female authority figures in a way that they don’t with male authority figures. There are lots of reasons this is true, many of them systemic within our society.

As we head into the last five or so weeks of our year together this is something I’ll be thinking about a lot. It was easy for me to ignore and deny because (mostly) they didn’t have issues with me. But we’ve spent the year together, building relationships, coming to trust and respect one another. The issue has been highlighted when it comes to women in other roles in our school. Women they see far less frequently than they do me. So I need to think about what this means for the rest of our time together.

Luckily, we finished a book last Wednesday and were ready to begin a new one. I had already realized we had read far more fiction than nonfiction and that this next, possibly last, book needed to be nonfiction. I also haven’t been thrilled with the diversity in my read alouds and felt that I could do better in that area. So I chose Rad Women Worldwide for our next title. We began the book on Thursday, discussing our expectations for it based on the cover and title. I showed them the endpages with the world map and spots for each of the women in the book. We read the introduction and first two biographies (Enheduanna and Malala Yousfazai). As we’ve read and discussed Malala before, that pulled in anyone who was still hesitant.

At the end of that day’s reading I told the students that this author, Kate Schatz, has also written a book called Rad American Women, A-Z. I told them if they were interested that I have the book and would be happy for them to read it.

One of my boys immediately said, “Did she write any books about men?” This was said without malice or sneering or sarcasm. It was a genuine question. I turned back to the introduction we had read and reread this bit,

The history of the world is vast, amazing, and fascinating. But so often the stories we hear and lessons we learn focus on the contributions and actions of men.

We didn’t dig deep with those sentences on Thursday. But we’ll clearly return to them. Third graders are just beginning to look more critically at the world around them rather than accept it all at face value. Those two sentences and the rest of this book will help us ask some important questions and, hopefully, think deeply about our own ideas and values.

This is an uphill battle as there are plenty of messages in books, on television, in newspapers and magazines, on the radio, in music, etc., etc., etc. that feed sexism. But the sooner we can begin to look critically at those messages and the media we consume and look critically at what it makes us feel and think, the better.

We Learn a Lot at Recess Too

On a stunning day during recess one of my students came to me crying. Through the tears and gasping breath she said, “They told me I’m not perfect!”

When I asked for more information I learned that she had been jumping rope with others (quite a few of them in another grade and not kids she knows well). They told her the rope hit her foot and she’s sure it wasn’t her, it was another kid jumping with her.

It’s not clear to me if these other kids actually use the words “not perfect” with her or if that is what she took from the exchange. Either way, it clearly hurt. She’s eight years old and can still see herself as flawless. While it is important to recognize that we are all human, it is a tough lesson to learn.

The next day a group of three of my third graders came over. They were upset and claimed that fourth graders kicked them off the hill. The hill is a sloping area at one end of our field and it goes on for a long way. I couldn’t really understand how the fourth graders kicked them off. As I asked more questions, I noticed that no one was on the hill. So I said, “Well, the fourth graders aren’t there now.” They looked back over there and were clearly still not satisfied.

Again, I asked more questions and finally realized they wanted the complete hill to themselves. Not only that, they said, “We need the whole hill and field.” I’ll admit, I was so surprised I laughed. When I got my poker face back I told them they would have to share the hill and field with other students.

My natural reaction to both of these situations is to feel that these students should know better. They should have better coping strategies for these problems.

But they are third graders, not adults. This is when they are learning coping strategies for situations like these and many others. They are young enough to still be quite egocentric. Some of that is a good thing. I don’t want to squash their self-confidence or sense of value in themselves. I do want to help them extend that to other people around them.

Mothers Day – #HackAHoliday

My first year teaching, twenty years ago, I had a boy in my fourth grade class whose mom had abandoned his family when he was four. At ten he was still waiting for her to return. It broke my heart. It also put Mothers Day in a whole new light for me.

In the intervening years Mothers Day, like many other holidays, has become more and more complicated for me. Yesterday my daughters and I were at a funeral home to see their former babysitter as she said goodbye to her mother. Today must be hard for her. Today we went to Charlottesville to spend the day with family, including my sister-in-law who lost her five year old son two months ago. I know today was difficult for her.

Mothers Day celebrates those of us who are blessed enough to have strong relationships with our mothers and/or our children right now. We should take Mothers Day to count our blessings and be grateful for how lucky we are.

Instead, it feels to me like a day that isolates anyone who doesn’t fit that mold. People, like my daughters’ babysitter, who have lost their mother. People, like my sister-in-law, who have lost their child. People who never had a child. People who have a terrible relationship with their mother. People who have a terrible relationship with their child. People who do not have a mother.

I think those folks already feel somewhat isolated in our society, at least at times, and Mothers Day only adds to that. It doesn’t feel inclusive. I see a lot of people on social media sharing things in attempts to include everyone. That is kind and caring. But I don’t think it actually solves the problem. It doesn’t actually include all of those people. It highlights their difference and says it is okay. That’s something. But, honestly, I’d rather just get rid of Mothers Day.

My husband asked me today if I would rather we not celebrate it (for me – not for the rest of the extended family – I will only make this decision for myself). I said yes. I’d rather not have this holiday. I don’t need to be celebrated on this day because my family appreciates me regularly. Which is another blessing I have.

So, for Mothers Day today, I am counting my blessings and recognizing the ways in which I have been so lucky in my life. That’s how I’m going to #HackAHoliday. I’m taking this holiday and  making it work for me.

(My family went to town with the #HackAHoliday concept. Our 14 year old said she had Galentine’s Day with her friend because she doesn’t have a boyfriend and that was her way to celebrate. My husband then suggested Gripesgiving. I told him he is welcome to celebrate it but not with us. Our youngest said no one would want to celebrate that but he and I both informed her that wouldn’t be true.)

I should also note that I have wonderful mothers in my life, both my own and my mother-in-law as well as my grandmothers and great-grandmothers and aunts and so many wonderful women. I am blessed beyond words.

Our wedding twenty years ago with both sets of parents.

Soaring Together

We’re deep in our state testing and will be for a few weeks. As much as our entire school, including an amazing administration, works to not making testing more stressful than it inherently is, there is stress. Teachers feel it. Students feel it. It’s there and impacts us all.

As we headed into this period, I read Zero by Kathryn Otoshi to my class.

I wanted our lead up to testing to involve some uplifting, validating books. This was my first choice. Initially I planned to just read it and make sure we had time to talk about it. But I realized my students shouldn’t have to sit on the carpet for 45 minutes so we should do something in addition to reading and talking. So a quick google search turned up some things that definitely supported my goals.

After reading and some great discussion, students headed off to think about what they value about themselves. We also spent some time thinking about what we value about each other (we made lists for each student that they got to keep).

We also thought about how we can help each other soar the way the numbers soared together in Zero. We made these balloons. On one side we wrote ways we can help each other soar and on the other we wrote how we feel when we do.


We’ve read the book twice now. I have no doubt we’ll read it again. The kids talked about how we all matter and how much better things are when we work together. Picture books are the best.

Hindsight and Reflection

Last week I got in an argument with a student. A third grader. If it sounds a bit absurd, that’s because it is. I know better than to engage in that way with a student.

from Málfríður Guðmundsdóttir’s flickr

This little friend sees the world in black and white and has very rigid thinking. We were discussing an interesting math problem and this student was explaining how they had solved it. But their understanding was still fragile and so it was difficult to put the thinking into words.

I think I ran into a problem because of the clash of those two things. I wanted to help this student make their understanding more solid through the discussion and was trying to get them to explain in a different way. This student’s black and white view made them react as if I was saying they were wrong and double down by repeating the same thing again and again.

Looking back I realize I should have stopped the discussion much sooner. I should have asked if anyone wanted to explain what they were hearing this student say, in the hopes of getting a more detailed explanation. I could also have just moved on to having other students share and then come back when this student had a break from feeling on the spot. I had a lot of options and I think the one I chose was the worst.

Looking back, I can also recognize that I only know this in hindsight. It’s possible this student could have tried to reword their explanation and we could have built on that. In that moment I did what I thought was going to be the most helpful in this student’s understanding and in helping all of us think about the problem.

That’s not how it played out. Unfortunately.

But I’m not going to beat myself up over this one. I talked with the student later, one-on-one to explain why I had kept asking them to explain in a different way. I’m not sure we’re on the same page completely, even now, but I didn’t want to just leave the conversation as it had ended, with the student frustrated.

After many years in the classroom it is easy for me to reflect on a lesson, a discussion, a question, and think about how I should have done it differently. It’s easy for me to be quite hard on myself for not doing it as well as it could have been done. The first bit, the reflecting, is helpful. The second, the beating myself up, isn’t. There is no way to know for sure how something will go. I can take everything I know and give each moment my best. Then learn from it, whether it went well or not so well. And just keep on moving.

End of April Readings

April is one of my favorite months for certain blogs. I am highly impressed with what some people are able to do for Poetry Month.

from Steve Johnson’s flickr

For quite a few years Bud Hunt has posted an image each morning in April as a possible prompt for writing. The comments, with Kevin Hodgson‘s poems, make it even better. This link is to the final day of April (today) but I highly suggest you go back through the month. The images are amazing and the comments are fabulous.

Miss Rumphius, a professor at the University of Richmond, shares poems throughout the month. I enjoy poetry but I don’t tend to search it out so I greatly appreciate all of these just showing up for me each day. I’ve linked here to my favorite, but as before, check out the other posts throughout April.

Like Miss Rumphius, Ralph Fletcher shares poems throughout the month. These are his poems and some of them I’ve read before. That doesn’t diminish the joy I get from them. This one is at the end of April, but there are quite a few more to enjoy.

I am wowed by the poems that Mary Lee Hahn wrote throughout April. This post, from the beginning of the month, explains what she did.

For their part, I asked each of the 30 Squad Members to chose a quote they love. I originally intended to write a personalized Golden Shovel Poem for each student using their quote as the striking line. Although some may turn out to be specific to the student who chose the quote, most will pay tribute to some part of the 2017-2018 5th Grade Hahn Squad experience.

The poems are amazing. They make me want to get to know those students.

More Reading Worth Your Time


Going back through all the tabs I have open to share, the oldest seems to be a piece Michael Doyle wrote early this month. He’s writing about fixing a ceiling fan.

I have always focused on the black wire, the live one, the one with the power and the glory. The neutral one, not so much.

Read the piece and get his message about power and who can and can’t make change. But also know that I read that piece and thought about the many students over the years I’ve known. Students I’ve decided needed exactly this help from me or needed exactly this support from family or whatever it might be. All the students for whom I have known so clearly what they needed. How often was I focusing on the black wire and ignoring the neutral one?

Yesterday, at EdCampNova, I had the chance to see Michelle Haseltine (among many other awesome educator friends). I got to talk with her some about this field trip. Such an opportunity for her and her middle school students! It was a good reminder to me of how often things happen because a teacher is willing to grab an opening, reach out to someone, take a risk. It takes time and energy and there are many things in teachers’ days that take time and energy. But, wow, what we can achieve if we grab the chance when it comes by.

Another friend I saw at EdCampNova was Tim Stahmer. He wrote recently about one of the great challenges when it comes to using tech (personally and in education). Tools that are free are difficult. Someone has to pay for things. If we aren’t paying money for them, we’re paying in some other way. And, at some point, they may not be free anymore. (Tim explores this far more eloquently than I.)

I am not a big superhero fan. If I don’t see Avengers or Infinity War, I won’t be disappointed. But I make sure to see, in the theater, movies that I want to financially support. Recently this has included Wonder Woman and Black Panther. I enjoyed Wonder Woman, but I loved Black Panther. Loved it. Match Black Panther up with Jose Luis Vilson and I am sold. He does a masterful job of bringing the ideas of Black Panther and explaining what that means in education right now.

Science Goddess shared her newest data story recently and it is, as always, amazing. She looked at the comments used on report cards, K-12, in her district and compared based on different groups – gender, income, etc.

Even though most of the text is pretty much the same across student groups at the elementary level, the bottom line is there are some differences in how we talk about boys and girls…and for students of colour…and students from low-income backgrounds…and those who receive special services.

You can read about how she did it and what she learned. Both of those things fascinate me.

These last two pieces seem to fit together. The first is from Kin Lane. He writes about his “white male spreadsheet”. It’s an analogy that helps understand how we see the world.

Growing up, my spreadsheet was pretty basic, with a limited number of columns, and information available. As I grew older and gained more experience new columns would appear, but my spreadsheet was very much crafted by my family and the world around me. I didn’t have any notion of the hidden columns, just that as I grew up, new columns would magically appear, and soon I learned if I traveled and expanded my reality other new columns would sometimes appear. However, if I stayed in my white world, and operate within my male reality, columns pretty much stayed as they were.

The second one is from Jess Lifshitz. She writes from a different perspective than Kin, from the perspective of one who doesn’t feel she and her family fit in this world. She helps us, those of us who do seem to fit, understand what it means to be shown to be other all the time. What it means to have your differences highlighted. What it means to be casually treated as if you are not valued as much as others.

And over and over and over again, this world provides us with reminders that we are the “other,” that we are different, that we are not the target audience for so many of the events of this world.  And there is a particular sting, an extra hurt, when the moments that remind us that we are the other are created by the schools our children attend. Because then it is not just we, the adults, who do not feel as if these spaces are meant for us, but our children are made to feel as if the places where they spend the majority of their days are creating spaces and events that are not meant for them either. We do not have to seek these opportunities out in order to feel sadness about them, we are surrounded by them.

For those of us who do fit in this world without effort, those of us with comfortable spreadsheets, we do not even notice these ways we make others feel they don’t fit. Our spreadsheet hasn’t included them yet. We have to be willing to listen when someone else points this out to us. We have to be willing to add another column to our spreadsheet.

Even More Interesting Things to Read

Every once in a while it hits me how lucky I am to teach in an era in which it is so easy for educators to share their thinking and learning. Especially as so many brilliant ones do so regularly.

from Janet McKnight’s flickr

Mary Lee Hahn spent the month of March writing teaching truths. I think there’s a book getting started with these posts and I want to read it. This links to the final post, but I highly recommend going back and reading them all. They’re short, but meaningful and worth the time.

It didn’t take too many times of seeing tweets from Sherri Spelic to realize I needed to follow her closely. She’s one of those people who is seriously thoughtful about what she says. So it’s worth listening. (She’s also one of those people who makes worlds collide for me as she’s friends with people in my husband’s world. This happens more than I ever expect.) This piece is the speech she gave at the March for Our Lives in Vienna, Austria.

Zac Chase, again, has a piece that really struck me. He writes about complimenting colleagues and the different way women and men typically respond. Of course, he doesn’t stop with just that observation, but continues by thinking through what we might be doing as teachers that impacts this. Finally, he wraps up with wonderings about what this means for how he should or shouldn’t be complimenting women.

These are all people I feel so lucky to have gotten to know, digitally or in real life. (If I haven’t met them in person, I am hoping so much to do so one day.) Another person I have had the great pleasure of meeting thanks to the internet is Michael Doyle. I would feel badly about waiting so long to share this piece, but the forecast suggests we could have another snow day soon. One of Doyle’s greatest strengths as a writer is to put into words and images his reflections on life and what that means for teaching. This is one of those pieces.

I greatly enjoyed the book George so it isn’t surprising that I thought this post from the Nerdy Book Club was a good one. It addresses the importance of having books about transgender characters (as well as all kinds of characters). This is something I’m still working on in my classroom library and I’m grateful for the reminder.

Her Superpower

Our visit to the library this morning was an energetic one. Due to spring break it has been a while since my 3rd graders were there and they were quite excited to find new books. There were also lots of books available as today was the first day back from break so no one else had really been there to get the books we all wanted.

Our attempts to leave the library always seem somewhat futile. My students are desperate to search for ‘just one more book’ and they would rather sit and read than leave to head back to class (although, many weeks we go back to our room and read because I’m not that foolish). This morning, one girl was saying she wants to live in a library. I suggested she could be a librarian but she informed me that would not do because

a. she wants to live in the library, not work there
b. other people would be taking her books all the time.

Valid points.

She went on to say that she wished she could look at books and, if they glowed, know they were worth reading. That would be a fabulous super power.

from Jason Eppink’s flickr