Bad Days and Grumpy Moods – we all have them both Teachers and Students

A friend on Facebook recently posted a meme, published by Miramir.com, quoting author Rebecca Eanes.

“So often, children are punished for being human. They are not allowed to have grumpy moods, bad days, disrespectful tones, or bad attitudes.  Yet, we adults have them all the time. None of us are perfect. We must stop holding our children to a higher standard or perfection than we can attain ourselves.”

-Author, Rebecca Eanes, posted at Miramir.com

It is a terrific message and should be read by all. Having, “grumpy moods, bad days, . . .” is a universal human characteristic. We are all like that, even kids. When kids have that kind of day at school or at home, however, they usually get into trouble. This is especially true in school because the education process demands conformance, obedience, and “respectful tones.” Anything else disrupts the classroom and interferes with the work of teachers and classmates.

Because of the way our education process is structured, we leave no room for our students to do the very things we will likely do when we get home because the behavior of students led to a bad day, left us in a grumpy mood, and feeling short-tempered. Hopefully, at home, our families and friends will back off and give us space to work through the frustration we feel. Good friends and good families are like that. They are people who love us and have no expectation that we be perfect, in fact, they love us with all our “perfect imperfections,” as John Legend’s song describes them. And, at home, we typically have places where we can get away from everyone, even if only for a moment or two.

At school, even for good teachers, it is not so easy. Good teachers care but are not allotted enough time to help students work through the frustrations that flow from dealing, in some instances, with problems at home that we can hardly imagine. There are just too many kids, too much to do, and nowhere near enough time. So, we discipline students and even send them to the office if their frustrations and acting out cause too much disruption. It’s a last resort for teachers but their responsibility extends beyond the individual child, to a classroom full of other students.

The problem isn’t just that we give kids a reprimand, time out, or trip to the office—all of which brand the child as a discipline problem–the most significant consequences that flow from such actions are related to the fact that they lose time. They miss out on lessons that are being taught and practice time that is being given, and opportunities to get in-class assistance from their teacher. Most significantly, they fall ever further behind and this this only exacerbates their situation and fuels the frustration that got them in trouble to begin with.

The combination of their frustrations from the challenges at home, combined with the hopeless feeling of falling further behind, academically, and being viewed as “a problem student” or “bad kid” pile up until a student feels overwhelmed. When kids begin to feel hopeless and powerless to extricate themselves from bad situations, the risk is that they may choose to give up and stop trying.

Think about how you feel when you have had ”meltdown” incidents. For many of us, what we feel is helplessness and hopelessness. When the episode passes, as they always do, they may have created some inconveniences with which we must deal, but we are still able to get back in the game. For our students, in similar circumstances, the game clock is ticking away and there are no timeouts as in an athletic contest, where the whole game pauses to let participants catch their breath.

The academic standards that drive teachers and classrooms function like a conveyor belt. Once a child falls off, it is difficult for them to get back on the belt, even with our help. If they get back on, they can see how much further behind they have fallen, relative to their classmates.

Those academic standards are tied to an external, arbitrary timeline that may be totally out of sync with a child’s unique internal timetable. We all know how difficult it can be to get back in sync with all that is going on in our lives, but for many children, particularly disadvantaged kids, getting back in sync seems next to impossible. Their internal and external timetables are like an event horizon in which the child finds him or herself on the wrong side, with no way to get back on track.

What I have striven to do in the education model I have developed—The  Hawkins Model©—is  to eliminate external timetable so that students are never at a place in time that is out of sync with their unique developmental path. Even when schools must teach to a set of academic standards, these represent an outline of what policy makers have determined all children need to learn. We need to ask ourselves what is most important: that students learn these things, even if it takes some children longer than others, or that we strive to get them all from point to point in perfect cadence?

If we accept the premise that the two most essential variables in education are relationships and learning, what are arbitrary timetables? Are they not a “constant” that regulates relationships and learning? If we eliminate the constant variable of time, relationships and learning become independent variables that are not compromised by extraneous forces? We need an education model—education process—that ensures that such forces do not impede a child’s progress down their unique academic path.

We need a model in which the teacher is able give each student the time he or she needs to learn. Teachers often tell me, “this is not possible, there just isn’t enough time.”

Within the context of the existing education process, they are correct. This does not mean that creating time is impossible, only that the existing process and structure does not provide for it. If we are willing to alter the process and structure, we can design it to produce the outcomes we want based on the unique needs of each of our students. It all depends on how we sort our priorities and whether we are willing to question the validity of our structure and process.

In The  Hawkins Model© giving students time they need to learn and work through their frustrations, bad days, and grumpy moods is more important than keeping all students moving at the same pace down the arbitrary timelines that complicate academic standards. The fact that they may need to be separated from the class so as not to disrupt, need not impede their progress, it just delays things a bit.

Peer Pressure – Part 3: A Tug-of-War

Peer pressure truly does place students in a tug-of-war between parents, teachers, and friends. We will never be able to make peer influence disappear, nor would we want to. Meeting other children, crafting friendships, and learning the value of them is a vital part of a child’s growth and development. What we must do is harness peer influence so it is a benefit to our students rather something that diverts them from the purpose and values.

What we must strive for is the creation of a classroom environment—an education model and process—in which student relationships with their parents and  teachers are more highly valued than their relationships with their peers. It is all about whom a student is least willing to disappoint. We do this, not by diminishing the value of their friendships rather by enhancing the value of their relationships with us.

If confronted with the need to make a choice between disappointing a friend or letting down one’s parents and teachers, family and teachers must always come out on top.

When my own three children were kids, my wife and I worked hard to craft the kind of relationships where we were the ones our kids were least willing to disappoint. On many occasions, we would get a call, about midway through our son or daughters’ nights out, telling us the that their friends wanted to do something or go to a place or event of which they thought we would disapprove. Their call was to ask if it was okay. We knew our children well enough to recognize, by the tone of their voices and the phrasing of their questions, whether they wanted us to say “yes” or “no!” Such relationships do not just happen; they must be crafted.

A craft is something at which one works, relentlessly; learning, improving, growing. Physicians practice medicine, which is an uncertain science. They work and study, diligently, to develop their craft, which is their ability to apply their knowledge of this uncertain science to respond to the unique requirements of their patients. We often hear actors speak of developing their craft; in fact, it is what all artists do. Both parenting and teaching are crafts that must be honed over time.

There are no perfect parents nor are their perfect teachers. Neither are there perfect parenting or teaching solutions and approaches. Every child is different and what works for one child may not work for another. One of the fundamental flaws of the existing education process is that it limits the ability of teachers to differentiate. It is a “one-size-fits-all” regimen in which even the best teachers are limited in their ability to adapt what they do and how much time they spend to respond to the unique needs students of a diverse population.

Too often, in this writer and parent’s opinion, too many boundaries are ambiguous.

While subbing in a high school classroom, a dozen or so years ago, I asked a student why she wasn’t trying to work on an assignment. “Don’t you care about doing well?” I asked.

She responded, “why should I care if my teacher doesn’t care?”

The essence of the ensuing conversation was that this student believed the reason her teacher never pushed her to try was because she did not care.

Kids need boundaries because there is safety in those lines of demarcation. The job of parents and teachers is to manage those boundaries within which kids are free to make mistakes without fear of losing our love; they are free to have bad days and still be loved. What they must not be free to do is “not try.”

Our children will test us, of course, but we mistake this as rebellion or trying to get away with something. When children test our boundaries, it is our commitment to love and protect them that is being tested, which is why it is so vital that we pass the tests our children administer to us.

The more confident our children/students become, that our commitment is non-negotiable, the healthier their self-esteem. People often ask, when do we give them more freedom and responsibility—which are, of course, two sides of the same coin. Again, our answer is the same; there is no “one answer.” Kids are unique children of creation. Knowing such things and understanding the needs of each child flows from the wisdom we have gained through the daily practice of our craft as parents and teachers.

The bottom line, however, is that we allow them to expand the scope of their freedom based on their demonstrated responsibility. The extension of boundaries is a reaffirmation of the esteem with which we hold our children and students. When extended boundaries have been earned by their acceptance of responsibility, it increases the esteem in which they hold themselves.

We were surprised the first few times it happened, but what often occurred after those late evening calls from our kids, was that the groups of each of our children’s friends would end up not doing  whatever it was that had been suggested. It was as if they all wanted to appear bold and adventuresome when, all the while, they were hoping to hit a safety net, even if it was someone else’s. After all, no one wants to be the one who looks weak to their peers. The operative question is: “who are they most willing to disappoint.”

What we need in our schools and classrooms is an education process that is structured to empower teachers to practice their craft. It is a model that places its focus on and provides the time for the development of enduring relationships centered on empathy. It is empathy that helps us understand their unique needs and personalities. These are the types of relationships that children will be unwilling to place at risk in the face of negative peer pressure.

What happens as a by-product of such relationships between parents and their children and teachers and their students is that the quality of the relationships between both siblings and classmates improves. To be sure their will be internal squabbles; there are no utopias. We will have crafted an atmosphere, however, where “relationships” are a focal point of the classroom environment around which all else revolves.

Creating such relationships takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort to establish and sustain. In the existing education process, relationships are not at the top of the priority list and, therefore, rarely do teachers have the time and opportunity to make every pupil a priority, which is probably why the teacher in the above example stopped pushing the young woman to try.

The Hawkins Model© is designed to give teachers both the expectation and the wherewithal to give each child what they so desperately want and need: love, safety, time and attention, and the freedom to make mistakes without risking harm or rejection.

As the quality of the relationships between teachers and students evolves, it is only a matter of time until positive peer influencers begin to emerge, and their number begins to grow. We end up with classrooms where students look out for and help each other and where the likelihood that kids who are different will be harassed or bullied diminishes, greatly. In a relationship-centered classroom, kids learn it is okay to be different.

When  parents, even the most skeptical and mistrusting, begin to observe their children changing in positive ways, a teacher’s opportunities to pull those parents and guardians into powerful, positive partnerships, sprout, profusely. The outcome is a positive learning environment where every child can develop their unique potential.

The Primacy of Relationships and the Challenge of Peer Pressure – Part 2

Part of the focus on relationships that is central to The Hawkins Model©, is to ensure that, not only do  students have close and enduring relationships with their teachers, but also that they develop and sustain healthy bonds with their classmates. Such relationships play an important part of healthy development and can ensure that peer pressure can be a positive influence on kids, of any age, and not just a negative force that distracts and diverts young people from their values and purpose. Positive peer influence can be a powerful force that can strengthen relationships, minimize the incidence of bullying, and provide positive role models for kids.

When my family moved to Indiana during the middle of my junior year in high school, I had an opportunity to witness the positive power of peer influence alter the behavior of many of my classmates. In this case, it was a small thing, but it demonstrated the ability of a popular student to influence the behavior  of his peers as a positive role model.

As a new student who didn’t make friends easily, I was thrilled to be invited to hang out with one of the nicest and most popular juniors in the school. His name was John and he was a trend setter; not only in fashion but also in other ways. He was the first guy to reach out to me with an offer of friendship.

One day, we all arrived at school in a driving downpour and, as was the case in my prior high school, there were no raincoats, boots, or umbrellas to be seen on any of my male classmates. Guys were willing to arrive drenched rather than appear uncool. Then, along came my friend John, using an umbrella. He was the only guy who left a dry path, that day, as he passed through the halls and classrooms.

The very next time it rained, a few days later, there must have been a dozen or more guys, myself included, who arrived at school using an umbrella. By the end of the school year, seeing a guy in the rain without an umbrella was the exception, not the rule.

Our friend John, with his powerful self-esteem demonstrated how much of a difference one person can make just by setting a good example. To his credit, this was not the only way John exerted a positive influence on his peers. He was a genuinely good person who treated all other students–no matter who they were–and teachers with kindness and respect. He would have been a perfect candidate for membership in a 1960s version of @melanie_korach’s #starfishclub.

As I thought back about the other students with whom I shared a classroom over thirteen years of school, I began to recall others boys and girls who contributed, quietly but meaningfully, to help create of a positive peer environment.

It was a sad day, more than twenty years later, when  I searched for and found John’s name etched on the black walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I felt a keen sense of loss and was unembarrassed to shed a tear for a guy who befriended me when I was the new kid in school; a young man who made a difference with his positive values, commitment to his community–whether a high school class or his country–and by being both confident and kind.

How many schools and classrooms, of which you are aware, make it a point to create a positive culture for all students, not just the most popular kids. It is my assertion that we can create a classroom environment that fosters this kind of positive peer influence, intentionally. It is one of the subtle but powerful things The Hawkins Model© can help create just by changing the way we structure the education process. Why not check it out?

The Primacy of Relationships and the Challenge of Peer Pressure – Part 1

Relationships are everything to human beings, as we have discussed in earlier posts. What we do not spend enough time discussing is the power of peer pressure and how it affects relationships, learning, development, and self-esteem of our students.

All human beings are subject to peer pressure and this is especially true of school-aged children. This was true when I was a kid but, today, that pressure is magnified by the ubiquitous nature of social media. Has it ever been more powerful than it is in present times? We will come back to that thought.

One of my all-time favorite teachers was Mrs. Swartz, my seventh-grade social studies teacher at Johns Hill Junior High School, in Decatur, IL. The fact that I remember so much of what Mrs. Swartz said and taught should illustrate how much of an impact she had on my life. She was my favorite teacher and I truly believed that I was her favorite student. I looked forward to 4th period every single day.

One day she began a period by sending one of the class’s best students to the library for a pre-arranged visit to pick up literature of some kind. As soon as our classmate left the room, Mrs. Swartz drew five lines on the black board. Four of the lines were the same length and one was noticeably shorter. She then proceeded to explain to the class what we would do when our classmate returned from the library. No doubt, some of the teachers reading these words have conducted the same exercise.

Mrs. Swartz explained that the purpose of the exercise was to test the power of peer pressure. She asked us to say yes when asked if the lines were the same length. She also asked us to predict what our classmate would do when it was his turn. Would he report what was obvious to see, that one line was shorter than the others or, would he succumb to peer pressure and go along with his peers?

Because he was one of the smartest and most popular students in our grade, my classmates and I were almost unanimous in our belief that he would say that one line was shorter. We all watched with growing anticipation as Mrs. Swartz worked her way around the classroom and we observed as each kid announced, without a moment’s hesitation, that all five lines were of equal length.

When, finally, it was the turn of the subject of our experiment, we were stunned to hear him say, as did we all, that the lines were of equal length. As we sat in disbelief, our teacher finished her trek around the classroom so that every student had an opportunity to respond.

Taking care not to embarrass our classmate, Mrs. Swartz proceeded to explain peer pressure, noting that it has the power to affect everyone, even one of the most intelligent and independent students in our class. She asked our classmate how he felt during the exercise and he said he was confused when, one after another, we all announced the lines were the same length. He said, “it didn’t make any sense, so I just kept staring at the lines, trying to understand why I was seeing something different than everyone else.”

As she questioned him, he described being pulled in opposite directions. Part of him wanted to say “ we were all crazy and that line number five was clearly shorter than the others. Another part of him felt pressured to go along with the crowd.”

He then laughed and we all laughed with him, but his was loudest of all.

Even in such simple situations, kids feel pressure to conform to the ideas and behavior of their peers and it is this writer’s assertion this has never been truer than it is today. All educators and parents are aware of this pressure but how many formal strategies exist to help protect kids from this incredible force that diverts and distracts them from their priorities? The answer is that very little is done to deal with the power of the peer group.

There is an interesting side note to this story from 1959. It  was not until the next year, when my friends and I were talking about how much we missed having Mrs. Swartz as our social studies teacher, that I was stunned to learn that every single one my friends truly believed that he or she was Mrs. Swartz favorite student. It  made us love and miss her even more.

What if we could give every child a Mrs. Swartz and allow him or her to keep her as their teacher for 3 or even as many as 5 years? What kind of an impact would that have on a child’s emotional and learning development? What if we could help more young people develop a powerful self esteem that would enable them to make sensible decisions and stay focused on their priorities, even in the face of negative peer pressure? Providing such an environment is one of the purposes of The Hawkins Model©.