Supporting Girls in STEM

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Supporting Girls in STEMOn a recent flight, I was surprised to see the entire flight crew was female. I then stopped to think: Why is that so surprising? Women can fly planes just as well (if not better) than men. In 2016, we had our first major party female candidate for president. In 2018, a record number of women were elected to Congress. Women are breaking the glass ceiling in many areas—but less so in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

In a recent article for Forbes, contributing author Janice Gassam states that women make up about 24 percent of those employed in STEM occupations, and that worldwide the numbers are even more “abysmal,” especially for women of color. Women face several barriers in overcoming these numbers, including gender bias, lack of historical recognition of women in STEM fields, and feelings of isolation in a male-dominated workforce.

Girls are no less capable in STEM fields than boys are. However, they may feel “less-than” because of stereotyping and social pressures. There are things we can do as teachers and parents to encourage girls and break down those barriers to STEM fields:

  • Build up girls’ self-belief, self-esteem, and self-efficacy in STEM fields—highlighting their successes and innovative ways of thinking.
  • Encourage girls to find interests in STEM fields. This can be done by pointing girls toward books (fiction and nonfiction), magazines, artifacts, and websites where they can discover new ideas.
  • Put STEM toys, games, and kits around the room, and provide students time to explore. K’NEX blocks, Brain Flakes, EMIDO building blocks—websites like MindWare have all kinds of options.
  • Supporting Girls in STEMWatch how you interact with girls in the classroom and at home—there is evidence that teachers will react and respond more quickly to boys than to girls. This may inhibit girls from even attempting to get involved in classroom or home discussions.
  • Allow girls to work in “girls only” groups when developing projects. Encourage them in collaborative support and project completion.
  • Highlight significant women who have contributed to STEM fields—the movie Hidden Figures is an excellent example of overlooked important women in science. Check out this story, “Ten Historic Female Scientists You Should Know,” at the Smithsonian Institution website.
  • Connect with the Association for Women in Science, Women in Technology, the Society of Women Engineers, and the Association for Women in Mathematics. All these organizations offer mentoring, classes, resources, and support for girls who are interested in STEM fields.
  • Bring in women who work in STEM fields to share their experiences and serve as role models for girls.
  • Live the motto of “Failure is the key to success—each mistake teaches us something.” Help your students recognize mistakes as learning opportunities. Additionally, use the theory of “yet.” When a student says, “I can’t,” you say, “Yet!”
  • Go on field trips (real or virtual) where students can see and meet females working in STEM fields. Check out Discovery Education.
  • Your local universities, colleges, or community colleges may have after-school or summer programs for girls. ID Tech provides summer STEM camps in over 150 locations.

Finally, put up this quote in your classroom to remind girls every day of their importance in our futures:

“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.” —Mae Jemison, M.D., astronaut and first African American woman in space

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 Revised and Updated Edition Differentiation for Gifted Learners

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.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Teaching Strategies | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Taming the Beast and Curtailing Screen Time

By Stephanie Filio

Taming the Beast and Curtailing Screen TimeThe preteen and teen brain operates largely on emotion and feelings, which can get confusing during these years of rapid-fire hormones. Eventually, the brain gets so tired it surrenders and gives the green light to things like riding on the hood of a car or sneaking out of the house after curfew (sorry, Mom!). With so much natural turmoil occurring during adolescence, it is hard to distinguish between age-appropriate difficulties and a larger problem.

In the six years that I have worked in public schools, I have seen a quick rise in students who struggle with attention, focus, inhibitory control, and depression. I now expect at least one parent a month to ask for help with a student who reports not wanting to go to school due to looming sadness. Often, the student appears to be part of a social group, has established relationships with teachers, and seems happy and engaged at school. Where is this despondency coming from? Have the angst and rebellion of previous generations been replaced by a passive disinterest in school, activities, and the growing world?

Pieces of the Puzzle
Over the winter break I came across a podcast series aptly titled What Were You Thinking? by Dina Temple-Raston, which presents stories of extreme teen thinking—such as teens joining ISIS or the phenomenon of suicide clusters—and explains the role of adolescent cognition in the teens’ decision-making. The series was so spot-on with descriptions of behaviors I see in my hallways that I immediately started jotting down notes. As I listened to the stories, I was able to take a step back and really view my students through the lens of their generational influences and barriers. I also came up with new questions to ask students when troubleshooting problematic behaviors. My many students diagnosed with depression or presenting with depressive symptoms need assistance to find contentment and more emotional control, and I felt lucky to have found more tools for my counseling toolbox.

I noticed three major threads that the stories on the podcast have in common with my students: increasing use of technology, addicted behaviors associated with technology, and less controlled sleep. These three components seem to have created a perfect storm unique to contemporary teens. They are almost always hiding in the background of conversations I have with exhausted parents who are crying out for help with their low-performing students or with caseloads of students who tell me that they feel very little joy throughout the day.

The symptoms of technology addiction and sleep deprivation are remarkably similar to those of depression—inattention, sadness, and disorientation, among others. As school counselors, it might not be our job to diagnose students, but it is essential that we have an understanding of mental health barriers that affect students’ education and development. Let’s take a look at some of these barriers.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition (DSM-5) describes symptomatic criteria that have to be met in order for a psychological or medical professional to make a diagnosis. A patient needs to exhibit several symptoms nearly daily for a period of time, creating social or environmental impairment (for example, social isolation and avoidance of responsibilities or recreational activities), in order to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Major depressive disorder is a diagnosis that school counselors are seeing more and more often in student files.

Truth be told, many symptoms of major depressive disorder, such as irritability, sleep disruptions, agitation, and lack of concentration, are similar to typical hormone-induced adolescent behavior. Descriptions in the DSM-5 of moderate impairments from depressive episodes sound like a typical weekend with my own preteen and teen: negativity, lack of motivation, avoidance using electronics, minimization of personal responsibility. The difference, however, comes when symptoms become severe, even entering dangerous territory with thoughts of suicide and self-harm.

Sleep Deprivation
The US Department of Health and Human Services lists sleep deprivation as detrimental to the overall health and well-being of a person. Not getting enough sleep can cause physiological problems, such as heart disease and obesity, and psychological effects, such as irritability, lack of focus, poor memory retention, and low reactivity. Good sleep can be obstructed by stress, pain, mental illness, and/or distractions in the sleep environment.

Often, students tell me that they play video games late into the night and report feeling groggy, hoping to go home early. As schools push back start times for high school students in hopes of making healthier teens, they may be missing the mark. Though later start times may help teens feel less stressed, they don’t do anything about what really keeps kids up past bedtime and the positive sleep habits that are interrupted by cell phones, video games, and streaming videos.

The DSM-5 distinguishes between substance abuse and addictive disorder. Gambling addiction, currently the only diagnosis for a nonsubstance addiction, presents with compulsion, sacrifice of life opportunities, obsessive feelings of preoccupation, irritability, avoidance of other responsibilities, and withdrawal when not gambling. In other words, my 12-year-old when his video games are taken away (I’m battling right there with you, parents!).

Internet gaming disorder has recently been added to the DSM-5 as a condition, but is not diagnosable because research is still being collected. Even the language used in these documents shows the infancy of information collected so far by citing “computer use.” Ask any young person about their “computer use” and they will laugh. If you do not see what is the big deal, you were probably born around the same time as me! Our kids are using video game consoles for social connections, scanning multiple social media sites on tablets, watching hours of YouTube on their phones, and holding full-length conversations in their school-sponsored Chromebook Google Docs.

The Big Picture
Psychological disorders should only be diagnosed by trained and certified mental health providers. It cannot be stressed enough how an ignored, misdiagnosed, or undiagnosed disorder can be grossly dangerous. However, we are entering uncharted territory in terms of internet and technology addictions. Is it possible that some students are being misdiagnosed with depression—or anxiety or ADHD—when the real issue is technology addiction presenting with depressive symptoms? How often are students addicted to gaming and internet use and, subsequently, are sleep deprived?

Considering their exposure to technology, younger generations seem to be particularly vulnerable to its ill effects, with technology causing long-lasting repercussions on their education, relationships, and overall motivation to succeed.

Where to Go from Here
In an episode of What Were You Thinking? Dina Temple-Raston refers to an assessment that students in Korea have to take that measures their dependency on smartphones and determines if they are eligible to receive counseling. Hearing that was such a lightbulb moment for me! It felt good to know there are communities that are already finding ways to serve their populations in order to try to reframe how younger generations look at and use technology. While just beginning to brainstorm, here are a couple of interventions I am thinking about implementing:

  • Make it a habit to ask parents and students about internet use and sleep habits.
  • Poll students on their use of technology (what are they using most, how many hours each day, how much stress do they feel when they cannot participate in these activities).
  • Provide pop-up classes to teach students different not-technology-centered hobbies (like art, crochet, shuffleboard, board games, card games).
  • Hang posters in the hallway of easy yoga poses and include breathing directions for relaxation tips.
  • Create competitions for lower screen time. Even if students are not honestly reporting their time, the competition puts attention on the subject and can plant a seed for mindfulness.
  • Share results of student technology use polls with parents and offer suggestions on how to monitor use.
  • Collaborate with P.E. teachers to offer a health lesson on the repercussions of too much technology use and ways to slowly reduce screen time.

Adolescence is tough. And students experiencing depressive symptoms have an additional layer of difficulty during this tough time. As we learn more about the effects of technology on the growing brain, we will learn more about differential diagnosis (distinguishing between conditions with similar symptoms) and methods of relief. Our standards of how much time should be spent on technology are outdated, and our approach to ensuring that students are not becoming addicted to technology may need a huge update to best serve our young people. As is often the case, the front line will likely be education, where we can provide students with real solutions that will allow them to reframe their relationship with technology and find that they can once again put themselves first.

Stephanie FilioStephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.

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.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Counselor's Corner | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Create SEL Lessons That Are Flexible, Factual, and Fun!

By Liz Bergren

Create SEL Lessons That Are Flexible, Factual, and Fun!Social and emotional learning has significant short-term and long-term benefits, including positive behaviors and relationships; improved test scores, grades, and attendance; higher graduation rates; and better mental health. As a former classroom teacher, at times I found myself in a creative slump when it came to creating lessons and really needed help. Other times I needed something quick, easy to use, and fun that I could teach when class ran short. I spent hours scouring the internet looking for new resources and innovative ways to integrate SEL into my lessons. This post offers you practical, user-friendly, and free resources from Free Spirit Publishing so you don’t have to search all over like I did. You can use these resources for effective SEL lessons for early childhood through high school.

Greeting Circles
One of my favorite lessons to kick-start or reignite classroom relationship-building and social skills involves greeting, eye contact, and conversation practice. Have students share ways that they have heard and seen the adults in their lives greet others. Answers could include statements such as “Hi, how are you?” and “How is your day going?” Nonverbal greetings could include a handshake, head nod, or fist bump.

Next, divide the class into two groups and create an inner and outer circle. The inner circle faces the students in the outer circle so students are paired up. Provide a question prompt such as “What is your favorite book?” or “What is your favorite game?” and give students 30 seconds to greet one another and then ask and answer the question. Their greetings should include both a verbal and a nonverbal element. After 30 seconds, rotate one of the circles so the students face a new partner. Give them a new prompt and 30 seconds to repeat the exchange.

Hang In There
Practicing perseverance is important for building self-esteem and a strong work ethic. For elementary students, the Hang-In-There Rings from William Mulcahy’s Zach Hangs In There help provide a concrete strategy for working through the struggles, doubts, and emotional upheaval that can accompany obstacles. Using a common childhood achievement—crossing the “tricky trapeze rings” (or monkey bars)—this activity helps students understand the action steps necessary to reach a goal. You can print the rings worksheet here for free. Have students choose something that they would like to work on or something that they want to accomplish and help them work through the rings. Encourage them to analyze any potential barriers to accomplishing their goal. Use this as a time to teach positive self-talk phrases such as, “Don’t give up,” and “I can do it.”

Emotion Coping Mind Map
Older elementary students can create a mind map of strategies for coping with emotions. They can do this as a group on a bulletin board or smart board, or students can create individual mind maps or posters. Start with a center bubble containing an emotion that tends to be difficult to cope with. Then brainstorm unhealthy or unhelpful ways that people deal with that emotion. For example, if the emotion is anger, answers could include hitting or screaming at someone. Next, brainstorm healthy coping strategies. For anger, these might include deep breathing, walking away, going outside, or talking with someone. Here are free available resources from How to Take the GRRRR Out of Anger by Elizabeth Verdick and Marjorie Lisovskis: 5 Steps to Taming That Temper, the Anger Pledge, and 6 Steps to Solving Anger Problems.

Empathy Discussion
Biff Poggi, a football coach in Baltimore, Maryland, offers wonderful inspiration for his team. Get students thinking about the practice of empathy using Coach Poggi’s Golden Rule, a worksheet from the book Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School by Naomi Drew, M.A., and Christa M. Tinari, M.A. Prior to using the worksheet, put the word empathy on the board and do a 30-second pair-share on the definition. Have students share their understanding of the concept. It is important to clarify the difference between sympathy and empathy since the two concepts are often confused. (Consider watching Dr. Brené Brown’s RSA Short on the difference between sympathy and empathy. The video has adult concepts that aren’t appropriate for middle school students, but it can help you understand the difference and may spark an idea for a lesson or role play.)

Pass out the Golden Rule worksheet, read the story aloud, and have students answer the questions either individually or in pairs and share their responses with the class. As an extension, have students brainstorm ways they can reduce exclusion and improve their school climate. To get a better take on students’ views of their school climate, use this survey from The School Climate Solution by Johnathan C. Erwin, M.A.

Discuss RULER Scenarios
Teaching skills to boost emotional intelligence (EQ) in students can reduce anxiety, depression, and bullying in schools. The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence has developed the RULER acronym, which helps define the aspects of EQ. RULER stands for “Recognizing emotions in self and others, Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions, Labeling emotions accurately, Expressing emotions appropriately, and Regulating emotions effectively.”

For students in middle and high school, kick-start a lesson on EQ by using the EQ Quiz for Students, a free download from the book Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students by Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., and Steven E. Tobias, Psy.D. This short inventory will get students thinking about how they manage their emotions. Spend some time creating fictional scenarios with realistic situations, or have students create the scenarios themselves to practice RULER. For example: Jorge meets Lucy while participating in the school play. They become great friends, and eventually Jorge finds out that Lucy would like to be a couple. Jorge now has his first girlfriend! They talk on the phone, go to movies, and hang out with friends. A few months later, Jorge finds out that Lucy no longer wants to be his girlfriend. Using the RULER acronym, have students process Jorge’s potential emotional reaction and circumstances. Brainstorm strategies for expressing emotions appropriately as well as healthy self-talk for regulating difficult emotions.

Free Spirit offers a wide range of free downloadable resources to accompany our books. Browse all our free resources online. And visit this page to watch our highly attended free webinars for professional development opportunities.

Please share your favorite SEL activities in the comments section of this post.

Liz BergrenLiz Bergren is Free Spirit’s education resource specialist. She is a former teacher with 15 years of classroom experience. In addition to being a teacher, she spent five years working for Park Nicollet’s Melrose Institute where she counseled and taught classes to patients who struggled with eating disorders. She has a B.A. in health and secondary education from the University of St. Thomas and an M.Ed. in family education from the University of Minnesota.

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.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Social & Emotional Learning | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Using Nature to Teach Character Across the Curriculum

By Barbara A. Lewis, author of The Teen Guide to Global Action: How to Connect with Others (Near & Far) to Create Social Change

Using Nature to Teach Character Across the CurriculumHave you ever looked at the clouds and imagined seeing a horse or a pig? And have you ever looked at a scraggly branch on a tree and imagined an old, gnarled hand? If you have, you are good at seeing metaphors in nature. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which you use one object in place of another to suggest a likeness. But the connection paints a picture in your brain, and you remember it better.

And why should you care? Because nature is a great tool for teaching good character traits to students. Young people usually love pets and other animals, and most children love being in nature. Animals and plants are not humans, but by comparing a human character trait to a behavior in nature, you can help students remember the character message better.

Here is an inspiring story. You may have heard of a famous pig; she made headlines. But this pig is not Wilbur, the radiant swine in Charlotte’s Web. This is Lulu, the famous lifesaving pig from Pennsylvania. This famous Lulu was a potbellied house pet. Yes, pigs make great pets—when they don’t have to live in mud and manure.

Lulu’s owner fell to the floor of her home with a life-threatening heart attack. All the pet dog could do was bark and jump. Lulu sniffed out the situation. Then she shoved her body through the dog door, tearing her flesh. She had hardly ever set hoof outside the fenced yard. But she managed to open the gate and head for the road. At the road, she lay down in front of passing cars. Most cars swerved and went on. At last a young man stopped, wondering why a wounded pig was lying in the road. He followed Lulu to her owner. The young man called 911, and the woman was rushed into immediate open-heart surgery and was saved.¹

Using Nature to Teach Character Across the CurriculumYou can’t compare people to pigs (actually, maybe you can at times). But could Lulu’s story be a metaphor for courage? Can you see how interdisciplinary this story could be? What if a whole grade level, or even a whole school, used a story like this to introduce a character trait such as courage, perhaps using a theme such as “The Courage to Contribute”? You may already be able to see how Lulu’s story can connect to multiple subjects, but if not here are some quick ideas:

  • Language arts. Write a story about when you were brave enough to do something you didn’t think you could do.
  • Science. Research about pigs. Learn how intelligent they are. What kinds of contributions have been gained from pigs? Learn about bomb-sniffing pigs. Does a pig have something in its instinct that could inspire people to have courage?
  • Math. Conduct a survey of class or school to find out what people think of pigs. Give them choices, such as “dirty,” “brave,” “smart,” and “pets.” Students can calculate what percent of people gave each answer (on their own or with help). Then have students make a graph or chart. This can lead to a discussion of how easy it can be to misjudge someone without knowing who they are or the contributions they have made.
  • Social studies. Contributions from the pig include meat, medicines, and industrial products. But pigs are also faithful pets and good bomb-sniffers. People don’t often think of pigs as contributors. Ask: “Could some people lack the courage to make contributions—even if they have the skills to do so? Could this happen because other people don’t really understand them?”
  • Social and emotional connection. Yes, stories of animals and nature can conjure up empathy in young people. If the story of the animal touches their hearts, they will better remember and learn the good character trait and will benefit from emotional growth.

Using Nature to Teach Character Across the CurriculumStudents can benefit socially and emotionally from inspiring stories from nature. Of course, you would follow up the stories with discussion and activities. The metaphor or story gives you the hook on which to hang the character trait. Kids will remember the story. Then they can remember the trait. If you have an imagination for metaphors, you will see many ways nature might help you teach a good character trait across the curriculum. Here are a few.

  • Endurance. Bristlecone pine trees that live on craggy, windy cliffs with little water are the oldest living trees. Connection: Living in difficult places or with problems can make you stronger.
  • Caution. Box jellyfish are beautiful but deadly. They look like delicate dancers but have 5,000 stinging cells. Connection: Things are not always what they seem to be. Make good choices about where you go in order to be safe. The best way to be safe is to stay away from dangerous places.
  • Loyalty, cooperation, sharing, and unity. Gray wolves are very loyal. They cooperate, stick together, and share their food. They usually mate for life. Some experts think that wolves mourn when a pack member dies. Wolves will sacrifice their lives to protect the family unit. These behaviors keep the gray wolf alive and the pack strong. Connection: If we stick together and help one another, we will be a stronger team, class, group, or family. This involves sharing, cooperating, and sticking up for one another.

Nature is a powerful teaching tool that is at our fingertips. It is always out there—outside a window, on paths we walk, up in the sky. It is a teacher’s natural visual aid and costs nothing but respect.

Consider the story of the Cherokee grandfather who was teaching his grandson about two wolves that were struggling inside a man. One was evil (anger, greed), and the other good (kindness, empathy). The grandson thought about it for a minute and asked, “Which wolf will win?” The grandfather said simply, “The one you feed.”

¹Barbara A. Lewis, Building Character with True Stories from Nature, Free Spirit Publishing, 2012.

Author Barbara LewisBarbara A. Lewis is an author and educator who teaches kids how to think and solve real problems. Her elementary school students initiated the cleanup of hazardous waste, improved sidewalks, planted thousands of trees, and even instigated and pushed through several state laws and an amendment to a national law. She has been featured in many national newspapers and magazines and on news programs, and her books have won Parenting’s Reading Magic Award and have been named “Best of the Best for Children” by the American Library Association, among other honors.

Free Spirit books by Barbara A. Lewis:

What Do You Stand For? For Kids What Do You Stand For? For Teens  Kids Guide To Service Projects The Teen Guide to Global Action

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.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Character Education | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Texting Principal

By Susan Stone Kessler, Ed.D., coauthor of The Principal’s Survival Guide. This post was originally published March 16, 2015

The Texting PrincipalAs a principal of a large high school, I needed to figure out how I would develop connections with my students when there were so many of them—nearly 1,700—and only one of me. Like many educators, I work full time as a principal and a parent. One thing I’ve noticed with my own children is that communication via text message elicits an almost immediate response. It occurred to me that if this is how teenagers communicate, then I need to communicate with them this way.

I publish my texting phone number on a banner in the school lobby and promote the number on our school website and in publications. It is a dedicated number, used just for texting with my school community.

The topics students text me about are as varied as my students are. I receive questions about policies and procedures, suggestions for things students want to do, concerns about grades, and so on. Occasionally students contact me about serious issues. For example, school was out for a holiday and a student texted me about her classmate being “thrown out of her house by her parents.” It was snowing that day and her friend had nowhere to go. Through texting back and forth with the students that day, we were able to find alternate living arrangements before the day was over.

Students have texted to tell me about rumors about a fight. Warnings like this help me plan to prevent disruptions. I have also been able to get students in touch with resources to help them if they need clothing, healthcare, and so forth. Although I receive an occasional complaint about a teacher, I get far more “my teacher really helped me” messages from students. Many students text to praise the school for the improvements we have made at the school. The day after the first homecoming dance we had had in years, a student texted, “Thanks for letting us have a dance last night. I had a lot of fun.” That message made my day.

It’s a challenge to feel close to students as the principal of a large high school; however, texting with students has enabled me to begin relationships. Every day, students come up and say, “I am the one who texted you about . . .” I always ask: “Did I text you back?”
They smile and respond affirmatively, knowing that they have access to me if they need me.

With 1,700 students texting me, there is no way I can keep track of who owns which number, and I have never tried. When students text me with a concern, I reply and ask them to identify themselves so I can help them. I have referred students to resources for depression, pregnancy, homelessness, families needing basic necessities, and so on. I have never had students refuse to identify themselves when asked. The trust that texting has helped build has been significant because students know if they ask for help, they will get it.

Teacher Response
When I announced my texting plan, it was a surprise to the teachers. Some worried that students would get mad during class, take out their phones, and demand to text me on the spot. I assured them this wouldn’t happen, and in the seven-plus years I have been texting students, it hasn’t happened even once.

Parent Response
The parents of my students have been very supportive. They appreciate that their child can contact the principal anytime. Many parents text me, and I frequently get messages from students asking that I call their parent. Parents value the communication and the access that text messaging provides.

Occasionally, a student reports a problem to a parent in the evening. It could be a disruption on the school bus or an issue with a student bothering them. These can be emotional issues, but instead of the family reeling and being upset all night, they can text me. Usually I cannot do anything until the next morning, but texting allows them to “hit the pause button” on the upsetting incident and wait for me to investigate and contact them the next day. For that parent, being able to reach me matters.

Time Management
Texting is quicker than a phone call, an email, or an appointment. If I did not text, I would still need to answer all the questions I receive. Since texting is faster, it is not another thing to do; it is a smarter thing to do.

Susan Stone Kessler, Ed.D.Dr. Susan Stone Kessler is an award-winning educator who has spent the past twenty-one years working in schools with Middle Tennessee teenagers. She has been a teacher, an assistant principal, and a high school principal in two Tennessee school districts.


The Principal's Survival GuideSusan is coauthor of The Principal’s Survival Guide: Where Do I Start? How Do I Succeed? When Do I Sleep?

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.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Administrators, Professional Development | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment