For some people organization comes naturally. For others of us, it helps to hear the obvious!
Storytelling is apart of any profession and every relationship.
Here are 15 tips on how to enhance your stories to make sure the people listening stay engaged.
So I am trying something a little different today. Here is a video lesson on setting boundaries in the classroom. In this video I will cover:
- Why you should have healthy boundaries
- 5 ways to create boundaries in the classroom
- Why it is important to choose discomfort over resentment.
Back in high school, my friends and I signed up for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Retreat. I didn’t consider myself too athletic at the time, but all my friends where going, so I tagged along.
During the last night of the retreat, the leaders put on the movie “Rudy.” Most people where off eating or playing cards, but a friend of mine and I sat down to watch the end of the movie.
If you have seen Rudy, you might suspect what is coming. In the last minutes of the movie, Rudy gets called out on the field…makes a tackle….the crowd goes wild…and suddenly without warning TITLE TRACK!
Being a high school boy means you don’t want to show your tears. I looked over at my friend and he looked back at me.
And then we both started dying laughing because we knew we were holding back tears. “This part makes me cry every time!” my friend said. I rubbed my eyes and agreed.
What was in that movie that made a couple of high school boys (who are already trying to pretend to be tough) cry?
Sure, Rudy has an amazing plot, good camera angles, and quotable one-liners. But the key to the tears isn’t in any of that. The key is in Jerry Goldsmith.
Without Jerry Goldsmith, I can guarantee you wouldn’t cry in Rudy.
“Why is that?” you might ask.
Jerry Goldsmith wrote the title track to Rudy. It was the music that brought me to tears. Sure the plot had a lot to do with it, but just try it out yourself!
Go back in your mind right now to a scene that makes you cry in a movie. Now imagine watching that scene without any music. It looses its power!
I am a sucker for psychology.
I guess I first started questioning the motives of music when I was in a worship service watching people have an emotional responses to the music.
I had questions like:
- Are these people really connecting with God or is it just emotion?
- Why is it that I cry every time a certain song gets played?
- I’m I being controlled?
Oddly enough, it was that last question that brought me the most peace. Under normal circumstances, I don’t like being controlled especially if you are talking about mind or emotion control.
However, in that instance, I suddenly realized that I am constantly being controlled by something.
We all have messages that we are constantly processing from the world outside us, whether that be people’s body language or sneaky product placement in movies. All of these messages and our interpretation create an internal mood and conversation inside of ourselves.
Hollywood can guide our emotions with soundtracks. Churches guide their members to a spiritual experience with music. Musicians guide fans to a certain experience at concerts.
So, music guides emotions. And emotions are always being guided by something. The messages we receive add outside dialogue or add strength to our constantly playing inner dialogue.
For example, if you are already in a depressed mood, and you listen to a sad song on the radio, you might end up crying. You already had an inner dialogue of sadness going on, and the music added to it. Or maybe you were depressed and a happy song came on. Suddenly you realized you were sitting up straighter and even smiling a little.
There is power in having the ability to guide someone’s emotions. In my opinion, since the rest of the world is trying to manipulate your students’ emotions, you should use the same power for good.
To be honest, I probably could end this post with that thought. However, I am a practical person, and a practical people need action plans.
Here is how to apply music to the classroom:
How to use music in the classroom
- Use music to guide your students state: As mentioned earlier, music guides emotions. It’s okay to help your students mood by playing happy songs, epic songs, or calm songs. Don’t tell your students to calm down and then leave them to overcome the conversations and distractions in their head. Help them out with music!
- Use music to help your students focus: This summer I have been teaching summer school. It is basically a time when students have to sit down and finish work that they didn’t do during the school year. I don’t have to teach much, so there is a lot of silence in the classroom. I have noticed that when I keep the room silent, my students loose interest quickly and try to break the silence and their concentration through conversation. However, when I put on music, they can work diligently without interrupting each other for 30 or 40 minutes!
- Make yourself more interesting: Have you ever lost interest in a public speaker, and then a piano player comes up behind them and starts to play? Everything changes! Suddenly your emotions get reengaged and the speaker’s words have power. Do that in the classroom. Add background music and make yourself interesting.
How to make this work practically
It’s one thing to talk about good ideas in the classroom, and another thing to implement them. Adding music to your class fortunately is pretty easy to do, but it is going to require a little additional investment of money and time.
- Buy a Bluetooth speaker: You want to be able to control the music from anywhere in the room, so you will need a speaker that can connect to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. These speakers usually range anywhere from $20–$300 (look on Amazon). The cheaper ones usually are cheap for a reason (although my wife and I have one from Walmart that was only $4. It’s loud and works great!). Also, try to find one that has a built in battery pack so that you can take your music on the go if needed.
- Subscribe to unlimited music: Unlimited music subscription services are easy to find and well worth the investment. Usually they run around $10 a month. Would I pay $10 a month to have my class focus for up to 30 minutes at a time?….Yes!!…..yes I would! I use Apple Music, but most people prefer Spotify. Also, Google came out with an option for YouTube Red which not only gives you free access to music, but also takes away the ads on your YouTube videos. I am trying it out this month and will let you know how it goes.
- Prepare music in advance: You don’t want to be hiding behind your phone choosing songs all the time. Also, everyone knows that creating playlists is a black hole that defies normal time rules. You could be two hours into making a playlist and think only 5 minutes has gone by. Make your lists ahead of time so you don’t waste time in the classroom.
Some final thoughts
What you are doing with your students doesn’t have to be hidden manipulation. Let them know why you play music and how it affects them. Then you will be free to play music often.
Play it in the background. Play it to calm your class down. Play an entrance song to get them excited. Play a movie soundtrack to tell a story. At times, let them choose the music.
Don’t let your students inner dialogue high jack your their learning experience. Use music to guide them.
How else would you use music in the classroom?
“Google knows!” has been one of my favorite phrases lately.
For example, this past 4th of July, my family wanted to go see a local fireworks show, but we were not sure what time it started. After debating a while, I finally stated “Google knows!”. Then I grabbed my phone, and in about 10 seconds we had our answer.
The internet knows stuff.
The internet is helpful when it comes to resources, but it is a pain in the butt when it comes to language class, especially a when a thing like Google Translate exists. For years, I have had students who cheat by writing articles, papers, and projects using Google Translate.
It’s funny when they think I don’t know.
They hand me a paper in their first year of Spanish where they barely know how to use the present tense. The paper is full of complicated phrases that I didn’t even know after a year of living in Mexico. When I call them out on it, I get different reactions varying from denial to embarrassment.
My favorite was the student that said, “YOU said not to use Google Translate, so I used Microsoft Translate.”
It’s not just Spanish.
With technology students can solve almost any math equation you can throw at them. They can write bibliographies in MLA format without ever learning MLA. They can find the answers to all the questions in your study packets simply by typing them into a search engine.
Times have changed.
Information used to be powerful, but that era if over. Everyone has information because even the poorest of the poor have smartphones. They have all the information they need literally at their fingertips.
As one comedian explained, (and I have tried and tried to find the original owner of this joke and I can’t…If you find out let me know): “What if I went and told someone in the past that in the future people would have all of the information in all the world on a piece of glass in their pockets…and they waste it watching cat videos.”
The Problem with Education
Despite information being so accessible, many of us teachers continue to simply teach information. And like my Spanish classes, tell students that if they access certain information, it is considered cheating.
Students don’t need more information.
They need to know how to APPLY information. In other words, they needSKILLS.
The Shift in the Classroom
So how do we move from teaching information to teaching skills?
Well, let’s use my class as an example:
This summer, I am planning my language classes a little differently. I am using a technique in my classes that I have coined as “meta-tasking.” Meta-tasking is learning a skill that you care about or need while doing a mandatory task.
As a result of state standards and necessary processes for quality control in my school, I will still need to teach Spanish, and the students will still have to be tested on Spanish. But underneath the Spanish lesson will be an intentional meta-learning of necessary skills to acquire language.
Here is what that looks like practically:
I used to teach Spanish based off of verb conjugations. It was easy to break the verbs up into categories and easy to track the students’ progress, but I was only truly happy with a handful of outcomes from that method.
This year, instead of teaching a verb chart for the verb “to be” for my first lesson, I am going to teach the phrase “¿Cómo se dice eso”. That phrase means “How do you say that?”
This is how I first started acquiring practical Spanish when I moved to Mexico. I would point to something and ask, “¿Cómo se dice eso?” and the native speaker with me would say the word. It was a tool to acquire vocabulary.
The meta-task in the lesson is that I am not just teaching Spanish, but giving the students the first step to learning a new language: I’m teaching them to first learn a phrase that allows you to capture new vocabulary.
That is the focus of all my lessons for this next year. Instead of just teaching Spanish, I teach language acquisition and cultural empathy through the Spanish language.
Now apply that to other subjects: Instead of teaching Literature, we can teach expression of thought and analyzation of thought through literature. Instead of teaching math, we can teach finances and budgeting through mathematics.
Many teachers already do this in the classroom (one teacher at my school is so practical, that he teaches the use of power tools through his physics class).
However, to see real change in the current educational system, we need to apply meta-tasking on larger scale.
That change (as all change) has to start with what I can control: It has to start with me.
This summer all my lesson plans will ask the same question: “What skill am I trying to develop in my students through this lesson?”
It is a small step, but a powerful one. Imagine the change that can occur if every teacher in the world would ask the same question in their lesson plans and be intentional about teaching skills instead of information.
Take the challenge with me. Don’t teach information. Teach skills!
It’s happened to me so many times, and if you deal with teenagers, it has happened to you too. What you think is going to be an intellectual debate about "what a teenager should do" turns into a battle. Maybe it’s trying to convince them to turn off the TV. Maybe it’s trying to convince them to clean their room or be home on time. The list goes on...
In my case, it is making sure my summer school students get their work done.
I didn’t think I would make such a classic error so soon in returning to teaching. However, through my good intentions, I took what I thought would be a simple debate and watched it turn into a power struggle. If you can relate, then read on.
One of my students this summer did not have too much on his plate. He actually only had one more small project to do. However, instead of doing his work, he spent hours sitting and doing nothing and complaining.
At first, I didn’t care. “If he doesn’t do his work, that’s his problem.” I thought. But then he started saying things like, “Can I go home?,” “Why do I have to do this?,” and “This is so stupid!”
I made the mistake and took the bait.
I engaged in the conversation and the war was on. I argued, “Steve, just do the work!” He argued back, “Can’t I just go home? I’ll think better at home.”
Me: “No, Steve you cannot.”
Steve: “Why do I have to do this?”
Me: “Steve can I be honest with you? I’m experiencing you as lazy.”
Steve: “Yeah I’ve heard that before.”
After a while...
Me: “Steve, do your work!”
Steve: “Why do I have to do this?”
Me (heartbeat rising): “Steve, are you done with summer school? Just go home then, you’re done!”
Steve: “No. You always say that. I’m not going home.”
Me (trying to salvage the situation): “Steve, just do your work! You are so smart, I know you can do this!”
Steve: “Then why did you say that I was lazy?”
Me: “I didn’t say you were lazy, I said I experienced you as lazy.”
Steve: “No, you said I was lazy!”
The lost battle,
Me: Ok Steve, I’ve had it! Get out!
Me: I’m not asking you. I’m telling you!
Steve left upset with still no work done. I stayed shaken up and wondering if I would be able to reconnect with Steve later in the school year.
Steve came by the next week and apologized. It was nice to hear and shows maturity on his part, but this situation should have never happened in the first place, and that was my fault.
It gets to you.
Before I move on, you need to know that I am going to mention some things about teenagers in general. Not all teenagers will act like this because not all teenagers have the same maturity level. Also, many teenagers change their attitudes and actions depending on the situation.
However, it’s easy to let teenagers get to you. They are smart, clever, and can form a descent argument. That makes you think that they are always reasonable. At least that’s what happens to me.
However, everyone (adults included) find it hard to be rational when your emotions are triggered.
What makes things worse is that the line from when the conversation moves from discussion to argument is so grey!
I have talked with many triggered teenagers. This is what they will do:
They will use your words against you. Steve used my words against me: “Why did you say I was lazy?”
They will accuse you of wrong intentions. Have you heard the phrase, “That’s not fair!” or “You hate me.” The teenager is questioning your intentions and wondering not only if they can trust you, but if you are sure of your own actions.
They will use your friendship against you. It is hard forming connection and maintaining complete authority. It can be done, but simply know that there will be times when it will feel like your friendship with the student is in danger because you have to discipline them.
They will threaten you: “We’ll see what my dad says about that!” is a line I have heard many times.
Want to win an argument with a teenager?
Apply action before it escalates: Like with the example from Steve, I should have applied a consequence before the situation escalated into a power struggle. That would have prevented me from becoming upset, and I would have protected my connection with Steve.
Use “I statements” and act: Always tell the student what YOU will do. Say things like, “If you continue to talk, I’ll have to remove you from the classroom.” or “I saw you do that, I’ll do something about that. I need time to think about it.” (The people at Love and Logic are the kings of “I statements” and delaying consequences. By delaying, you are able to think rationally later and cause suspense).
Turn into a broken record until you come out of flight or fight. If you do get triggered, pick a one liner and simply say that over and over. Do not engage in the argument! For example: “I’ll discuss this after school.” (Again a tip I picked up from Love and Logic).
Step out of yourself. Be self aware about what is going on. Slow the conversation down. Take a timeout if you need to and simply observe what is really happening. Do not take anything personal! Realize that one or both of you are triggered and not thinking 100% rationally.
Realize what they are really saying. Teenagers will push limits and complain. It’s part of their process for growth and development. Simply realize that they are vocalizing complaints even if it sounds like an accusation or threat. DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY! What they are really saying is, "Can I trust you to stay true to your word?" or "I simply don't feel like doing this." Figure out what they are really saying behind those sharp words.
Don’t question yourself. Teenagers will use your words and actions against you to prove that you are wrong. Don’t waste energy by questioning yourself. If something you did is obviously wrong, apologize, but otherwise don’t pay attention to the small details. They are trying to win the argument, but that is not the point. The point is accountability.
Look for reconnection. If you lose connection with the student, look for opportunities to reconnect. Don’t rush it or it will seem that you are sorry about keeping them accountable. Give them time. Teenagers forgive.
The last and most important point:
8. Don’t win the argument: I know, I know. It seems like a trick writing an article on how to “win an argument with a teenager” and then you don’t get to win. But the fact of the matter is, it is not about winning or even convincing them of who is right. It is about lovingly keeping them accountable to their God given potential and calling. Winning the argument isn’t important. Helping develop their character is! Don’t win. Don’t argue. Use your authority and apply consequences that lead to accountability.
Obviously these things take practice. Apparently after a six month sabbatical, I am a little rusty. Be kind to yourself. If you mess up try again next time.
And trust me, there will be plenty (if not daily) next times.
What have you noticed when engaged in an argument with a teenager? What are some things you do in your house or in your classroom?
This past week I have been writing a lot about how our students are superheroes. It is IMPERATIVE that they understand that they are powerful. However, there is a dangerous misinterpretation of the superhero metaphor. If you don’t address this one topic, the superhero metaphor will do more harm than good.
Superheroes aren't all that super.
All superheroes are limited. I'm not just referring to their super weakness either ( like poor Superman who can be defeated by a stupid rock ). I'm referring to the fact that they are limited by their powers. Spider-Man can sling web and stick to walls, but he can't learn to fly. Captain America can bust through walls, but he can’t burst into flames like The Human Torch. Superheroes are created to have a special set of skills. Usually they are either born with the power, or through some crazy science experiment gone wrong, they acquire their powers.
Their powers are not learned. They are innate or given to them. Superheroes traditionally only have their innate skills and do not acquire new ones. This is great for the comic book and movie industry, because you simply match super heroes with super villains that have a different set of skills. That's extremely entertaining, but it's not reality for our students.
That's the danger of the hero analogy. Your students will be tempted to believe that they are only good at certain aspects of life and will never perform well in others. They might believe that their talents or lack of talents is innate and can’t change.
It will sound something like this:
I'm not a math person.
I'll never be anything but a benchwarmer.
I hate Spanish.
I can't speak in public.
I'm just a dumb jock.
But those statements don't reflect the reality of your students’ power.
Your students are better than superheroes!
Superheroes may be stuck with what they have, but your students are adaptable and can obtain new powers. This ability to adapt with new information and practice is called the power of LEARNING!
The best way to learn.
I his book Peak, Anders Ericsson talks about the illusion that people are born with innate talent.
The truth is that Steph Curry, Tiger Woods, Mozart, Einstein, and even Adele had to practice to become who they are today. It is only after years and years of practice that the world suddenly says that these people or “born” with a talent. It’s not magic. These are ordinary people who simply have been given an opportunity to practice something, and therefore developed the gift and passion for their field.
What this means for your students:
This is a game changer for your students. No one is stuck the way they are. Please be careful though! Not all practices or learning are created equal. You can read about some aspects of true practice here.
Here is what is possible because of the power of correct learning and correct practice.
Through practice your students can hone the gifts they have to become experts in their strengths. Whether it be writing, arithmetic, ping-pong, basketball, art, music, or any other activity, the difference between being a beginner and an expert is simply practice.
Through practice your students can learn new skills. Even if your student has never tried the desired skill, they can still learn it. That is why in the first superhero lesson I asked the students to write down what “superpower” or talent they would like to have. They don’t have to be born with talent (no one really is). They can obtain it.
Through practice students who are struggling in a certain areas can overcome obstacles. Please never tell a student that they are not a “math student” or that they “will never be an expert basketball player”. I have said those kinds of statements to many students. But what I was really saying is that if I were them, I would have given up. I refuse to judge my students outcomes anymore. Who am I to limit their possibilities? Even if a student struggles in a subject or activity that appears to be their weakness, they can improve through learning and practice.
So again, your students are better than superheroes.
Through practice our students can not only hone the set of skills they already have, they can learn new skills!
In our current culture, there is so much pressure to become someone of importance as compared to others. Students need to know that they are already important, and they are already equipped with the everything they need to serve and change the world, because they have the superpower of obtaining and perfecting new powers: They have the power of learning.
Note: In a previous lesson I made a superhero passport template to remind students of their special powers. The above mentioned topic is so important, that I actually had to adjust my template. You can see the new version here.
Humans are forgetful creatures at times. I know because I am constantly observing one of the most forgetful humans that I know. And that human would be ME!
It's hard remembering where I last put my keys or even what my password is to my banking website.
I know I'm not alone though. Other people are just as forgetful.
In my last post, I discussed a lesson plan about teaching my students that they have special talents and talents to offer the world (superpowers). Education IS about gaining knowledge, but that is only a small part. School should be more about developing skills and character.
So the question is, how do we convince our students to remember that they are superheroes with special gifts if they can't remember to bring a pencil to class?
I came up with a practical solution. I realize that it might be idealistic and that I am probably not seeing all the flaws, but if you don't take risks in the classroom, you will never be more than an average teacher.
So I am willing to take the risk
The Superhero Passport Lesson Plan
After teaching the superhero lesson, the problem will be how to keep the idea top of mind.
Here's my solution.
The day before class, assign homework for the students that they need to bring in a small printed picture of themselves. Having them figure out the size will be a problem, so I am going to pass out squares of paper that are the exact size of picture that I need. This will help the students measure.
I will tell the students that they will be looking at the picture a lot through the school year, so they need to choose a good one that represents their personality. Also have them bring the handout from the first Superhero lesson plan.
Be sure to bring scissors, glue sticks, and packing tape. Also, check out the ID template before class.
Start class by having students share what is on their handout from the first lesson. Next make sure everyone has their photo. Finally, tell the students to circle between 3 and 5 of their “superpowers” that they want to work on throughout the semester.
The Class Motto:
Have the class come up with a Super Hero Motto as a class. There is an example on the template I made. Direct the students to come up with a motto that reminds them why they have their super powers. It is important for them to contribute to this step so that they actually take ownership of the motto.
After you have a good motto, type it into the template. Also add your own class principles to the template (mine are already on there).
Print the template from google docs using the “print settings and preview option” under the “File” menu. Choose the option that let’s you fit 6 to a page. Print the copies needed.
Finish the passports:
Lastly, using pens, have the students fill out their information on their passports. Have them tape or glue their photo and then “laminate” them using the clear packing tape.
Now the students have an “ID card” that reminds them of their gifts, your classroom principles, and the reason they have their gifts.
Top of Mind
Remember that the point of the passports is to keep the students talents at the top of their minds. Here are some ways to use the passports in the classroom
Check their passports at the door before the enter the classroom. Act like an immigration official and question them on the information on their card. This will help them keep in mind what they have written. I am going to require passports to enter my classroom.
When a student says they cannot do something, ask to see their passport and tie in one of their talents to the task at hand.
If a student complains about a project. Ask to see their passport and tell the student to use the current assignment to refine one of their superpowers listed on the card. (This is called “metatasking” which I’ll write about later this week).
The concern about doing this activity is that students may feel limited only to the gifts that are on their card and never explore new options of gifts. My solution for this is to tell the students that they can renew their passports at any time. Also, they will be issued new passports at the beginning of the next semester. I will explain that new gifts can be acquired and they should feel free to explore new options, but should also give their current gifts a chance.
Lastly, some might think this is a little too childish for middle or high school. In my experience, students enjoy silly or childish more than you might think. Just be yourself and have fun. If they are not into the activity, that is their loss. Since, you create the culture of your classroom, if you think it is fun, they will think it is fun.
What are your thoughts on this activity? Will it help keep the students’ superpowers top of mind? What would you do differently?
My house is a galactic battle everyday.
Many of you might not know this, but I am the father of two superheroes.
In other words, I have a two boys ages four and two, and they both have huge imaginations.
You can imagine the epicness of play time. In fact, you have to imagine it, because what seems like an ordinary lego block to the untrained eye is actually their spaceship which bursts at supersonic speeds through the galaxy (or back and forth from their room to the living room….over and over and over again).
It doesn't stop there...
Then out of nowhere Hulk is being chased by a bear who is about half a foot smaller than him. Then suddenly in an amazing turn of events, they both turn into power rangers and are shooting man eating giant spiders.
That is the tip of the iceberg as far as their plot lines go.
As kids we used to believe that we were superheroes. We could imagine ourselves having special powers. And then we go to school and that part of us dies. We slowly realize that the only power that matters is, academically speaking, that we can memorize and regurgitate information. If we have that power, we will survive school through college.
What a sad transition from a toddler to an adult!
Humans are powerful beings. We are created that way.
I recently read Dr. Caroline Leaf’s Switch on Your Brain, and I noticed she kept mentioning how powerful the human mind was. She said that our mind is “the most powerful thing in the universe after God, and indeed fashioned after God.” I was offended by the statement at first, and was wondering if Dr. Leaf had maybe been struck by lightning after writing it.
However, after pondering her point more, I realized it is valid. Human beings are created to be amazingly powerful.
As I research more and more on neuroplasticity and human potential, I am consistently surprised at how amazing we are, and how much we discredit our abilities. Through these thoughts, the one thing that keeps coming back to my mind is my students.
Our students are amazing creations. They have talents and gifts that are just starting to show their potential. I feel like there is an important lesson in the classroom that I keep missing. I am preoccupied worrying about convincing my students to try in school, but to little avail. But maybe if we can convince our students of the power they have, they can start seeing their education in a whole new light.
What education really is.
Education is more than knowledge. Education is about building skills. Our students have amazing gifts (super powers) that are sitting dormant as they spend their time memorizing Spanish verb tenses. What if they could use their time in school to hone those skills?
It is kind of a meta education.
This topic is something that I have been working on and will be the conversation of choice at ProfePablo.com this week. It’s time to help our students identify their God-given abilities, practice them in any situation, and then use them to serve and change the world.
The first step: Help students recognize their gifts
To get this idea kicked off, I have a class planned for this fall. This plan will probably take a couple of class periods.
Part 1: Get in the superhero mindset
When the students walk in one day in class, there will be handout on everyone’s desk. It will have two questions on the front:
1.Who is your favorite superhero and what powers do they have?
2. If you could be a superhero, what powers would you have and what would your superhero name be?
Part 2: Share
I will have them share their ideas because I am certain that a couple of class clowns will want to share how they would want to be “burrito boy” with the power to change their enemies to burritos or something odd like that.
After some students share, I will go on to show the class that they are already superheroes with special powers. For the students I know well, I might call them out in front of the class and mention some of the powers that I see in them. This could be things like influence, sincerity, or public speaking.
Part 3: Your REAL superpowers
Then I will have them flip over the page.
On the back of the hand out will be three questions:
What “super powers” or gifts do you feel you have?
What gifts would you like to have?
What gifts do others say that you have?
Again, this is the first class and the tip of the iceberg. The idea purpose is for the students to recognize that they are special and specific God given giftings.
In my next post, we will talk about how to keep these giftings at “top of mind” for the remainder of the school year.
What do you think about the superhero concept in the classroom? What would you do differently?
I never realized that the man on the one hundred dollar bill and I had so much in common until I read his autobiography.
- Benjamin Franklin loved to track his self improvement. So do I.
- Benjamin Franklin was passionate about meeting with other individuals on a regular basis to sharpen his character. I do that as well.
- Benjamin Franklin was a writer and a creative and to the best of my ability, so am I.
Recently, through reading the book Peak by Anders Ericsson, I found there is something else that Benjamin Franklin and I have in common. Benjamin Franklin played chess. So do I.
...And apparently he was frustrated with his level of play….just like me!
Chess and why Franklin and I struggle.
A friend got me into chess about a year ago. I knew how to play, but I didn’t understand any of the strategies or tactics that take chess to the next level. When my friend who is a math wiz and has photographic memory invited me to play against him in chess, I was reluctant. However, after slaughtering me in a couple of games, he started simply coaching me in chess, and I started to enjoy it.
Since then I play almost everyday and saw great improvement in the beginning.
Lately however, I seem to have hit a plateau. Apparently Franklin had this plateau in chess as well that seemed to haunt him his entire life.
In Peak, Ericsson mentioned that Franklin was always frustrated with his level of chess because he simply played. He DID focus on playing with people better than he was, but simply playing against these people was not enough to help him improve.
When I heard this, I could immediately identify. That was what was happening with my game play. I stopped practicing and studying chess and simply played.
The consequences have been worse than you might think! My playing has not only plateaued, it has actually become worse! I know because I play online to track my progress, and my score ranking keeps dropping.
It's not just about chess
I have also noticed that there are other areas where I seemed to have plateaued. I have been working on my pull ups for a while now and have seemed to cap between 7 and 8 consecutive pull ups. Also, I pride myself on being a decent cook. Lately however, all my cooking seems to taste the same.
I know the problem. I am simply doing the activities, but not practicing them properly.
Lastly, the area where I have struggled that means the most to me is in my writing.
I have been writing for a long time, but I haven’t seemed to become much better at the craft. Also, one of the things that I desperately need is to become swifter at writing.
To get the kind of content out that I want for the classroom, the blog, and the upcoming podcast, I need to be writing about one article a day. The problem is that I only have about one hour a day to do so. So I have decided to implement some of the elements of deliberate practice.
According to Ericsson, deliberate practice is the best kind of practice. Deliberate practice is more than simply doing something over and over again. It is intentionally planning for improvement.
Although I am still working through the book, there are some principles that I have already picked up, that I have not been doing in those stagnant areas of life.
To break the plateau, you need to consistently stay outside of your comfort zone.
To break the plateau, you need a goal on which to focus.
To break the plateau, you need to intentionally focus on improving in your areas of weakness.
An experiment with writing
I have decided that my writing is too important for me to simply let stay at the same level. I need to deliberately practice and improve my writing. I have decided to do an experiment until the end of July.
Here is the plan.
I am going to stay outside of my comfort zone by writing only during the time frame of one hour a day.
My goal is to completely finish and publish one article in that hour.
My focus spots will be the following in this order: First, I will work on speed. Secondly, I will work on quality. Lastly, I will work on research to backup my articles.
I can use other times outside that hour to study other authors, outline their articles, and attempt to reproduce their writing.
I realize the results may be messy at first, but part of deliberately practice is trying, failing, adjusting, and trying again.
What will your process be?
You can do the same for anything that you are working on. Pick a craft that you want to do better in which you have plateaued. Choose a goal that is just outside of your comfort zone, and then focus in on the weak spots (one at a time) that are holding you back from reaching that goal.
You can do this for any area of your life. I’ll let you know how my experiment goes, and I would love to hear about yours!
What do you say? Will you join me in deliberate practice?
A heart problem.....me?
I remember one day sitting at my desk pounding away at the keyboard and shuffling papers, when I noticed that I had chest pain.
I didn't go away.
"That's odd." I thought, as I continued to check in patients at the medical clinic.
The next day, I checked myself in to the same clinic freaking out about the pain I had. I remember one of the nurses looking at me and saying, "Paul, you are too young to be having chest pain."
And I remember thinking, "Now I have done it. I've pushed myself to my limit and now I am paying the consequences."
It was one of the many consequences of living in a constant state of stress.
The age of stress.
Stress changes me. I usually become quiet and internalizing everything. Then suddenly something disturbs my thoughts, and I snap.
Here are some of the life events I was attempting to jungle in that season of life:
My wife and I had our first child who was under a year old.
I was taking 5 classes at a time online trying to finish college.
I was working full time at a job I was not fit for. Therefore I was miserable at work.
I was working part time at a job I wanted, but had to drive 40 minutes there and 40 minutes back during my lunch break just to teach one class.
My sister in law and her 4 kids were living with us as she was relocating from a different state.
I was the principal breadwinner of the house.
Too much on a plate
It was no one's fault but my own. All the people in the above situations were incredibly patient and kind, but I still was stressed.
I was juggling too much. I needed to learn a thing or two about time management.
I was managing my time the way most people manage their time. I slowly added things to my plate until I couldn’t add anymore. Then something would mess with the balance, and everything would fall apart.
It wasn’t just back then that I have struggled with time management. Even lately, I have been catching myself falling back into the same trap.
As a teacher, I am sure that you can relate. During the school year, you have lesson plans to make, papers to grade, and sports to coach. Maybe you have a part time job to supplement a “teacher’s salary.” The list goes on and on.
The Four Burners Theory
Recently, I heard a way of visualizing time management from an article written online. The idea is that you have four stove top burners: Family, Friends, Health, and Work.
The point of the theory is to prove the following: “in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”*
The above mentioned post was not where the original idea was presented and the author of the blog, James Clear, has some interesting insights to the Four Burners Theory. However, after reading the article, I felt uneasy inside and a little angry.
The problem with the theory:
The problem with the four burners theory is that it portrays our lives as mechanical with separate segments and no overlap. It is over simplification. For example, the theory does not take into account that if my health is struggling, so will my career and family life. So health must be a priority. But also, if my family is struggling, then what is the point of having a career if I can’t enjoy the benefits with my family?
I'll continue to say the same thing until I'm blue in the face. Life isn’t simple.
I get the concept.
I also categorize my life for the sake of making goals, but the point of the 4 Burners Theory is that you can’t have everything, and I just cannot agree with that.
On the contrary, as far as friends, family, work, and health are concerned, you MUST have everything.
We are organic beings. Although time is a limited resource, it is not healthy or wise to sacrifice any one of the burners for another part.
Here are some solutions to the problem:
Seasons: The above article mentioned, suggested this solution, and I agree. There are seasons of life. If I have newborn in the house, I am going to focus more time on the newborn, but work quickly to find some balance and add attention to the other areas of life. If I am in a job transition, I will focus on work until I find some stability, and then focus again on re-balancing. Life is all about balance.
Hacks: There are hacks that can be used. We are given limited time, so we need to use daily hacks. Example:
Exercise: You really only need 12 - 15 minutes a day to be healthy (example: Hiit Training)
Cooking: buy a crock-pot and make the meals ahead of time.
Child time: Instead of spending 2 hours watching TV with your child, spend 30 minutes of quality interactive time.
Reading: Listen to audio books while doing other activities
There are hacks to activity. Use your creativity!
3. Plan: In order to maintain balance, you are going to have to plan, plan, plan. You might have to wake up earlier and say no to certain people or events. However, with planning you will feel more of a sense of control.
So, the 4 Burners Theory is actually correct in the sense that time is limited, but it is incorrect in the sense that you have to turn off burners in order to be successful in other areas.
Life is organic and integrated. You MUST give attention to all the important areas of your life because…
...Life simply isn’t simple.
2 years ago today, my mom died of cancer.
The rain that poured out on the day of her funeral was just imagery of what was going on inside of me.
The phrase "Time heals everything," I have decided is simplified to the point that it isn't true. Time doesn't heal. Feelings simply change over time.
2 years later, this is what I still feel.
I still cry for my mom. I still get angry at life and God. I sometimes even get angry at mom. At times I just go to her grave and weep and leave feeling a little stronger and a little more peace. At times I randomly cry in my house and my wife has to come and hold on to me until I can breathe again.
There are powerful emotions behind life and death and love and loss.
These emotions are so easy to keep private, but they are one of your most powerful tools for connection.
The teacher face.
There is part of me as a teacher that wants to keep my distance. Here are what those thoughts look like:
"My students don't need a friend. They need a teacher."
"High schoolers can be mean. I'll keep my feelings to myself."
"I don't want to let these guys too close. I might get hurt."
It's so easy to hide real emotions.
I am the fun teacher. I am the one who is always out to cheer people up. I usually have a smile on my face as I walk down the high school hallway giving out high fives and shoulder rubs. But behind my teacher face is a world of emotion.
About a year ago coming up on the first year of losing my mom, I had this urge to share my story with the student body at FCA (the school I was working with).
I simply wanted to talk about losing my mom. I don't know why the urge was so strong. Maybe it was God nudging me or maybe it was my longing to share something with a group of people that meant so much to me. Or maybe it was both.
There was an opening for a chapel speaker, and I jumped on the opportunity.
I remember preparing for the speech and crying every time. I even had to tell a couple of other teachers, "If I can't pull myself together, please bail me out."
The day came, and I wasn't sure if I would be able to do it. I got up on the stage in front of 100 plus people started,
"How many of you have laughed with Profe?" Most people raised their hands.
"How many of you have seen Profe angry?" Lots of people raised their hands with a lot of giggling.
"How many of you have seen Profe cry?" A couple of hands went up.
Then I said, "It's going to happen today. I can already feel the lump in my throat." Before I had even finished the sentence I started weeping. I couldn't pull myself together. I could barely fumble out the words that I had to rehearse hundreds of times in my head. "All I need from you guys is two minutes....if I start crying, simply give me two minutes and just be with me....If I can't pull myself together another teacher will come up and finish."
I don't remember all the details of the speech, but here is what I do remember:
I know I told the painful story of losing my mom.
I remember talking about the miracles surrounding my mom's death.
I remember crying uncontrollably many times as the rest of the room was silent.
I remember going 20 minutes over my time and feeling guilty about that.
Lastly, I remember looking out over the crowd. I saw read eyes and faces. I saw heads buried in hands and furrowed eyebrows. It was dead silent...complete respect from 100 kids.
Teachers and students were all weeping with me. They had never even met my mom, but they all had similar stories, and they could connect with my pain.
I couldn't figure out where I was going with the talk. So after running way over my time I just ended it, and another teacher came up to bring some closure.
I was worried.
What had I just done? I just gave a tear filled talked that probably terrified the 5th graders and triggered anyone else who had suffered loss. It didn't really have a point, and I had gone way over my time.
However, after the speech I had so many people talk about how powerful the talk was. Person after person came up and offered a hug or a "thank you" with tears in their eyes. I knew something in the atmosphere had changed.
I'm forever grateful to the students and staff at FCA. There was REAL, DEEP HEALING in the room that day for me and for others.
Why was it powerful?
I am sure there is much more to this, but to simplify, we can use one word: Vulnerability.
If you want to connect with your students (or anyone for that matter) and influence their lives, you need to be vulnerable. You need to be real. You need to be authentic.
There are so many times that I am not vulnerable in the classroom. I simply put on my teacher face and plug through the lesson plan.
There is definitely times where that is necessary. However, the biggest impact I have made on my students were the times where I was vulnerable.
Student need the real you.
The real you is probably extremely messy. You're a mixed bag of joy, pain, hurt, and many other emotions.
So are your students.
Do you want to make a difference this next school year? Do you want to impact your students in the most powerful way possible? Do you want to connect with them on a deeper level? Do you want to experience healing?
Be the real you. Be vulnerable.
The following post is mainly for parents. Teachers: pass this info on.
This is going to sound crazy....
And just by saying this I'm running the risk of you closing my blog and throwing your laptop or smartphone across the room.
DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES DONE TO ELECTRONIC DEVICES DUE TO THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT.
So here it goes.... are you ready?
"I don't like summer break!"
The problems with Summer Break
The problem with Summer Break is that it is TOO LONG. Another teacher once told me that it would be better for kids to have school year round with 2-3 week breaks dispersed throughout the year. I hear some school system do this......pure genius!.
When students go through summer, they come out on the other side having forgotten not only what it is like to be in a classroom, but much of the material.
Then teachers spend at least a month catching students back up.
That's not even the worst of it. If you are a parent, you know that by week 2 (or possibly even hour 2) of summer break, your kids are already saying things like, "I'm bored!" or "What should I do?"
What a shame!
Students need a break (happiness actually improves productivity). However, in light of the long summer break used by the current popular school system, we should do something to keep students' minds active.
So here are a five websites you can show your child to keep his/her mind active during that long summer break.
Online Classes for Students
1. DuoLingo - I'm biased here because it is the language learning site that I use in my classroom. DuoLingo is a great language learning website and app. Your students will not only see the language, but the software also speaks the language. As always, I have had some students complain about Duolingo. At the same time however, I have had students become addicted to this fun and easy way to learn languages. (BTW- They are working on adding Klingon to the list).
2. Khan Academy - You can learn just about anything on Khan Academy. I enjoy this site because it maps out your learning path so that you can see where you have come from and where you need to go to reach your goal. This website used to be known for just math, but now offers all the the following:
3. Codecademy - Software developers are in high demand these days. If your child enjoys technology, have them try Codecademy. This step by step coding website makes it easy to learn the basics of computer programming. It is easy to follow and offers a kind of lab through each lesson. As your child codes, they get to see their code in action.
4. HippoCampus - This website gathers videos from outside resources and organizes them into subject material. Learn about Science, Math, and the Humanities from middle school level to college level.
5. TED.com - This is a website that I still use to sharpen my skills as a teacher. Although some of the humor is adult humor (you'll need to monitor) , TED talks will not only teach students about interesting concepts, but will also give them examples of how to publicly speak. You could watch these with your child and discuss the topics afterwards. Have your student give their own "TED talk" at the end of the summer.
Try it out!
So whether your are a summer enthusiast, or agree with me that the break is too long, the above websites can keep your child sharp through summer.
Pick one, try it out, and observe the difference it makes when they are ready to re-enter the school year.
How about you? What do you do to keep your child busy through the summer?
Take a breath of relief! Summer is here!
The school year is behind you, and now you are free FOREVER! ..... Or at least that is how everyone feels.
As a student, I remember loving summer and feeling completely free and independent. Summer meant sleeping in, going on vacation, goofing off with friends, and simply being lazy. I didn't have a worry in the world. Except for one little nagging thought:
"I have some reading to do this summer. But I have worked so hard during the school year. I deserve a break. I'll start later."
Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into a month. About halfway through July I would start to think, "I should probably consider thinking about maybe starting my summer reading."
Then all of the sudden it would be August, and I would still have nothing done. I would either speed read (which was more like skip-reading) or give up all together and resort to sparknotes.com. Either way, I would suffer and stress out as I would try to finish the summer reports before school. That's not exactly the best way to end an summer break and re-enter the school year.
At one point, I just surrendered to the lie that I hated reading.
Years later I rediscovered reading in a whole new light and haven't stopped since. I learned that I was going about reading all wrong.
Haven't we all been there?
Teachers, you know what I am talking about. You struggled with summer reading too! None of us were the perfect little students that we sometimes expect our students to be.
I feel like some teachers simply punish their students with summer reading assignments to get even (guilty as charged....sorry Spanish III).
Instead of working against our students, let's help them out. Instead of hoping they'll show up to school in two months ready to learn, let's educate them on how to read.
Here are some tips to pass along to your students to absolutely kill summer reading.
How to absolutely kill your summer reading
1. Start now: The hardest part about reading is getting started. Start reading your book now (now being the end of May) before procrastination sets in. Who knows? You might even finish early and enjoy your summer!
2. Cognitively connect with the story: Instead of reading just to finish an assignment, try intentionally connecting with the story. Imagine yourself as one of the characters. Ask yourself what you can learn from the story. Draw a picture of one of the scenes. If you don't try to connect with the story, you will suffer all the way through the book. Being intentional about connecting strengthens the neural pathways that will later help you remember the information!
3. If the book is too slow, go the electronic route: I use this method to speed read through books. If the book is too slow and you can't take it anymore, buy the audiobook and the ebook version. Listen to the audiobook while doing other tasks (example: driving). If you have a packet of questions to answer or a report to write, the ebook copy has a search option which will help you find the information you are looking for.
4. Take notes as you go: Wether you use an audiobook, an ebook, or a hard copy, always take notes of key people, places, and events. Being intentional about note taking will strengthen memory recall and make writing those reports easier.
5. The best solution: The best solution to finish summer reading is to actually read in a group. Read the book out loud. Discuss and take notes. Have fun as you read! Remember, happiness increases productivity.
6. The supplement: I know that it is hard to give up on old habits, so go ahead and use sparknotes.com. But use it as a supplement to reading, not as a replacement.
Teaching your students HOW to read won't just change their summer, it will change their life! I'll leave you with the following quote:
“Tell me how you read and I'll tell you who you are.” - Martin Heidegger
I am not the best student. Here's an example:
I was sitting in a classroom in Mexico at 6:30am stressed out of of my mind. The dark classroom, the short, middle aged man who was obviously passionate about his topic, but not passionate enough to stand up, and the feeling that I was wasting my time where all too much for me to handle. I started doing what I have done since grade school when I am stressed and stuck. I started messing with my hair and wriggling in my chair.
I was counting how many more years I would have to put myself through this torture.
I guess it was notable on my face (and probably my hair) because after class my friends where inquiring about what was wrong. I explained how I couldn't believe I had 5 more years of school left. The boredom was too much for me to handle. I didn't know how to handle boredom in the classroom, and so eventually I dropped out of school.
As far as boredom goes, not much has changed since then.
Facing my nemesis again:
This past weekend I went to a conference for my current job. I was looking forward to the conference since I knew there would be many talented public speakers there. I also knew that my weakness is sitting still and paying attention. The irony that I am now a teacher never ceases to amuse me.
I decided that I would take a notebook and observe the public speakers. I will be teaching public speaking this next school year and thought I could at least gather some content for the class.
The accidental discovery:
Well, I was able to take notes, but not the notes that I thought that I would take.
I started taking notes on the public speakers, but found myself becoming more and more bored. I should have been fine! The speakers where engaging and funny, but after about 30 minutes, I couldn't pay attention.
So I decided to switch my strategy and learn a way to take notes and stay engaged.
I was skeptical. I have tried for years to pay attention in a classroom setting and have failed multiple times.
However, to my surprise, I learned a lot of tricks that actually helped me pay attention!
Here are some things that helped me take notes at this conference:
4 tips to take notes and pay attention
1. Don't follow the lines. I read Switch on your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf. In the book, Dr. Leaf suggests journaling in a notebook without lines. The idea is that your brain doesn't necessarily think in lines. It thinks in pictures, textures, sounds, word associations and more. We shouldn't limit ourselves to the lines on our paper. Although there were lines in my notebook I didn't use them all the time and found that helped.
2. Use Metacog: Again, as Dr. Leaf mentioned in her book, group ideas together. She calls it "Metacog" in her book. It is a way to take notes using a central ideas, lines, pictures, and color. I have seen it used in schools before as bubble notes. For me, the details of the method where not important, it was the lines and arrows that I used to group ideas that helped me connect ideas. Write a central idea and from there draw connecting branches to other ideas. To see an example click here.
3. Write down your rabbit trails: One of the reasons that I have trouble focusing is that my mind will suddenly start thinking of something else. Usually what I am thinking of is not even related to the topic. Then I start paying attention to that thought instead of what the speaker is saying or I focus on resisting the thought so much that my fight distracts me from the speaker (I'm complicated....I know).
This time, I decided to pay attention to those thoughts. Even if the thought wasn't necessarily on topic, if there was something that was on my mind, I wrote it down. It was amazing to see how having documented that thought helped me bring closure to it, and I was able to focus again on the speaker
4. Doodle: I am not sure if this will work for everyone, but doodling helps me to focus. I am an auditory learner, so I can pay attention by just listening, but my mind also has to be doing other things. For example, I can't just sit and listen to an audio book. I have to be doing something while listening like mowing the lawn, washing dishes, or driving. So this time I decided to doodle. Again, I doodled whatever was on my mind at the time. Here are some pictures of my doodles. As I doodled I wrote down important points that the speakers said, and it worked. The doodling helped me stay engaged!
There is hope!
It's no exaggeration when I say that my battle with attention has been going on for over 20 years. However, I was extremely encouraged after this weekend. I finally found a method to help me focus that actually worked.
I know that us as teachers, students, or parents either struggle with focus or know someone who does. Tell them to try some of the above methods. If it can help me, it can help them!
What about you? What do you use to help you focus?
When I was a student, the classroom was my worst nightmare. Although I was responsible and made good grades, I could not focus at all in school. I spent much of my time thinking:
"How many more years will it take for me to be done with school forever?" or "How many bricks are there on the classroom wall?"
The struggle is still real.
Not much has changed since grade school. I am tough to entertain.
Recently, I found myself having flashbacks to school days.
I was listening to a talented public speaker, and I was bored. The speaker was obviously experienced. He seemed confident on the stage and his material was important material. His gestures and poise where even those of a seasoned speaker.
However, I remember seeing one of the PowerPoint slides and seeing a list of about seven items and thinking, "Oh gosh, when is this going to end?"
And then it hit me. The person speaking wasn't really using his gift of teaching, he was simply explaining.
I started thinking about my own teaching methods and realized that I often fall into a similar trap. I become so tired from teaching that I slowly sink into a mode where I simply explain.
Explaining is different than teaching. Explaining is putting ideas into words in a way that I understand the material. If I feel I haven't been clear enough, I will use more words to explain further.
Teaching, however, is more than words. It's communicating the material through movement, voice, and body language in multiple ways so that many understand.
In other words, explaining = boring. Teaching = exciting.
Here are some tips to stop explaining and start teaching:
1. Tell stories - My forth grade teacher was crazy (in a good way). I remember one day she marched into the classroom and told everyone to fall on the floor. After everyone was on the ground giggling, she proudly announced that it was the first day of Fall. Everyone rolled their eyes, but for me it was just another normal day in her class.
The best part of her class was when she would read to us. I forget the names of the books she was reading, but they were pretty large books that under normal circumstances I wouldn't read on my own. Her story telling method was full of changing voices and volumes, large hand gestures, and telling facial expressions. She had us completely hooked.
She also had cruel yet amazing trick. She also would stop at the most suspenseful parts of the story. The entire class would loudly beg her to keep reading!
WE WERE BEGGING FOR MORE EDUCATION!
Use stories. It works.
2. Use a visual aid - Visual aids (even the ones where you feel it is a stretch) help to keep the class engaged. It gives something for the students to visually connect with and breaks up long lectures.
To be honest, even if you are using an imaginary prop, this concept works.
I was recently watching Jim Gaffigan on Netflix, and I couldn't stop laughing. Apart from being thoroughly entertained by his quick whit, I realized that he was using a lot of imaginary props. There was nothing there, but my mind created the prop and made me connect to the story even more.
3. Be dynamic - As mentioned before with my forth grade teacher, being a story teller and a dynamic speaker requires some changes in the presentation of material. Change up your facial expressions. Change the volume and tone of your voice.
Even change where you stand.
This topic is for a different post, but I move all over the classroom and my students love it. By "move" I mean, run, walk, or even climb on desks.
Don't tell my boss, but I occasionally climb on cabinets as well.
4. Get the class involved - In my classes last year, I rapped.
I never considered myself much of a rapper and typically listen to soft music. However, my students loved it so much, they started rapping too.
I knew I was making real progress when the students starting asking me, "Profe, what's your rapper name?"
Class involvement is crucial for keeping an audience engaged. All of the sudden, they have to actively participate in their own education. You can use activities, songs, call and response, or simply ask for the class' opinion. Don't steal the show. Get them involved!
Don't Explain. Just Teach.
Don't fall into the slumber of explaining. It not only will drain the students' energy, but will also drain yours. Be dynamic, tell stories, be active... rap if you have to.
How do you teach in your classroom in a way that is more than explaining?
I sat down at my computer to type yesterday and nothing was coming out. I was stuck...frozen....NO IDEAS! I was in Mayday Mode and didn't even realize it.
Actually that "no ideas" piece of the picture was what I perceived at first, but it was a lie. I had tons of ideas, but non of them were good enough. I was procrastinating and honestly fearful. I was scared of failure.
What's really happening:
It took a lot of self analysis to figure out what was going on.
Then it hit me....
People have started reading this blog, and suddenly I started to procrastinate. I was feeling a pressure to perform.
It wasn't obvious, but I finally realized my fear could be summed up in one question: "What if I'm not good enough for people to accept me?"
For me, not being accepted is FAILURE.
Being a recovering perfectionist, I hate failure. It is not an in your face feeling either. It is extremely subtle. I find myself procrastinating mostly on tasks simply because I am nervous about messing them up. What if my outcome is not perfect. What if I fail?
Then, I self sabotage. I simply procrastinate until it is too late to recover. I basically give up, and my worry becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
The cycle is the following: Worry about failure -> Procrastinate / Postpone -> Prophecy fulfilled.
It's not just me.
Many of our students are going through the same cycle right now as we speak. Classes are coming to a close and exams are looming in the near future. This is the time of year that I would start to hear things like "Profe, I'm going to fail" and "I can never do that."
I used to write it off as pure laziness...an excuse not to study. Now I have changed my opinion. It is the fear of failure cycle kicking in, and if we don't help our students shift their mindset, it will become that self fulfilling prophecy.
Here are a 5 ways to deal with failure in the classroom.
They all have to do with mindset. Since mindset is made of habit of thought and neural pathways, it will take practice and intentionality to change. It would be wise to actually teach our students these concepts.
1. Recognize your emotion behind failure. The first step to changing your mindset on any issue is to recognize how you think and feel about the issue. Have your students sit down with a piece of paper and a pen. Have them close their eyes and imagine what it would be like to receive an important test or an exam with the letter "F" written in big bold red ink on the top. Have them write down how they would feel if they received that. Then talk about it. Talking about feelings helps with emotional processing and releases fear's power over us. Fear will loose its punch when we talk about it.
2. Change your idea of failure. Another step in this process is to change your idea about what failure is. I don't remember who said this quote, but it is a good one: "You don't really fail until you give up." Until you stop and make failure the final destination, failure simply becomes a stepping stone to success. Thomas Edison seemed like a pretty smart guy, and this is what he had to say about failure:
“When I have finally decided that a result is worth getting, I go ahead on it and make trial after trial until it comes.”
In other words, Edison failed and failed until he got the result he wanted.
Failure is not the destination, it is the by product of necessary risk to reach your wanted outcome.
That last one was my quote :) .
Talk about this concept with your students. We can't condemn them for bad grades. We should really only talk to them about what they learned in the process and what they will do differently next time. After a graded assignment, have the students write down what they learned in the process and what action they will take for the next assignment.
3. Change your self talk. We self talk more than people actually talk to us. We make assumptions about what others are thinking and say, but these assumptions are fantasy. We talk to ourselves constantly about what we believe is reality, when really, reality is outside of our thoughts (ouch....brain explosion).
Instead of telling yourself, "I'm going to fail," be kind to yourself. Have a class dedicated to encouragement. Have a student stand in the front of the room and have others give encouragement about what they experience with that student. Then have the student declare one encouraging statement about themselves to the class (example: "I am super intelligent!"). You will be amazed about how your student will OWN what they say after they declare it to the class. This is a step to changing self talk.
4. Be - Do - Have. I'm opening up a can of worms here, but actions don't lead to identity. You are created a certain way and from that identity you act. To live life fully, we must decide and discover who we are, act accordingly, and reap the results. Have a classroom discussion about living from identity. If you aren't defined by your actions, can you ever really fail?
5. Run towards it, not from it. Lastly, as stated before, failure is the byproduct of necessary risk. We must take risks if we want to succeed. Running towards actions that come with the risk of failure is the only way to truly reach successful outcomes. Reassure your students that their identity is not based on their classroom outcomes. They can feel free to fail.
Although this might sound counterintuitive and some students make take it as an excuse to do nothing. It is worth releasing the pressure from all the students who are being held back by fear.
So, take the time to teach your students about failure.
While your at it, record your lesson and send me a copy so I can remind myself to wake up everyday and write again.
Fight. Flight. or Freeze.
Your brain goes to one of those when your heart is racing, your palms are sweaty, and your are under stress.
Although those reactions are great for protection against predators (especially the fight or flight....freeze not so much), it is a horrible way to think rationally.
Think of "fight, flight or freeze" as "Mayday Mode." The plane is going down and you are frantically looking for the parachute. You are no longer listening to flight command and have abandoned the control panel. There is nothing else except survival.
"Mayday Mode" is meant to help you survive, but as a society, we have learned to live with chronic stress. That means many of us live in Mayday Mode.
There are ways to calm anxiety. Some people take medication and others take a walk. But what if you are stuck? What if you are not allowed to get out of your chair and you are in a room full of people who might stare at you if you start acting weird?
What if you are a stressed high school student who feels trapped and is then given a piece of paper requiring you to remember everything you have learned from the past 3 weeks?
If you are in Mayday Mode, you don't stand a chance.
The way out.
There are many ways to get out of Mayday Mode, but there is one way that is easy to do in the classroom and is easy to teach students.
Its' called: 4-7-8 Breathing
What is 4-7-8 breathing?
Made famous by Dr. Weil. 4-7-8 breathing is a breathing technique used to lower anxiety and actually fall asleep quickly. Although you don't want sleepy students in the classroom, you do want calm, rational thinkers. Here is how it works.
Step 1: Breathe in through nose for 4 seconds
Step 2: Hold breath for 7 seconds
Step 3: Breathe out audible making a whooshing sound for 8 seconds
Step 4: Repeat 3 more times
How does 4-7-8 help to get you out of Mayday Mode?
Breathing is an involuntary and voluntary response all in one. You don't have to think to breathe. Your body does it automatically. Your breathing changes based on activity and emotions automatically. The odd thing is that there is also voluntary breathing. You can hold your breath or slow it down, and you can use this to your advantage.
By calming your breathing down, you override your adrenal system. When you take control of your adrenal system and slow it down, you mind shifts back from Mayday Mode to rational thinking.
When you think rationally, it is easier to observe your surroundings, process information, and recall memories.
Here is how you can apply 4-7-8 to the classroom:
1. Teachers, we can use this to calm ourselves down. Next time the class is out of control, say, "Everyone heads down!" and have everyone put their heads on their desks. Walk around silently and deep breathe. Don't worry about being awkward. Awkward silence is a great way to gain back control in the classroom. Again, use 4-7-8 breathing, come out of Mayday Mode, and think rationally. Then confront the issue.
2. Teachers can do the breathing with the class. If you see your students are under a lot of stress or have high anxious energy, have them calm down by practicing 4-7-8 breathing as a class. Tell them the benefits and show them that it is a tool they can use.
3. Use it before a test. Have the students use this technique before a test so that they can recall information better.
4. Use it to switch from an something active to something serious. If you have a fun activity that requires a lot of movement, and then need to switch to an activity that is more calm or serious, use 4-7-8 as your transition. Don't play a game with students or watch a funny video and then expect them to instantly be ready for a 20 minute lecture.
What other applications for 4-7-8 do you see? What methods do you use to bring your students out of Mayday Mode?
Can you smell summer yet?
I can guarantee that if you are in Education, you have been smelling summer since Spring Break.
Your students can smell it too. They are obsessed with getting out of the confines of classroom walls and really live.....and by really live, I mean waste hours upon hours on their coach with their phones or in front of their latest gaming system (at least that's what I used to do with my N64).
There is only one things standing if everyone's way...
I remember being surprised at how many of my students did not know how to study for exams. After doing a quick survey, I found that most of the students were cramming an hour or two the night before.
That was it!
If your students are going to go down that road, it will not work. Your brain will not store all of the information correctly that quickly. Unless your student has photographic memory (and trust me, there are some that do and they will let you know it!), they will do poorly on the exam if they only study for 1-2 hours.
Your students need your help.
Here are some things that you can tell your students to do to prepare for exams.
Exam study tips for students
1. Start studying weeks in advance. When we sleep, our brains organize information. The more REM periods of sleep we have between studying and the test, the easier it will be to recall the information (given that we reinforce the neuropathways by reintroducing ourselves to the information daily).
Have you ever practiced hard at something one day with no success and then come back the next day and kill it on the first try?
This science was made ridiculously clear to me when I played drums for church. I remember at practice on Friday nights not being able to get certain rhythms down that my music director wanted me to hit. Then I would come back on Sunday and nail it.
That is due to the brains amazing way of organizing information in your sleep!
2. Choose study buddies. Happiness leads us to success, not the other way around (thanks Sean Achor). It seems like it would be counterintuitive to study with friends, but since social interaction is one of the most powerful forces behind happiness, it is imperative to study with people.
However, you must choose wisely. I remember talking with two students who took my advice and studied with a group of three. The third person ended up distracting the group instead of contributing, and they all suffered on the exam. Tell your students to choose people who is as dedicated as they are.
3. Push a 3-4 hour study session the night before. Meet your group at a designated place (preferably distraction free) and study for 30 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. Do this for about 3-4 hours. This is a fair price to pay for a stress free exam. Be sure to give yourself rest. Reward yourselves for good study sessions by saying things like "If we study for 20 minutes, then we can grab a snack."
Avoid time sucks during break time. Video games and Facebook are fun. However, be aware of their power to suck time.
4. Offer to teach the group. One of the best ways to learn something is to put it into your own words. If you want to really learn the material, offer to teach the group what you know or quiz them from the book. This not only helps the group by having a leader, but will help you process the information, verbalize it, and retain it.
5. Get a good night sleep before hand and eat a good breakfast. You don't want to take an exam on an empty stomach. Blood sugar levels affect your ability to think clearly and recall information. Shoot for complex carbs instead of a snickers bar. Read more about that here.
Also, get a good 8 hours of sleep the night before.
It wouldn't be a bad idea to actually take a class and teach these materials to your students. Don't assume they know how to study. Even if they have learned some of this before, it is always good to reinforce.
And remember teachers, the better your students do on the exam, the less painful it will be to grade them! ;)
What would you add to the list? How do you tell your students to study?
So, I found out that next year I will be teaching a Public Speaking course (Yeah...the subject that is feared greater than death!). I have no book for the course. In fact, the only frame of reference that I have is the Public Speaking class that I took in high school and the one I took in college (which was so horrifying that I have blocked it from my memory).
However, I DO love public speaking and have ample experience.
So once I found out that I would be teaching that class, I couldn't stop the ideas. I knew that I needed to start planning the class.
To my surprise, I was able to finish planning the outline of the entire semester in a matter of a few hours. I also realized in the process that after years of teaching, I had unintentionally come up with a process for creating classes fast.
So if you have to create a course quickly, here is the process I use:
Step 1: Figure out how many weeks your course will last. I knew that the public speaking course was going to be about 18 weeks long.
Step 2: Divide the total course into smaller sections. Spread out the topics through the weeks. With the public speaking class, I am going to tackle a different topic every week, so I numbered the weeks and started filling in the topics I wanted to cover. At this point, I didn't care too much about the order.
Step 3: Arrange your topics in a logical order. After enough ideas where down, I was able to arrange them in an order that I wanted.
Step 4: Check the topics. After you have your completed list of topics in the order that you want, make sure that they reach the goals that you want to accomplish in the class. Also make sure the class flows well from one topic to the next. Tweak accordingly.
Step 5: Theme days. For me it helps me to plan the week into theme days. Plan one main activity for each day and try to do a similar activity every week on the same day. For example in the speech class its the following:
Mondays: Watch a video of a public speaker and analyze.
Tuesdays: Be assigned a topic and discuss an area to of focus. Profe gives a small lesson.
Wednesday: Practice your speech in front of a small group. Receive feedback.
Thursday: student presentations
Friday: student presentations
This is obviously super simplified, but it will help in future steps.
Step 6: Now you take each class period and lesson plan using a template. Honestly I still have to do this step, but because I already have my themed days from step 5, this part will not be difficult. My lesson plan template include the following:
- Title of Lesson
- Objectives- What do I want the student to be able to do, know, or communicate by the end of the lesson
- Preparation needed before hand
- Presentation of Information
- Student Practice - Students are given a structured time to practice the topic
- Student Produce - Students are asked to produce an exmaple of the material learned.
Step 7: Document! Document! Document! Organize your lesson plans in folders by weeks. I do this electronically in cloud storage so I never loose my lesson plans, but you will have your own system.
Step 8: Improve the class over time. As you come up with new ideas or teach a lesson and want to improve it, go back and adjust your lesson plans.
Given, this class went so quickly for me because the students will be doing a lot of teaching, which means less lesson planning for me. However, the concepts are still the same and this is the process I will be using for other classes that I will teach next year.
What do you do differently? What steps would you add?