We – meaning the whole school – have been having, um, how shall I call it? Behavioral problems. Engagement issues. I suppose that’s the jargon, anyway. I’ve been using other, more colorful, terminology. (Privately.)
And the thing is, I love my kids. Love them. Like, love them like they were my own.
So I decided to go back to basics. I asked myself, “What is the fundamental problem here?” I want to be clear: We aren’t talking about challenges, we are talking about problems. A challenge includes the solution, and last weekend there was only the problem.
What I realized was that the fundamental external issue was that my kids, my students, were not living up to my expectations. The fundamental internal issue was that I hadn’t expressed my expectations. So I wrote them down:
1. My 8th graders are the leaders of the school, and I expect that they will lead the students well. Leading well means that they will model behavior that will gain them acceptance to Harvard, and behavior that will ensure 4th graders gain acceptance to the high school of their choice.
2. My expectation is that every student is engaged in learning all of the time. This means that however we are learning, be it reading aloud or working on projects in groups, students have the tools, materials, supplies and show the behaviors that illustrate engagement in learning.
3. My expectation is that learning is hard work, and we will learn together in love. My students will help eachother, and encourage and teach whenever they can. We will learn together so that we may become better people and a better society.
4. Life requires gratitude, gratitude for people, experiences, opportunities and things. We must show gratitude, because gratitude is one step beyond respect.
In writing all of this down, I also realized a couple of painful things. Sadly, I haven’t been living up to my own expectations, and I have not been clear with my students on how they can live up to them. In essence, I have assumed that my kids could do what I have not taught them, or showed them. Shameful, humbling and unfair.
On Monday of last week, that changed. I began teaching my students my expectations, as well as stating clearly – in a strong, authoritative voice – the behaviors and attitudes that meet and exceed my expectations. I stopped focusing on negative behaviors, and started complimenting – I literally go around the lab and compliment one student at each table (4 students to a table).
By Friday, I was almost in tears at how much my students had improved. I’m looking forward to going back to school.