Recently I wrote of the power of deliberating focusing on positive behaviors when we are faced with a challenging individual or small group of students. The wheat and the weeds can significantly influence the way teachers approach classes that have individuals exhibiting off-task behavior. If you are like me, you find yourself obsessing over one or two students’ behavior and as a result carrying negative energy to class each day. Learning to focus on the wheat helps!
It is one thing to struggle with one or a small group of students but have you ever had a class you just did not enjoy all much? As with challenging individual students, I am not suggesting that we don’t love these classes and work tirelessly to support and help them grow. But a few years ago I had a class, and if I am being honest, I just did not enjoy. I do my best to approach things that put me in a bad mood with this perspective: Find a way to put a positive spin on it for my sake and the sake of my students. I desperately needed to find that positive perspective with this particular class.
It was early in my teaching career and my 7th period class was a daily challenge. Day after day I struggled with management issues and compared to my other classes, because I spent so much time managing, we were falling behind. In hindsight I am not sure if it was because I was an inexperienced teacher, or because I was tired in the afternoon, or because it was hot, or they were tired, or some confluence of these and many other factors, but my 7th period class was starting to take its toll. The tragedy was that my students could feel my negative energy and a result, it led to more off-task and inappropriate behavior.
I had to find that positive spin. So one afternoon, after another slog through 7th period, I sat at my desk and hatched a plan. It had become clear to me that the only person in 7th period I could change was me. Therefore, my plan was, regardless of how I felt, to tell my 7th period class, every single day, that they were my favorite class. I even brought donuts to class from time to time. I did not change anything else in class. I simply, day after day, continued telling them how much I liked the class and how much I looked forward to it all day. I kept this up for weeks and a crazy thing happened, behaviors began to improve and by the end of the school year they actually were my favorite class!
Looking back I can see that it was not the class, or any individual student in my 7th period class, that was in need of a change in perspective. It was me. I needed the paradigm shift. Said another way, I realized that the only person I could change was me. My favorite punk band, Operation Ivy, has a great line in one of their songs, “Nothing can be changed except ourselves.” I find myself repeating it to myself when I am faced with challenges. Sure, all of us and particularly some young people need to grow and change. However, when it comes to how we approach those relationships or situations the truth is we can only change ourselves and in doing so we may find that the circumstances begin to changes as well.
It turns out that the plan I hatched was actually for me, not my 7th period class. I hope sharing this story helps in some fashion. If you are in a situation like I was with my 7th period class give my plan a try. Pick up some donuts and with a big smile on your face tell your most challenging student(s) or class that they are your favorite. Then hit repeat, again and again (maybe leaving out the donuts each day).
Let me know what happens!