Tips on Establishing Standards of Behaviors with Your Students – Even in a Virtual World

Starting a new school year on a positive note with a classroom or group of students is important. It’s important for learning. It’s important for teamwork. It’s important for enjoyment. Let’s just say, it’s important for everything!

There are many things you can do to create a positive environment with students in the first days and weeks of a new school year. One of the most important things you can do is set and reinforce standards of behavior with your students. This is important during a typical in-person back-to-school season. But, if you are beginning this school year partially or fully remote they will be even more important and you may need to re-think a new set of standards.

Having standards of behavior provides a sense of normalcy, fosters positive engagement and accountability, creates a safe and positive culture, eliminates stress and prevents problem behaviors with the students. Standards also allow all students to have a fair and equal opportunity to be seen and heard.

Creating standards of behavior is also beneficial to you. When students realize what is expected of them and the expectations are consistent and fair, they are more likely to build trusting and positive relationships with each other and with you. Standards of behavior also reduces your stress, allows you more time to listen to students and encourage their participation and increases the likelihood you will enjoy your time with them.

Below are some proven tips for developing and maintaining standards of behavior with your students, no matter if you are meeting with them virtually or in-person.

Focus on the word “standards” and not “rules.” When students hear the word, “rules”, they think of everything they can’t or aren’t suppose to do. To them, rules are usually made by an adult and enforced upon them. Rules are made to be challenged. When you ask students what the word, “standards”, means they usually say it is something they should or are expected to do. Standards are something to live up to. The bottom line is…rules sound negative and standards sound positive. (For more insight on this tip, read The Difference a Word Can Make.)

Get student input. Students are more likely to buy into standards of behavior if they have a hand in creating them. One way to do this is to start with a list of what you consider the bare essentials. Then, work together with your students to develop a final set of standards. You can also get your students’ input on the consequences when they don’t live up to their standards.

If you are wondering what standards you should most consider if you are engaging with students in a remote setting, here are a few ideas to help you get started.

Having your students raise their hand in-person is simple. But, getting your attention in a virtual class can be more difficult for them. Consider how you will ask students to indicate they want to share. Some digital tools have a raise hand button you can suggest.

Use established signals to facilitate discussions. For example, ask the students to mute themselves when they aren’t speaking or to give a thumbs up or raise their hand if they want to speak. Again, using the digital tools available with the online platform you use can be helpful.

Think about the group discussions that will take place or the comments your students might make. Remind students that language considered unacceptable in-person will be unacceptable online.

Consider when video cameras should and should not be used. As the teacher, your video should be on at all times so the students can see you and read your body language. Consider whether you will give students the option to turn their video on or off. Some students might feel uncomfortable being on camera or showing their home. If this is the case, encourage them to take advantage of digital backgrounds if it is available with the online platform you use.

Focus on standards for getting along. Have the students create their standards of behavior based on what they need to do to best get along with one another. Having standards that describe how students should treat each other in the most respectful, caring and supportive way will create a more positive environment for everyone. (For more information about this tip, read The Best, the Worst and the OK.)

Make sure the standards are simple, clear and specific. Standards of behavior should always be simple. Simple standards are less likely forgotten. Write them in as few as two to five words. It also makes it quick and simple for you to merely say a word or two to reign in your students and serve as a reminder of the standards.

Don’t have too many standards. It’s hard to remember a long list of standards. Have as few of standards as necessary to maintain order and respect and build a healthy, open learning environment. Typically, five to six standards are sufficient. Try to combine multiple standards that have a similar intention into one simpler standard instead.

Set a positive tone. State standards in a positive way as much as possible. It will help create a welcoming and caring community with the students. Using positive language in standards and in the correction of them also inspires students to choose positive behaviors and communicates your belief in their ability to do so.

Open with them and then use them as reminders. After opening your class or group with a review of the standards two or three times over, bring them back as an occasional reminder, sometimes just verbally and sometimes visually. Posting the standards is a great idea.

Model the standards yourself. Be sure that whatever the standards are the group agrees to that you are modeling them for the students. Remember, your actions speak louder than your words. (For more ideas on how to be a positive role model of standards, check out Reading You Like a Book.)

Communicate the standards of behavior and expectations with parents. If your students are learning remotely from home, keeping parents informed about the standards of behavior is crucial. Establish a personal connection with parents. Start with a phone call, rather than an email, so you can share your expectations and tips for technology use in a conversation with them. It allows both of you to ask questions in real-time, problem solve challenges and form a personal connection with each other. However, a follow-up email to your phone conversation is essential to show that you are willing to help a busy parent remember you and the expectations.

Check in with students regularly. Once your standards are set, it’s important that you check in with your students regularly to see how things are going. Are the standards clear? Are they helping? Do the students feel they are living up to them? Are there any standards they need to work on more? Are there new standards they believe need to be added to the list?

Be flexible. Forming class or group standards early is really important. However, be flexible, especially if you are in a remote learning situation. Adjusting standards or adding new standards to the list at any time is always an option. Practice grace, patience and kindness with your students, but especially, with yourself.

If you are in need of an activity you can facilitate with your students that results in them creating their own standards of behavior, while incorporating many of the suggestions above, then visit How to Establish Standards for Getting Along with Middle and High School Students  and How to Create Standards for Getting Along with 4th and 5th Graders.

Both include videos that walk you step-by-step on how to effectively create standards of behaviors with your students.

Was there ever a time when you started a new job, moved into a new community or joined a group for the first time when everyone – except you – knew what was expected of them? Was it hard to feel like you were a part of the community or group? Once you knew what was expected of you, did it become easier for you to fit in or feel like you belonged? The same will be true when your students start the new school year, especially if they are joining a virtual classroom for the first time.

Creating and reinforcing standards of behavior with the students in the early days of the new school year will magnify not only your students’ learning, but their relationships with one another and with you. And, make a challenging time something much more tolerable and even enjoyable – for ALL of you!

Community-Building and Getting-to-Know-You Activities You Can Do Virtually With Your Students

Never before have I seen so much uncertainty and anxiety surrounding heading back to school. It’s totally understandable! These are unprecendented times. This back-to-school time of the year looks NOTHING like we have ever seen before.

As summer comes to a close, many of you are preparing for the first day of school. If you are going back to school in-person, chances are you will be doing some remote learning in the future. Many of you will be doing a hybrid of in-person teaching and virtual learning.

No matter where you or your students are learning from, the first few weeks of the school year are crucial for community and relationship building between the students and with you. Fortunately, many of the beginning of the year activities you know and love can be done virtually! You just need to “think outside the box” and be creative!

To help you, I am sharing several activities you can do if you are teaching or engaging with students virtually. Consider how each idea can help you build a sense of community and encourage positive relationships among your students even in a virtual world.

Create a system to reach out to every student. It’s easy to lose track of students when you can’t see them in person. It might be harder to connect with each of them online, but it’s not impossible. Create a spreadsheet with all the students’ names and assign a staff person to connect with each student. Reach out to them to check in, address challenges and offer praise and encouragement. It might be helpful to prepare a script or important questions to ask each student for consistency and to ensure important information is collected. Make notes and jot down concerns on each student and follow-up with others who can support or help a student in need.

Host one-on-one family video calls. During the week before school or over the course of the first month try giving each of your students 15-20 minute time slots to meet with you, along with their family members. This is a great opportunity to get to know each student and their family and for them to get to know you. Allowing them to also ask questions and share concerns and for you to express your expectations and goals for the year will help everyone start on the same page.

Have students in a virtual “waiting room” at the beginning of an online session so you can admit and greet each of them one at a time by name. Imagine yourself standing at the door as your students walk into your classroom in-person one-by-one and you welcome them each by name. This is a virtual way of doing the same thing! It takes a bit longer, but it will be well worth it. (The “waiting room” is a tool available through online platforms, such as Zoom.)

Begin your time together online by asking students to select an emoji to describe their mood. Asking students to share their “highs and lows” as an opening discussion also lets students know that what they are feeling is normal among them and gives them permission to share with you and one another.

Ask students to create their own mini-me avatar using the app, Bitmoji. Be sure to create your own Bitmoji, too! You can also create a Bitmoji Classroom! Creating your own virtual classroom can help you and the students feel a bit more “at home” with remote learning. Click here for a tutorial on how to make your own Bitmoji Classroom.

Have students create a Google slide or poster sharing their interests, hobbies or talents. Click here for a tutorial on “How to Design a Poster About You”. Allow time for them to present their slide or poster with each other.

Give your students a challenge between your online sessions with a BINGO style choice board. Encourage students to complete as many activities as they can. Click here for an online template of a Bingo board you can use and/or edit.

Do weekly check-ins to keep in contact with your students. Regular check-ins gives all of your students a chance to touch base with you, hear your voice and see your face as you respond to them one-on-one. You can make this more manageable by giving each student a specific day of the week when they know you will be responding back to them. Consider using Flipgrid (a free video discussion online platform) to do your weekly check-in and for other community building activities. Click here for a video featuring all the different ways you can use Flipgrid in your virtual world!

Consider holding weekly virtual “office hours.” Your students can pop in to ask questions about the week’s assignments or just to say hi and share what’s going on in their lives.

Even in normal times, creating a strong and positive culture is always your #1 priority during the first weeks of school. This year should not be any different. In fact, creating connections and a sense of belonging has never been more important. So…

Be open to new ideas. Be flexible in adapting your old tried-and-true beginning-of-the-year traditions. Be patient with your students and yourself. Maintain your sense of humor – even when things don’t go as planned. Most importantly, believe that YOU can make amazing things happen in the virtual world with your students!

Now, go do it!

The X Factor

Even bloggers like myself like to follow other bloggers. Reading blog posts from others inspires ideas for topics to write about, challenges my perspective on certain issues and affirms my own core values and experiences.

One blogger who does this for me is Danny Steele. Danny is in his 28th year of education and currently serves as principal at a high school in Alabama. Prior to this, he served as an Assistant Professor of Instructional Leadership, assistant principal, teacher and coach. In 2005, he was recognized as the “Secondary Assistant Principal of the Year” for the state of Alabama. In 2016, he was recognized as Alabama’s “Secondary Principal of the Year.”

I value Danny’s experience and perspective as many others do. He doesn’t blog regularly, but when a new post does land in my Inbox I know it’s something worth opening and reading. This happened last fall when I received his blog post entitled, The Unforgettable Interview.

Here’s an excerpt from his blog post:

About 6 or 7 years ago, I interviewed a teacher named Jake. He seemed like a nice guy; he had a few years under his belt; and I thought he might be a nice addition to our faculty. But he took away any doubt when he answered one question. This was always my favorite question:

“Jake… in every school in America, you can place teachers on a continuum. On one end of the continuum are teachers who don’t seem to want to be there. They’re always complaining about something. Their colleagues wonder why they haven’t retired yet. They’re a drag on the collective energy of the school. But on the other end of that continuum are the teachers who are always excited to be at work. They love the students; they value their colleagues; and they lift the spirits of all those around them. When graduates come back to visit, these are the teachers they want to see. So, Jake…what is the difference between these two teachers? What is the ‘X factor?’ Because that’s what we’re looking for here.”

Most teachers would talk about passion or talk about the fact that the second teacher isn’t just coming to work for a paycheck; they’re coming to work to make a difference. I think those are good answers, but Jake said something different — something I’ll never forget. He answered something like this:

“You know, I think every teacher is idealistic when they start their career. Almost every new teacher has passion; they love kids; and they want to make a difference. But after several years, you hit a little bit of a wall. There’s this reality check. You realize this job is hard. There are a lot of papers to grade. Some students make it really hard to teach. And parents are not always supportive. I think some teachers just don’t seem to move beyond these frustrations. They burn out. But others are able to maintain their sense of purpose in spite of the challenges. Their work is hard, but they remain convinced that it matters. Some students are challenging, but they are aware of how much they need a teacher not to give up on them. They deal with adversity, but it doesn’t steal their passion. These are the teachers who get to make a difference year after year.”

We hired Jake. And this past week, he was named the school’s “Teacher of the Year.” So, I salute Jake and all those other teachers who got past that “reality check” and retained their passion for students. They are making a difference…year after year.

I love this story! I love that Danny asked Jake for his opinion on what the ‘X Factor’ is between the teachers who act like they don’t want to be there and those who are excited to show up every day. And, I love Jake’s answer to the question!

So, how would you answer the question? What do you believe is the ‘X Factor’?

You can probably remember teachers from your past who were on both ends of the continuum. What was the difference between these teachers for you? You may not remember exactly what they said or did, but I bet you can remember how they made you feel.

In tomorrow’s online masterclass, How to Have a Positive Influence on Kids that Lasts Years Later, we will take a look at the ‘X Factor’ that separates the teachers we want to go back and visit years later from those we forget or want to forget. The class will be from Noon-1:30 pm Eastern and it will not only reveal the ‘X Factor’ research has discovered, but it will also offer tips and methods you can use in your work with kids to ensure you are one of those teachers on the positive end of the continuum. I promise that saving your seat and showing up in the masterclass will move the dial on the continuum in the right direction for you.

Always remember…You have an amazing opportunity to impact kids’ lives for a lifetime no matter what your role is with them or if you are with them in-person or virtually. You can create experiences for them that you or they never thought possible and that will forever be etched in their memories. Having the ‘X Factor’ will make you one of those teachers your kids will think of fondly over the years and someone they will never forget, rather than someone they choose to forget.

P.S. The title of “teacher” refers to any adult who works with kids whether it be in a classroom, afterschool program, community-based program or one-on-one. Heck! It even refers to parents and other adult mentors. So, don’t let that word mislead you to thinking the ‘X Factor’ doesn’t apply to you!

Is the Glass Half Empty or is the Glass Half Full

You see a glass with water in it. The water is at the half-way mark in the glass.

Which leads to the question:

Is the glass half empty?

Or is the glass half full?

How would you choose to describe it?

A glass containing water to the half-way point is often used to point out the difference between optimists and pessimists. The optimist sees the glass as half full – focusing more on what is there and all that could be done with half a glass of water. The pessimist sees the glass as half empty – focusing more on half the water being gone and, eventually, the glass becoming empty.

Are you the optimist? Or are you the pessimist?

While some people are naturally more optimistic than others, we all get to wake up every day and choose whether we are going to be a glass half-full or a glass half-empty person. Each day offers us the opportunity to make choices in our life. We can spend the day cleaning or spend the day reading. We can go out to dinner or cook at home. We can set our alarm early to go to the gym or we can sleep in and skip our workout. We can choose to think positively or choose to think negatively. Being optimistic is a daily choice we all have.

If you think you’re a natural-born pessimist and you don’t have the choice to be optimistic or to control your mindset, think again. You can learn to be optimistic.

Research published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry compared two groups of people to test their thinking patterns. The first group completed a 5-minute exercise that involved thinking positive thoughts about their future while the second group just went about their daily lives without making effort to think optimistically. The first group significantly increased their optimism over the two-week period with many of them feeling more optimistic after just one day.

Giving serious consideration to what you can do to learn to be more optimistic benefits not only you, but also others. For example, have you ever been in the presence of a whiner or a cynic who sucked the positive energy right out of the room, the group or even you? How did they make you feel when you were in their presence? Did you feel better or bitter? Did you feel hopeful or discouraged? Are they someone you would choose to be in the presence of again?

How you view the world and your future can also influence your students’ outlook on the future. Optimism is contagious. When you are positive your students are more likely to feel positive, too. Pessimism is contagious, too. But, in ways that aren’t helpful.

How do you think your students feel after they spend time with you? Are they hopeful or discouraged? Do they have an optimistic outlook or a negative outlook?

Helping your students create a sense of hope and optimism for themselves, especially during today’s challenging times, begins with you also being hopeful and optimistic. Below are seven strategies for filling up (or overflowing) your cup of optimism. My challenge to you is to try at least one of these in the next week and notice the difference it makes in your outlook and your life.

  • Set Your Intention Daily. Before you step out of bed take one minute to set your intention for the day. Come up with one word that resonates with you about the attitude or spirit you want to bring to the day. Being intentional will help you better focus your time and energy.
  • Reframe a Problem into an Opportunity. You can’t solve your problems by complaining about them. But, you can solve them (or at least learn to accept them) by reframing them so you can approach them from a new angle. Where pessimists see problems, optimists find opportunities. If you change the way you look at your problems, your problems change and transform into a rich array of opportunities to grow, learn and discover inner resources you never knew you had!
  • Avoid Positive Energy Zappers. You are who you hang out with. Positive people breed positive energy. Negative people breed negative energy. Who do you hang out with most? Positive people or negative people? If you are struggling to feel more positive, limit the time you spend hanging out with the Debbie Downers or Negative Nellies in your life. It’s important to establish healthy boundaries with people who chronically choose to stay stuck in their own misery of negativity.
  • Imagine a Positive Future. Look forward to the future. But, be realistic things may not change quickly. The challenges of today will not be here forever. Writing down your ideas of an optimistic future can truly make a difference when it comes to your overall outlook. Spend 20 minutes four consecutive days writing down what you want to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. Dream big. It’s like Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
  • Carry Yourself Like an Optimist. Scientists have already proven that how you present and carry yourself on the outside has a huge impact on how you feel on the inside. If you change how you hold yourself physically, it will change how you feel emotionally. Stand tall, put your chin up, smile and engage with people as though you were the outgoing, confident, optimistic and successful person you aspire to be and you will attract all sorts of positive people and opportunities into your life. As people relate to you differently, you will gradually begin to feel differently – and more positive – yourself.
  • Bestow Positivity on Others. While it’s not your job to make everyone happy, it doesn’t hurt to perk up someone’s day. Share positive feedback with someone at least once a day. Compliment a student about a good question they asked or helpful points they brought up in class. At home, praise your child for how hard they worked on their math homework or tell your partner how much you appreciate them. Making other people feel positive has lasting effects on your own life. Don’t forget to bestow positivity on yourself. Before bed, think about what you did during the day. Even if it was a generally lackluster day, there’s bound to be something you can praise yourself for.
  • Practice Mindfulness and Gratitude. Pay attention to what is happening around you. Observe and be grateful for the positive things in your life. Take time to reflect 5 minutes each day on these positives. Thinking about all the things you have to be grateful for can give you an instant boost of optimism. While thinking about how grateful you are is helpful, sharing your gratitude with others provides added benefits. You will spread a bit of joy and cheer when you tell others how much you appreciate them. Write a letter to someone who made a positive impact on your life, whether it’s a teacher, a former boss or even your mom or dad. If possible, deliver the letter in person.

Being an optimistic person in today’s challenging and negative world begins with your decision to be positive and choosing to live that life every single day. It benefits you and it benefits those around you – including your students.

Now, back to that glass of water…

Is the glass half full?

Is the glass half empty?

Or has the glass always been full?