Creative Incentives to Encourage Positive Student Behavior

By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

Creative Incentives to Encourage Positive Student BehaviorAs a group of fourth graders was leaving my classroom last week, I said this to affirm their behavior: “Wow. They must have had awesome sauce for breakfast!”

Visibly delighted by my compliment, the fourth graders’ teacher instructed them to go back to their classroom and get their checkbooks. Gasps of excitement filled the room as the kids tried to contain their joy because she was going to make a Scholar Dollar deposit in each of their individual accounts for a job well done. It sparked a memory from when I was in elementary school: My teacher would give us postage stamps for every paper that earned an A. I vividly remember working so hard to earn those stamps, and though they have browned around the edges now, I still have that stamp collection today.

I left that interaction wishing I had thought to capitalize on good character choices when I was a teacher. Sure, I used novelty stickers, which my students loved because they were written in Spanish, for the papers with the highest grades, but I didn’t have a system quite as rewarding as Scholar Dollars.

What else can we do to creatively incentivize expected behaviors?

Brag Tags
According to my research, Brag Tags were created about three years ago by teacher-blogger Angie Olson at Lucky Little Learners as a way for teachers to acknowledge their students’ awesome behavior. Since this idea was rolled out, Brag Tags have become wildly successful. So what are they?

Basically, Brag Tags are a laminated piece of paper or cardstock that students can earn for doing something that makes their teacher proud. They might be for simple yet important things, like a Silent Walker tag for showing respect in the hallways; a Growth Mindset tag for showing best effort, perseverance, or grit; a Kindness Crusader tag for going out of one’s way to be kind; or a Peacemaker tag for spreading peace. There are also tags available for academic milestones and achievements. Anyone can earn a Brag Tag. Students can wear tags on a chain around their necks or attach them to their backpacks on a shortened chain or ring. If you’re trying to shape a specific behavior, there’s likely a Brag Tag that can help you.

I visited a first-grade class that is using Brag Tags as a goal-setting empowerment tool this year, and the students were so passionate as they told me all about the tags. They get to decide which Brag Tag they want to earn, then they set that as their goal at the beginning of the week by writing down exactly what they need to do to earn that Brag Tag. On Fridays, they reflect on what they’ve done to merit that specific tag, then conference with their teacher to decide whether they’ve met their goal or need to keep trying.

SUPERHERO Badges
Along the same lines as a Brag Tag, a SUPERHERO Badge is something the physical education coach at my school uses very effectively to incentivize superhero behavior. Using the acrostic “SUPERHEROES” from my character education manual What’s Under Your Cape?, her students learn about eleven different character traits and have an opportunity to earn a badge for each trait. To earn their Service badge, for example, students must provide a service, like helping with equipment, volunteering to be the scorekeeper, or walking with an injured friend to the nurse. This incentive creates a win-win for classroom climate because it not only gets students looking around for opportunities to serve, but it also provides much-appreciated assistance in those large PE classes.

Students have about three weeks to earn their Service badges before moving on to U, the Unconditional Love badge. This badge gives students a chance to serve as the “No Buddy Left Behind” friend who buddies up with a child who doesn’t have a partner that day. They might also earn this badge for behaviors like apologizing to right a wrong, affirming someone with kind words, or forgiving someone when he or she makes a mistake.

After rotating through all eleven traits, caregivers are invited to the SUPERHEROES Badge Ceremony designed to celebrate the students and the badges that they’ve earned.

Engaging Experiences
Some educators incentivize good behavior using a system where students earn tickets that they can trade for an outing or experience. Twenty tickets, for example, might equal lunch with the school counselor or a visit to read to the class of a former teacher. Thirty tickets could result in five extra minutes outside at recess or indoors in the class’s Makerspace. Or, the student could earn a nature walk with a role model at the school, or some alone time to practice mindfulness in a Calming Corner or Peace Area.

Forty tickets could put the child in charge of the Character Cam, playing the role of the paparazzi for a day. A fun, fifty-ticket option might be the chance to “Chalk the Walks” with a friend by writing inspirational messages on the sidewalks. Students could earn a spot as the Marquee Manager or a week on safety patrol, assisting younger students at crosswalks or greeting them when they arrive at school each day. Who wouldn’t work to earn some “Do Your Own Thing” free-choice time or have a chance to play with the special recess equipment? What other experiences can you think of that your students would likely enjoy? Why not ask them? You may be surprised by how willing your students will be to work for these simple yet powerful outings.

Other incentives to encourage desired behaviors include the chance to earn a Perfect Attendance Award for coming to school every day, the chance to be named to the All-A Honor Roll for academic achievement, and the chance to join the Character Honor Roll for making good character choices.

An important reminder: Our goal as we employ extrinsic incentives and rewards is to work toward intrinsic satisfaction and motivation, so always check to make sure you have a healthy balance between the two as you work toward building self-discipline, self-control, self-management, self-regulation, and self-reliance.

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 33rd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.


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Becoming a Teacherpreneur: A Long and Winding Road, Part 2

By Ryan R. Goble, M.A., author of Making Curriculum Pop

Becoming a Teacherpreneur: A Long and Winding Road Part 2More ideas on how teachers can expand their careers outside the classroom.

The famous Brazilian educator Paulo Freire said, “The teacher is . . . an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”

Like Freire, I believe that a teacher’s (and by extension a teacherpreneur’s) main goal is to create the conditions in which people can learn. When you do this well—especially if you want to teach in a variety of settings—you are a learning artist. Extend this metaphor by looking for ways to exhibit your work. Your blog, website, or online community can—at least in part—collect the things you’ve helped people uncover and discover in traditional and teacherpreneurial settings.

Online Spaces Are a Big Canvas
In my day jobs, I’ve developed some high-energy science learning experiences with an emphasis on literacy and popular culture. I reimagined some of this curriculum to develop proposals to work with high-profile science-related organizations. While I had some fascinating meetings, none of the proposals resulted in any funding. However, I received an email from an educational coordinator at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. The coordinator had explored my website and was looking for someone to help her make climate change curriculum come alive in the way I had in other settings. My unfunded proposals helped me engage in this new opportunity. For six years (and counting), I’ve been able to consult on some exciting and transformative work around the Climate Change in the Classroom Project with NASA and the emerging nonprofit Real World Matters.

In a similar way, my co-teacher of the fiction-to-film course, Jen Boylan, uses her website Food Considered as a collaborative space and gallery. Jen now works in the New York City Public Schools, where she designed a course called Gastronomy 101, an English class centered on food readings and experiences. The course is accompanied by the after-school EatNYC club. Her website showcases her work, writing about her class, and student work (with permission, of course). Her site has helped her move into teacherpreneurial roles with many top professionals in the food world.

A former student from the fiction-to-film class, Ali Hussain, is now a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern studies at the University of Michigan. He connected with the Huffington Post in response to a call for bloggers to write on Muslim issues. He also collects his formal academic writing, blogs, and research at his website. This has led him to be an invited speaker at educational retreats across the country.

Your online gallery is for you and your collaborators first, but it is also a way for people to discover your ideas about what is possible in education. You can develop your online space through many forms of writing (blogs or articles for journals, organizations, or other publications), video, and any press your work might receive.

Always be wary of “tooting your horn” when making creative work public. You want to share your stories in the spirit of showcasing learning and new ideas, not for the purpose of selling it. Sharing your projects allows people to imagine the unique educational experiences you might be able to develop with their organizations.

Embrace Your Tribe
One of the most informative (and breezy) business books I’ve read is Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin. The thesis of the book is that one of the most important things you can do if you want to build a business is to create a following—through a blog, network, mailing list, or face-to-face meeting group—of people who want to be in your kind, sharing tribe (not to be confused with warring tribes). Additionally, he suggests that you join tribes—formal or informal organizations—that will introduce you to other people that might share your purpose and vision.

I read the book when I was working as an instructional coach at a high school in the South Bronx. I spent an insane amount of time finding and sharing curriculum with teachers in every discipline, looking for ways to make their curriculum pop. I realized there might be other people who would enjoy sharing and talking about cool, pop culture–influenced ways to engage students. This led to the creation of the Making Curriculum Pop social network in 2009. As of this writing, the network is home to more than 8,000 teachers from all over the world collaborating on ways to engage students in all kinds of learning.

I also worked with my wife Nicole and advisor John Broughton at Columbia University to develop a face-to-face community. For three years, we hosted the “Teach, Think, Play” course and conferences in New York City to bring teachers together around integrating popular cultures into traditional curricula.

I’ve also been a member of “tribes” that have been essential for the development of who I am as a person, educator, writer, and consultant. Early in my career, one of my former high school English teachers invited me to become involved in the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) Media Collaborative. Fourteen years after joining that group, the people I’ve met through NCTE continue to be some of my most important collaborators.

The colleges I’ve attended have been informal tribes, with formal organizations like the Institute for Innovation in Education at the University of Michigan and the Film and Education Research Academy at Columbia University that continue to be some of the richest collaborative groups I belong to.

Organizations help expand your horizons and allow you to meet fascinating people with similar ideas about what education can be. For me, these organizations have led to many speaking engagements (most unpaid) that allow me to interact with people who may see value in working with me in more formal, paid collaborations.

One of my NCTE colleagues, Frank Baker, started his career as a TV weatherman before moving into media literacy education. In the late 1990s, he saw a need to develop a place for media education resources. This led to the creation of his tribe, the Media Literacy Clearinghouse.  Since its creation, the site has become an extremely popular resource community. Frank’s generous work has led to the publication of multiple books and speaking engagements all over the world.

Journalist and prize-winning newspaper editor Bill Zimmerman created an interactive, syndicated student briefing page for Newsday to teach young people about current events. He built on the interactive techniques he learned in journalism to develop a community around his comics creation site, www.MakeBeliefsComix.com. As of this writing, more than 13 million unique visitors have come to his site since 2006! He generates income through ads on the site and an ad-free iPad app that you can purchase.

Marek Bennett began his career as an elementary teacher while developing his discovery-based comics education workshops. He started using comics in the classroom through his own practice. He developed a community of educators that bring him into schools as a teaching artist. Now, he does comics workshops full time. He grows his community by drawing about his educational adventures in full-length graphic novels sold at his website.

Both Zimmerman and Bennett have expansive visions. While they focus on serving traditional school populations, they have also developed comics-based learning experiences to support special needs and under-resourced learners.

None of us would have been able to expand our educational work had we not been a part of and developed our respective tribes.

Take the Art and Craft of Educational Work Seriously
This may seem obvious, but I’ve met a lot of folks interested in expanding their educational energy who have not put enough attention into developing their own educational art and craft. It’s important to take reading and learning about education and content areas you’re interested in very seriously.

Teaching is never easy, but moving beyond the classroom can be even more challenging because you have to find ways to develop more interesting and more engaging learning experiences than you would find in an average classroom. This is hard work, but it can be joyful if your projects are animated by a meaningful purpose.

By definition, people engaged in entrepreneurial activity are innovators. Innovators tend to see things others don’t notice, and they tend to be more engaged with and attentive to the world around them. This is how they expand educational spaces—by meeting unsolved needs or building on existing ideas.

None of the educational practices I described above came out of nowhere. Everyone I’ve mentioned has read vastly about their areas of interest and explored the world in unique ways.  When we go beyond thinking about schooling and think instead about designing unique learning experiences or resources with other people, many educational and entrepreneurial pathways appear.

Be Mindful of Intellectual Property but Focus on Giving
I’m often asked questions about intellectual property. In my early days, I made rock ‘n’ roll study guides for sale online with my mom and wife. We licensed music lyrics and slapped lots of ©’s on our work with the name of our consulting company.

One year, my wife and I did a particularly rocking presentation—with a live musician—at a national conference with some of our collaborators. For whatever reason (this is never the norm), the workshop had more than 200 people in attendance and was standing room only. We shared some very cool educational materials. Based on that presentation, a large textbook company asked us to come to their corporate offices to present what we did at the conference. When we asked them to sign a nondisclosure agreement, the communication stopped. Two years later, they launched a spin-off curriculum/company clearly inspired by our work.

A year after the conference, my wife attended a workshop at her school presented by a large educational company. The literacy activities they shared were nearly identical to what we had presented. Their activity was too idiosyncratic and specific for it to be a coincidence.

In both cases, we might have been able to pursue some sort of legal action. We did think about this briefly, but doing so would not have been an effective use of time or money. This all happened in the early 2000s. Neither the spin-off company nor the workshop program still exists.

Since then, I’ve made a practice of giving lots of ideas and materials away, often using Creative Commons licenses on materials. At the Making Curriculum Pop social network, I have a page called “the playlist” where I share and blog about Learning Experience Organizers (LEOs) I’ve developed or collaborated on. I look at most of the things I design (or codesign) as an opportunity to share ideas publicly with educators who might find them useful. That is the point of my work—to help teachers make classrooms more exciting places for students to learn.

All of our work builds on other people’s ideas—you simply have to have faith that your ideas are unique and strong enough to stand on their own. You also have to hope that people who reuse or remix your work are kind enough to give you credit. I’d like to believe that the odd experiences narrated above are the exception, not the rule.

Ultimately, the things you write or design can be shared formally in articles or books you develop over time. One of my favorite educational bloggers, P. L. Thomas, collects and edits his blogs into books. This is a way many teacherpreneurs and entrepreneurs function in the digital age. Again, you should have the confidence to remix or reuse your work in powerful ways if you are consulting, developing curriculum, or writing a book—these are the places where your “-preneur” suffix meets your “teacher” prefix.

If you read Wharton psychology professor Adam M. Grant’s excellent book Give and Take, he explains the power of freely giving and sharing with others—with a few caveats. His research has found that giving is a very successful strategy in work and in life. His research is an affirmation of the giving nature of many teachers and teacherpreneurs.

Remember You’re “Always Becoming”
Traditional educational settings can be limiting and constraining for creative educators and even more so for their students. Few other areas of life—outside of, perhaps, the military, marching bands, and the zoo—put such an intense emphasis on control, order, and accountability.

Curious and creative students, teachers, and teacherpreneurs always look for openings in the system, places they can find and shed light on. These people are—in the words of the famous educational philosopher Maxine Greene—“always becoming.” Bell hooks elaborates on this idea in her book Teaching to Transgress, stating, “the engaged [teacher] voice must never be fixed and absolute but always changing, always evolving in dialogue with a world beyond itself.”

Hooks’s sentiment is one of the most accurate descriptions of the great teachers and teacherpreneurs I’ve met. This attitude of openness, humility, flexibility, and invention is what enables you to craft cool learning experiences in a variety of settings. If you care deeply about developing educational spaces filled with creative energy and flow, you will always find ways to engage people inside, outside, around, and beyond the walls of traditional classrooms. With thought, effort, and some luck, you might even get paid to do the work.

 

Author Ryan GobleRyan R. Goble, M.A., is the teaching and learning coordinator at Glenbard Township High School District 87, a doctoral candidate at the Teachers College at Columbia University, and founder of www.mindblue.com.


Making Curriculum PopRyan is the coauthor (with his mother, Pam Goble, Ed.D.) of Making Curriculum Pop: Developing Literacy Across Content Areas.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


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Becoming a Teacherpreneur: A Long and Winding Road, Part 1

By Ryan R. Goble, M.A., author of Making Curriculum Pop

Becoming a Teacherpreneur: A Long and Winding Road Part 1A few ideas on ways teachers can expand their careers beyond the classroom.

Most of my working life has been an interesting mix of creative teaching in a traditional day job as a teacher and in nontraditional educational roles. Many educators benefit from extending their work beyond the customary classroom walls. However, if you are looking to move beyond your day job, it should not be in search of big monetary rewards. Almost all of the successful teacherpreneurs I know have had success because of their passion and curiosity about learning experiences that they felt uniquely qualified to bring into the world for others.

There is an important truth about money and education: People, organizations, and governments often undervalue and underspend when it comes to education. However, as John Lennon said, “You may say I’m a dreamer,” but I think—especially given the state of affairs in our world today—our primary focus should be on doing educational work that serves greater purposes, such as expanding our collective senses of humanity, possibility, interconnectedness, and responsibility to the places we live.

To that end, I would not take a Silicon Valley state of mind and obsess over the “-preneur” part of teacherpreneur. If you are looking to share your educational energy beyond traditional classrooms, I can’t suggest a single pathway or ten-point list to do this. However, as I reflect on my journey, I have noticed some themes and patterns that you might find useful on yours.

Your Life Experiences, Interests, and Curiosity Center Your Educational Energy
Learning, education, and teachers are everywhere. In every human endeavor, someone is learning from someone or something else. If you are attentive and curious about yourself and the world around you, all kinds of powerful learning experiences can be realized by your unique mind.

Prior to becoming a teacher, I worked for about six years in various facets of the entertainment industry. After completing my degree in education, I was naïve enough to consider making a living as a teacherpreneur. I figured there would be a huge demand for my curricular interests in popular music, literacy, and education.

For that reason, I didn’t chase a traditional, full-time teaching job right away. Through my master’s degree advisor (who created projects and programs dedicated to entrepreneurial education), I was connected to an alternative school outside Detroit that was looking for some unique educational experiences for their students. I pitched a two-week-long curriculum that would integrate the history, music, business, and culture of Motown Records into the high school’s courses and would culminate in a visit to the Hitsville U.S.A. Motown museum.

A small grant from one of the school’s administrators brought the idea to life, allowing me to work with their teachers and a good friend, who collaborated with me as my undergraduate intern on the curriculum. Together we developed learning experiences around Motown for all the students in English, science, and art classes.

This passion project opened up a lot of new doors for me. Students loved the curriculum, and it was an interesting portfolio piece that helped me land my first traditional high school teaching gig. In the classroom, I continued integrating popular music into my normal English curricula.

I ultimately earned a job serving as an educational advisor for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio—a consulting project where I headed a team to develop a free curriculum based on the music of Ben Harper and a series of really cool (but not financially viable) Rock and Roll Learning Experience Organizers (LEOs).

At this stage in my career, I could not support myself without my day job. On the flipside, like the musicians who informed my teaching, I started writing “hits” and teaching grooves that would be rich for exploration and expansion as my career evolved.

Some colleagues have had similar journeys to mine. Lavie Raven teaches high school in Chicago and does large-scale graffiti projects inside and outside of school that are linked to a wide range of curricula. Nick Sousanis is a college professor who integrates his love of comics into all kinds of interdisciplinary work. This ultimately led to the publication of his graphic novel Unflattening and invitations to host workshops on comics and education across the country.

Others have their primary career outside the classroom and find ways to bring their work to schools. Rhys Daunic studied film and felt a need to bring his passion for media creation and literacy to students. This led to the development of The Media Spot, which brings project-based and student-centered media production to schools along with professional development for teachers. Similarly, D.C. Vito worked in politics. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he was inspired to create The Lamp to get students to “comprehend, create, and critique” media with the goal of developing “future Jon Stewarts, not future Steve Jobses.”

By growing their unique skills, interests, and curiosities into business ideas, these teacherpreneurs have expanded what people think education and schooling can be.

Seek Edges and Create Porous Borders
Schools at every level tend to be overly concerned with the disciplines and labels for different types of knowledge. For that reason, I’ve found that the edges, borders, and overlaps of traditional disciplines are spaces rich in intellectual diversity and serendipity. These spaces are ideal for the creation of new ideas and ways of doing, learning, and being.

The first high school I worked at had a film class and a bunch of literature classes, but there was no class that combined the two like colleges do. I worked with a gifted co-teacher to create a fiction-to-film class that built on our backgrounds working in the entertainment industry.

Of course, being young, we didn’t realize that the school board would need to approve this new course. There was no way that it could be approved in time to be offered the following school year. There was, however, a work-around. I could teach the course as an independent study for twenty students after school and on weekends. While we were not formally paid for this work, it was teacherpreneurial in spirit.

We developed a course in which students would participate in learning experiences around books and their related films. Collaborating with students and their parents, we raised almost $50K to support the course over two years. The class culminated in a trip to Los Angeles where we met the people who turned the stories we studied into films. That trip (and one the following year to New York) allowed students to meet actors like Robin Williams and Julianne Moore and many other creatives who tell stories on the big screen.

While the class trips and a lot of our time together was magical, working at the borders is always challenging and filled with many flops and false starts. In this class, all of us—especially the students—were engaging not only with English, but also with business, filmmaking, marketing, history, and science. While learning to collaborate in a wide range of disciplines, we expanded our ideas about what an English class could be.

There is a history of educational innovation coming from enrichment and other after-school programs. It’s easy to imagine that one reason for this is because these programs purposely blur the borders around and innovate established disciplines. One recent example would be the maker space movement that now permeates K–12 and post-secondary library spaces.

Two other colleagues nicely illustrate people blurring borders. Shayna Marmar worked first as an early childhood classroom teacher, moved into the world of food and cooking education, and ultimately became an administrator at a large preschool—all while developing Honeypie Cooking. Based in Philadelphia, her company is dedicated to “engag[ing] people of varying ages and abilities in the process of cooking affordable, comforting foods . . . through high quality hands-on classes, responsive educational program design, and original recipes.”

And speaking of original recipes, Santina Protopapa was a jazz musician turned museum educator who used those skills to develop her nonprofit, the Progressive Arts Alliance in Cleveland, Ohio. This organization started by building classes around hip-hop culture, creating artist-in-residence programs for local schools, and developing summer and after-school programs that “develop and nurture critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and communication skills.”

Anecdotally, the more porous you make a subject, the more value it has for students and teachers. Countless teachers can develop an algebra curriculum. Not many can integrate algebra and music, algebra and social justice, or algebra and environmental issues. These unique approaches are often missing in traditional curricula.

Learning is about seeing things differently or looking beyond what you already know. This is essential for teacherpreneurial work. You have to bring something to the learning space that can’t possibly be provided by a big textbook or testing company. These stories illustrate how you can develop ideas around and beyond traditional disciplines.

Author Ryan GobleRyan R. Goble, M.A., is the teaching and learning coordinator at Glenbard Township High School District 87, a doctoral candidate at the Teachers College at Columbia University, and founder of www.mindblue.com.


Making Curriculum PopRyan is the coauthor (with his mother, Pam Goble, Ed.D.) of Making Curriculum Pop: Developing Literacy Across Content Areas.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


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What Can Teachers Do When Gifted Students Are Bullied?

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

What Can Teachers Do When Gifted Students Are Bullied?Remember the rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? As a kid, I never could make sense of that saying because being called a name I didn’t like did hurt me. One way of thinking is that this name toughened me up for the big, bad world around me—I was sure to be called even uglier names later in life. However, it still hurt.

In my work as a teacher, I hear dweeb, nerd, geek, freak, pointy-head—names kids use to taunt gifted or smart kids—daily. While most schools have “No Bullying” policies, kids still tease others, and some kids don’t consider name-calling to be bullying. Name-calling might just be characteristic of being human—to separate oneself from and feel superior over others—but it can lead to devastating consequences.

Gifted kids are generally more sensitive—about their own feelings and those of others. If a gifted student hears a cruel taunt, even one that is aimed at someone else, that child is likely to feel a sense of empathy toward the person being targeted.

So what can teachers do to help gifted kids deal with taunts and unflattering names, even if teasing is not happening to them? Here are five ways you can help.

Be a role model.
Gifted kids need to see how others deal with stressful situations. Talk to your students about how you feel and act when you are confronted by people you don’t agree with. Consider role playing how you would respond so your students can see you in action. Seeing how you handle this stress is valuable, even when you’re not dealing with bullying.

Be an active listener.
Sometimes kids may not say things directly—they may talk around an issue or tell you it’s not so bad. Listen to what they are not saying. Ask questions to help gifted kids uncover their deeper concerns and listen to other students. Find out if a child is hiding painful events. This doesn’t mean that every gifted child is suspect or in crisis. Listen for fear in a student’s voice and watch for behavioral or emotional changes. These could be signs of stress.

Be an advocate.
Before a gifted child becomes a target of bullying, we need adults to be solid advocates for anti-bullying approaches. Learn to recognize the signs of bullying, understand the power struggles involved in bullying, and know what to do and how to report bullying. Teach your parents these same signs and techniques. Those who bully will also need help. Learn what to do for them as well.

Be a resource.
Teachers need to have solid awareness and knowledge about bullying, victimization, and abuse, and they need resources to deal with these issues. Two great resources are KidsHealth (with sections specifically for kids, teens, and parents) and HelpGuide (produced in collaboration with Harvard Health Publications).

Be a supporter.
Gifted students need adults who can support them and guide them through the sometimes-chaotic world of school. The inherent sensitivities of gifted students may disadvantage them socially, especially during adolescence. When peer hierarchies begin to form, it can be difficult for gifted students to find their niche. Being a supporter of gifted students’ need for a differentiated learning environment and understanding their social and emotional complexities is important. Learn more about the needs of gifted learners by visiting the websites of the National Association for Gifted Children and Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted. You will find a plethora of resources to help you support and guide your gifted learners in taking back their power.

Richard CashRichard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

 

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Differentiation for Gifted Learners


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How to Make the Most of Your Prep Time at School

By Andrew Hawk

How to Make the Most of Your Prep Time at SchoolMost school days are full of tasks that teachers need to complete before they are prepared to instruct students. Mercifully, many teaching positions come with built-in prep time. How much time a teacher gets for prep depends heavily on his or her teaching position and school system (my first teaching position did not allow for prep time). In most positions, teachers are given around forty-five minutes during the school day to prepare for their classes. While this amount of time will not be enough for most teachers to complete all of their tasks, it can, at the very least, be a starting point. Here are some ideas on how to make the most of your prep time.

Prioritize Tasks
During my planning period, I always try to complete the tasks that have to be completed in the school building. Items on this list include copying, laminating, die cutting, and anything that involves using a paper cutter or a binding machine. While I have known colleagues who owned all of the devices needed for these tasks, most people will need to rely on the school for these things.

Make a List
Don’t let tasks slip through the cracks! Keep a notepad nearby and write down tasks that you need to complete throughout the day. I know that writing a list is hardly a groundbreaking idea. However, it continues to be a highly effective way to organize and complete tasks.

Stay Focused
One of the biggest challenges teachers face is the amount of time they spend away from one another. Most teachers spend the majority of their day with students. This can cause us to socialize with coworkers when we could save an hour or two at the end of the day by completing tasks. Try to limit distractions. Keep hallway and mailbox conversations to only a couple of minutes. Find a friend who has the same prep time that you do, and complete your tasks together. To make the most out of your prep time, you will need to find a creative balance between socializing and completing work.

Be a Mentor
Across our country, Response to Intervention (RTI) teams brainstorm ways to improve the behavior of challenging students. Often, these students’ behavior can be improved by giving them the opportunity to develop a positive relationship with an adult. In the case of mentors and mentees, the mentor should not be a disciplinarian to the mentee. This automatically eliminates administrators. Classroom teachers cannot mentor students who are in their classes. The idea behind setting up a mentor-mentee relationship with a student during your prep time is to have the student assist you while you complete your work. Over the course of helping, a positive relationship will hopefully develop.

This strategy may not be a fit for all teachers. Many of us use our prep times to regroup for the rest of the day. If you are willing and able to serve in this capacity, you will be a great asset to your school and to your RTI team.

Plan Lessons
By the end of their first year of teaching, most teachers have found a lesson-planning routine that works for them. If you find yourself spending more time than you’d like on planning lessons outside of work, consider completing some of your lesson planning during your prep time. In general, if you dedicate twenty minutes of your prep time per day to lesson planning, then (most weeks) you will be completing an hour and forty minutes of planning. If this is not enough time for all of your planning, it is at least a good start.

Don’t Forget Your Email
It may sound silly, but at one of my former schools, teachers were so bad about checking their email that our principal mandated that it had to be checked before we left each day. Depending on your school and position, email can be a time killer all by itself. Working as a special education teacher, I usually receive anywhere from twenty to forty emails every day. It is probably a good idea to add checking your email to your prep time routine if you don’t already.

Do Some Grading
My second year of teaching, I let myself get a couple of days behind on my grading. It took me two months to get caught up. It’s always a good idea to find some time to grade student work during prep. Staying up-to-date on grading takes a systematic approach.

Find Your Balance
Selecting which tasks to complete during prep time is a matter of taste. Experiment for a few days and figure out what works best for you. Some teachers like to work on one task until it is finished. Other teachers like to split their time and work on several different tasks. It may work best for you to approach your prep time on a day-to-day basis. As long as you are completing productive tasks, you are moving forward.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.


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