Turning “Nobody” Into “Somebody”

Early one morning in 2018, a “twitter challenge” caught my eye. It was from a principal in Missouri. This challenge struck a chord with me. It seemed like a valuable activity. When you are aware of a good idea, I’ve learned that it’s good to go ahead and implement it if you are able. Don’t wait! Don’t procrastinate! So after I finished the morning announcements that day, I asked all our students to get out a sheet of paper and write down the name of one adult they trusted – someone that they could talk to if they needed. I told them that if they could not think of one, they could write “nobody.” I collected all the papers and we began putting our data into a spreadsheet.

Out of about 500 students, we had 38 who wrote “nobody.” That’s 38 too many! We want every student to feel connected in our school, as I know you do in your school. We want every child to have an adult they feel comfortable talking to.

I made a slide show of the pictures of our students that wrote “nobody.” We watched this slideshow at our faculty meeting the next week. There were no names attached to any of the pictures and we did not discuss who taught these students. We viewed these pictures in complete silence. It was a sobering moment – one that I will not soon forget. When it was over, I told our teachers, “It is my hope that if we do this activity again in a few months we won’t have any students who write “nobody.”

That evening, the activity inspired me to tweet about it. There were a number of people on Twitter who asked me what I was going to do with the data we generated. One person responded, “What are your next steps?” That left me feeling a bit convicted. Showing the pictures at the faculty meeting was a good activity, but it was not enough. The fact is, some of our kids don’t feel sufficiently connected and we don’t want to just hope they get connected. We don’t want to leave it to chance. So, yesterday, I gave the list of these students to our counselor and I emailed our teachers asking them to connect with her to “adopt” a student on the list. This isn’t a formal process, but it reflects our faculty’s commitment to ensuring that every student in our school has an adult advocate. We don’t want any student falling through the cracks. That is our goal. Every kid is important. Every kid matters. And they need to feel it.

This story was shared by Danny Steele, a principal at a high school in Alabama, in his blog that I first read in 2018 and recently read again. It was just what I need to hear and be reminded of, especially right now.

Research has always said that there is nothing more important in a child’s life than having a positive and stable relationship with a caring adult. The influence just one positive adult can have on a child can be life changing. It offers the child a sense of security and inclusion, enhances their resilience and coping skills, protects them from risky behaviors, contributes to higher achievement and so much more.

The bottom line is… kids are far better off short-term and long-term when they have an adult they trust, respect and care about and believe they can talk to about whatever is on their heart and on their mind. This is true in life outside of a pandemic, but even more so during a pandemic.

Kids of all ages are currently grappling with a wide range of emotions – anger, frustration, disappointment, anxiety and sadness – just to name a few. The ways in which they process these emotions and the experiences they have had these past six months will be greatly influenced by whether they have at least one “secure base” to turn to.

So, I have to ask…

Are you that one “secure base” for your kids?

Do you have a positive, caring, stable relationship with ALL of your kids?

If you surveyed the kids you work with, would some of them say they have “nobody” to talk to?

No matter how you answered these questions, one thing is for certain…we can’t leave relationship building with kids to chance. As Danny stated in his blog, “We don’t want to just hope they get connected.” If we do, we risk some kids having “nobody” to connect with. We need to be intentional about connecting every child with an adult and have a plan on how we are going to make it happen.

If you need some help creating your plan, here are a few proven ideas and resources to get you started:

  1. Make relationship-building a priority in your daily virtual or in-person gatherings with kids, especially throughout the first two weeks of school. Implement ongoing structures and practices, such as welcoming the kids at the door, holding daily check-ins or offering advisory time with a counselor, teacher or other staff person. These kinds of rituals can be informal, regularly scheduled or a combination of both.
  2. Gather information weekly or even daily about how your kids are feeling or the experiences they are currently facing. Use this online survey as it is, or add or eliminate questions, to check in with your students.
  3. Give just 5 minutes of your time to chat one-on-one with kids. It can make a big difference. Click here for a sample agenda and questions you can ask in even a brief encounter with a child.
  4. Identify resources and practices that build a sense of community and encourage relationship-building – like writing postcards, doing interest surveys, having group chats and encouraging partner or team projects – and create a plan on how you will integrate them into your work. Use this checklist to identify other simple relationship-building strategies you can use in your interactions with kids.
  5. Replace punitive discipline with practices that focus on healing and inclusion and give students a voice, such as restorative practices, peace rooms and de-escalation strategies. This comprehensive guide focuses on how you can use Circles as a proactive measure to build trust and community and includes sample activities and lesson plans you can use with your kids.
  6. Identify kids who may have fallen through the cracks and who have “nobody” to talk to. Generate a list of all the kids you work with. Place a yellow dot next to the kids with whom you have a positive, trusting relationship with already. Place a red dot next to a child you don’t have a relationship with. Make a plan on how to reach out to your “red dot” kids. This relationship mapping strategy can also be done organizationally or school-wide. Click here to learn how you can do relationship mapping with staff in-person or virtually.

As we are all in the midst of a global pandemic and faced with the challenges of how to effectively do our work with kids, we must all center and remain focused on the things that matter most. At the most basic level, it is our human nature to want to feel loved, be valued and be connected with others. If you tune in to meeting these basic needs of all your kids, you will be doing the most important work you can do with them right now.

You can’t afford to let even one kid fall through the cracks believing they have “nobody” to talk to. One kid who believes this is one too many. Danny Steele sums it up well, “Every kid is important. Every kid matters. And they need to feel it…It is my hope that in a few months we won’t have any students who write ‘nobody.’”

Now, go forth and turn the “nobody” into “somebody” for your kids and be ready for that “somebody” to be YOU!

P.S. Last month I was scheduled to do a live online masterclass, “How to Have a Positive Influence on Your Kids Years Later,” when a last-minute emergency forced me to cancel it. Many of you were registered for the class. With your blessing, you gave me permission to record it later and then share it with you. (Thank you for your grace and understanding!). I want to share the recording of this masterclass with all of you today as it offers more insight and tips on how you can be that ONE adult who has a positive influence on kids’ lives. I hope you invest the time to watch it. It could make a difference in the life of just one kid.

“How to Have a Positive Influence on Your Kids Years Later” Masterclass Recording

How to Overcome the Balancing Act Between the Negative and the Positive

Picture this scenario… Kathleen, a third grader, is working hard on her math assignment and asks for your help. You review her work and your eyes are drawn to one of the 20 multiplication problems: 5 × 6 = 35. You note her mistake and continue scanning for other errors. You note two more incorrect answers before giving the assignment back to her. You ask her to correct the three wrong answers.

Now, hang on to this picture for a bit…

In last week’s blog I wrote about the importance of establishing standards of behavior with students in the first days of the new school year. The topic prompted a good number of emails to me.

The most asked question by readers was, “What are consequences I can use online when students aren’t living up to the standards of behavior?”

I understand why this question would quickly come to mind when you think about managing students’ behavior, especially if virtual learning is unchartered territory for you. Typically, we don’t worry about the students who will live up to the standards. They aren’t our problem. We worry more about the students who won’t live up to them. They are the ones who create challenges, chaos, stress and frustration for us.

You do need to be prepared to address problem behavior when it happens – even online. You can’t avoid it and ignoring the behavior won’t help.

I would encourage you to think about what the normal consequences would be to certain negative behavior if you were meeting in-person. Common consequences are verbal warnings, re-direction, “timeout”, giving an apology, making a phone call to a parent, one-on-one meeting with teacher, counselor or administrator or removal from the group. Think about how you can adapt these consequences to work in a virtual world. Many of them can work with thought, creativity and integrating restorative justice methods into your approach. For recommendations on how to use restorative practices when dealing with problem behavior online, download this resource, Responsive Restorative Practices & Remote Learning.

I hope this answers the question for those of you who inquired.

However…

When thinking about using standards of behavior effectively with students, you need to also ask yourself this question, “What can I do to help my students live up to the standards of behavior online?”

If you want to have more positive than negative behavior from your students, you need to focus more on what they are doing right or is expected of them, than focusing on the negative or what they are doing wrong. Unfortunately, research has shown that teachers often tend to punish students for problem behavior more than they praise them for appropriate behavior. This lopsided approach can have a negative effect by fostering even more problem behaviors. More times than not, the behavior you pay more attention to influences the behavior you get more of.

So, pay more attention to the positive. It will be there. Remembering to do this might be difficult, but it’s so important. It starts with you recognizing positive behaviors when they are happening and then praising and reinforcing them.

Studies show that praise and reinforcement is a powerful and effective behavior management tool (even more than giving material rewards) and one you can use virtually with students. We all value being praised and recognized when we are doing good. It inspires us to work harder and do better. It nurtures our self-esteem and confidence. And, for students, it can boost their learning and increase their academic success.

Try to follow these three steps when using praise and reinforcement with your students:

  • Show your approval using words and actions to express your satisfaction.
  • Make sure the student understands exactly what he or she did to deserve your praise by specifically describing the positive behavior.
  • Give a reason as to why their positive behavior is important. Tell them what the outcome of their behavior is or will be.

Offering praise and reinforcement in this way lets students know what behavior is expected of them, that it’s important and it’s valued by you. It will increase the likelihood of them repeating the behavior again. It also sends a message to other students who want your attention and affirmation. They will learn what behaviors to imitate to get the same reinforcement and recognition from you.

In the same way, positive reinforcement can decrease problem behaviors. When a student is not living up to a standard or exhibiting negative behaviors, use this opportunity as a teachable moment for them and all the other students. Let the student know what they are doing that is inappropriate, but more importantly, what behavior is more appropriate from them instead. When you redirect a student from an inappropriate to an appropriate behavior like this the other students also learn what is unacceptable behavior.

Trust yourself and believe that you can minimize problem behaviors and increase positive behaviors with your students online using standards of behavior. It just requires you to be attentive, look for more positive behaviors than negative and praise and reinforce them when they happen.

Now, let’s go back to that picture of you and Kathleen that I asked you to hold on to…

When you reviewed her assignment looking for only the wrong answers and your feedback to her was only on what she had wrong, you missed an important opportunity with her. You missed the chance to offer Kathleen praise for the 17 answers she had correct.

Know that it’s never too late to take go back and praise and affirm a student for doing something right, including Kathleen.

P.S. Are you a parent who is struggling with your child’s behavior right now? Please know that many of the same tips in this post can work with your child at home. Just remember this…catch your child being good more than they are being bad. When you do this enough times over consistently you might be surprised at the outcome you get.

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?

Making the Impossible Seem Possible

As a mom who raised two children I often thought about the many things I needed to be teaching them. Manners, kindness, empathy, volunteerism, hard work, resilience, teamwork, and of course, cleaning and hygiene. Hope was also high on my list of teachable items with my kids.

Hope is the feeling that what one desires WILL happen. Hope is a choice. It can be learned and shared. Best of all, it’s free and available to everyone. It doesn’t discriminate. If hope could speak, it would say, “The future will be better and I have the power to make it so!” With hope, we understand there are many paths to one goal, yet none of them are free of obstacles. Hope is the mindset that equips us to overcome those obstacles.

Hope, like oxygen, is essential to life. We simply can’t live without it. When we have it, it can carry us. When we don’t, it can suffocate us. It isn’t hard to see which kids are full of hope and which kids are grasping for it.

Hopeful kids are energetic and happier. They are more satisfied with life. They do better with things like academics and achievements in sports. Hopeful kids have better relationships. They can develop many strategies to reach goals and have backup plans should they face problems along the way. Obstacles are seen as challenges to overcome by seeking support and finding alternative strategies. They are more optimistic and they tell themselves, “I can do this. I won’t give up.” These students expect good outcomes and focus on success and because of it they experience greater positive affect. They are kids who don’t take failure personally. Instead, they use it to improve their performance next time.

In today’s world, hope isn’t just one of the things we need to impart to our kids. It is THE thing. Our kids are experiencing a mental health crisis today like nothing we’ve seen before. Living during a pandemic has created feelings of anxiety, stress, depression, isolation and hopelessness with an alarming number of kids.

The good news is that hope CAN BE cultivated even among students who are at risk for losing it. Developing hope is a process and kids who are currently hopeless can learn to be hopeful.

One of the first important steps in instilling hope with kids is to build a future focus with them. Encourage them to dream. Have them imagine their potential best selves. Let kids know that nothing is “off limits” for them to imagine for themselves in their future. Have them visualize a “big picture” for themselves and their future. Allow kids to draw pictures or write words that describe what they are visualizing. Have you ever heard that phrase, “If you can imagine it, then you can achieve it?” Let them imagine great BIG things for their future.

Imagination is powerful. Imagination creates your reality. What you imagine is what you believe to be true. What you believe to be true influences your actions. What you do creates your reality.

Corrina is a young woman who spent nights sleeping in a dumpster in a parking lot as a teenager and imagined life someday with a purpose beyond dumpster living. She imagined what she wanted her life to become. Take a moment to listen to Corrina’s story and how the power of imagination and hope created a life she describes today as being “glorious and triumphant!”

Encouraging your kids to imagine a life of “what could be” can make the impossible seem possible. Corrina’s story is an example of this.

I recently came across the “Imagine Journals” from The Imagine Project and have fallen in love with them. There is a journal for kindergartners, kids, teenagers and even adults! They can help to set the stage for imagining with your students. They are downloadable PDFs with fillable space for your students to type in which makes them a great resource for virtual sharing.

Imagine Journal – Kindergarten-Grades 2

Imagine Journal – Kids

Imagine Journal – Teens

Imagine Journal – Adults

Don’t let your kids’ story of “what was” or the current story of “what is” keep them from writing a new story of “what could be” in their future. Encouraging your kids to step outside themselves and imagine all the possibilities of “what could be” can have a powerful effect on “what becomes” in their future. Giving them the opportunity to imagine and write or re-write a new narrative to their story can move them from feeling anxious, stressed, lonely and sad to feeling hope and possibility!

There’s no downside to hope. With hope you believe tomorrow WILL be better. It makes your corner of the world seem better – especially during a pandemic. It makes the impossible seem possible.

Just Listen

The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Giving another person our attention is one of the most important things we can give another person. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything else but listen to them. Take them in. Listen to what they are saying and care about it. Caring about what they are saying is more important than understanding what they say.

Have you ever tried telling your story to another person only to be interrupted by them saying they once had something similar happen to them? Subtly, our story ends up being their story and our story ends with them.

We connect with others through listening. When we interrupt someone who is talking we move the focus of attention to ourselves. When we just listen, the focus stays on them and lets them know they and their story matters and that we care.

Listening isn’t easy. It’s something most of us need to learn. But, a loving silence has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.

Circles are the foundation of restorative practices. Restorative circles proactively build the trust students need to safely risk self-disclosure, confrontation, empathy and care with one another.

Circles are exactly what they are called. Students are arranged in a circle shape so that everyone can see every face while having a conversation with one another. Circles are where every student is equally important and has an equal voice. It’s where a student feels a sense of belonging, can speak from the heart and share personal experiences and stories and experience support from their peers. Circles also promote social skill building with the students, such as problem solving, communication, expression of feelings, thoughts and ideas and listening.

The benefit of Circles and the skills learned from them only happen with students when we, the teacher or facilitator, create the right environment for a Circle and model the skills needed for them to be effective. Most importantly, the skill of listening.

Here are 10 tips to help you become a better listener when facilitating a restorative practice Circle or simply having a one-on-one conversation with a student:

  • Stop Talking: “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” (Mark Twain) Don’t talk. Just listen. When a student is talking listen to what they are saying. Don’t interrupt them, talk over them or finish their sentences for them. Stop and just listen. When the student has finished talking you may need to clarify to ensure you have received their message accurately.
  • Prepare Yourself to Listen: Relax. Focus on the student. Put other things out of mind. The human mind is easily distracted by other thoughts. Concentrate on the messages that are being communicated.
  • Put the Student at Ease: Help the student feel free to speak. Remember their needs and concerns. Nod or use other gestures or words to encourage them to continue. Maintain eye contact, but don’t stare – show you are listening and understanding what is being said.
  • Remove Distractions: Focus on what is being said. Don’t doodle, shuffle papers, look out the window or pick your fingernails. These behaviors disrupt the listening process and send messages to the student that you are bored, distracted and not listening.
  • Empathize: Try to understand the student’s point of view. Look at issues from their perspective. Let go of preconceived ideas. By having an open mind we can more fully empathize with them. If the student says something that you disagree with wait and construct an argument to counter what is said, but keep an open mind to the views and opinions of others.
  • Be Patient: A pause, even a long pause, does not necessarily mean the student has finished. Be patient and let them continue in their own time. Sometimes it takes time to formulate what to say and how to say it. Never interrupt or finish a sentence for them.
  • Avoid Personal Prejudice: Try to be impartial. Don’t become irritated and let the student’s habits or mannerisms distract you from what is really being said. Everybody has a different way of speaking – some people are more nervous or shy than others, some make excessive arm movements, some people like to pace when talking and others like to sit still. Focus on what is being said and try to ignore styles of delivery.
  • Listen to the Tone: Volume and tone both add to what a student is saying. Let these help you to understand the emphasis of what is being said.
  • Listen for Ideas – Not Just Words: You need to get the whole picture, not just isolated bits and pieces. Maybe one of the most difficult aspects of listening is the ability to link together pieces of information to reveal the ideas of others. With proper concentration, letting go of distractions and focus this becomes easier.
  • Wait and Watch for Non-Verbal Communication: Gestures, facial expressions and eye-movements can all be important. We don’t just listen with our ears, but also with our eyes. Watch and pick up the additional information being transmitted via non-verbal communication.

In tomorrow’s webinar, “How To Successfully Bring Restorative Practices to Your Students”, you will have the opportunity to experience a Circle and practice your listening skills. You will also learn the steps you need to take to successfully integrate restorative practices, including Circles, into your school, community organization or agency. The webinar will also give you examples of how you can use restorative approaches and facilitate Circles virtually with students if meeting in-person isn’t an option.

and the value of tomorrow’s webinar increased even more with the addition of an additional guest presenter – Nicole Herrera! Nicole is a Social Emotional Learning Specialist for a middle school in Jefferson County Public Schools, located in the Denver area. She has four years of experience implementing restorative practices in a school setting. She is also a school district resource and hosts professional development training for restorative practices.

The combined experience and wisdom of Bill and Nicole makes this a webinar you don’t want to miss. Register today to ensure you have a seat reserved.

How you close a Circle is just as important as to how you open it. There are many ways to effectively close a Circle. One way is through silence. Everyone in the group holds a moment of silence and reflects silently on the process of the Circle or holds a moment of silence to hold each other in regard or to silently acknowledge each other. The students don’t talk. They just listen – to silence.

Registration is Now Open for “How To” Bring Restorative Practices to Your Students Webinar

A Denver third-grader named Luca sat down in a circle with his classmates and started a conversation like this: “If you were an animal for a day, based on your mood and feelings today, what animal would it be?”It was the best conversation, say classmates Ellie and Lina. “I said I’d be a monkey because I was feeling silly,” says Ellie. “And I said I’d be a panda!” says Lina. “Because I was feeling lazy and hungry, and pandas are lazy and they eat all the time!”

The point of the circle conversations, also known as “peace circles,” which take place every Monday morning in every classroom at the Denver elementary school of Luca, Ellie and Lina isn’t about giggles. The point is to build community and foster the kind of student-to-student and educator-to-student relationships that lead to supportive classrooms.“When you go to school here, you get to know each other,” says fifth-grader Trinity. “At my old school, we never got to know each other or to understand each other.”

Classroom circles are just one of the restorative practices the educators in this Denver elementary school have adopted over recent years. Many of their students also practice their conflict-resolution skills in “peace walks,” and get regular, positive feedback through daily one-on-one check-ins with dedicated, full-time restorative practices specialists on their campuses.

Often, this all takes place under the eyes of visiting educators who want to see and hear what happens in public schools where educators care more about creating a community built upon kindness and not consequences.

When visitors come to the elementary school the first thing they see is the “tone-setting” that takes place in all classrooms. In fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms, the teachers pull a chair to the front of their classrooms, sit down to face their students, and say, “Let’s get ready for the day,” with quiet huffs of deep, calm breathing and the faint strains of classical music.

The school’s restorative practices coordinator drew footprints and conversation prompts onto butcher paper that was eventually printed on dozens of vinyl tarps and distributed to classrooms, the playground and the cafeteria.

The way it works is both parties in conflict—either two students, typically K-3, or an adult and student—step onto the mat and engage in a guided conversation. It always begins with an “I feel” statement and ends with an agreed-upon plan to avoid future conflict.

Meanwhile, at a high school in the same school district, visitors observe students entering school, walking past a Black Music Matters poster through the front office, where staff smile and greet every student, asking about their weekends, or after-school activities or well-being. They do this intentionally so students see and feel the genuine level of care and love they have for their students.

The high school students also have hands-on involvement in school discipline, doing peer-mediation and low-level restorative conferencing. They even sit on employee interview committees and if they feel like a job candidate wouldn’t be a good fit on their campus, they say so.

Sound too idyllic to be real? Both the elementary and high school have been engaged in restorative practices for several years. The changes to their school’s culture have not come overnight and they require whole-school staff commitment—plus training, re-training and funding for dedicated restorative practice coordinators. But it can be done! If building real relationships with students is your top priority anything and everything is possible with restorative practices!

This is why I have invited restorative practices expert and national trainer, Bill Michener, back for the second in a series of webinars I am hosting on restorative practices. This free one-time only webinar will be Thursday, July 23, from Noon-1:15 pm EST.

In the first webinar of the series, Bill introduced us to the basics of restorative practices, along with the fundamental process and benefits of using them with students. In this Part 2 webinar, Bill will focus on “how to” effectively integrate restorative practices into your school, community organization or agency. He will also share stories and examples of how you can use restorative approaches virtually with students if meeting in-person isn’t an option for you right now. He will also facilitate restorative circles during the webinar – much like what the Denver elementary school models – so you can experience first-hand the power and influence they can have on students’ attitudes and behaviors.

Register TODAY to ensure you have a seat reserved. Space will be limited in this “how to” conversational webinar to give you ample opportunity to ask questions of Bill as he gives you step-by-step instructions on what you need to do to bring restorative practices to the students you serve. If you believe you need other colleagues and staff to hear this information with you and be part of the conversation, encourage them to join you in the webinar. I don’t want you to regret not having the support and help you need to put the steps you learn into action after the webinar!

I look forward to seeing you in Thursday’s webinar so you can take what sounds idyllic and turn it into a reality for your students!

IN CASE YOU MISSED THE FIRST WEBINAR ON RESTORATIVE PRACTICES…

“Bringing Restorative Practices to Your Students” Webinar – Part 1

Remembering the Profound Change that Occurred that Day

There were ten of us in a large room sitting in a ring of comfortable chairs encircling a large table. Late afternoon sunlight caught the red hair and freckles of a 15-year-old student (we’ll call her Sarah) as she tilted her head back slightly to keep tears from escaping.

This was my first Restorative Justice (RJ) Council and everyone at the table was sharing how they were affected by Sarah’s choice to drink on the student government weekend trip. Our principal had to call Sarah’s parents, drive her back to Seattle and miss a lot of the retreat. The 11th-grade student who facilitated this council meeting shared how alcoholism had affected his own family and the pain he felt seeing Sarah drunk. Sarah’s parents shared how scared they were to get a call from the principal in the middle of the night.

Sarah had her boyfriend there as a student ally. He wanted the group to know that she was a good person, that she has been depressed lately and that everyone makes mistakes when they are young.

When it came back around to Sarah, she said, “I never realized how many people I affected. I just thought I was hurting myself. I didn’t mean to mess up the trip. I was invited by student government as a guest and I disrespected everyone there. I shouldn’t have drank.”

Sarah was asked to further reflect on what she was thinking at the time of her decision, what she was feeling, as well as how she thought and felt about the event, now that some time had passed.

Then — and this was my favorite part of RJ — we were all asked to write down as many positive qualities about Sarah as we could think of and share them with her. These would serve as a reminder to her of her importance, her strengths, her contribution to our school community, as well as help us in creating three contract items for her to complete. These RJ contracts are a way for students to repair caused harm. In addition, they often help students avoid a suspension or other forms of traditional discipline.

During our circle time, we shared qualities that we saw in her – her creativity, leadership, abilities in math and science and her strength. She was no longer able to hold back her tears.

“I just thought you were all going to yell at me. Hearing how much you all see in me, I just feel like … I really let all of you down,” she said softly.

Sarah was presented with a way to repair some of the relationships that she had hurt. She and the rest of us brainstormed things she could do to eliminate the root causes of her harmful choices, heal relationships with fellow students and improve her chances of graduating on time…

The story about Sarah doesn’t end here. The story’s author, David Levine, who has been an educator in public high schools in Brooklyn and Seattle, as well as a restorative justice facilitator in the Bronx, has more of Sarah’s story to tell you.

But first, let’s talk more about what restorative justice is.

Restorative justice is about building community and strengthening relationships. It is based on the premise that when we feel part of a supportive community we respect others in that community and become accountable to it. Using a restorative approach means you care more about creating a community built upon kindness, mutual respect and compassion, rather than on consequences or punishment.

There is an increasing amount of literature speaking to the importance of using restorative justice approaches with students during this time of living with COVID-19. Because of how long this pandemic is likely to last, kids will experience negative effects from it. One way kids who are negatively impacted will self-identify themselves to you is through an array of “acting out” or negative behaviors. It is then that a restorative approach will be most needed by you.

In April I hosted the webinar, “Bringing Restorative Practices to Your Students”. The webinar’s expert presenter, Bill Michener, introduced several hundred webinar attendees to the basics of restorative practices, along with the fundamental process and benefits of using them with students. The webinar was well received! Since then I have heard from many attendees asking what they need to do to begin using restorative practices with their students.

I need to be honest. Making the transition to restorative approaches isn’t easy or quick. It takes time, skill and the commitment of all staff to embrace the approach. It requires a thoughtful, staged transition.

To help you thoughtfully think through this transition, I have invited Bill Michener to return for another FREE webinar next Thursday, July 23, from Noon-1:15 pm EST.

In this Part 2 webinar, Bill will focus on how to effectively integrate restorative practices in your school, community organization or agency. He will also share stories and examples of how you can use restorative approaches virtually with students if meeting in-person isn’t an option. Mark your calendar and reserve the time! Registration for this free webinar will open on Monday, July 20, with limited seating available. Look for the registration information in your Inbox on Monday.

Many who use restorative practices are struck by the power and influence they can have on everyone involved. David and Sarah would be the first to admit this.

When David asked Sarah to reflect on her experience with restorative justice, she wrote, “My experience was one of the most effective disciplinary approaches that I have ever been confronted with. It made me understand how my actions affected people not only directly, but how my actions set off a series of events. Seeing this reality and being given a second chance made me so thankful.”

“Ever since these events I have excelled in high school and have felt closer to my community and to the people I affected. To this day, when harm happens to me or my community I try to look at all sides of the story, express my emotions, listen to other people’s viewpoints and look for a positive outcome.”

David shares, “Restorative justice is messy, tough and personal. It is beautiful, rewarding and just. I have been part of this journey with many students since working with Sarah, yet I will always remember the profound change that occurred that day sitting in a circle as Sarah’s community, the afternoon sunlight cutting across the room, turning golden at dusk.”

P.S. You can still register for the online masterclass, “How to Have a Positive Influence on Your Students Years Later”, that I am teaching tomorrow from 2:00-5:00 pm EST. The class is hosted by Rainbow Days as part of their 2020 Virtual Summer Symposium. During the class I will reveal the five qualities a teacher or any adult needs if they want to have a positive influence on kids years later. I will be teaching specific proven methods you can use to help you develop these qualities and model them in your interaction with kids. Click here to register and be on your way to also earning three CEUs when you complete the class!