Being Human

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I was talking with a colleague yesterday about how we find articles discussing the best ways to improve this or that social inequity in education. The research describes such artificial constructs and we were both left irritated at the lack of attention to being human. Personally, and lacking research to back this, you can employ all the constructs you want but you cannot achieve equity if people are not treated well. The secretary who smiles at everyone entering the school does more for equity than the contract with the interpreter.

Go ahead…walk into a school where you are ignored or even scowled at….see if you even want to ask about services.

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GLSEN Study – Unique Challenges Faced by Rural LGBTQ Youth

GLSEN Study Reveals Unique Challenges Faced By Rural LGBT Youth

A new studyfrom the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) provides a novel look into the experience of LGBT youth who live in rural areas and don’t access to the same support structures as those in urban or suburban areas. This isolation leads to heightened incidents of student victimization and an unsafe school climate, which in turn negatively impact students’ academic performance and aspirations for post-secondary education.

Findings based on responses from rural LGBT students:

  • Victimization based on sexual orientation at school: 87 percent reported being verbally harassed, 45 percent reported being physically harassed, and 22 percent reported being physically assaulted.
  • Victimization based on gender expression at school: 68 percent reported being verbally harassed, 31 percent reported being physically harassed, and 16 percent reported being physically assaulted.
  • Anti-gay language at school: 91 percent heard “gay” used in a negative way, and 79 percent heard other homophobic remarks (“dyke,” “faggot,” etc.) used frequently or often.
  • Lack of school intervention: Only 13 percent reported that school personnel intervened when they heard homophobic language, and only 11 percent reported similar intervention for negative remarks about gender expression.
  • Lack of peer support: Half as many rural students (27 percent) reported having a gay-straight alliance compared to suburban (55 percent) and urban (53 percent) students.
  • Lack of visibility: Half as many rural students (11 percent) reported having an LGBT-inclusive curriculum, compared to suburban (18 percent) and urban (20 percent) students.

Compared to suburban and urban LGBT students, those living in rural areas felt less safe at school, had less supportive administrators, had less supportive peers, and were less likely to have policies protecting sexual orientation and gender expression.

The new report is based on the data GLSEN originally presented in September, which found troubling rates of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment nationwide. The very policies that would help protect students with anti-bullying programs and education are opposed by conservatives based on “religious liberty” grounds. In states like Michigan and Tennessee, the ruling Republican majorities have even tried to pass “license to bully” bills guaranteeing a place for anti-LGBT harassment in schools.

This in comparison to another article where abuses continue but with supports things improve in schools.

Teaching at Portland’s Dart Program – Over

Students Sitting in Class

I grabbed this Creative Commons Licensed image as it cracked me up. The teacher or student at the front of the room appears to be tied up. Sometimes I wondered if my students, whom I did not have permission to photograph, thus the CC image, considered tying me up at any point. I hope not.

 

The Last Days of School – Summer at Least

Today was my last day at Portland Public’s DART program. Usually I try to post resources and other things for teachers but this summer was a bit rough and I find myself feeling extremely reflective. Normally I would avoid a reflective post so I apologize to all those who dislike overly meta-cognitive educator thoughts.

This summer provided a huge challenge. Portland’s DART program serves students who for one reason or another do not live with their family and instead reside within a residential program of some form or other. Basically this means I spent time working with kids who’s behaviors do not fit within the norm that a teacher might expect at a regular school.

Other educators I spoke with felt that teaching during summer “vacation” was crazy enough but that to teach students with such a high level of need would burn me out of teaching. Instead this experience revitalized and recalibrated my enthusiasm for teaching. When I first began working with students after finishing my undergraduate degree I worked with students experiencing these same types of struggles in New York. Having a chance to work with students like this again re-motivated me and helped me examine my role during the school year.

This last year I worked for a virtual school. I worked hard to connect with students at this school and developed some really positive relationships where I was able to guide students to some extraordinary outcomes. At Portland’s DART program I made those same connections but they happened so much quicker and something about the face to face environment fed my excitement for teaching so much more than the online environment. Due to this I decided to leave my position with the online school.

Right now I am not sure whether I committed career suicide or not. Schools are facing continued budgeting issues, few are hiring and applicant numbers seem huge! Also I seem to have a reputation as a great online teacher. This is true of course – with no modesty whatsoever I can say that I bring personality and draw a strong sense of community among my online students. I also bring these same qualities to the brick and mortar classroom and refuse to allow myself to develop the reputation as “that online teacher” when I can do both.

 

Things I would love to do in a regular classroom:

  • Help students view issues and ideas from many points of view.
  • Share my passion for learning and help students respect themselves, the learning environment, and each other.
  • Encourage students to accept their thoughts and ideas as unique attributes that make our learning community stronger rather than rejecting their personal potential.
  • Explore our roles as citizens today in this digital era and our future in whatever form that may take.
  • Discover the greatness each student possesses and help them care for and forgive themselves and others when they are not as great as they can be.
Of course I worked to accomplish these things in the online environment with varied success as well :)

Today, at the end of the school day, I distributed letters to each of my students where I identified what I felt was their strongest talents or skills. As part of that process I realized that I was able to delve more deeply and learn more about my students than I was able to with online learning. That personalization really makes a huge difference in my ability to assess student growth – not the academic growth which is important for planning curriculum – their actual development as a person with individual needs and cares. This makes a huge difference to me as the teacher and whether I feel positive about my teaching experience or not.

Both learning environments offer a lot for teaching and learning. I think some of the blended and flipped classroom models take advantage of the positives from both and I hope to have the opportunity to practice them as I did during my student teaching and community college teaching years.

Classroom Management Series: Use Humor to Diffuse a Conflict

Kids building a fantastic contraption.

Working with students we occasionally encounter defensiveness for one reason or another. Perhaps they did not realize that their behavior was disruptive and now they are denying their involvement. Maybe they think the failed a quiz. If a teacher was unwise enough (or tired – honestly this is the only time it happens to me) to become involved in a power struggle with a student this sort of deconstructive behavior can set in.

What do we do?

First off we avoid the aforementioned power struggle. The discussions of who is right and in control does nothing to help and focus students on their learning. Sometimes we can talk to students privately but with larger and larger class sizes and more requirements for out time this can sometimes be prohibitive. Often we send the student to the hall to gain some privacy but that action has its own onus. I always try to be ready to apologize – sometimes I inadvertently wrong or offend a student. Often times other students provoke the incident and I can impose consequences for uncivilized behavior on them which results in lowered defensiveness in the student I am working with. All these work well including planned ignoring but my favorite – the silver bullet to tense stressfull situations in my class room – is humor.

 

Intervening Through Humor

Using humor gives the teacher a powerful and positive tool to change disruptive behaviors. Getting a student (or class) to laugh during a tense situation breaks the cycle of the behavior and helps reset the stage of the classroom as a safe, fun place to learn. My one caveat for using humor as an intervention is that it should NEVER be directed at a student. Never use humor at the expense of a student. This not only fails to build a positive climate and destroys any chance of an effective intervention – using humor at a students expense  means the teacher bullied that student. The biggest bully in a classroom could easily become the teacher.

How does humor work? I interviewed a colleague, Mrs Sarha, who use humor to diffuse almost all ill-behavior in her classroom. Each use built upon other structures for managing her classroom.

She, like many teachers, uses a sound prompt to get her students attention. In her case she own a beautifully cartoonish bell in the shape of a turtle. She calls her bell Myrtle the Turtle. Early in the year she starts her high school students off by explaining to them that they must “Respect the Turtle!” What results from this is a bit of hilarity and anytime someone goes off task during a discussion another classmate with yell out, “Hey! Respect the turtle.” By turning her attention prompt into something entertaining and easily remembered she removed the focus from herself as the person desiring respect and, through Myrtle, turned the focus back onto the learning regardless of the source for an activity or information.

She also deals with disruptive student behavior in an entertaining fashion. Every teacher has a pet peeve. Sometimes it is the tapping of a pencil during discussion (something that immediately tells me I have a kinesthetic or  possibly auditory learner in the room) or something else that disrupts the teacher. Mrs Sarha had a screamer this year. Yes – a student who felt compelled to scream. To distract from the tension that built due to these behaviors she announced one day that, “Each scream means a multiple choice questions becomes an essay question.” By this time she had already established a caring environment and impressed upon her students that it was important that they all help each other overcome difficulties in class. They also knew her well enough to realize that she was unlikely to carry out this threat. What it did was show that the behavior was not acceptable and induced the entire classroom – including the screamer – to laugh. Occasionally the screamer will still blurt out but now the class groans and someone says, “Not another essay question.”

She also has a stock of directional phrases she uses that keep directions light-hearted but serious:

“Be nice or leave.”

“Respect the turtle.”

“Make a mess – clean it up.” – she uses this when feelings are hurt as well. Making a mess of someone’s feelings requires clean up as well.

Some of what she does may seem like sarcasm and she admits that she had a difficult time with that at first. Sarcasm does not help; especially if students do not understand the intent. I find that students respond best when I use humor where I make fun of my own actions or perform a bit of physical humor.

How do you intervene through humor? Feel free to comment.

Bouncing: aka Kids on Errands

Sometimes called “Anti-septic Bouncing” and at other times called guided environment change – this technique serves me well in both brick and mortar and virtual environments.

Sometimes students just need a break. Learning, especially when you are pushing past your comfort zone like students do everyday in school, can be intense. This stress manifests in student behaviors that are often undesirable. Sending a student on an errand effectively gives them a chance to take a constructive break and diffuse their tension.

In a traditional school I use this regularly though it requires a bit of preparation in some schools and a bit of cooperation from other people in the building. At one school I worked out a deal with the librarian. Anytime I sent a student to her on an “errand” with a blue sticky note she knew the student needed a break and to give them something simple to do for five minutes. Sometimes she would just have them sit at the counter and talk with her. It really did not matter – the point was for the student to be away from a stressful situation.

In a virtual school this is a bit simpler with the exception that students have a harder time leaving the environment of their stressor since it is usually their own home. In this case I try to design an education related need for them to be outside. “Instead of writing this essay – go outside and write your observations of the clouds,” only works during a weather unit or if I have a way to tie the clouds into a creative writing assignment. Still my students are getting used to me telling them that they need to go for a walk before taking a quiz.

Why is this an intervention?

Students typically do not know how to read their own emotional state. Using this fairly unrestrictive intervention proactively helps them tune into their own processes and gives them time to reflect on learning without dwelling on the stress of a learning situation. Definitely my favorite intervention!

Classroom Management

I spent some time thinking about the things I use most in my classroom. Due to my interests I immediately think of technology related tools and interactive virtual experiments but these are not really the things I use most. Most often I employ sneaky psychological tricks that teachers call collectively “Classroom Management.”

Once I had this realization I decided to start a weekly post on one new technique. This will replace the outdated “Student Teaching” section. Below I have outlined the basic interventions I plan to share. If one of these really appeals to you or you find it interesting please comment and share your story!

Over-arching Themes:

  • Care for students
  • Hold high expectations
  • Believe in students’ potential
  • Relate interventions to school policies and procedures

Professional Behavior

  • Show and share your enthusiasm
  • Feign emotions
  • Ask questions
  • Request a third party to intervene
  • Share learning
  • Give of yourself
  • Cooperate

Active Verbal and non-Verbal Interventions:

  • Intervene through humor
  • Removal from a situation (Read the Post)
  • Use of distraction
  • Appealing directly
  • Explain behavior as a choice
  • Ask students questions

Planning

  • Precent avoidable situations
  • Pre-plan for non-avoidable behavior
  • Set goals
  • State assignments as objectives
  • Provide specific directions and tasks
  • Plan for transitions

Environment

  • Create a safe, stable space
  • Consistent placement of assignments and student tools
  • Work for cooperation rather than competition
  • Facilitate active learning over textbook or lecture learning
  • Proximity control
  • Assign seating

Family and Community

  • Respect the family a a support group
  • Honor the family as the main disseminator of culture
  • Contact guardians frequently

First Impressions

Create Boundaries

  • Set clear rules and consequences (positive and negative)
  • Spend the first week establishing discipline, proceedures, and routines
  • Use logical consequences
I plan to keep adding as I write this weekly post. Next week I will start with my favorite – sending a student on an errand.