Tag Archives: motivation

Sandy Left Tons of Destruction. Now What Can I Do About It?

Sandy, you suck.

The so-called “superstorm” may have been amazing in its magnitude and historic impact, but for too many people, Sandy was an unwelcome house guest who unapologetically trashed the place before leaving. She didn’t even have the decency to say, “good-bye”.

When schools were closed in the wake of the storm, I kept in touch with people in affected areas via text or calls as much as possible. Cell service was terribly spotty so communications sometimes took a day or two to get out and back. I got bits and pieces of everyone’s stories – tiny inklings of their concerns and misery.

When we returned this week, though, I had a chance to hear everyone’s stories in fuller detail, and I must say, they’re bad. Staff in my school – many of whom live on Long Island – remain without power today, nine days later. Unfortunately, that is the best case scenario among those affected.

Too many people are totally displaced from their homes. A lack of power is one thing. A lack of heat and gas are quite different. Some people lost major amounts of property from the floods Sandy caused. Goodbye furniture, fencing, carpeting, photographs, clothes, cars, and normalcy.

When someone dealing with this catastrophe tells me their neighborhood is like a “war zone,” I have to believe it. Army trucks driving down the streets tend to create that feeling.

It all makes me feel a bit helpless and even guilty. Thankfully, I dodged the storm’s major bullets. Never lost power, never lost heat. My car is fine and I was lucky to have a full tank of gas before the storm hit (so I don’t yet know the pleasure of waiting 3 hours for gas that may not even be available). It is difficult to see others in such distress when I’m able to come home, open up my fridge for a snack and sit down to write a blog while listening to Spotify, lights off only by choice.

I want to help these good people going through this trying time.

That’s why I was totally pumped to hear from a colleague who thought it might be a good idea to take up a collection of clothes from staff to donate to the Breezy Point residents sheltering near our school. What a great way to make an impact on our fellow New Yorkers.

As we discussed the idea and brought others into the discussion, we came to agreement that our priority should be to focus first on our own affected staff. Breezy Point victims were reportedly receiving copious amounts of donations at the shelter, and it just wouldn’t have seemed right to start expanding our efforts outside of school when there were people in school who might need our assistance, too.

Today, everyone in the school received an e-mail outlining our plans for collecting money, toiletries, and clothes to help relieve some of the pressure Sandy has exerted on staff. It is my sincere hope that people are able to unite for everyone and help them begin to move forward in some small way.

I know it’s trite – and maybe even obnoxious to the untrained ear – if I say something like, “We’re New Yorkers and we’ll get through this.” Sorry, but it’s true. I hope my colleagues and I can play a small part.

Why I Choose to Be Positive

I choose to be positive because that means I’m around positive people.

I choose to be positive because I’m just fine not being around negativity.

I choose to be positive because it impacts others for the better.

I choose to be positive because it’s nicer to think of what can happen instead of what can’t.

I choose to be positive because positive thinking begets possibilities while negative thinking begets roadblocks.

I choose to be positive because I don’t want to be someone who complains about everything and anything.

I choose to be positive because negativity is overwhelming while positivity is uplifting.

I choose to be positive because I work with people, both children and adults, who deserve some sunshine.

I choose to be positive because the other option stinks.

I’m So Much More Than Just a Teacher

A colleague sent this to me. It gave me goosebumps. It left me wondering, “If only all these know-it-alls could read this and understand that it’s the TRUTH.” Enjoy.

Off and Running

This summer, I’ve been off. This summer, I’ve been running.

There was a time when, had you told me I’d enjoy running and all the sweat and pain that go with it, I’d have scoffed in your face with no regard for your hurt feelings. That has become the case, though. Lately, I find myself running four or five times a week, sweat, pain, and all. It sometimes feels arduous or insurmountable, but when I meet the top of a hill, a sustained speed, or a distance or time goal, the feeling is actually quite amazing. A flood of endorphins and a little proving yourself wrong can do wonders.

My own forays into a field where I was previously derelict have me thinking about my students. So often, we struggle to figure out how to motivate our students. Some use carrots and sticks. The methodology I attempt revolves around convincing kids that they can accomplish what they didn’t imagine was possible if they are willing to work for it. This is a fact for my growing life as a runner. The other day, I ran 35 straight minutes on hilly terrain. It was a major accomplishment for me that became possible because of many runs in preparation. It was a painful experience but a tremendously rewarding one.

My grandmother used to say something along the lines of, “You can’t make anyone change. They have to want to change themselves.” For me, this summer was a perfect confluence of running sneakers and desire to change. How many seven or eight year olds are reflective, mature, and introspective enough to take ownership of their own change? Precious few.

Young students are not always sufficiently equipped to understand the steps necessary to overcoming an obstacle and achieving a goal. It is the teacher’s role to help clear the hurdles by pointing out strengths, weaknesses, and next steps that support achieving the goal. The teacher needs to be a cheerleader and trainer, supporting the student through difficulties and pain, but also challenging him sufficiently and pushing him to give his all.

This enables our students to push up the next hill and through to the next mile.


Being the Shuffle in Our Students’ iPods

The Roadblocked Reader

Do You Believe?

A colleague of mine posted this on Facebook today. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it, but somehow I had forgotten about it. Seeing it again now, I’m not sure I’ll forget it again anytime soon. It’s an extremely pertinent and thought-provoking reminder as we all prepare to head back to school in the coming weeks.

If you can, please share this with all the administrators, teachers, and parents you know.

Being the Shuffle in Our Students’ iPods

How do we motivate our students? In the face of boring curriculum and test-driven lessons, there is no panacea for making kids want to do (Hey! Overturning the system as it is just isn’t an option!!) Every child has their own unique motivations to do or not do work. But first, a personal story.

Back when I was a junior in high school, I developed an urge to drop some pounds. My motivation was vanity. It is hard to believe thinking back, but there came a time when I hit a size 38 in the waist. The next size up was 40! And I was like, “HECK TO THE NO, THAT IS NOT HAPPENING.”

So I stopped eating ice cream (frozen yogurt in my parents’ house) and candy, and I began walking to and from school (three miles each way). I went for long walks on the weekends (like 14-miles-long long). I never hit the 40 waist and, in fact, by the end of high school, had dropped all the way down to a 33. Man, I was svelte.

I see a vision of myself walking with my blue Memorex CD player (the newest model that could play CD-Rs!) and a pocket full of slim cases so I could switch music on the go. How thoroughly modern of me. Lots of times, the music kept me going. I liked the changes in pace and adjusted my strides to match the beats. Plus, I found that ear buds shoved deep into the ear canals gave me a chance to hear more layers of the songs than I previously had, and also appreciate the lyrics more.

In college, I maintained a similar regimen, and with a beautiful gym on campus, I took advantage (but to be fair, weekly $1 Yeunglings and $.25 wings are a bit of a detriment to the fit lifestyle). Following a few months of a local gym membership after graduating, I let myself become a stagnation station. Walks were all too infrequent and, you know what? The 33 waist pants no longer fit!

Meh. I had no motivation. But, I wasn’t approaching that 38 special again, so I was cool.

Now, however, I see family members working to whip their rears into gear – prompted by health issues and eye-openers – and I say to myself, “That should be me, too.” This summer, I’ve been telling myself to move more. The problem I have is motivation. Yes, once I’m into the groove of a walk/jog/tennis match, I feel the endorphins and the sweat and feel good. But it is just such…a…drag…to…get…out…there…and…do…it.


Everyone finds motivation in different places. This week, I went to the park with my sister. She wanted me to run alongside her, but I had had enough. So she told me we were going to run to the top of the hill. I said, “Have fun with that.” I had no motivation. Making it to the top of a hill didn’t matter to me. Her saying we were going to do it didn’t matter. Her motivation was to get to the top of the hill and be able to say, “I ran up that.” Mine was to walk it.

I had a hunch I knew what could inspire the urge, though. So I went home and ordered my first new iPod in 10 years. With it, I became the third person in my immediate family to own a pedometer, and that in itself was exciting, too. I told myself when the iPod came that I would get out there for a walk, and maybe a jog.

To my excitement, it arrived less than 24 hours after purchase. I created a “Music to Move To” playlist and loaded it up. Then, as the sun was setting and I was getting stir crazy, I started the pedometer and the music and hit the pavement. All it took to get me moving was a new toy and a surprising shuffle that brilliantly segued from gems by Britney Spears into gems by Bon Jovi (no joke). I felt like my old (young) self again!

How does this apply in the classroom? Let’s say my sister is a teacher (okay, she really is). Like she told me we were going to run to the top of the hill, she says to the student, “We’re going to do this math problem. Come on!” The student has no desire – it’s a stupid math problem that means something only to the teacher. So, if the student does it at all, he does it half-heartedly. No motivation to do it and so no real investment in personal betterment.

But if the student figures out a way to trick himself – or the teacher finds a way to trick him – into getting the work done, like making it into a game or a nice real world application, motivation might strike. There’s a big difference between being told, “We’re going to do this!” and thinking, “I’m going to do this!”

This is where a teacher needs to be flexible and embrace differences in students’ personalities, values, personal expectations strengths, and learning styles. Every child comes with their own motivations (or lack thereof). Our goal must be to motivate all of them thoroughly, but it’s very often the case that more than one try is needed. They need different beats, different sounds, different singers. They need a shuffle in their iPod!

If we can be the shuffle in our students’ iPods, we will surely watch them walk for miles!

It Won’t Be Long Now

It won’t be long now before the records are complete, the rooms cleaned, next year’s rosters distributed.

It won’t be long now before the last week of school, the last “Good morning!”, the last lunch, the last high-five, the last homework assignment.

It won’t be long now before the chairs are placed on the desks for the final time, the lights shut, the door closed, the goodbyes said, the tears shed.

And then, you know it won’t be long before we’re enjoying our summer break – maybe on the beach, maybe on the couch, maybe in a class – and the gnawing question, “What’s that kid up to right about now?” creeps into our heads.

It won’t be long before we shake loose the memories of anguish, unfairness, and difficulty our students dealt with and instead recall and revel in the memories of their greatest triumphs. No matter the individual’s adversity, surely we can reflect that every student grew in some way.

It won’t be long before we start saying, “I’m not ready to go back!” It won’t be long before there’s just one week left in the summer, one last late wake-up, one last barbecue, one last day available for anything we want.

No, it won’t be long before we’re back at it, new charges before us, eager for our ears, wanting for our words, hoping for our help. It won’t be long, indeed, before a new class comes to us, ready to learn, ready to prove, ready to show, ready to work.

And it won’t be long before we’re ready to go back and do a better job, because we commit to that every year and because we know we can always serve our students more effectively.

No, it won’t be long now.

When Are Rewards Okay?

I figured out I didn’t like giving out rewards before the end of my first month teaching. On the first day that year, I outlined a system for the class in which they would earn five marbles in a jar every time they got to the meeting area in under a minute, every time they behaved properly during a fire drill, etc. Pretty mundane, pretty conditional, pretty stupid.

There were subsequent times in which I said, to individuals and the whole group, “If you _____, you will get _____.” This, I learned, worked best when dilly-dallying was taking the place of productivity and time was running out. Not perfect, of course, because kids would soon figure out that anytime they wanted what I gave them, they could dilly-dally!

Last year, at the end of my rope with a certain student (do you remember Donald?) I wrote, for the first time in my career, a behavior intervention plan. It was based on conditional rewards, and my expectation was that, eventually, Donald would, in essence, respond to the bell regardless of whether the reward was coming. (Two rounds of sticker charts and he was set for the rest of the year).

Today, I kicked off a grand plan to help an easily distracted, seemingly unmotivated, often defiant student. I wrote it last week and presented it to his mother so she would be on board. Per the plan, the student gets a sticker from me every time he: a) focuses for five minutes; b) asks a question or shares an idea with a partner or the class; and c) accepts assistance from a peer or adult. At home, he gets a sticker for: a) allowing his parents or older sister to help him do his work; and b) reading for 15 minutes with one of his parents or his sister.

Upon receiving 20 stickers, the student has the opportunity to choose something he enjoys: computer time, art supplies, time playing with ocean animal toys, etc. Wouldn’t you know that today he earned 22 stickers and went home with a set of watercolors?

These are all items in which the child needs to improve. He is frequently disengaged and hardly ever interacts with other students. With the guarantee of something tangible for engaging in positive behaviors, my expectation is that this student’s attitude and achievement will improve.

This is not something I would consider for all students. For those who say it’s unfair, I ask if it’s something they really need in order to focus and do well. Universally, they say it isn’t.

I am hopeful that as more positivity comes from this plan, the student in question will exhibit the desired behaviors regardless of the positive reinforcement, and that, at least for the rest of the year, he will be set up for more success than he has ever had.

This is the text of the behavior plan I wrote. It is stapled into a notebook in which I can write notes home. The notebook also has the sticker charts stapled in s we can monitor progress. The names of concerned parties have been changed.

School to Home Behavior Plan for Eduardo

Teacher: Mr. Smith

Parent: Mrs. Sanchez

April 30, 2012

Goal: To establish a plan for Eduardo to improve his academic achievement by: maintaining focus, accepting assistance from adults and peers, and working with others.

Analysis: Eduardo maintains focus in whole-group settings for less than 30 seconds at a time, requiring frequent redirection. He is disengaged for the majority of lessons. Because of his disengagement, he must have directions repeated for him and concepts retaught. He rarely works with a partner or in a group, regardless of whether the grouping is created for him to act in a supporting or supportive role.

At home, Eduardo refuses assistance from his parents and older sister, and therefore does not always satisfactorily complete his work.

Specific goals: In school, Eduardo will maintain focus in a whole-class setting for a minimum of five minutes. He will actively participate by responding to questions and sharing with a partner. He will accept assistance from others without shutting down.

At home, Eduardo will allow his parents or older sister to work with him when he does his homework. He will read with his parents or older sister at least 15 minutes every night.

Ideas: In school, Eduardo will sit in front of the meeting area, closest to the teacher. A paraprofessional will monitor his ability to focus for 5 minutes. He will receive a sticker for every 5-minute increment in which he focuses consistently. He will receive a sticker for raising his hand to participate and when he participates in a prompted situation and socializes with a partner (by sharing an opinion, answer, idea, or appropriate information).

At home, Eduardo will complete his homework with the assistance of his parents or older sister. He will receive a sticker upon completing the homework. He will read 15 minutes with his older sister or parents. He will receive a sticker upon completing the reading.

When he earns 20 stickers (between school and home), Eduardo will receive a reward of his choice from the teacher: a special pencil, time playing with a fidget toy, a sheet of stickers, 15 minutes of computer time on Friday afternoon, 15 minutes in the science center, art supplies, etc.

The sticker checklist will remain in his homework folder so it can be transported between home and school.

Communication: The teacher will provide short daily notes summing up Eduardo’s day. His family will praise him for doing what he was supposed to do in school.

Eduardo’s family will provide short daily notes summing up how Eduardo did at home.  His teacher will praise him for doing what he was supposed to do at home.

The teacher and parents will periodically communicate after school and via written notes to monitor Eduardo’s progress.


Fits and Starts

You Know That Old Saying About Respect?

Many teachers subscribe to the mantra, “You have to give respect to get respect.” They usually say this to students starting on the first day of school and hammering it into them until the last day of school. Many times, by the end of the year, the teacher is left disrespected and upset with the irascible and disobedient group of students she has. “Kids these days!” she haughtily cries.

Of course, the teacher fails to realize that the conditional situation of giving and receiving respect is a failure because the teacher herself isn’t holding herself to her own value.

So how about this? Instead of making students earn our respect, why don’t we just give it to them from the get-go? After all, aren’t they people first and foremost? Aren’t people all entitled to respect?

I imagine the safest, most stimulating, and healthiest classrooms are those in which the teacher doesn’t declare herself entitled to respect, but rather declares her students entitled to respect. Especially as they get older, what kid wants to come into a classroom and be told in no uncertain terms, “You are not worth my respect until you show me I am worth yours!” Come on, Teach, get over yourself.

I know it may be an old school vs. new school philosophical debate, but my main point is this: I think a lot of teachers would do well to drop their desire to be the omnipotent and almighty authority in favor of treating their students with some dignity.

Students shouldn’t have to earn our respect. We should give it to them from the start – no doubt we’ll see that we have to give respect to get respect.

Your Colleagues Are the Best PD

…Or so claims my mother, the retired principal.

This week, I invited the math coach in to teach a couple of lessons. Watching a master teacher work is an opportunity for me to be reminded just how far I have to go.

(Since someone on Twitter asked me to clarify what a math coach is in this context, I will do the same here. The math coach’s roles are many and are not limited to: modeling lessons, observing lessons and making suggestions, joining teachers on intervisitations, providing ideas and resources, and serving as a planning partner).

Here are some takeaways from the lessons modeled in my classroom this week:

  • Math needs to be made as concrete and relevant as possible. In teaching perimeter and scratching the surface of area, the coach began with a story about her backyard fence being broken and her dog escaping. The story set up a problem she asked the students to help her solve: Based on the size of her backyard, how much fencing would she need to buy at the store?
  • Manipulatives are great for manipulating, and there needs to be time to allow exploratory and free use of them. The coach used geoboards and rubber bands and allowed the students three minutes to use them in any safe way they desired before moving on to a more structured use. She also used the geoboards as response cards of a sort, checking for understanding of the properties of a rectangle by asking students to make one on the geoboard and show her.
  • It is important to slow down – as calmly as possible – when the students show resistance. My students all have disabilities and are English Language Learners, too, so it is important to really think about the most basic knowledge that they need to have before progressing to the more complex. In this case, it became clear to me and the coach that we had to really break down the use of the geoboard and how to properly count (rather than begin at 1, begin at 0) for accuracy’s sake.
  • Love the Earth, save the paper! The students used geoboards and the SMARTBoard for about 55 minutes before transferring their knowledge to paper. By then, they were solid and able to make the transition from concrete to abstract.

It is always beneficial to see others teach, especially those with all the years of experience. If you don’t have a coach, try to set up an intervisitation with a colleague! You won’t regret it.