Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Choosing the Meaning That Serves You

Sticky note psychology. It works.

To continue on with things I've been learning from Tony Robbins...this.

I went to work one morning last week, sat down at my desk to figure out what I was doing that day, and thought about behavior issues and how I was going to address them. [Some examples of my students' behaviors at the moment: playing on phones and/or having headphones or earbuds in when they are supposed to be listening, watching, or working on something; asking to leave my room (bathroom, etc.) and then staying gone for 15 minutes; sitting there doing nothing when they are supposed to be working on a written assignment.]

I asked myself, How am I going to deal with these behaviors today?

All of a sudden, the obvious answer came to me, forcefully.

"It's just the meaning you attach to it." ("It" = the behavior.)

I wrote that down on a sticky note so I could see it all day. It wasn't my original idea--Tony Robbins has a teaching about life and business mastery where he says that we are all engaging in three behaviors, all the time: 1) focusing on something, 2) assigning meaning to it, and 3) deciding what to do about it. I've heard him discuss this same concept in various YouTube videos over the past few weeks, and I guess it was time for me to really understand how to apply it.

What Does This Mean?

Me assigning meaning to the behavior meant the ball was in my court, because I have control over how I choose to interpret the classroom behaviors I observe.

Some students play on their phones a lot, and some of them keep doing it even after I've asked them to put their phone away. Meaning? I'm a terrible teacher? They don't respect me? They aren't interested in my class? My class is a boring, unimportant task they are forced to endure?

If it's just the meaning I attach to it, then I can choose the meaning I attach. All right. Then I will choose a meaning that serves me. I wrote that down on the sticky note.

Choosing a Meaning That Serves Me

If I'm choosing a meaning that serves my goal of keeping my positive energy flowing as I'm teaching, I need to choose well. I decided to attach this meaning to to behavior of them playing on their phones during the lesson:

Phones and the worlds within them are fun and interesting, and they give you a brain/energy break from the mundane, long school day. You get attention from friends, you get entertained, and you can relax and just enjoy yourself. Even I feel this way about my phone, so I can understand the addiction. I want to play on my phone too. Occasionally I check my phone during long meetings and trainings, when I should be engaged instead. It doesn't mean the presenter is terrible or I don't value the learning or disrespect the person leading the meeting.

Therefore, assuming that the 4 or 5 students per class that I have to remind to put up their phones pretty much daily, sometimes two or three times per class each, are being disrespectful, hate my class, and hate me, is almost guaranteed to be false.

Case in point: one girl that I have to constantly ask to put up her phone, and who rolls her eyes when I do so, also cheerfully and eagerly greets me first when I pass her in the hallway or see her in the commons between classes.

Which brings up a follow-up meaning I can choose concerning phones: students who roll their eyes or scowl when I ask them to put up their phones do not necessarily hate me. They just haven't been taught or don't care to hide their in-the-moment emotions at being corrected or caught doing something off-task.

I encourage you to experiment with these concepts in class:
  1. Realize that how behavior affects you is simply a product of the meaning you attach to it.
  2. Understand that YOU choose the meaning.
  3. Choose a meaning that serves you in your goals. Set aside your judgment of whether what they are doing is "right" or "wrong," for your own sake.
And please let me know how it goes! Teaching is always a journey of trial and error, and we're all in this together. :-)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Power of Noticing

This little note completely changed my perspective.

I'll be honest with you guys, when this school year started I was already exhausted from the two weeks of training plus the summer's farm adventures gone wrong.

I was not in the mood for teaching five back-to-back classes full of freshmen, sprinkled with a few done-with-freshmen upperclassmen. Freshmen energy + volume level = a full 11, while my energy and volume level = -2.

Corralling them enough to get a lesson taught completely drained me of all energy by the end of each day for the first two weeks of school, and my attitude wasn't the greatest as I began each new day, which meant I started falling into a downward spiral that fed on itself.

Then, for some strange reason, I picked up an old book I've had for years and never completely read--Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins. Yes, Unlimited Power, I told myself half jokingly. That is exactly what I need, if it exists.

Well, Tony Robbins definitely believes it exists, and I've been a closet fan of his for years just based on the few tidbits of information I knew about him, brief YouTube videos of his interviews and speeches, and what little bits I had read from Unlimited Power in the past.

There is much more I could say (and will probably get around to it) about how spending two weekends immersing myself in Tony Robbins' teachings started turning things around dramatically for me, but right now I'll just share this particular revelation, because it's simple and yet powerful.

I was listening to an audio of Tony on YouTube where he had the audience look around and shout out everything they saw that was brown. Then he said, "Close your eyes. Okay, now, shout out everything in the room that's red." There was no shouting. He said, "Okay, now open your eyes and look around--shout out everything you see that's red." The shouting resumed, and when he got their attention again, he said, "Are you surprised by how many things around you are red, that you couldn't recall at all when you had your eyes closed? Why? What happened?"

The answer of course, was that they were focused on everything brown before he said close your eyes.

This hit me like a ton of bricks. What was I focused on during class? The one or two (or three, four, or five) students who were off task, distracting others and me, being loud, wandering around the room, yelling out and interrupting, etc. There was a sea of other students out there, NOT doing those things.

I scribbled the note in the picture above the next morning when I got to class. It was a Monday, my worst teaching day in terms of energy level, enthusiasm, and resolve. I planned to notice on purpose every time I saw a student doing one of the things on the note, and make a little tick mark beside that action, so I could see in real time how often the things I WANTED to see were happening.

The first kid of the day walks in, a girl in my first Spanish 1 class. "Hola, Ms. Waltman...¿Cómo estás?" she called out cheerfully, before I had a chance to greet her.

I looked down at my note. There were too many things to check off. She was showing growth, risk taking, joy, learning...heck, all of them. The next student walked in and struck up a conversation with me about my weekend, so I asked her about hers, and we had a great conversation about California, dance, Spanish class, and other things.

The next kid came in, and the next. I noticed everything on my note, for the entire class. Then I noticed everything on my note, constantly, for the entire day.

And then I laughed at myself that I hadn't made a single tick mark, because it was impossible to keep up. I left that day feeling better than I had in weeks.

Are the negative behaviors in your classes capturing your entire focus, to the point you can't see anything else? I challenge you to make a note. Lay it on your desk. Try to make tick marks. And then please let me know how it went in the comments below, because I am really curious. :-)

Happy Tuesday...

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Back in Oklahoma - My New Classroom!

New job, new carpet, new furniture, and a new big screen on the wall.
I moved back to my home state of Oklahoma this summer (without a job) and was unexpectedly offered a position at Norman High School! (Why yes, thank you, I WOULD like to come in for an interview...)

My original plan in moving back was to take a year off to work on my book business full time, but the inexpensive little farmhouse I bought in Southwest Oklahoma just didn't work out for this city girl. There were too many pests and predators in the vicinity--chiggers, (I couldn't wear shoes for two weeks due to festering bites!), snakes, scorpions, mice, rats (yes, actual rats,) wasps, black widows, skunks, and men.

All I knew when I got the job at Norman High was that apartment life suddenly looked real, real good, and that I wanted something new, clean, and way up off the ground. Something that no skunks could crawl under and set up nests. Something with locked doors and gates, and plenty of people around to hear you if you yelled for help.

New, clean, safe apartment secured, I turned my attention to setting up my classroom. They gave me a room that had just been remodeled and had not been used as a classroom yet--everything all new. I didn't have much time to set up before I had to report for new teacher orientation on August 2nd (and I had to make a road trip to close on the sale of my farm August 1st,) so I chose not to worry about putting anything on the walls and just focus on the 14-foot bulletin board on the north wall of the room.
This gorgeous orange bulletin board didn't need a thing but border and a few posters.

My sweet mom drove down from Colorado and helped me shop for supplies including this cute black and white border, as well as helped me unpack the classroom stuff I'd quickly boxed up in May not thinking I'd be classroom teaching for a while. I was relieved to see I'd kept most of my essential props for skits, my Spanish children's books, and my favorite DVDs.
It's not perfect yet, but I have my stacking trays with handouts all set up and baskets of props ready to go. Also, notes and pictures from students in Colorado brighten my workspace and help me remember why I do this job.

The individual tables and chairs are designed to be able to form groups, so after school started I actually had one of my classes help me put them together into groups of 4. I'm planning to play around with different arrangements until I see what I like best. For now, it's been fun just to have all new "toys" to play with in a new environment.
Objectives on the board keep me organized while I'm teaching. These aren't written in a "standards-based" format - they are practical and to the point.

Technology cart with laptop and a document camera that project to the screen. Thank you Norman Public Schools. :-)

I'm really enjoying teaching at Norman High, although learning a new system/school/culture has been overwhelming at times. I've been in Colorado for 15 years, and there are some very clear cultural differences that I'm readjusting to now that I'm back. Oklahoma students are louder and more active (so, a little more draining on the energy levels!) They are also warmer and bond with you faster, and many of them have already completely stolen my heart.

Thankfully we had a 4-day weekend (Friday off) for Labor Day and I had a chance to recoup some energy as well as be productive. I also got out and went on a little mini-vacation in Norman, walking around downtown and having lunch at Earth Café. It's still very warm and lush and green here, and as I walked around enjoying the humidity (yes, ENJOYING it!!! Colorado is high, dry, chilly desert,) I had a peace come over me that everything is going to be all right. :-)

Don't forget to check out my author page on Amazon to get $10 ebooks of all my lesson plans - and $40 print versions too!