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Sunday, March 6, 2016

The rabbit hole of conversational inspiration

After school on Friday, I dropped by the assistant principal's office to handle a minor discipline issue with a student. We got into an unrelated conversation, as we often do.

We are a recent PBIS school and have struggled to create and implement lessons that have a positive impact on the school culture. Recently, as I have written these blog posts and had the opportunity to hear both Dr. Steve Perry and Ron Clark speak, I have been contemplating ways that we can achieve more positivity in our building.

At our last meeting, I suggested we change our lesson structure to focus on messages that capitalize on good things the majority of students are already doing. I explained that we, as teachers, constantly complain about going to meetings and getting stern "reminders" about following rules most of us are actually following. This is an extremely common problem in our building.

I posited that students might also resent sitting through "lessons" aimed at the few individuals who were not already following the rules. Instead, I suggested we formulate a lesson based on random acts of kindness or paying forward or some other similar concept.

So we tried it. And it seemed to work. Unlike previous lessons, the feedback from this lesson was unanimously positive. The principal and I were trying to pinpoint why and develop some next steps.

We agreed that the premise of my earlier argument was sound: the lessons should be aimed at the majority of students who are already behaving appropriately. We also felt that though the feedback was positive, we had not seen any further impact from the lesson.

It was like someone lit a fire under us. We started generating ideas and chasing thoughts down the rabbit hole of conversational inspiration.

We talked about creating a lesson on professional dress instead of "dress code violations" and following it up with Dress Up days where we invited community members to come and randomly pull kids out of class to assess their professionalism.

We talked about creating a lesson on paying and receiving compliments instead of "being respectful" then creating a hashtag where students could post selfies of themselves with someone they complimented and having a contest of some sort for best smiles.

We talked about creating a lesson on generosity where students were challenged to give somebody something without being asked and using another hashtag to document acts of generosity.

We talked about creating a lesson on "staying positive" instead of "attitude" simply to focus on helping students see the bright side rather than dwell on negative interactions.

We talked about creating a lesson on "learning from failure" or "grit" instead of "get good grades" and asking students to write about or hashtag an intentional failure and what was learned from it.

As we wound down from generating ideas, the conversation veered into other territory such as how frustrating it is when teachers dwell on the negative when we are muddling are way through change such as our upcoming 1:1 initiative. He used an analogy about the players on the court winning the game, but the stands going crazy and acting up. I replied maybe it is because those in the stands do not always get to see the game. He acknowledged that could be a problem.

We talked about the recent visit from Dr. Steve Perry (See? we've come full circle!).

During his talk, Dr. Perry stated that if we have a 5 year plan for something, it isn't for the children, its for the adults. The administrator went completely still. "Wow. That is so true." he said. Maybe this realization will help him think differently about how we "roll out" new programs. It definitely helps me understand the inarticulate frustration so many teachers feel when faced with long term, poorly defined initiatives. A frustration that often manifests as negativity and resistance.

Our conversation was a "mind blown" moment. I love those moments. When we open our eyes to a reality that impacts how we perceive our challenges and our mission with students.

Not surprisingly, an hour passed while we chatted. And for the second time in two weeks, someone said to me, "We should have recorded this conversation! Will we be able to remember all these great ideas?"

I said I would remember because I was going to go home and write them all down. And so I have, to best of my limited ability.

I love those conversations that generate a new point of view and fruitful ideas. Sometimes I feel like they are the most valuable use of our time...even though we so often feel that we can't make time for such dialogue.

When we do, it can be an incredibly good thing.

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